Pharyngula

It couldn’t happen to a sleazier guy

When Ray Comfort published his own version of Darwin’s Origin, he had to come up with some original content for the introduction. He couldn’t. Instead, he stole the first three pages outright from an essay by University of Tennessee professor Stan Guffey — those are the only reasonable pages in his 50 page contribution — and the rest is a mish-mash of standard creationist arguments that you can find on the internet. It’s actually kind of impressive that he reached so low on the stupid scale with this one; there isn’t one creative thought in the whole sloppy, plagiarized piece of work.

Now the good news: Stan Guffey is considering legal action. I hope he does, in that he really does have an open-and-shut case that Comfort copied his work. The one glitch, it seems to me, is that Comfort purportedly made no profit from his effort, and Guffey lost no income from use of an essay he gave away, so I’m not sure what kind of recompense he could get for the theft. Maybe some lawyers can weigh in here.

Comments

  1. #1 Quidam
    December 13, 2009

    It depends on whether Stan Guffey registered his copyright

    If he did statutory damages are set out in Title 17, Section 504 of the U.S. Code.

    He wouldn’t need to show a loss. He may be able to get an order to stop distributing the books though

  2. #2 delphi-ote
    December 13, 2009

    Defamation?

  3. #3 MadScientist
    December 13, 2009

    Plagiarism is plagiarism, in the USA it doesn’t matter if you claim you made no profit (Your honor, I did rob the bank but it was no crime – I gave all the money to charity). Copyright holds unless the copyright holder explicitly places his/her work in the public domain. Any claimed damages would be made on the basis of sales, not profit to Mr. Comfort. If you want an analogous case, think of Art Buchwald vs. Eddie Murphy re. “Coming to America”. Murphy’s work bore some vague resemblance to a story by Buchwald and Buchwald won even though the work could hardly be considered as causing Buchwald any financial losses. Of course Murphy did profit from that venture, but as I said, the profit is not a consideration in determining whether or not a party had been wronged and is entitled to redress via the courts.

  4. #4 The Science Pundit
    December 13, 2009

    I’m no longer shocked (Okay, I was never “shocked”, but I was often surprised) at the blatant plagiarism of even the most “well respected” creationists.

  5. #5 WowbaggerOM
    December 13, 2009

    I just think he needs to make Ray Comfort make a public apology where he admits that he’s a dishonest, plagiarising assclown – recorded and placed on YouTube for all to see and link to. That’s compensation enough, methinks.

  6. #6 MadScientist
    December 13, 2009

    @The Science Pundit: I’ll sue you for using my phrase “well respected”!

    Why be surprised – the bible is one pathetic work of plagiarism.

  7. #7 semi
    December 13, 2009

    Correct about copyright registration. If Stan registered his copyright he would be able to collect statutory damages.

    From Copyright.gov:

    ? If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney?s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

  8. #8 semi
    December 13, 2009

    MadScientist

    Of course Murphy did profit from that venture, but as I said, the profit is not a consideration in determining whether or not a party had been wronged and is entitled to redress via the courts.

    Lack of profits won’t keep a case out of court, but profits are definitely a determining factor in non-statutory awards for infringement.

  9. #9 Larry
    December 13, 2009

    Just remember, Ray. When you plagiarize, baby jesus cries.

  10. #10 SEF
    December 13, 2009

    In the UK, copyright exists automatically upon committal to some physical medium (ie out of one’s head). Lodging something somewhere such that its date and ownership are indisputable is merely a precaution some people take to ensure provability.

    Payments for breach of copyright come in a couple of components. The first is for the fact of the act itself, regardless of profit. The second is for the loss of earnings and can include any actual profits made by the plagiarist.

    Last time I checked, this seemed to apply to most of the “civilised”* world in a similar manner. Links found last time round:
    [1]
    [2]
    [3]
    [4]

    * ie that which is prone to taking civil action against offenders!

  11. #11 Iris
    December 13, 2009

    IANAL…but I live with one who works in intellectual property, whose take is basically this:

    It sounds like unfortunately Guffey will not be able to collect statutory damages, unless he filed a copyright notice within three months of the original publication of his essay. And it also sounds like his chances of proving any actual damages would also be pretty remote.

