Plagiarism: it's an act that is strictly against various ethical codes and industry guidelines followed by many journalists the world over. However, recently the issue has become a problem not only for journalists, but for the cartoonists as well.
Last week, another incident of alleged plagiarism occurred, in which the work of Jeff Stahler of The Columbus Dispatch bore a close resemblance to a piece published in 2009 in the New Yorker by cartoonist David Sipress.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) now has to decide how to react to Stahler's case, as he was suspended from the Columbus Dispatch on grounds that he lifted text and visuals from Sipress's work. The AAEC are currently consulting their bylaws regarding this incident.
Plagiarism in cartoons, however, can take many different forms; the most obvious of which is exemplified by David Simpson, simply recopying or tracing images, altering them slightly, and then claiming the work to be your own. Problems start arising when text appears to be similar, or when jokes rely on the same imagery even if the cartoons are not drawn to resemble each other. Where should the line be drawn? How can the distinction be drawn between plagiarism and genuine coincidence?
Rob Tornoe points out that Jeff MacNelly himself took a lenient attitude to plagiarism, telling an AAEC conference that: "When a guy's work looks like someone else's work, it's not plagiarism at all. I call that influence."
On the other hand, there are cartoonists, such as Matt Bores, syndicated by the same company as Jeff Stahler, who are highly dedicated to eradicating plagiarism. In fact, Bores even keeps a blog that chronicles when cartoonists creatively step on each others toes - or just plagiarise material outright.
What can cartoonists do to avoid this kind of confusion in attitudes? What is plagiarism, what is an homage? What is a coincidence, what is not? Questions like these have prompted speculation about the creation of an ethical code for cartoonists. As the AAEC told Poynter, the situation surrounding ethical regulation for the cartoon industry remains uncertain: "The standard for plagiarism seems to be different for different people. Some people, it's a direct copying of a cartoon. Other people, it's using a similar gag or similar idea for a cartoon. There is a question of what exactly the role of the association [AAEC] would be."