10 Years of PT: 2011 – Bratz and Plagiarists

Mattel LogoNote: This post is part of an ongoing series, you can read the other posts here.

In many ways, 2011 was a quiet year for both the site and for news related to copyright and/or plagiarism. Though it was the year many of the site’s most popular articles (including the most popular one of all time) were written, there was a shortage of major scandals and big news stories.

Personally, I spent most of the year avoiding travel and rebuilding my business. I was doing more paid writing than ever and also slowly rebuilding my client list. While it was still a difficult time, by the end of the year, things had begun to stabilize and I even took on a few side projects for fun.

All in all, 2011 was something of a calm before the storm, a brief lull in news, scandals, travel and business that would only feed into a massive year, in every regard, in 2012.

Copyright and Plagiarism in 2011

bratz-299-sizeFrom a copyright standpoint, 2011 was dominated by two stories.

First, and the largest at the time, was the Bratz ruling. The case centered around a man named Carter Bryant, who invented the Bratz line during his off time while worked as a fashion designer for Mattel.

Bryant took the idea to Mattel competitor MGA, who launched the line and made it one of the most successful toy lines in history. When Mattel learned Bryant was the one who invented the dolls, they sued claiming that, since he was employed by Mattel at the time he created them, the intellectual property belonged to them.

In a 2008 trial at the district court, the jury agreed completely with Mattel, awarding damages and setting the stage for MGA to turn over all of the relevant intellectual property. However, the appeal upended that decision and ruled that the jury had been improperly instructed, kicking the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

It was in 2011 that the jury trial happened and ruled in favor of MGA, saying that Bryant’s employment contract was too vague as was the scope of his employment with Mattel. Though the appeals court later reversed some of the damages awarded MGA, the popular doll line remains with MGA to this day.

The case was a major win for those who create works outside of the scope of their employment.

DNS Tree ImageLater in that year, the House of Representatives in the United States would propose a controversial piece of legislation named the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), complete with a controversial site blocking provision. Though this wouldn’t really come to a head until 2012, controversy over the act dominated much of the copyright dialogue in the second half of 2011.

2011 was also the year that the record industry reached a $105 million settlement with LimeWire, heirs to the estate of Jack Kirby lost their bid to reclaim rights to many of his iconic comic book characters and the Authors Guild filed a lawsuit against HaithiTrust, a cooperative effort between several colleges to digitize their physical libraries.

Art4Love ImageThe big story on the plagiarism front was the Art4Love/Chad Lieberman scandal. Lieberman was, before the scandal, a successful artist who sold his work through an art site named Art4Love. However, members of the deviantArt community found that hundreds of his images were ripped off from dA members. As the case dragged on, plagiarism was also discovered his two books and also in many of his articles.

In the end, Lieberman and the sites associated with him closed, but only after an uproar that caught the attention of the mainstream press.

The other big story of the year was Amanda Serpico, a former Rutgers students who sued the school alleging that the school improperly gave her an “F” in a class over a plagiarism allegation and that grade hurt her chances to move forward with her academic career.

Despite several searches, I’ve not been able to find an update on the case, though similar lawsuits in the past have been dismissed.

All in all, it wasn’t a completely quiet year for copyright and plagiarism, but it was a slow one. Fewer big stories and a lot more time to write about other things…

Most Popular Post

Using the same standard that I’ve used on other posts in this series, looking at the past 90 days of traffic, the most popular post on the site from 2011 is also the most popular post of all time on Plagiarism Today: How to Write a Copyright Notice

This article was pretty forgettable at time, a simple guide on the elements that should be included in a copyright notice. To be clear, a notice isn’t required under the law but, if you’re inclined to include one, this article was intended to show you how it’s done.

And take off it has. Up to 10% of all traffic on Plagiarism today is for this one post. Sometimes a simple guide on a basic thing is exactly what the public wants, especially when searching in Google.

Behind the Scenes

200 ImageBehind the scenes, I didn’t do much. Continued financial difficulties kept me from traveling and most of the year was spent writing for PT and trying to rebuild my business.

Halfway through the year, the site did pass two milestones. In summer, the site turned six and, honor of that, launched a new theme (one that should be familiar to you today). Though there’s been a lot of tweaking and changes in the years since, Plagiarism Today still largely runs on the same layout it did by fall of that year.

Also in the summer, Copyright 2.0 Show had its 200th episode and it was an extravaganza (seriously, that was the title of the episode). Guests included Chris Matthieu, Dave Tognotti, Lorelle VanFossen, Dave Moyer and Sara Hawkins.

But as summer turned to autumn, my partner, Crystal, and I launched our first joint venture, a horror movie review series named Garbage Horror. It started in September and continued deep into 2012, when we had to stop due to time constraints. It was a blast to do these, but, recording and editing ate up whole weekends.

Still, we do bring back the reviews every October for the local New Orleans Haunted Houses, a tradition we’ve continued right up until last year.

Night of the Living Dead PosterSpeaking of October, the October of 2011 was a special one for the site. I did a mini-series of posts called “Creepy Copyright Mondays” that focused on the bizarre intersection between copyright and horror films. The articles included how the Night of the Living Dead fell into the public domain (and created the modern zombie), how a copyright dispute between the estate of Bram Stoker (Dracula) and Nosferatu’s filmmakers changed vampire lore and how Universal Pictures took a public domain character like Frankenstein’s monster and controls him with copyright.

Every year in October I see a sizable spike in traffic thanks to these posts.

Finally, to wrap up the year, I did an article about public domain (and non-public domain) Christmas songs, one that ran parallel to the one I did in October for public domain horror films.

So, while things were definitely difficult for me in the beginning of the year, they were looking up more toward the end and that showed in how I chose to spend my time, laughing about bad horror movies and preparing for a 2012 that was already shaping up to be even greater.

Bottom Line

While 2011 was a slow year for news and started out as a rough year for me personally, it quickly grew into a great one. Between the 200th podcast episode, the new theme, Garbage Horror and much more, the second half of 2011 was really one for the books.

Still, in many ways 2011 was just a warm up, 2012 wouldn’t be the disaster that had been foretold by so many doomsayers, but it would be an epic rollercoaster of major news stories, world travel and great memories.

Both on and off the site, 2011 set the stage and 2012 was the year it all went down.

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