How Cooks Source Magazine Learned That Reputation Is A Scarce Good… As Reddit Applies The Social Mores Of Justice
from the reputation-is-a-scarce-good dept
One of the key points we’ve made over the years is that reputation is a scarce good, and doing something bad can be quite costly. In fact, in showing how social mores can often be much more effective than copyright laws in dealing with actions where someone is “wronged” by having their work copied in ways that appear to be unfair, we’ve suggested that social costs are a much more effective means of punishing those who do wrong.
As an example, check out this story, first sent in by slacker525600, but also submitted many more times, about how Cooks Source Magazine copied one woman’s blog post and published it as an article, without asking her permission or letting her even know about it. They did put her name on it, but she only found out after a friend spotted it and told her about it. Where the story takes a bizarre twist is after emailing with the editor of the magazine, Judith Griggs, asked the original author, Monica, what she wanted. Monica suggested a public apology (on Facebook) and a modest $130 donation to Columbia’s journalism school. That’s when Griggs responded like this:
“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But 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 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! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”
That response not only shows a rather confused understanding of copyright law, but also suggests someone who’s kinda sorta heard arguments about why copying can be beneficial, and jumbled them all together in her head. Now, we’ve spent plenty of time over the years showing how content creators can be better off allowing their works to be copied, but even so, Grigg’s response appears totally tone deaf to what Monica’s actual concerns were. But here’s where social mores and reputational value take over. Monica’s story made it onto Reddit and it got picked up by tons of others, leading the Facebook page of Cooks Source to be filled with angry comments from people supporting Monica.
And, just like that, Cooks Source (and Judith Griggs’) reputation gets knocked down quite a bit. Reputation is a scarce good, and doing things that people don’t approve of can come back to bite you.
There are a few other interesting lessons out of this. First is that, contrary to what some people claim, you don’t have to be a “big name” to make these things work for you. People have a sense of when someone has been genuinely wronged, and they step up. So, Monica was able to get attention for this, despite not being “famous” in the conventional sense. Second, contrary to the claims that the various “online mobs” that hang out in places like Reddit “just want everything for free,” various online communities have always shown a willingness to stand up against situations where they feel someone was genuinely wronged. And that should give you an idea of what they really think of various situations where some record label complains about file sharing. It’s a totally different situation, and people react accordingly.