Does the web devalue writing?

Monica Gaudio recently had an article published in Cooks Source magazine. This came as a surprise to her, since the magazine simply lifted it off the web, did some cursory copy editing and published it without asking permission. Copyright Infringement and Me. Gaudio is certainly not the first writer to have her work infringed, and Cooks Source is certainly not the first magazine to do so. What’s made this story take off is the condescending and blatantly wrong response from Cooks Source’s editor:

“I do know about copyright laws.… 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!”

Copyright attaches to works when they are fixed, such as when they are posted to a web page. Just because a work is posted on the freely accessible web doesn’t mean that the work itself is free to exploit. Remember: willful copyright infringement of works registered with the Copyright Office is subject to statutory damages of up to $150,000.
While traditional publishing may turn to the internet to avoid having to pay or talk to freelancers, it also has given freelance journalists the opportunity to write and edit search engine bait for tiny amounts of money. Jessanne Collins, The Awl, My Summer on the Content Farm

“If you’ve been keeping up with media musings on the Walmartification of service journalism by Demand—which runs sites like eHow and LiveStrong—and the other so-called “content farms,” like Yahoo’s Associated Content and AOL’s Seed, you know that this company’s business strategy is regarded as “audacious and controversial”; that their content is algorithmically designed be narrow in focus and broad in reach in order to maximize ad potential, and that it’s also generally kind of “crappy”; that by paying insulting rates to the freelancers who churn out this copy, they devalue the work of people who attempt to write for a living; and that they might not be as profitable as they like to say they are.”