Dave Zinczenko: You Can't Plagiarize a Brand

Men’s Health editor Dave Zinczenko has been ripping off old Men’s Health content–some of it bylined, some of it not—for his “Eat This, Not That” Yahoo column, reports Gawker. This could be a bummer for the authors/interns/mechanical turks who created it, but what’s really fascinating is Zinczenko’s response.

He wrote to Gawker:

“Any bits of material pulled from Men’s Health are owned by Men’s Health‘s parent company, Rodale. So is everything I wrote in the 10 Eat This, Not That! books over the last four years, and every blog entry I have posted over the past six years. That’s why it’s called the Eat This, Not That! blog presented by Men’s Health. We use this material to grow traffic and awareness for the Men’s Health and Women’s Health brands and a variety of Rodale products. Nowadays promoting the company’s products on a blog is no different than going on TV and promoting the latest issue. The only thing unusual in my case is that, because I have authored a line of books, the vast majority of the content that I put into the blog, over the course of nearly 150 entries, is generated by me and not pulled from the magazine.”

A very similar situation arose a few weeks ago This reminds us of when Mediaite editor Colby Hall discussed a freelancer’s piece on Fox News as if Mediaite had generated it. [Ed. Note: The following two sentences were added for clarity following a conversation with Mr. Hall.] As with Men’s Health, the content was properly attributed when first published, but when re-purposed in a different medium, an editor stood in to represent “the brand” and, in effect, another author’s work. If this is “plagiarism,” as Gawker suggests, it’s a much milder strain than, say, that Daily MailTimes cut and paste job.  Regardless, we should probably just start getting used to this. Multi-platform media brands are slowly away chipping at the monument of authorship through syndication and cross-promotion. It would be really crushing for egomaniacal writer-types–if any one of them gave a damn about that kind of  high-fructose, servicey, SEO-bait content.

The reason why so many of the pieces “plagiarized” were unbylined is that no one wants to take credit for them (unlike the Mediaite case). We bet whoever wrote those slideshows was happy to get paid to do them, but is also more than happy to let Dave Zinczenko be the face for them. And when the syndication is simply promotional, in hopes of moving eye balls, not dollar bills, than what is there even worth fighting for?

A writer’s career involves has always involved such humiliations and rationalizations, and when the “plagiarized” Men’s Health writers do win the literary lottery and publish their novel or The Atlantic investigation (If that’s even what they want! It is totally noble to teach men how to eat for a living!), they can rest assured it won’t be pimped out.

In the mean time, we’re giving Zinczenko props for being much more persuasive than Cook’s Source on this front.

kstoeffel@observer.com :: @kstoeffel

Dave Zinczenko: You Can't Plagiarize a Brand