    It’s really too bad about the statutory damages, though: had he filed for copyright protection, the statutory damages would be “not less than $750 or more than $30,000″ per “act of infringement” (that would be per book…), plus he could have recovered all his costs and attorneys fees, gotten an injunction against any further distribution, and impounded all remaining copies of the infringing work. (“Infringement” does not require that a work was sold.)

    If Guffey had the foresight and paid a few bucks, filled out a form and mailed a copy of his essay to the Library of Congress, he would have easily won this case and completely bankrupted Ray Comfort and his publisher.

  12. #12 TheBlackCat
    December 13, 2009

    @MadScientist: You can’t copyright words or short phrases.

  13. #13 cafeeine
    December 13, 2009

    While Comfort maybe didn’t make any money on the Origin books, he’s still promoting himself as an author. Does his book contain promotional material for his website, or his other books?
    If I put out a copy of the Iliad, plagiarized a text by say, PZ Myers in my intro, then pointed to my webpage “if you liked this, try these books by the same author!” how would I not be essentially profiting from PZ’s work?

    Any of you guys with a copy of the book that can enlighten us?

  14. #14 mrcreosote
    December 13, 2009

    He may at least be able to get an injunction, or force Comfort to recover all the copies and have them pulped.

  15. #15 Rorschach
    December 13, 2009

    Would seem to prove the point that creationists are indeed habitual liars, and stupid.

  16. #16 Samantha
    December 13, 2009

    I’m not sure if this is true, true only in Canada, true in certain cases, or totally made up, but I’ve heard that if the original author can prove that the reproduction of something they wrote cost them potential purchasers, they can still sue for damages. So if I were to write a short story and charge people to download and read it and somebody offered it for free on their website, I could sue them for the loss of potential customers. Again, not sure where and how, if at all, this is true, but it might be an option.

  17. #17 TheBlackCat
    December 13, 2009

    @ Iris: That is U.S. copyright law. Since the original work was published in the UK I don’t think the registration rule applies, although I am not sure.

  18. #18 Cat's Staff
    December 13, 2009

    He has a case, but may not recover much money.

    If he had been credited in any way he could pursue the defamation option, as delphi-ote suggested. Slander is spoken defamation and you need to show damaged. Libel is written defamation and you don’t need to show any damages ever occurred, the written defamation is it’s own proof. It has been established that taking quotes out of context for the purposes of misrepresenting a persons position can be considered libel, which is why victims of quote mining should consider this option.

  19. #19 Dorkman
    December 13, 2009

    I hope he does it just so there’s a public record of Ray’s sleaze. The Troo Beleebers will just call “Christian persecution!” but they were going to do that anyway. Ray needs to be as discredited as can be in the eyes of everyone else, and legally so if at all possible.

  20. #20 AJ Milne
    December 13, 2009

    We are amused.

    I mean, there’s incompetence, there’s raging, non-insurable, stay-the-fuck-away-from-this-man-if-your-offspring-aren’t-safely-independent-and-cannot-get-along-without-you incompetence, there’s the Joseph Hazelwood cadre of ‘how nature sez do not touch’…

    And then there’s yer average creobot.

    Somewhere, I figure, there are outtakes of that banana video in which Comfort, leaving the set, somehow manages to pull a Clouseau, and trips and slips on said prop 15 different ways, demolishing the setup entirely in the process, finally causing emergency room-grade injuries to two of the camera crew.

    (/You haven’t seen said footage because, let’s face it, the ‘official’ edited release is still a lot funnier.)

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    December 13, 2009

    Punative damages are the way to go, definitely.

    Haven’t there been cases where something like a dollar in “real” damages is given, and a large amount in punative damages is awarded?

    Seems like some dishonest preacher like Comfort might get socked for such plagiarism by some juries, perhaps be let off by some other juries.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  22. #22 Sigmund
    December 13, 2009

    Wait a second, if Rays introduction came from Stan Guffeys essay, how come there is still Stan Guffeys essay?

  23. #23 mrcreosote
    December 13, 2009

    It just occurred to me that Ray Comfort may have been inspired by Sir Bedevere.

