Thoughts on Cooks [sic] Source

Thu Nov 4, 2010

No programming discussion this time. Just some thoughts I had today.

So I caught wind of this during my daily Reddit trawl at lunch, and I didn't think much of it. Then I noticed Neil Gaiman and Wil Wheaton were chiming in via twitter. Then I saw a link to the magazine's FaceBook page which was in the process of defacement. I chuckled about it, then I went back to work. When I got home, it was still happening. The FB was up to 2200 "friends", the discussion group was filled with people now investigating Cooks Source articles from the archives under suspicion that Gaudio wasn't the first victim of this editor (she wasn't, by the way).

The flippant, asinine email1 probably fueled internet anger more than any kind of legal offense, but this didn't stop people from writing things like "thief", "plagiarist" and "copyright infringement" on the [Cooks Source]( wall. Many of them also wrote "Twatwaffle", and various Chuck Norris/Monty Python references, but hey, this is the internet. Well, while online content certainly isn't 'public domain' as Ms Griggs claimed, the accusations don't seem fair.

First, she's not a thief. In the same way that someone who downloads a movie illegally isn't a thief. That is an offense, but stealing ain't the right one because the victim isn't actually being deprived of anything when someone makes a copy2.

Second, she's not a plagiarist. She might be an idiot with a tin ear for period-piece writing, a poor editor, a worse speller, and a self-righteous, uninformed ass, but she did credit Gaudio for the article3.

The third accusation of "copyright infringement", is prickly too. It's not that she didn't do it, according to the letter of current law, it's pretty clear she did. And to be fair, this is pretty much the one place where I feel copyright is approaching a good thing4. I'm still torn between the implications here, because the outrage tells me that even while ACTA is on many minds, and most folks I talk to complain about how restrictive current copyright is, a very vocal part of the internet still considers it a good thing. The really worrying part for me is that a CC-attribution-share-alike license would expressly allow what happened here.

I hate to be the killjoy, or to call down the internet thunder, but I wouldn't have a problem with that part of what she did. Endorsing an open culture doesn't just work when you argue against DRM on music and games, or when someone tries to shut down Pirate Bay, or when people hell-bent on censorship cry "DMCA!" without cause. It means that everyone gets access to your stuff too.

By all means, continue trolling. Assholes deserve to be slapped around just for being assholes, doubly so when they're also grossly incompetent and quick to resort to the "N years experience" argument. But I'm going to go on record as saying that I think reproducing work you find online isn't a bad thing. If it is, it shouldn't be a bad thing. The entire advantage that the internet has over traditional media is that digital copying lets information fly around the globe at almost the speed of light. If you invoke copyright, you slow that information down by artificial means. It's at once inefficient and depressing that people would suffer the lack of light-speed just to keep their ideas under control.

Plagiarism sucks, self-righteous assholes suck, but copying shouldn't.

  1. Which I won't copy here; you can find it easily enough by now.
  2. Aany argue that they're deprived of potential profits, but even if that held water legally, it's a moot point in this case because Gaudio's blog is free.
  3. Whereas plagiarism would have entailed putting someone else's name on the byline.
  4. Someone reproducing others' works without permission or compensation and for the express purpose of making money by it.

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