Per Theodore, in the issue’s Publisher’s Note:
We’ve chosen the theme of this Reader Magazine to be Purple America, to remind us of the common hopes and ideals we share as a nation. We first heard the term “Purple America” in Yes!, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Because we believe many of the ideas espoused by Yes! deserve to be heard in the broader marketplace of ideas, we’ve given our voice to republish some ideas through a special collaboration.
Except, says Yes!’s Pibel, “this is a collaboration that did not involve any communication with Yes! magazine. There was no collaboration—‘special’ or otherwise.” (Even so, this one-sided collaboration appears to be the only instance in which Reader’s founder, Theodore, has sort of credited a source publication.)
“It’s particularly egregious for us because it’s really a placement that is contrary to our brand,” says Pibel. “We’re all about sustainability, economic justice and ramping down consumerism. And being used in support of shopping coupons is not usually where we prefer to show up.”
Pibel has found an attorney to represent the magazine pro bono and draw up a cease and desist letter. “We want people to reprint our stuff, we just want to have credit for it and maybe a link to our website when they do,” he says.
But more than anything, Pibel was stunned by the “chutzpah” involved in Reader’s stunt. “In today’s Internet world, I think people are getting real confused about what’s appropriate use and what’s not,” he says. “But I think it goes far beyond that to take an interview and substitute your name as interviewer. The level of audacity involved there—I don’t even know how you would even think of doing that.”
Chris Theodore, founder and publisher of Reader, wasn’t up for explaining. When contacted by CJR, Theodore refused to grant a phone interview or respond to e-mailed questions, and instead sent an e-mail threatening a lawsuit if we pursued the story. He also accused of this reporter of conspiring in a “smear campaign” with an individual “who seeks to speciously discredit our much loved publication, and is using your institution for this purpose.”
Despite the perils that the Internet would seem to present for plagiarizers of our time—it can take but a simple Google search to undress the Emperor these days—Theodore does not shy away from promoting Reader on its many platforms, and perhaps even offers a clue for us about his editorial practices at his Tumblr and Facebook pages, in a post titled, “Massive Collaboration Changes Everything,” where he hints at the substance of a new social network, Wikitny, he is building and which he imagines will become the “place to add your mark to the destiny of the world.”
Perhaps also telling is this language at the Reader Magazine legal page:
The information presented here has been compiled by Noble Media, Inc. from internal and external sources. However, no representation is made or warranty given as to the completeness or accuracy of such information. In particular, you should be aware that this information may be incomplete, may contain errors or may have become out of date.
Yet, if Theodore’s philosophy is that unsourced compilation is the same thing as collaboration, it hasn’t stopped him from displaying the standard legal—copyright and trademark—protections for Reader’s content as well. You will be prosecuted for plagiarizing the plagiarizer, apparently.
“It’d be nice if there were some recourse,” says Vincent Zandri, a freelance journalist and author of fiction whose feature, “One Man’s Victory Against All Odds”—published by RT in May 2009— was republished in Reader’s November/December/January 2010-11 issue. “If one of your stories is being reprinted and you’re not paid for it, that’s plagiarism and money out of your pocket—especially for me; I’m a freelancer.”
Zandri says his work has been pirated numerous times, and he was not terribly surprised to learn he had been plagiarized and republished in a Southern California direct mailer:
As great as the digital world has been as a journalist and fiction writer—especially with lucrative ebook sales—it has been just as troubling because people are pirating me left and right . But as a journalist, I’m on to the next story and I’m working. I just don’t have the time or the resources. I don’t know what I could do—I’m powerless and as long as it is out there digitally, it can be hacked.
Zandri promotes a lot of his work on his website, a strategy he says he is beginning to question as a result of his continuing battle against piracy and plagiarism.