Cooks Source was a small time, relatively unknown, free magazine based in New England that gave cooking tips and recipes. It was relatively unknown until late last week when news broke that Cooks Source had used numerous articles that were found on the internet without permission. When confronted by a freelance writer about her article appearing without permission, the editor famously responded that the internet “is considered ‘public domain'” and that she should be paying Cooks Source for the improvements that were made by editing. As the news spread, it was discovered that Cooks Source had possibly grabbed articles from some big names including NPR, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Disney.
While it is true that the internet created a massive gray area of copyright law, that does not mean that the internet is “public domain”. This means that the rules relating to citation and plagiarism are murky and that remedy is difficult to address. Make no mistake however that copyright still exists on the internet and that an editor with years of experience should know better than to refer to the internet as “public domain”. Copyright attaches upon creation of the item, not at publication or formal application.
It is important to keep dates and records of all written materials that you wish to have protected. This is not a requirement to have a copyright, but will aid you in backing up your claims that you created the document first. One way you can prove something was yours first is to file a copyright. This would get cumbersome and expensive if say you are writing blog posts every day but for a more involved project, such as an online novel, it may be wise to register the novel for a copyright once you finish it. The registration is $35 and can be completed online.
Finding an article you wrote plagiarized online can be difficult. There are a number of helpful programs that can run automatic searches for you with some of the major search engines. Most are free and will match lines of text. You can also use Google Alerts to help monitor you works and be alerted whenever something similar is posted or used elsewhere. You can set up a custom search based on a particular title, line of text, name or key word.
Should you find that a written work of yours was plagiarized, as the writer found with Cooks Source, you should have a game plan for what to do. If you own the copyright, first contact the person who is in charge of the place you found the article. You can have a standard form letter that you can just copy and paste certain information in. This letter should ask them to take down the article. If you do not own the copyright, contact the person who does own the copyright. Next, if the article is not taken down, make sure to publicize the fact that they are plagiarizing. This may force them to take down the article similar to what happened with Cooks Source. Finally, if you have a strong case and it is an article that brings in a lot of money, then your last resort would be contacting an attorney.
Doug Stewart “Cooks Source Apologizes for Plagiarism”, CTNow.com
Lance Whitney “Lifting of Blogger’s Story Triggers Online Furor”, CNET.com
Rob Pegoraro “Cooks Source Magazine Masters New Recipe: How to Annoy the Internet”, Washington Post.com’s Faster Forward.
“Copyright and Fair Use in the Classroom, on the Internet and the World Wide Web”, University of Maryland University College.
“Reading the Fine Print”, Library of Congress.
Ann Smarty “Top Online Plagiarism Checks”, Search Engine Journal.
Montie “Google Alerts and Plagiarism, Protect your Content and Reprint Rights”, Chicago Now’s Message with Montie.