Why Does Conde Nast Want Me to Stop Posting My Own Articles on My Own Blog?

Last Friday, Politics of the Plate received the following email from the legal department of Condé Nast Publications, the company that recently shut down Gourmet magazine, where I was an independent contractor for a number of years. The email concerns a half-dozen articles linked to at the bottom of the left-hand column of this site.

Dear Mr. Estabrook:

I write on behalf of The Condé Nast Publications (“CNP”), publisher of Gourmet and its accompanying website Gourmet.com.

It has recently come to our attention that you have posted on your website, www.politicsoftheplate.com, several of your articles originally commissioned by our magazine, many of which can still be seen at our website www.Gourmet.com

As you may or may not know, CNP has the exclusive right to publish such material.  CNP greatly values the content commissioned from you and has every intention to continue publishing it going forward.  As such, on behalf of CNP I must respectfully request that these articles be taken down from your website to ensure our exclusivity. 

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding this matter.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this regard.

Very truly yours,

Ricardo Yoselevitz

Leaving aside the fact that I am the author of and the copyright holder on the articles in question, one wonders why the company, a multi-billion-dollar operation that owns dozens of magazines, would bother with an unemployed writer who posts a few of his own articles on his own blog, which has revenues of absolutely zero.

I used to write articles similar to the ones that appear on politicsoftheplate.com for Gourmet’s website. When Condé Nast shuttered the magazine, I decided to create this blog because I’m a naturally curious sort, and I felt that there were not enough outlets for serious articles about the links between food and politics. I also wanted to make available a handful of my older articles that were still timely and, I think, important. They examine subjects such as:

–Florida tomato pickers being held in slavery (an on-going issue)

–The environmental damage done by salmon and shrimp farms

–The ecological havoc unleashed in California in the name of food safety

–The demise of a six-generation dairy farm

Over the past several months, Condé Nast has laid off scores of talented editors and designers. It seems sad that the once-great magazine company known for quality journalism can afford to keep lawyers on the payroll who have nothing better to do with their time than send emails like this.

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72 comments

  1. Ilene Ross says:

    One has to wonder if perhaps the lawyers work on commission and are paid based on letters generated and former employees harassed. Or, maybe CN kept one or two creative writers on staff to pen letters on behalf of the legal staff.

  2. melissa says:

    And the fact that the posted links go directly to the gourmet.com website–is linking publishing? ridiculous. keep posting and keep writing! love your work.

  3. Shannon says:

    I don’t know why they would be pestering you about this since Gourmet is clearly defunct now, but I wanted to let you know that reading your article in Gourmet about shrimp farming prompted me to stop buying shrimp unless I know it is sustainably farmed in the US. This is important information and I hope you are able to keep it available.

  4. Cuizoo says:

    This is ridiculous. I, for one, love your take on food and politics and only visited Gourmet to see your column. Talk about a kick in the gut — not bad enough they shut down the magazine, shut down the web presence, lay off scores of people, now they have to try to shut you down personally? Clearly they are continuing to demonstrate how little they understand the landscape of web-based media.

    It’s hard core and makes me glad I cancelled Bon Appetit.

  5. sweetbird says:

    Gourmet was a favorite of mine for a very long time – but apparently it was you that I liked so much! The stories on tomato workers and the dairy farm were incredibly poignant pieces that changed the way I looked at both tomatoes and dairy. Your articles have made me even more conscious of who I should be supporting with my dollars and who needs to be run out of town (so to speak). The tomato piece also made me look much closer at the way farms were run in Salinas, CA, a town that at the time I lived quite near.

    I find it absurd that CNP would take the time to harass you about these articles when they’ve quite obviously got bigger problems on their plate.

  6. Shauna Bloom says:

    It is especially curious because the links to those articles take you directly to their website. They should be happy to have you driving more traffic to their own site.

  7. Juanita says:

    I think this says it all. The state of greed and power run amuck in corporate America today. If they put half as much thought and effort into ways to better market their product as they probably will into going after a small time writer who cared enough to contribute to their product actually having content then they might have stood a chance to stay in business, successfully. Such a petty #fail.

  8. I agree completely that CN ought to have better things to do. On the other hand, if when they contracted the pieces, they specified that they were buying all right exclusively and in perpetuity, then I guess they can legally say that you don’t have any right to use them yourself. It’s a very tough world now for us content providers–I share your pain. And also wish you well.

  9. Ed Bruske says:

    Screw the bastards!

  10. JasonC says:

    But if you did retain the copyright, your contract should be pretty clear about when, where and how you can reprint. That CNP’s claim of rights, if they have them, would survive the demise of the magazine itself is not surprising. And if in fact they have exclusivity in perpetuity than it was a rather unfriendly contract (though increasingly common in Web age). If they don’t, then the lawyer is indeed wasting everybody’s time.

