Oops Ah, social media. It can be your best friend … or, in the case of accused copyright violators, your worst nightmare.

The folks at Cooks Source magazine are learning that lesson the really, really hard way.

Here's the Reader's Digest version:

Late Wednesday evening, writer Monica Gaudio claimed to have discovered that Cooks Source, a small magazine in western New England, had published one of her articles without her permission. She also claimed that she contacted the magazine's editor, Judith Griggs, and asked for (A) an apology, and (B) a $130 contribution to the Columbia School of Journalism. (That's about 10 cents per word for the article in question.)

She received neither. Instead, what she received was a rather condescending response from Griggs that read, in part, as follows:

“… honestly Monica, 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 (sic) 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. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me!”

Can anyone guess what happened next?

  1. On Thursday morning, Gaudio's story went viral.
  2. Enraged readers flooded the Cooks Source Facebook page with a near-constant stream of angry, profane wall posts.
  3. Griggs stirred the hornets' nest by engaging some of the readers on the Facebook page with a few ill-advised posts, including one that read, “Any publicity is good publicity.” (Really?)
  4. The blogosphere got into the act by digging up examples of other alleged instances of Cooks Source publishing content without permission, including numerous articles from The Food Network.
  5. Mainstream media from around the world picked up on the story.

Thursday morning was probably just like any other at work for the folks at Cooks Source. Thursday evening must have felt like the apocalypse. In a span of about six hours, they went from obscurity to the 2010 version of “United Breaks Guitars.”

A few personal thoughts here:

  • I hate seeing mob justice rule the web. As amazing a resource as the Internet is, it often feels largely untamed and uncivil. We'll say things online under a cloak of anonymity that we would never say in person. There was a lot of that on Cooks Source's Facebook page yesterday, and it disturbs me.
  • Be that as it may, I am a writer by trade, and if Gaudio's claims are true, count me among the enraged. I'm also amazed that any competent editor could claim (as Griggs allegedly did) that “the web is considered 'public domain' ” when there's ample evidence to the contrary.
  • As a social media evangelist, I'm hoping that the fence-sitters won't see this as an excuse not to jump into the social media pool. That would be a mistake.

Make no mistake, folks: Social media is a game-changer, and if you haven't made the move yet, you need to soon.

What happened at Cooks Source is not a reason to fear social media. It's simply an example of a few of the things that we simply cannot do:

  • Don't be mean.
  • Don't steal anything. Be transparent, and give credit where credit is due.
  • Don't be defensive. If you're wrong, say so — and mean it.

Social media's not rocket science. It's a lot like life, actually. Be nice. Be open and truthful. Say “Please” and “Thank you” a lot. Share.

Do those things and social media will transform you. Ignore those things and social media will bury you.

Right, Cooks Source?

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