Bill Day recycling stirs talk of plagiarism in editorial cartoons
The Daily Cartoonist | That Cartoon Critic | Matt Bors
Bill Day used another illustrator's work without attribution in a recent cartoon, Alan Gardner writes. Videogame developer Zack Fowler's image of a rifle landed in a Day cartoon about the power of the NRA.
Daryl Cagle syndicates Day's work, and recently completed a crowdfunding campaign to support Day for a year. "I don't see any plagiarism there," he tells Poynter in an email. Day "mistook the rendering for an actual photograph of a real assault rifle," Cagle writes.
Bill's cartoon added a sufficient and different editorial comment to Fowler's image such that it did not constitute copyright infringement, but it was rude to alter another artist's work without acknowledgment, and something I didn't think was appropriate, so I asked Bill to take it down as soon as I became aware of it and I apologized to the gun's artist, on Bill's behalf.
Gardner calls Day's use of the gun plagiarism. I'm not sure that's exactly the right word. Unauthorized interpolation? Ham-fisted aggregation? Media-blogger-baiting transgression? Whatever it is, it seems like a lesser light to shine on Day's work.
A Tumblr called The Cartoon Critic has assembled a dossier of Day cartoons that reuse images. Take, for example, the Case of the Elephant's Butt: "How many times can you use an elephant’s ass to make a political point?" the Critic writes. "At least 6 apparently."
One of the cartoons on the fundraising campaign for Day is recycled, Gardner says in a different blog post.
Cagle said his syndicate has never gotten a complaint about Day's recycling from editors. "Revising old works can be lazy or clever, depending on how it is done," he writes.
It would be a problem if editors complained or if readers noticed and didn't like what they saw. With competing editorial cartoonists circling and smelling Bill's blood in the water, I think it would be a good time for Bill to give up riffing on his old cartoons, and I've told him that.
But Matt Bors says debating such issues is healthy for cartooning: "Cartoonists are sometimes loathe to publicize anything that shines a negative light on our dwindling field," he writes. "But if we want negative stories to stop, we have to stop supporting people we know are doing terribly unethical work."
Cartoonists will often forward him images they felt ripped off others, Bors writes:
But many of my peers won’t so much as link to a plagiarism story when it’s published, content to merely complain privately over beers about people who in some cases survived their entire careers while blatantly swiping the work of others. The result is that many cartoonists haven’t even had to so much as publicly explain why their cartoons look so awfully similar to something else, and many editors are unaware it even happens.
Related: Columbus Dispatch editorial cartoonist resigns after plagiarism accusations | Second visual plagiarism case may lead to ethics guidelines for editorial cartoonists | Daily Cartoonist says it has caught Tulsa cartoonist plagiarizing for third time