Editorial cartoonist Brian Duffy was recently let go from his job at the Des Moines Register; after leaving, he discovered that his artwork, which had been left behind, was not going to be returned to him but was planned to be donated to the University of Iowa.
Duffy said he was always under the impression that his sketches were a joint copyright, just like when he published his book.
“Copyright Brian Duffy and the Des Moines Register, not just the Des Moines Register,” said Duffy. “I have no problem donating a large body of work to the University of Iowa. In fact, I’d love to do that.”
But he wants to do it on his terms not on behalf of the newspaper that shooed him out the door.
Now Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, has written an open letter to Carolyn Washburn, the editor of the paper:
Dear Ms. Washburn:
As President of The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), I am writing to express the collective dismay of our membership at reports that you plan to dispose of Brian Duffy’s original political cartoons without his consent.
While your newspaper may claim ownership of Brian’s thousands of original cartoons he drew during 25 years as The Register’s staff editorial cartoonist, there remain compelling questions of what is customary and what is right.
Although it used to be common for newspapers to keep their cartoonists’ original artwork, that practice changed decades ago, and almost universally cartoonists now leave their newspapers with their artwork. These original drawings represent an artist’s life work, and while newspapers pay for the its production, they do so in order to publish the work on its editorial page—not to possess each piece as artwork.
Mr. Duffy is understandably attached to his quarter-century’s worth of drawings, and may wish to archive some of them for his children. Others he may want to donate to charities or sell at galleries. Regardless, they offer him a potential source of revenue after retirement, and reasonable people would assume that he should have them.
Although your reported plan to donate Brian’s cartoons to the University of Iowa is commendable, cynics may charge that your purpose is to cash in on Brian’s firing by taking a tax write-off for a sizable donation.
By your own admission, Brian produced “very excellent work” for your organization. On behalf of his professional organization, I encourage you to reconsider your plans and return his artwork to him.
Very truly yours,
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists