Follow Up to Cooks Source and World Fantasy
Some post-mortem thoughts on two big things in this last week:
* I suspect everyone involved was mildly surprised at how quickly and expansively the Cooks Source thing blew up; aside from the Internets explodinating about it, the thing got picked up by the Washington Post, the LA Times, Gizmodo, Forbes, MSNBC.com and so on. Which asks the question of why this particular story got blew up while other tales of intellectual property theft, equally egregious, don’t get a peep.
The theory I’m going with is the theory lots of folks have already offered in yesterday’s comment thread: What blew up this story to monumental proportions was not the actual act of appropriation, it was Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs’ attitude about it. The fact Griggs would tell a writer that she should be happy that the magazine didn’t put someone else’s name on the article it stole from her — as just one example — is so genuinely morally appalling that in a twisted sort of way you almost have to admire the brazenness of it.
What it meant was here was a narrative that had a clear-cut, unambiguous villain — and also a clear-cut, unambiguous victim, since not only was writer Monica Gaudio clearly wronged, she had also acted virtuously when asking for the wrong to be corrected, asking only for a printed apology and a donation rather than payment for herself. And even that request was waved aside.
So: Clear wrong, clear bad actor, clear virtuous victim. Add to that the editor-writer power dynamic, a stereotypical print media cluelessness of online media and mores, and the fact that this wasn’t just some schmoe cutting and pasting onto a Web page but an actual business making money off the uncompensated work of others, and it’s off to the races we go. There was nothing about this story that wasn’t seemingly designed to make the Internets go boom, and to make the story easily transferable to more traditional media outlets.
Will this have any effect outside of amusing us for a day and making Ms. Griggs learn that yes, indeed, the entire Internet can be dropped on one’s head? In this particular case, the answer does seem to be yes, since folks online have compiled a list of Cooks Source articles which are also wholly or partially taken from other sources, from sources like NPR and Disney and other corporate sorts.
Unlike Ms. Gaudio, these folks have entire legal departments to follow up on stuff like this, so if Cooks Source didn’t actually license reprints rights for those stories — and if Ms. Griggs genuinely believed that what was on the Web was free for the taking, then why would it — then I suspect the magazine is pretty much done. This is especially the case as folks online went out of their way to inform Cooks Source advertisers about the incident(s), and at least some of them have already pulled their advertising. Potential serious legal issues plus radical change of business plan (now they’ll have to pay for things!) plus angry advertisers plus what appears to be a one-woman magazine shop equals so long, Cooks Source.
Mind you, that is if Ms. Griggs has any sense at all, and at this point there’s not a huge amount of evidence of that. Her most obvious actions to date are not answering her phone and changing the actual Cooks Source Web site to no longer feature the magazine’s contact information, unaware, apparently, that such information is already all over the Internet. Chalk that up to one more thing she doesn’t know about the online world, I suppose. I wonder if she knows what happens when one searches for her name on Google.
* On a rather lighter note, it’s been a week since I attended my very first World Fantasy Convention. Folks had told me before I should go, but I demurred, saying that I wanted to write some fantasy before I went to a fantasy convention. Their response was to look at me as if I was nuts, but hey, I never said I made sense all the time. This year, not only had I written fantasy, but also SFWA had decided to have its annual business meeting at WFC and so I as president needed to be there for that. And, it was in Columbus, so I could drive there! Off I went.
And had a wonderful time, honestly. The convention is attended by quite a lot of writers, editors and agents, so I saw a bunch of friends in those fields, and as I didn’t participate in programming outside of SFWA events, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the convention bar and catching up with folks. While I was doing that I was also haranguing the SFWA members among them to attend the business meeting, so there was a practical aspect to being in the bar, harumph, harumph. But seriously, who am I kidding, I was there to hang about.
As for the SFWA stuff, quite obviously I won’t go into specifics of private meetings, but in a general sense I’m very happy to say that the business meeting was both well attended and over with in an hour, and everyone seemed to walk away from it both happy and informed about what the organization and its board were doing. I as president am blessed with a SFWA board of directors that is impressively smart, engaged and on top of the organization’s business, so I was glad our members got to see them in action, doing their thing.
So, in all, I now understand why people kept telling me I had to go World Fantasy. It was a blast, and I do intend to go there again. Next year it’s in San Diego, which certainly helps with the decision-making.