Some people believe that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. But, when it comes to making money from another person’s idea, it’s a different ballgame.
Take a recent eBay auction in which the seller, username pollock88, offered T-shirts with cartoon images of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Steve Bartman, the man whose try for a foul ball in Game 6 of the National League championship series has become part of Chicago Cubs legend.
The three are seated in a cave and Saddam tells bin Laden “. . . He’s that Cubs fan. . .”
A great cartoon. Nice to have on a shirt. Trouble is, it wasn’t a cartoon the seller drew. He got it from the Internet and started two auctions.
The seller, who didn’t give his name, responded to an e-mail I sent from my home address. He said he didn’t draw the cartoon, and it was from a newspaper. When I sent a follow-up e-mail, he responded that it was from the Internet and sent a JPEG of it to me.
I later found the cartoon in Newsweek magazine with a credit for Walt Handelsman of Newsday. I contacted a former colleague who works at Newsday, and he sent the auction URL to Handelsman.
“I was surprised,” Handelsman said. “I e-mailed eBay and the guy about it. He never did give his name. I just told him (by e-mail) it was copyrighted material, and he took it off.”
Handelsman says he has no intention of suing pollock88, who responded to an interview request by writing, “I know that copyrighted material cannot be duplicated. However, I got this picture in a(n) e-mail. I did not know it had a copyright. If I had known, I would not have made the shirt.” Handelsman had to register with eBay in order to contact the seller by e-mail.
“It’s not worth the effort,” Handelsman said. “He maybe got $20 apiece for them. It’s not a big deal. If it were happening all the time, I’d have to consider doing something. But this was once.”
While Handelsman says this was the first time one of his cartoons used in Newsday has been the subject of an eBay auction, his work has been on the site before.
“I still get cards from people who want me to draw a little sketch for them,” he said. “One told me it was for a fund-raiser for Leukemia, but then I saw it on eBay later. After that, I stopped answering requests like that. The (T-shirt) is somewhat flattering. If someone takes your stuff and puts it one something for themselves, I guess that’s OK. But when someone who wants to make money on it. . . Who knows how much of this stuff goes on. If the guy had called me and said ‘I want to do these on shirts,' I might have done it with him. You know, split the profits. I could have given him a far better image to use. But, I don’t like people just doing it by themselves.
“The image is mine to sell,” Handelsman added. “EBay might not have been the way I would have done it. I might have set up a kiosk in Chicago.
“It’s no big deal, really. It’s kind of amusing. I was glad you asked our colleague about it, so it could come to my attention, and I could stop it.”
Under the heading “unauthorized copies,” eBay’s list of prohibited items reads, “Do not list unauthorized (such as pirated, duplicated, backup, bootleg, and so forth) copies of software programs, video games, music albums, movies, television programs, or photographs.” The policy has nothing specific about editorial cartoons or material from newspapers.
GRACEY & MR. OCTOBER
Former Diamondback Mark Grace and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson will sign autographs during a card show Nov. 15 at North Phoenix Baptist Church.
Grace will sign from 11 am. to 2 p.m. Signatures are $39 each or $35 in advance. Jackson will sign from noon to 2 p.m. Autographs are $89 on flat items, $115 with any inscription and $200 for bats or jerseys. For more information or to buy tickets, call (623) 587-9766.