    “And that, my liege, is how we know the earth to be banana-shaped.”
    “This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain to me again how ram’s bladders may be used to prevent earthquakes”

  24. #24 Cuttlefish, OM
    December 13, 2009

    A book which needs no introduction
    Got one anyway.
    Ray’s writing had the sound of suction;
    Now, he’ll have to pay.
    His first three pages did not quite
    Appear like they belong–
    They’ll argue over copyright:
    It’s surely copywrong.

  25. #25 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 13, 2009

    Thanks, Cuttlefish, for an excellent poetic summary of the situation.

  26. #26 InfuriatedSciTeacher
    December 13, 2009

    @ black cat> The work from which Comfort plagiarised was an essay written by a U of Tennessee professor… so not published in U.K.

    @ Glen Davidson> Plagiarism trials in federal court are by jury? It’s basically a lawsuit, I’d have thought it would rest on the judge alone.

  27. #27 Abdul Alhazred
    December 13, 2009

    It occurs to me that Comfort is simply following the standard of “sharing” that normally prevails within the “creation science” community.

  28. #28 Noel
    December 13, 2009

    It’s a pity the US more or less eschewed the Moral Rights aspects of Copyright law when they signed the Berne Convention; otherwise, he could have strung Comfort up by his balls for ‘derogatory treatment’ and ‘false attribution’.

    There. I used the word ‘eschewed’.

  29. #29 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 13, 2009

    There. I used the word ‘eschewed’.

    Too bad you can’t have it stuffed and mounted above the mantlepiece.

  30. #30 bevansdesign
    December 13, 2009

    You can bet that Comfort and many other creationists would spin any legal action taken against them as “Darwinists trying to censor non-orthodox ideas” or something like that.

    In fact, I would think that Comfort deliberately plagiarized those pages for that reason, if he had a functioning brain.

  31. #31 lordshipmayhem
    December 13, 2009

    Maybe Ray Comfort will be forced by the terms of the settlement to lose some of his followers to be Stan Guffey’s lab assistants?

  32. #32 otrame
    December 13, 2009

    Meanwhile,
    back on the ranch.

    Looks like hell done froze over.

  33. #33 Glen Davidson
    December 13, 2009

    @ Glen Davidson> Plagiarism trials in federal court are by jury? It’s basically a lawsuit, I’d have thought it would rest on the judge alone.

    I don’t know, it seemed I’d heard of it. Googling seems to confirm that it at least can happen, as Billboard reported Satriani sought to do in the following:

    Satriani’s copyright infringement suit, filed yesterday (Dec. 4) in Los Angeles federal court, claims the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida” incorporates “substantial original portions” of his 2004 instrumental “If I Could Fly.”

    The 52-year-old guitar virtuoso is seeking a jury trial, damages and “any and all profits” attributable to the alleged copyright infringement.

    Assuming that he had legal counsel, which seems the intelligent course, he apparently had reason to think that he could sue for plagiarism and have a trial by jury.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  34. #34 Steven Dunlap
    December 13, 2009

    Standard disclaimer: not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice.

    I’m not a lawyer but I play one on TV. But seriously, I have to deal with copyright issues at work and have had to receive meeting on this topic from legal counsel, etc.

    First, there does exist automatic copyright and the wording is definitely taken from Guffey’s original work, which has clear attribution on the .PDF. “Once an expression is fixed in a tangible medium, it is afforded copyright protection immediately.” (Carrie Russell, Complete copyright an everyday guide for librarians, p. 3)

    Second, fair use is a defense once you’ve broken copyright law, which it looks like Comfort has.

    There are 4 factors which the courts generally look at to determine fair use.

    1. The purpose of the work. The more commercial the less fair use applies. Comfort’s attorneys could argue educational use. Guffey’s attorneys could argue that drumming up publicity and self-promotion contributes to Comfort’s “ministry.”

    2. The amount taken, in this case, pretty much the whole thing.

    3. Nature of the publication. This is tricky. The more factual the material taken, the more likely the court will find in favor of fair use. Facts can not have copyright protection (which is why many directories now are leased rather than sold. The license agreement gives protections that a directory can not obtain from copyright). The more factual one considers Guffey’s text, the more fair use applies. That said, any unique attributes of the arrangement, wording or other creative aspects to the recitation of facts the court often sees as having copyright protection.