  11. Nancy says:

    The freelance contract you signed originally ( and which may well have been updated over the years) should specify the rights you sold for your pieces — First North American serial? In which case, the copyright should have reverted to you by now and CNP could well be in violation themselves if the contract did not specifically state their web use of the pieces. All rights? You’re outta luck. Something else? Many nowadays specify 1st N Am serial w/web rights, wh means you both get to use the pieces in perpetuity.

  12. Maryn says:

    I wonder whether that lawyer clicked through? Because they seem to be assuming you put the pieces on your own pages – but as all of us have noticed and commented, you didn’t publish them, you only linked to them on the CNP/Gourmet site. The letter says “CNP has the exclusive right to publish such material”, and you have respected that right, because you haven’t repubbed them, you have only linked.

    Are they really saying they don’t want links? Do they understand what websites are for?

  13. Molly says:

    This doesn’t make any sense at all – you link directly to their site. All you have posted is a link to the article at their site, not the article itself. You are driving traffic to them, not diverting it. Sounds like they need to set aside some bucks for a decent lawyer. This is ridiculous. I miss Gourmet, but I’m thrilled you’re still writing such great stuff, Barry.

  14. Deb says:

    Let us know when the legal defense fund is established. You can count on my support and probably that of many of your loyal followers.

    And do you have a mailing address for the bastards? I feel a strongly worded nasty-gram is in order.

  15. Zora says:

    Thanks for posting about this! Followed a link on Twitter, and now I know you’re the one who wrote that excellent article on Florida tomato farming–a pretty ass-kicking story I was surprised and happy to see in Gourmet.

    Good luck with future writing–I’ll be following along!

  16. JR says:

    Thank goodness they are keeping gourmet.com alive so the spammers can continue to post there. Have you looked at the comments on the site lately (Politics of the Plate holds 5 of the top 10 “most commented” slots, by the way)? It’s all spam all the time. Some clever CNP employee could snag that $10K prize right now: Disable the comments on gourmet.com. Check please.

  17. Elise says:

    Looks to me like the legal department is confused and thinks that you have republished those articles on your own site, rather than what you appear to be doing, which is linking to the articles on gourmet.com. I would bet a simple email would clear up the confusion. As for rights, whatever your contract allowed is what your contract allowed. If you signed away your publishing rights to the articles you wrote for Gourmet, and now want them back, you might be out of luck. You might be able to buy them back. Gourmet may be gone, but its publisher still owns the content. If you are indeed publishing your Gourmet articles on your site, and you had signed a contract that gave exclusive publishing rights to Gourmet (a right belonging now to Conde Nast) then Conde has every right to insist that you take them down.

  18. Mr. Estabrook,

    I followed each of your articles on Gourmet.com and was so sad to see the magazine and website shut down. Your are right, there are too few outlets for writing of this kind, and I am thrilled you have continued to write your findings here. It seems uncertain if a mainstream publication like Gourmet will publish this kinds of topics again.

    Thank you for your continued passion for exploring the politics behind food, your work is inspiring!

  19. Another Writer says:

    My contract with another Conde Naste pub says that I gave them all rights to the pieces they published–the entire copyright–and I’m sure yours says the same.

    Know what you’re signing. When you work for a national glossy, they own your content. Don’t whine about it when they try to enforce their rights because you’d probably do the same thing if someone tried to republish your work without paying for the rights or asking permission.

    Bottom line, your Gourmet pieces were their’s the minute you signed that contract and handed them in.

  20. keith says:

    Perhaps others here will do same, post links to Gourmet

    I’ll assume lawyers working for CN charge extra to actually click the links to see where they go

  21. Mark Stuart says:

    I guess the question is, did you sell your articles to CNP or did you merely rent them, or just sell the rights to publish them while retaining ownership and freedom to publish somewhere else?

    Would CNP still pay you for your columns if you would also be selling them at the same time to, say, Time Magazine?

  22. Sam Fromartz says:

    The fact that they shuttered Gourmet, laid off writers and editors and designers, but then kept the lawyers on hand to protect the intellectual property they no longer produce — the irony is at the very least worth a cartoon in the New Yorker.

  23. Pearce says:

    Wonderful! Doesn’t it show how unremarkable CNP is at decision-making. Like a petulant child, they kick and scream after they’ve made their own mess of things.

  24. That is seriously shocking and confusing. As the copyright holder don’t you have that right?

  25. jeff says:

    Don’t be scared by these jerks.
    The Internet is a series of links. Magazines are made from dead trees.

  26. Rick Johnson says:

    It isn’t at all uncommon that freelance work is done as “work for hire” and as such, the original author gives up any claim of ownership or copyright in exchange for the article fee. In this instance, it’s no different than a writer on staff producing a piece for the magazine. It might come out under the staffer’s byline but the piece belongs to the magazine and cannot be used, even by the original writer, unless specific permission is granted.

