Have you heard about the Cooks Source copyright scandal? If you haven’t check out the write up at PlagiarismToday. In short, a small, free print magazine took an article from the internet, put it in their magazine and never asked for permission.

The author of the piece contacted the publication and asked for an apology in the magazine and on their Facebook page and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. And that’s where it got interesting. The response from the editor of the magazine included this gem:

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!

Emphasis mine. Essentially: yeah, we took your stuff. But, be glad we didn’t take it AND say someone else wrote it. And, oh yeah, your article stunk. We fixed it. You should be thanking us! For publishing your article without your permission. Or something. Pretty crazy.

The author shared this with the web and, well, it went rather predictably from there. Such an obvious wrong was easily spread around, it received mainstream media attention, advertisers were contacted and distanced themselves and eventually, the editor released a statement and made a public apology.

Except, wait, it wasn’t really a good apology, as Jonathan notes. It was a backhanded apology where the editor attempted to portray the publication and it’s advertisers as victims. Other people called the editor out on this and more instances of copyright infringement were uncovered.

With the mounting pressure, the further wrongdoing and the continued mistakes in the handling of this situation, the publication has closed shop and issued another statement with an apology. But, still, it was backhanded and, frankly, difficult to read. It was accusatory and was full of excuses and blame.

I’m not here to pile on. But, here’s the thing. The lesson that people need to learn from this is not about copyright infringement. It’s not about the “self-righteous internet mob” killing a magazine. The magazine didn’t need to go away. It was further blunders and extremely poor crisis management that led to that. But, even after all of the problems, the publication still could have stood up, faced the news, made it right and apologized. Genuinely, seriously apologized. Instead, the editor took the easy way out, in my opinion.

No,  here is the lesson. Most of the time, it’s not the mistake, it’s how you handle the mistake. When the editor was first contacted, if she had simply offered a kind, genuine, excuse-free apology and paid the writer or made the donation, there would not have been any mainstream coverage. It ends there! There is no story, there is no outrage, there is no mob. It. Is. Over. This is the crucial point! The mistake wasn’t the story. The story was the editor’s flippant, disrespectful remarks.

If you want to do wrong and then be bold enough to attack the person you wronged and make sarcastic remarks, you get what you get. If you act to fix the wrong and respond in an appropriate manner, you’ll get a lot better.

People make mistakes. But, mistakes become nightmares when you respond poorly.

What I do when I make mistakes.