Wrap Up: Al Franken, Syriana and More

***Update*** See end of this article for an update on The Davinci Code case.

Originally, I was going to skip this week’s wrap up column as little plagiarism news seemed to come up before the Tuesday deadline. It seemed that, possibly the Web was a bit tired of discussing the issue after the Domenech and Engadget scandals. 

However, things picked up in the past couple of days as a new political scandal and a major lawsuit thrust plagiarism back into the spotlight.

So, without any further ado, here’s a look at what’s been going on in plagiarism news this past week.

Al Franken Accused of Plagiarism

Liberal commentator and comedian Al Franken was accused of plagiarism by fellow political author Alan Skorski in his recent book Pants on Fire: How Al Franken Lies, Smears, and Deceives.

The accusations center around several passages from Franken’s 2003 besteller Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them in which Franken is accused of lifting copy from a 2001 report on the Fox News Channel by the the liberal organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Though the story has been picked up by at least some major blogs, it has not drawn as much attention as the Ben Domenech and Jason Blair scandals to which it is often compared. This has led many to wonder aloud if it’s due to a liberal bias in the blogging community or because, as one blogger put it, that Franken’s alleged offense isn’t "even close" to Domenech’s.

As of yet, Franken has had no comment on the  matter. This is another story that I will be following and reporting on when/if it develops.

Syriana Slapped With Plagiarism Suit 

A French screenwriter named Stephanie Vergniault has sued Warner Bros. Pictures, George Clooney’s production company and Stephen Gaghan, the writer and director of Syriana, over alleged plagiarism in the film. The lawsuit, which is due for a hearing in a Paris court on Monday, claims that the movie lifts "at least 15 to 20 scenes",  as well as characters and plot developments from a script Vergniault was working on between 1997 and 2003.

Vergniault, who until recently was in Jordan doing research, claims she only recently saw the film following a tip from a friend. She said in part:

"I couldn’t stop screaming when I first saw the film in a movie hall in L.A. First I thought I was going crazy, seeing my work on the screen, and then, when I realized what had happened, I was furious."

The movie, which according to Gaghan was inspired by Robert Baer’s book "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism," was originally entered in the "Best Adapted Screenplay" category of the Academy Awards but was switced to "Best Original Screenplay" by the Academy after it was found to be too different from the original work. The movie earned an Oscar nomination in that category.

Warner Bros., for their part, have said that the suit is "without merit" but also that they have not yet seen a copy of it. 

More on this story as it develops.

Smoking on the Newsstands

Finally, a forum posting on Visual Editors highlighted an interesting case of striking similarity between two newspaper layouts. The first layout, which appears in the Virginia-Pilot in February bore a striking resemblance to an April 3rd layout in The Journal Review a Crawfordsville, Indiana newspaper.

The similarities between the two layouts, which both bore Marlboro-style design, sparked a very interesting conversation on the site and at other locations as well.

Anyone who is interested in design, especially for newspapers, should take a look at the ensuing dialog as it showcases many of the differing attitudes in design plagiarism.

***Update*** Dan Brown Wins Davinci Code Trial

Dan Brown, author of the best-selling book "The Davinci Code", emerged victorious in his copyright battle with the authors of the non-fiction book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." The authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had claimed that Brown had plagiarized their 1982 work for his book.

In the ruling, the judge denied Baigent and Leigh the opportunity to appeal and ordered them to pay 85 percent of Random House’s legal costs, a figure which could come to nearly two million dollars.

Brown was pleased with the verdict and said in part:

"I’m pleased with today’s outcome, not only from a personal standpoint but also as a novelist."

Baginet and Leigh were also pleased with the results. In an interview with CNN Baginet went on to say the following:

"We won a moral victory for ourselves and for all other writers," he said. "The judge said that every point that we said (in our book) had been copied — Dan Brown had, in fact, copied."

In the end, the ruling removes the last of Brown’s copyright obstacles and opens up the path for the Davinci Code movie, which is scheduled to be released in May.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Franken, Syriana, Clooney, George Clooney, newpaper[/tags]

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