Friday, February 15, 2013

Men of Steal

An Editorial by Ken Quattro:

     To say I'm indebted to the Internet would  be a huge understatement. It has opened doors into research that were never available before it existed. It allows me to communicate with people all over the world in seconds. And it has introduced me to friends that I never would have met without it.
      Yet one cancerous side effect of this magnificent communicative tool is that it encourages laziness. Sloth. One of the Seven Deadly Sins if you believe sins still exist.
     Right click.
     It's so easy, isn't it?
     Recently I came across a website with a page devoted to the artist Elmer C. Stoner. As I have written my own piece about Stoner, I began reading it. I was only a few sentences in before I noticed a remarkable similarity between it and my article. While the "author" had padded the first part of his bio with info obtained (but not credited) from, and a few speculations based on nothing in particular, he followed the structure of my article exactly. The references to Stoner's patron Fred Morgan Kirby, his involvement in the Harlem Renaissance, his failed early marriage. There was a mention of the 1939 World's Fair children's book I also wrote about and the comic books he chose to list were all from my piece. He even included information that artist Samuel Joyner related to me in a personal letter. There was more, but you get the gist.
     I wouldn't have minded at all if the "author" had made the simple gesture of acknowledging my article as his source. But he didn't. Instead he employed the quasi-plagiarism  preferred by middle schoolers who change a few words of a Wikipedia entry and turn it in as a term paper.
     To add further insult, nearly all of the images he used to accompany his article were lifted completely from mine. And to put his intentions in an even worse light, he ran a copyright notice at the bottom of the page with the year 2009; one year earlier than my posted article that he swiped.
     I wish I could say that this was the only time I'd experienced such blatant theft, but it's not.
     Some years back I wrote an article about Archer St. John and his publishing ventures. This was the first comprehensive history ever written about St. John and an effort that took a decade of research on my part.
     Within two weeks of my putting the article online on my Comicartville website, a St. John Publications entry appeared on Wikipedia that was basically a Cliffs Notes version of my piece. The Wikipedia editor, who hides behind the username "Tenebrae" (which tellingly means "darkness" in Latin), that contributed this entry has gained the enmity of a host of legitimate comic historians for his unabashed thievery. When confronted about his theft of my St. John article, he shrugged it off by claiming mine was only one of his sources. A provable lie since mine was the ONLY source available at the time.
     Several years later, I published the testimony from the historic Detective Comics v. Bruns Publications trial on this blog. Again, this was the first time this information had been presented to the general public since the trial in 1939. Soon after, a publisher who I had previously allowed to reprint one of my articles, decided to download the trial transcript and publish it without any acknowledgement of where he had gotten it.
     These are but a few of my experiences. And I'm not alone.
     Jim Amash, artist, writer and the man behind some of the most historically important interviews ever conducted with comic creators, has been similarly victimized. He has many had quotes and anecdotes taken directly from his interviews and dropped into others writings without any credit to him. This practice occured so frequently and had become so prevalent that Jim decided in the past year to stop doing interviews altogether. His decision is a great loss to all of comic fandom, but one I can fully appreciate and have contemplated myself.
     Virtually every serious comic historian has a similar story. Dr. Michael Vassallo, Bob Beerbohm and Roy Thomas have all related tales of plagiarism and intellectual property theft. And yet it continues. If anything, it is getting worse.
     On the chance that some of the research-phobic freeloaders are reading this, I have to ask:
     What happened to common courtesy?
     What is gained by stealing someone else's work?
     What is lost by giving someone else credit?
     I understand that research isn't easy. It can be a painstaking, boring, and often, expensive undertaking. But if you don't want to make that effort, at least acknowledge the people who do.

Note: Please feel free to copy this post and reprint it anywhere you like.