Solving Potential Plagiarism Through Mutual Respect And Understanding

from the jazz-pickles dept

Back in June, we shared a story in which a comic artist had claimed that another artist had “ripped off” her idea. We even took the time to remind people that multiple comedians can come up with the same joke independently of each other. These situations are nothing new in comedy. In such situations, the person who feels ripped off has a number of choices. They can threaten to sue the other person. They can use social mores to shame the other person. Or they can go a totally different route — one in which everyone comes out a winner.

Over at the Bizzaro Blog, home to Dan Piraro’s Bizzaro Comic, Piraro writes about a recent incident he had over one of his recently published comics.

Here’s a bit of a sticky wicket I thought you Jazz Pickles might find interesting. After my pantsless doctor cartoon appeared in papers the other day I got an email from my friend and colleague, Dan Reynolds. Dan is a terrifically talented and successful cartoonist whose work I have always admired. It seems my doctor cartoon is uncomfortably close to a very popular one that he did some years ago.

In most similar situations we report on here, this is the part where the person complaining usually sends a legal threat of some sort. But that is not what happened. What happened was something refreshing and quite out of the norm, at least in these circles. Both artists realized that people can come up with the same joke independently and then brushed the incident off.

Did I steal this cartoon? Of course not and Dan did not accuse me of it. Cartoonists with a large readership and an I.Q. above 75 (me) are not foolish enough to publish a stolen cartoon, especially from someone with an equally large readership (Dan R.).

Oh well, these things happen. Dan R. was a gentlemen about it and readily accepted our apology. We’re all still friends. :o)

What amazes me here is that two grown adults actually acted like adults. Why can’t we have more of these kinds of interactions? Even when the idea was almost identical, both were able to look past that and see the reality of the situation.

In response to the unfortunate incident, Piraro has decided to take a bit more precaution in the future. He has decided to do Google image searches of future ideas, just to make sure that he doesn’t step on the toes of anyone else. However, he recognizes that even that plan has a glaring weakness.

Cliff and I work together frequently so we committed to redouble our efforts to Google-Image-search all of our ideas to make sure no one else had gotten there first. The thing is, though, we decided to retro-search this one and could not find it under any of the titles we could think of. “Backwards Doctor Coat Cartoon” was our most obvious choice but Dan’s cartoon didn’t show up in that search. So we still would have been screwed.

So even if he does a search, there are no guarantees that someone else’s work would come up which matches his idea. Under these circumstances, how much effort should one allow? I would say that even doing the initial search is probably more than enough. It is more than you are actually required to do. Yet, there are some people out there that seem to think that is not enough — that a person in Piraro’s situation should have just known about that other comic. But as Piraro has shown, it is just not possible to cover all your bases.

All in all, this is a great experience for all the things it can teach us. 1) Acting like adults when a situation arises results in mutually beneficial results. 2) Recognizing that no joke is a unique flower incapable of being copied unintentionally is a wise move. 3) That even the best Google-fu cannot prevent you from unintentionally copying someone else’s joke. Sounds like some pretty good lessons to me.

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Comments on “Solving Potential Plagiarism Through Mutual Respect And Understanding”

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18 Comments
ebilrawkscientist (profile) says:

GALOOB = Greedy Arrogant Loathesome Opportunistic Offensive Bastards!

What amazes me here is that two grown adults actually acted like adults. Why can’t we have more of these kinds of interactions?

> Because, of this little sad thing called greed and the need to quash things in the bud corporate guerilla style.
> You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards!
> In the business world you either make a profit or you make a fool of yourself.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I think the difference for them is more than once I am sure they have found themselves in this position.
And even with the “same” joke each handled it differently, producing variants on a theme.

The world is large enough to allow for many takes on the same idea, the problem seems to be allowing 1 person to think they “own” an idea wholly. That they have thought of something no one ever before has ever thought of… not that likely of a thing when you think about it. Many paths can lead to the same place, doesn’t seem fair to put trip wires on the other paths.

Someone Special says:

This article seems to imply (maybe I’m misreading it) that anybody who uses the legal system to prevent possible plagiarism is acting like less than an adult. If that’s the case, then I have to disagree with the author of the article.

I have to imagine that there are cases where a person truly believes that another person has plagiarized their work. If they truly believe this, then why shouldn’t it be acceptable for them to make their case in a court of law?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Yeah, you’re misreading it.

If someone truly believes plagiarism has occurred and chooses to use the courts to do so, sure. However, if this attempt devolves into name-calling, mischaracterisation, slander and/or a media circus, it becomes less acceptable. If the plagiarism is less obvious or plainly stupid (see the case of someone suing Ubisoft because Assassin’s Creed used the sci-fi trope of genetic memory) it’s even harder to argue a case even exists.

tl;dr: Anyone who settles such a case civilly is acting like an adult. Anything less is, well, less like an adult.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re:

If they truly believe this, then why shouldn’t it be acceptable for them to make their case in a court of law?

It would be acceptable, of course.

However, the adult response should not be to lead with the legal threats. The adult thing to do would be to contact the other person informally first, then resort to the legal system only if a solution cannot be found amicably.

I had a personal example of a childish response by an author that I respected up until that point. One of my most valuable (in terms of wisdom, not money) books was by this author and it had been out of print for years. I wanted to scan it and distribute it on my website. I wrote to him to ask permission to do so.

His response, right out of the gate, was not a simple “No,” but a more aggressive version of “if you do this I’ll sue you into nonexistence.”

That’s childish. The adult thing would be to say “no,” then sue me if I did it anyway.

Needless to say, I lost all respect for him and he lost a previously energetic and vocal supporter.

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