Friday, November 05, 2010

Judith Griggs: Stupidest Woman In American Publishing History

Like many Americans in This Economy, I took a professional beating over the last couple years and have yet to completely recover. Still, I’ve at least reached the point where I no longer need hang on to old college-related paperwork, since my writing career’s established enough that a potential new employer would want to see my clipfile rather than college transcripts, and check references from editors and publishers rather than from professors of the last millennium.

So yesterday, while looking through paperwork stashed in an out-of-the-way file drawer, I found and discarded a six-inch-thick pile of old photocopies: transcripts, recommendations and the like. I also found and kept a much smaller pile of my own original writings; mostly grad school term papers with titles like The Emotional Growth of Sir Walter Raleigh as Evidenced in his Poetry, and some early drafts of the unbearably pretentious novella which served as my graduate thesis.

Sorting through this juvenilia made me realize I needed to update my resume, adding to the list of clients and publications I’ve written for. (Or “the list of clients and publications for whom I have written,” as I would’ve said in grad school term papers where prepositions weren’t anything you could properly end sentences with.) In such cases I must pick and choose, listing only the most impressive or most recent names because on a one-page resume there’s simply no room to list every single blog, website or print publication containing something I wrote, especially not in today’s cut-and-paste era when entire documents can be plagiarized in less than a second. Specifically, I wonder if I’m not owed a few publishing credits from a local giveaway magazine called Travel Source.

If you spent any time online yesterday – maybe surfing the web while I sneezed my way through dusty old piles of dead-tree media – you probably know the story of Judith Griggs and Monica Gaudio.

Swift recap: Gaudio is the amateur medievalist who runs Gode Cookery, a website devoted to medieval recipes and food history. She also keeps a LiveJournal blog, mostly as an online scrapbook for photos of her knitting projects and Society for Creative Anachronism activities. But on Wednesday she posted something a little different: the now-famous story of how Judith Griggs, editor (and apparently owner and sole employee) of Cooks [sic] Source magazine and its sister publication Travel Source, stole a story Gaudio wrote for Gode Cookery about the history of medieval apple pies.

Gaudio only learned of this when an aspiring-writer friend of hers asked how she snagged the publishing credit. Figuring Griggs had made some sort of honest mistake, Gaudio e-mailed asking for a published apology, and $130 cash donation to Columbia Journalism School. Instead, Judith Griggs sent the chutzpah-laden response that’s been forwarded around the world, part of which allegedly said:
"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!"
No doubt Ms. Griggs’ contributors write for her for free; problem is, they don’t seem to know they’re writing for her at all. And bragging about her editing prowess is especially ironic considering she made three errors in her first sentence alone: missing comma after “Yes”; “three” should be spelled out rather than a numeral; and the third vowel in “Housatonic” is “a,” not “i” as She of the Thirty Years’ Experience seems to think. Then, too, there’s her complete and utter wronghood regarding how publication and copyright laws actually work.

Anyway, had Griggs paid Gaudio the $130 – and immediately taken down all her publications’ online archives – she might have made the matter go away, with no one other than Gaudio any wiser. Instead, the story went viral and within two hours had spread all over the world. Enthusiastic amateur researchers discovered – at last count – a mind-numbing hundred and one separate examples of Cooks Source plagiarism and/or copyright infringement, not just from minor bloggers who maybe can’t afford to sue, but biggies like Martha Stewart, Food Network and Disney.

There’s reports of more content theft discovered in Travel Source too, and the newspapers and regional magazines I write or have written for all cover pretty much the same swath of New England as Griggs’ plagiarism-fest. I wonder now if I haven’t unwittingly contributed to Griggs’ publication efforts.

And I still have trouble believing anyone can reach such dizzying heights of cluelessness. Griggs committed blatant copyright infringement against Gaudio, was offered the chance to squirm off the hook for only $130, and turned it down? That's like saying no to the guy who tells you “Yeah, you DID just murder my one true beloved, but gimme enough money to clean up the bloodstains and we’ll call it even”: in light of the penalties you’re actually facing here, how can you possibly think this is an offer you can afford to refuse?

I also wonder if I’m not eligible for some special prize, being the One Millionth Blogger to opine on l’affaire Judith Griggs.


Blogger rhhardin said...

A good libertarian, or even just an economist, should argue that copyright ought to be abolished entirely.

Copyright increases rent-seeking without increasing creativity.

Theoretical work Michele Boldrin.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I disagree, especially in this case: Monica Gaudio did the actual research and work of writing, whereas Judith Griggs did nothing but copy the work and effort of others ... and Griggs is the only one making money in this scenario? Entirely ass-backwards.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

I hope you find an example of your work being stolen by Griggs.
At least for the next year, it would make an interesting addition to your resume. What a great conversation starter.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Indeed. I've only been able to find one archived copy of Travel Source -- the current one -- and there IS copyright infringement already discovered, though not from me. I skimmed through the titles and saw nothing familiar -- had she printed articles about day trips to certain state parks or Ye Olde Rustick Maple Sugar Houses, I would have scrupulously read that copy to see if anything sounded familiar.

As things stand now, however, I'm almost insulted. "What, you don't think MY work is also worth stealing? Bite me, Judith Griggs!"

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Cracker Jack said...

I am not a Libertarian, Economist nor Republican and I don't agree with Rhhardin (pessimist I suppose but only pertaining to politics). I don't disagree with you Rhhardin on the grounds that I create but rather that one can work around Copyrights and still come up with creative work and original work.

Very interesting article Jennifer.

6:46 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

You do get the benefit of your work - you put it out first.

If you want to make money off of it, you have to do some marketing too.

What good is your work to society if it doesn't get circulation?

We're talking about why society ought to work to give you monopoly rights, which is something society does, not you.

Most good ideas are not patented or copyrighted at all, and they keep coming along.

Competition is on improving the idea and making it easier to use or of broader application, not on monopoly rights enforcement.

In short, there's no reason for society to lift a finger to help you. Look out for your own interests for a change.

Listen to the link.

8:27 PM  

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