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Friday, August 20, 2010

Credit Where Credit is Due

The Thorny Issue of Authorship on the Internet

Someone posted a humor bit on Facebook this morning that was very, very funny. It was also presented without the name of the original author and was somewhat modified from his original work. The piece was a barely disguised rip-off of W. Bruce Cameron's 1997 copyrighted piece "The Chili Judge". Bruce (left), a noted humor columnist, is also the author of "8 Simple Rules for Dating my Daughter" the column and later book that was turned into the John Ritter sitcom of the same name. You can read the original version of his lesser known ode to chili here:

The Chili Judge
Copyright 1997 by W. Bruce Cameron

I've had two or three humor or parody pieces of my own ripped off without a byline credit or my copyright notice, so it bothers me when someone swipes something like this without crediting the author and rewrites it without permission.

Some people do credit me when I spot the parody piece and write to remind them that I wrote it. Problem is, the thing is posted all over the place and circulates in e-mails by the millions, so I have no control over the work anymore. You may have read it yourself - "Lou Costello Buys a Computer" It was written as a skit, so now there are even several video versions of the piece all over Youtube. Cameron's Chili Judge also has a video version rewritten in some places, but in several places paragraphs were lifted whole from Cameron's column.

It would be nice if someone would do a little 5 minutes of author research before deciding the "funny fairy" musta wrote it and placed it in the public domain for them to automatically use as they see fit.

I realize it's a compliment to the author that someone thought the piece was good enough to steal, but a compliment, that doesn't mention who it is that you are complimenting, isn't really very complimentary.

I allow anyone who asks to use the Lou Costello/Computer skit freely. It's included in at least one book I know of where the book's author asked me to allow her to use it to illustrate a point.

I was pleased to grant the rights to her - no charge. She very kindly included my byline, copyright notice and web address.

The people who post funny stuff like this may not credit the author. We authors have little or no control over that.  An author probably won't sue you for compulsively passing his or her work along to ten friends in the next 20 minutes so that you don't have bad luck or people won't think you don't love Jesus.

But if you decide to send something you found funny and enjoyable to several hundred friends, it would be polite to check who the original author is and at least give them credit or ask if you can send a link to the author's posting of the original piece.

Like this guy did:

or this one:

I'm just sayin'


P.S.  And don't assume the person who sent something funny to you actually wrote it. People take credit for things they didn't do all the time (see Wikipedia under "President" or "Congress").

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