Plagiarism problems plagued a variety of media in the fall and winter of 2007 and 2008, raising similar ethical dilemmas for cartoonists, romance novelists, and sex columnists and their editors.
Cartoonist Resigns after Copying 45-Year-Old Mad Magazine Cartoon
John Kilbourn, an award-winning cartoonist for the Park City, Utah Park Record, resigned in November 2007 after a local radio station reporter pointed out similarities between a Kilbourn cartoon and a Mad Magazine cartoon from 1962.
Rich Brough, a reporter at public radio station KPCW-FM, identified the similarities between Kilbourn’s cartoon, which ran in the Park Record on Nov. 14, 2007, and one of cartoonist Mort Drucker’s 1962 drawings for Mad Magazine, according to the Salt Lake Tribune on November 30.
Kilbourn’s cartoon featured a parody of the Ben Cartwright family in the TV western “Bonanza” making fun of Park City officials for ignoring traffic problems on Bonanza Drive. Drucker had drawn the same image for a 1962 issue of Mad, although Drucker’s cartoon was accompanied by a different caption, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
A Nov. 30, 2007 Deseret Morning News story reported that Kilbourn told his editor that he felt he had made enough changes in the cartoon to make it his own and added that perhaps the newspaper should have put a tag line on the cartoon giving credit to Drucker.
Kilbourn told the Salt Lake Tribune, “[The cartoon] was pretty close to the original. What I should have done is put in an apology to Mort Drucker,” he said. “To be honest with you, it was really late at night. I kind of do these as a side job and didn’t think of putting it in there.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reported November 30 that Kilbourn, Park Record editor Nan Chalat-Noaker, and publisher Andy Bernhard agreed that Kilbourn should resign.
Chalat-Noaker told the Tribune that after she saw a copy of the Mad Magazine cartoon Kilbourn had copied, “I was heartbroken and went to the publisher, and we took just one look at it and realized [Kilbourn’s cartoon] should never have run. We called John and it was a mutual decision for him to resign,” she said.
Romance Novelist Plagiarizes in Historical Romance Novels
Romance novelist Cassie Edwards, who specializes in historical romances about Native American Indians, admitted in a Jan. 10, 2008 Associated Press (AP) story that she had plagiarized from numerous sources, after bloggers who review romance novels uncovered material in some of Edwards’ work that had appeared elsewhere.
The hosts of a romance novel blog Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com, said the didactic tone of specific passages from Edwards’ works made the blog’s author and a friend suspicious. They began tracking the similarities between passages in Edwards’ novels and excerpts from other published works, including books about the traditions of Native American Indian tribes, that Edwards used without attribution in her historical romances. To do so, they entered excerpts from Edwards’ books into the Internet search engine Google, according to a post on the blog last updated on Jan. 21, 2008 titled “Cassie Edwards Novels: Tracking Their Similarities to Passages Found In Other Books”. The blog hosts tracked over 20 of Edwards’ novels, finding that the best-selling romance novelist used passages from a wide variety of sources in her novels without attribution.
In a blog post dated Jan. 7, 2008, one of the blog’s authors described the investigation into Edwards’ works that she and a friend began after their suspicions were aroused by passages from Edwards’ novel, “Shadow Bear,” a novel set in South Dakota in the 1850s. In “Shadow Bear,” Edwards used material from an article by freelance journalist Paul Tolme about the endangered black-footed ferret, which was published in the Summer 2005 issue of Defenders, a wildlife preservation magazine.
According to an article Tolme wrote for the Jan. 15, 2008 issue of Newsweek, a conversation in “Shadow Bear” between Edwards’ hero, a Lakota chieftain, and pioneer heroine Shiona Bramlett about the origins of the ferret in North America and its breeding and feeding habits identically matched passages from Tolme’s article in Defenders.
On Jan. 9, 2008, the AP reported that Edwards’ publisher Signet Books asserted in a public statement that “Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong.” Signet said “[t]he copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing of another author’s words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original.”
The “fair use” doctrine stems from the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. In order to determine whether a use of a copyrighted work is fair use, four factors must be considered, including the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the copyrighted work; the substantiality of the portion used from the work in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.
Two days after issuing its initial statement, Signet retracted its defense of Edwards and stated that it had reached a premature conclusion, according to a Jan. 11, 2008 AP story.
“We believe the situation deserves further review,” Signet’s new statement said. “Therefore we will be examining all of Ms. Edwards’ books that we publish, and based on the outcome of that review we will take action to handle the matter accordingly. We want to make it known that Signet takes any and all allegations of plagiarism very seriously.”
Edwards told the AP for its Jan. 10, 2008 story that she did not know that she had to credit her sources when she used passages from other authors’ works. “When you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that,” she said.
In the Jan. 15, 2008 Newsweek story, Tolme wrote that he was initially angered when the bloggers contacted him and told him that Edwards had used his material without crediting him. Tolme noted that the Internet age presents challenges for freelance writers, many of whom fear that their work will be used without attribution or compensation.
However, Tolme told National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” host Neal Conan on Jan. 21, 2008, “[T]o be able to tell the story of endangered ferrets to this romance novel reader audience, which is a passionate and frisky bunch, has been quite an experience and maybe a way for me to share a story with an audience that I might not have otherwise been able to reach.”
New York Press Sex Columnist Resigns After One Column
New York Press sex columnist Claudia Lonow resigned one day after her first column was printed after readers of the Jezebel blog suggested she had taken questions from an earlier column written by nationally-syndicated Savage Love columnist Dan Savage. The Jezebel post is available at http://jezebel.com/search/sex%20columnist/.
One of the questions featured in Lonow’s column, Lip Service, which debuted on Jan. 23, 2008, concerned incest. According to a Jan. 23, 2008 post on Jezebel, a blog covering celebrities, sex, and fashion, the blog’s features editor Moe Tkacik e-mailed New York Press editor David Blum to ask him how a reader could have submitted the question in advance of Lonow’s first column. Blum replied, “since it was her first column, she solicited questions from friends ... that’s how these columns tend to start, since it’s hard to get questions from readers in advance. in future [sic] they’ll come from readers.” Blum’s e-mail was excerpted in the January 23 Jezebel posting.
Blum described the process that led to his discovery that Lonow had used questions from Savage’s column in a Jan. 24, 2008 New York Observer Media Blog post, found at http://www.observer.com/2008/blum-loses-another-sex-columnist-after-breach-journalism-ethics.
Blum said he was reading the comments to the Jan. 23, 2008 Jezebel post when he noticed a reader comment noting that the incest question was familiar and suggesting that it might have originated in a Savage Love column. The next morning, Blum identified the column Lonow had excerpted without attribution.
In a statement posted on the New York Press Web site on Jan. 24, 2008, the editors announced Lonow’s resignation and stated that some of the questions in Lonow’s first column were taken from a Savage Love column written by Savage in 2006. According to the statement, Lonow was “unaware that using questions from Savage’s column was a breach of journalism ethics.”
– Amba Datta
Silha Research Assistant