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The Cooks Source, plagiarism, and the Great Gatsby

By Alexandra Petri

Cooks Source? More like Cooks Source Not Cited.

Have you ever been excoriated by the entire Internet simultaneously? Do you want to be?

Try taking someone's article without permission from a website, and, when the author writes to complain, claiming you are doing her a favor by editing it "for your portfolio" and that the Internet is "public domain."

Cooks Source (until today, when the Internet descended on it with torches and a reliable recipe for Cooks Source Brulee) is an "ad-driven, newsstand-distributed, for-profit magazine," according to Nick Mamatas, whom I am citing.

But, apparently, doing things like "citing" or "not plagiarizing articles" are not things that are necessary to do.

Here's, according to Monica Gaudio, author of the piece, what the e-mail from the magazine's editor said:

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!"

Apparently, you're allowed to earn money by taking other people's work without permission and incorporating it into your publication! How did I miss this? Had I known this a scant few months ago, my posts would have been infinitely more dynamic!

Guess I'm starting now. Call me Ishmael!

I'd like to tell you a story about my friend, let's call him Jay. Gatsby. Gatsby was a swell guy. Liked parties. He also enjoyed things that were green. He died, though. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I just got this e-mail from F. Scott Fitzgerald that seemed a bit odd, claiming he wasn't honored by what I'd done to his work. Here's my response:

Honestly F., you should be happy I didn't just take this "Great Gatsby" book, rename it "Okay Gatsby" and sign my name to it. It happens a lot. I refer you to "Okay Expectations," and "A Streetcar Named Okay," two books I wrote recently. F., I found your book in the public library, and, honestly, F., would it be called a "public library" if everything there weren't free to be taken and incorporated into publications that are then used to make money? I don't think so. This sort of thing happens a lot in the workplace -- specifically, the workplace where, after your work is over, they leave money on the dresser for you. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that professional is a euphemism for "person to whom this sort of thing happens a lot," and that the book you wrote was in bad need of editing and is much better now than was originally. Nobody really cared about all that stuff with Jordan. If it's not Michael, I'm not playing! Those are words to live by. Now it will work well for your portfolio. I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, because I think you will spend it all on alcohol. We put time into rewrites! All that crossing out words and adding misspellings is time-consuming work! You should compensate me! Anyway, I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, mostly because they do not know that I am doing this, and I have many who write for me, always for free, again because they do not know that I am doing this.

Brulee, anyone?

By Alexandra Petri  | November 4, 2010; 6:07 PM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, That's awkward  | Tags:  food, parody, plagiarism  
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Next: Congratulations, world's new oldest woman, Eunice Sanborn


Been watching her change her site tonight in real time. Replacing some images with similar ones (were the others borrowed?), pulling her magazine from being downloadable. No more 'about us' or 'contact us' pages or in the nav. She seems to not like the attention when a lot of other businesses would crave it.

Posted by: Fill | November 4, 2010 11:26 PM | Report abuse

Oh I laughed so hard at your response Alexandra! Hilarious. In fact, I loved it so much, I think I'll rip it off and call it mine now!

That editor is almost beyond parody.

Posted by: Lori-M | November 5, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

It is bad form to rip something off from someone and not site them... but since intellectual "property" is not property, and sharing of ideas is what grows a culture, I hope more people ignore these silly, ignorant and backwards copyright "laws."

Posted by: kmfdm2020 | November 5, 2010 3:33 AM | Report abuse

To kmfdm2020,

To claim that "rip[ping] something off from someone and not [c]ite them" is merely "bad form" is tantamount to claiming that stealing from someone's wallet would be socially acceptable so long as you leave a note. Of course, the notion of "intellectual" property somehow not qualifying as "real" property since it's intangible is a bafflingly literal interpretation. I absolutely agree that "sharing ideas is what grows culture," but stealing them certainly does not. All that is required for healthy sharing is giving credit by citing sources.

Posted by: michaelcourteau | November 5, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse


Like you, I believed in the green light, the orgasmic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run slower, be unable to stretch out our arms at all... And then one fine morning, not be able to remember what brulee is.

Posted by: divtune | November 5, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I thought this saga needed a "Downfall Video"

Posted by: mickp | November 6, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

The Downfall parody is excellent. But you don't have to be a great comedian to make something funny out of this. Just use Judith Griggs own words, unedited:

Posted by: vastaman | November 7, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

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