The power of social media was on full display this past week, as
the unauthorized publication of a recipe for apple pie drew a quick
and virulent online response. The story begins on November 3, when
blogger Monica Gaudio announced on her blog that Cooks Source, a
small New England magazine, had republished an article on the history of apple
pie (she had previously written it for another
publication) without permission. While Gaudio was credited for her
work, she never consented to, nor was she compensated for, the use
of the article. After emailing the magazine's editor, Gaudio
received a response informing her that the internet is "public
domain". The email, which Gaudio published on her blog,
sparked a fierce response from an online community that quickly coalesced on Facebook
to disparage the magazine's conduct.
Contrary to what Gaudio was told, works are not considered to be
in the public domain simply because they are published on the
internet. Rather, works are considered to be in the public domain
if they are not protected by intellectual property rights, if such
rights have expired or if the rights have been forfeited. The fact
that a work is published on the internet rather than on paper does
not change the definition of the public domain and, while there are
public domain works on the internet, such works are not in the
public domain simply because of their publication on the
Under the Berne Convention for the Protection
of Literary and Artistic Works and the Copyright Act
(Canada), copyright protection is automatically provided to a work
as soon as the original work is written down, recorded or entered
as a computer file. Under the "fair dealing"
provisions of the Copyright Act,
individuals may use original works without infringing upon the
works' copyright only if used for specific purposes: criticism
and review, news reporting, and private study or research. The
Copyright Act also exempts certain categories of users,
such as non-profit educational institutions. Republishing a work
that first appeared on the internet does not provide for a fair
dealing exception simply because the work first appeared
Beyond the public domain issues, the Cooks Source case also
provides a good example of the power and influence that social
media can have on a business. As discussed above, online reaction
to allegations of copyright infringement was swift, with Cooks
Source's Facebook page quickly overrun with derogatory posts.
According to a statement by Cooks
Source, its Facebook page was hacked and fake
Facebook and Twitter accounts were created to spread word of the
uproar. Facebook users also began publishing links to other
articles that Cooks Source had allegedly copied, and a list of the
magazine's advertisers was soon posted online (with contact
information), prompting Cooks Source to issue a plea that users
stop bombarding their advertisers with "distasteful
In this age of social media, therefore, businesses must be more
careful than ever to ensure the propriety of their actions to avoid
the type of response seen in this case. While Cooks Source may be a
small regional magazine, the response to its actions came from
across the online universe and the story was widely reported in the
mainstream press. Thus, while the internet and social media can be
invaluable in building a business and a brand, this case provides
an example of how powerful social media can be when going the other
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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A recent Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench decision allowed a court-appointed receiver to sell and transfer intellectual property rights free and clear of encumbrances, finding that a license to use improvements of an invention was a contractual interest and not a property interest.
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