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Recipes, Rights and Repercussions

Recipes, Rights and Repercussions

November 8, 2010

Copyright is a hot topic at the moment, especially following the PM’s announcement that UK copyright law is to be reviewed with a view to potentially incorporating fair use provisions along similar lines to those in place in the US.  This blog has covered copyright online a number of times before, in the context of peer to peer software, piracy, and the activities of anti-copyright campaigners.  It has generally been the case that the masses will respond and attack attempts to enforce copyright rather than the other way around, Operation Payback is a recent example of this and serves to illustrate the formidable impact that organized dissent can have online.

On the other hand, circumstances are relatively few and far between where the party seeking to enforce their copyright receives the support of the online community, but last week swift reputation assassination was the price paid by Cooks Source magazine for either ignorance of, or blatant disregard for, copyright law.  This is an issue touched on briefly in an earlier post, but something deserving of further exploration.

 Blogger Monica Gaudio was congratulated by a friend for getting an article published.  Something of a shock to Monica, she had never heard of the magazine, and was quite taken aback to discover that they had reproduced one of her recipes without even contacting her.  The fallout might have been controlled if it were not for the point of view taken by the magazine editor, Judith Griggs, in responding to Monica’s request for an apology, and compensation:

the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally.

What I find interesting in this case, is that despite taking no legal action to enforce her rights, the blogger to some extent achieved everything that bringing a lawsuit could have, and in far less time: she has received donations to cover her blogging expenses; the positive publicity gained is very likely to have an impact on her readership and could feasibly be monetised; her authorship has been firmly asserted; and the infringers have been punished.

The issue has been picked up by a variety of publications, including the GuardianNPR, and a number of popular blogs, and the magazine’s Facebook page has been inundated with a constant stream of negative comment ever since.  No longer just a means of communication or entertainment, Facebook is big business (even the Queen has an account, adding to the existing presence of the British Monarchy on Twitter) and the repercussions of such an onslaught are likely to be significant.

These events should serve as a sobering reminder that copyright law is not something to be overlooked, and that to do so can have a considerable impact on a business.  They are also possibly a sign that the traditional approach of taking legal action to combat infringement may become marginalised in some cases, and that in the future more innovative strategies may prove more succesful, and cost effective.