    So, post up your contact and let’s have a look at the gist of this controversy.

  27. Adriana says:

    I’m also wondering what your contract says. Seems like they’re trying to curtail a precedence for freelance writers republishing contracted content on their own blogs–freaking out over the intractability of online publishing in general.

  28. Nicole says:

    Interesting. Without knowing the terms of the original contract, I can take sides or comment on who may be right or wrong in this issue, but I was wondering if you replied and, if so, what you said.

    Please keep us posted.

    The article about sustainable (and non-sustainable) shrimp really curtailed my shrimp-buying habits, too. Thanks for your work.

  29. josh says:

    I think what they are doing is totally absurd, but I did notice you have a link to download a PDF version of one of your gourmet.com articles on this page: http://ow.ly/17SNI

    Could this be what they were targeting? Is it petty to be going after this kind of thing, when many other writers post clips of their past work? Yes. But, perhaps this was what they were specifically going after.

  30. Jil Nelson says:

    No wonder Conde Nast is is trouble. They simply don’t understand that you’re linking to them. Your work is so important. Keep it up. I am SO underwhelmed by Bon Appetite. It is an embarrassment.

  31. Sharon Miro says:

    I am never more astounded when I see the tom-foolery produced by lawyers. It is indicative of all that is repugnant about where we find ourselves today as a society.

    Just the sentence structure of the letter works my last nerve. His tone is condescending and dismissive, and so, so “Conde Nast-ie”

    Keep us posted.

  32. Roz Cummins says:

    I have tried very hard to understand the reasoning behind this move, and I cannot come up with a satisfying answer. Remember, however, that these are the same geniuses who shuttered Gourmet, so logic, publishing industry experience, and good judgment may not be the best lenses to use to analyze this decision.

    I hope that you will continue to publish articles about important topics on your blog and in magazines whose editors and publishers value your work and your expertise.

  33. Marshrat says:

    The reasoning behind this is simple: You signed a bad contract to get work. If you don’t want your rights restricted, don’t give them away in a bad contract.

    Conde is certainly nasty. And those who continue to accede to their unreasonable terms risk not only take-down letters but the entire creative profession. The lesson is straightforward: Read contracts before you sign them. And don’t sign bad contracts.

  34. LM Walker says:

    Two questions. As a freelance writer, almost all of my contracts for magazine articles have given full rights — not just first rights — to the publication. I haven’t always liked it, but, for instance, one of my clients put that stipulation *on the back of my checks* just above where I would have to sign to cash the darn things. Not a lot of choice there. So yes, question one is: Are you sure you hold the copyright?
    Second thing is, a couple of commenters have written that your articles appear to be links to Gourmet’s own site. I don’t think so, because the URLs remain politicsoftheplate URLs. Can you let us know which it is? And how is it that the clickable banner ad to Gourmet appears on them? If Gourmet is getting ad clicks from your site, you and the lawyers really ought to be able to work out a deal.
    As for why you — struggling publishers hope that by glomming up all the rights they can, they will somehow be able to make future revenue out of everything they’ve paid for. The problem isn’t the money they might or might not make from you; the problem is that if they allow a lot of free use, they’ll have a harder time legally defending their rights in some hypothetical later case where it matters. And although Gourmet per se has ceased publishing, CNP still owns the brand, and will doubtless still publish some books under the Gourmet name; plus, enough publishing revenue comes from reprint rights that the lawyers to defend those rights will be the last employees out of the building if it all goes bust. Somebody is still collecting money on the image libraries of Life and Look, magazines long off the newsstands; and CNP hopes it will still collect money on your work someday.
    I’m not defending them, but I see the logic. Unfortunately it’s a logic flawed by fear and misunderstanding of the value of the Web, as well as by a long-term stupidity endemic to publishing about the value of freelance writers. Have you checked in with the National Writers Union on this?

  35. Have you looked at your contracts with Conde Nast before writing that “I am the author of and the copyright holder….” ?

    Most magazine contracts I have signed going back decades include purchase of various rights, sometimes for the length of the copyright.

    The system needs an overhaul, but if you in fact signed away your rights then you have no complaint except with yourself for not reading your contracts.

    Given that the magazine is history you might inquire about getting your rights back, if in fact you did sell them or exclusively license the use of your work.

  36. bigyaz says:

    You signed a contract. The amount you were paid was (apparently, since you seem uncertain just what you signed) based on the publisher retaining all rights. Now you want to post it anyway. Live up to your contract.

    The people posting here who are seeing only the links to outside sites are wrong. He offers PDFs of the articles as well.

  37. Did you read your contracts with Conde Nast before writing that “I am the author of and the copyright holder….” ?

    Check it out is the first rule of journalism and it looks like you violated it by making an unchecked assertion.

