Teeming Digital Masses Not Neutral On Copied Content
What else is there to say about the Cooks Source controversy—the much-discussed case of an editor republishing an article without permission and then claiming everything on the Web is in the "public domain"? Not much, except maybe this:
It's ironic that the Internet came down so harshly on a small print publication, given how frequently this sort of stuff occurs online. Soon after the Cooks Source news exploded, a coworker sent me a link to Prescott Shibles's blog offering advice to news aggregators by pointing out what not to do. One of the examples was Editor & Publisher's republishing most of a New York Times article on its website and crediting it to "Editor & Publisher Staff."
As Shibles notes, "a publication that had been a watchdog for journalism is now engaging in practices that undermine it." Yet this action by a venerable, high-profile magazine, whose staff obviously should have known better, caused barely a ripple on the Internet.
Most of the blame for the special level of vitriol aimed at Cooks Source must lie with its editor, Judith Griggs, and the tone of the e-mail she allegedly wrote to freelancer Monica Gaudio. Her ignorance and audacity was really asking for it, but there is something else going on here I think. The fact that Editor & Publisher did not send out a catty letter defending its use of the New York Times article obviously does not make its actions any more defensible than what Cooks Source did—and if Griggs had been some run-of-the-mill blogger, I don't think her statements would have drawn much reaction.
Maybe the digitalese still unconsciously invest print with a sort of pride of place. I feel it too—something about print makes these sort of transgressions seem worse, as if the weight of ink on paper, however slight, gives the words more heft. Maybe it's simply the fact that, once released, a physical magazine cannot be unprinted the way an online article can be quickly modified or deleted (Editor & Publisher took down their offending article after a few hours). There is still power in the permanence of print, and stealing copy seems worse in print form. Interesting.