    Most magazine contracts (and I have signed many going back decades) include purchase of various rights, sometimes all rights for the length of the copyright.

    The system is tilted in favor of publishers and needs an overhaul, but if you in fact signed away your rights then you have no right to post the artiles because they are not your property. If, however, your contract returns those rights to you or if they lapse for some stated reason (like closing the magazine) then you can post the pieces bearing your name.

    Note to all writers: read your contracts. And if you do not understand them learn.

    Given that the magazine is toast you might inquire about getting your rights back, if in fact you did sell them or exclusively license the use of your work.

  38. Did you read your contracts with Conde Nast before writing that “I am the author of and the copyright holder….” ?

    Check it out is the first rule of journalism and it looks like you violated it by making an unchecked assertion.

    Most magazine contracts (and I have signed many going back decades) include purchase of various rights, sometimes all rights for the length of the copyright.

    The system is tilted in favor of publishers and needs an overhaul, but if you in fact signed away your rights then you have no right to post the articles because they are not your property. If, however, your contract returns those rights to you or if they lapse for some stated reason (like closing the magazine) then you can post the pieces bearing your name.

    Note to all writers: read your contracts. And if you do not understand them learn.

    Given that the magazine is toast you might inquire about getting your rights back, if in fact you did sell them or exclusively license the use of your work.

  39. bigyaz says:

    In fact, the author is serving up PDFs of the actual pages from Gourmet, not just the text he wrote (see the link on this page: http://politicsoftheplate.com/?p=196).

    By anyone’s definition that’s a copyright infringement.

  40. WRM140 says:

    If they send a real ceast-and-decist ultimatum as a registered letter on company letterhead, then maybe you can take this seriously. This is just a “pretty please” request with no legal teeth. Veiled threats in an email? What a joke. Clearly you are not in violation of any exclusivity agreement even if your assertion of copyright ownership is invalid, as Another Writer suggests could be the case. LINKING to content hosted on their own servers is not REPUBLISHING the same content on your own server space.

  41. Thomas Cali says:

    It’s sad that a big company like CNP needs to bully you! You are a terrific writer and a terrific person! You do what is right and follow your heart! It’s obvious your heart is in your writing! You have the support of this reader!

  42. Carolyn Jung says:

    A sad commentary of our times. So the powers that be are in effect saying your work has value. Yet, those are the same powers that be who decided your work doesn’t have enough value to keep paying you to do what you do for a magazine that was profitable — but just not money-making enough. Good grief.

  43. Barry says:

    Bigyaz, thanks for the comment. Your point is well-taken, but I’m pretty sure all the Gourmet stuff in question is linked to Gourmet.com under the “Selected Articles by Barry Estabrook” tab in the left column.The PDF you refer to is for a post I did recently for this site and never had anything to do with Gourmet.

  44. Flavia says:

    Barry, I am incensed! Don’t let CNP bully you. Keep up the good work. I love what you write about. -Flavia

  45. Surfside says:

    This question won’t be resolved in the minds of many until you post the language from your contract that specifies what rights you sold Gourmet. That you wrote the articles and even that you may still own the copyright to them (something that isn’t determined simply by asserting it, but rather by the language in the contract) doesn’t mean you completely control how they are now used. That’s governed by the language of the contract you signed when you sold them whatever rights to publish them were specified in the contract.

    Those who wish to know more about the attorney and what he does can see that at:

    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ricardo-yoselevitz/7/922/3a8

  46. sharon says:

    Good grief, indeed. I’ve been following your work forever and it is so valuable. Let them eat cake, those lawyers, and let them steam in their own juices. Keep that good work up!

  47. JT says:

    I would have been much more direct about copyright – demanding they confirm to me that they understand I am the copyright holder. Something saying they own something that they do not is the fundamental issue here – not CN’s layoffs or status in the world.

  48. Fellow Freelancer says:

    Of course, you’re the copyright holder, Barry. But if you’ve granted Conde Nast the exclusive right to publish your Gourmet articles, and if it’s not for a limited time period, then they’re right and you’re wrong. And it makes no difference that you write about labor issues, or the environment, or other progressive topics. You have to learn to read the contracts better, which is something a real professional would do.

  49. Dan Mitchell says:

    Hello, all. I write the Daily Bread blog for The Big Money. I emailed Barry today for a couple of clarifications, which he quickly provided. Though he states in this post that he owns the copyrights, he told me that he’s actually not certain of that. Also, since he got the letter on Friday, he has changed the links. They had pointed to pdfs that he hosted here, which *might* violate Conde’s copyright. Now they point to the Gourmet site. If Conde owns the copyrights, you can argue over whether they are being petty and mean, but you can’t argue with their legal standing. If Barry owns the copyrights, Conde owes him an apology.

    See my post here: http://bit.ly/98LmIX

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