    4. Effect on the market. If Guffey had sold/licensed the handout or in some way obtained tangible profit it would help his case.

    I can not write about more than fair use, as my work involves this defense of copyright violation and beyond that I do not venture.

  35. #35 Steven Dunlap
    December 13, 2009

    That said, any unique attributes of the arrangement, wording or other creative aspects to the recitation of facts the court often sees as having copyright protection.

    Blah!

    That was awful.

    Better: That said, any unique attributes of the arrangement, wording or other creative aspects to the recitation of facts the court often finds unauthorized copying as not fair use.

  36. #36 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 13, 2009

    What he should do is register the copyright. Then if Ray distributes any more he can wallop him.

    But yeah, without a registered trademark he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting any serious damages.

  37. #37 Yubal
    December 13, 2009

    so I’m not sure what kind of recompense he could get for the theft.

    Maybe he can force Ray Comfort to collect all copies that used his IP on Comfort’s cots and remove his IP from future print and copies not in circulation?

  38. #38 Noel
    December 13, 2009

    Too bad you can’t have it stuffed and mounted above the mantlepiece.

    I don’t have much else to be proud of, so I might give it a shot!

    There’s no way Comfort could argue Fair UseFair Dealing) if it was in Oz, especially since he lifted almost the whole work.

    Just for a bit of Fair Use fun, check this copyright page that was recently constructed by the son of poet Louis Zukofsky. Mr Cranky-Pants wants his dues.

  39. #40 Janine, She Wolf Of Pharyngula, OM
    December 13, 2009

    I will engage in a bit of plagiarism though I am sure that most will know where is comes from. If not, use a search engine.

    You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

  40. #41 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlo3BYplq2Bpe3kTstGA4D1eeFS6yhOka0
    December 13, 2009

    So if I were to write a short story and charge people to download and read it and somebody offered it for free on their website, I could sue them for the loss of potential customers.

    Aside from the unwarranted assumptions that people who download it for free would have bought it in the first place, that none of the people who do so go on to buy it, and that no one who wouldn’t have bought it otherwise decides to after downloading it…

  41. #42 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    December 13, 2009

    and have had to receive meeting on this topic from legal counsel, etc.

    Um, Steve, please tell me that was a typo, and that no one actually treats “meeting” as something one “receives?” Please?

    Your friendly pedant

  42. #43 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlo3BYplq2Bpe3kTstGA4D1eeFS6yhOka0
    December 13, 2009

    …what…the…hell?

  43. #44 gorunnova
    December 13, 2009

    I take it back… I’m glad I won’t ever have one of those books, even if they were distributed for free. What an arse, and proof that Creationists hold to none of the morality they claim their ‘good book’ demands of them.

    … of course, I expect nothing less than this crap from Ray and company. -_-’

  44. #45 Crewvy
    December 14, 2009

    Wow, a lying fucking piece of shit for jesus is caught stealing another persons work, whoever woulda thought that could happen?

    Next these xtian arseholes will be telling us santa does`nt exist.

    Bastards !

  45. #46 katieinseattle
    December 14, 2009

    Just for a bit of Fair Use fun, check this copyright page that was recently constructed by the son of poet Louis Zukofsky. Mr Cranky-Pants wants his dues.

    Is it actually the case that the copyright holder, rather than say the courts, gets to decide what fair use is? I dearly hope not. Fair use is a gray and fuzzy and difficult enough question as it is without copyright holders getting to decide it means whatever the hell they think it means.

  46. #47 The Anti-Social Socialist
    December 14, 2009

    Nevermind the money – just make the bastard read out a nice, long public apology live on the air at his church on a Sunday, then post it to youtube and never the the fucker forget that we know just what he is.

  47. #48 John Morales
    December 14, 2009

    Hm. The legalities of the plagiarism may be debatable, but the lack of ethics thereby evinced ain’t.

  48. #49 Lars
    December 14, 2009

    The Schadenfreude, it tickles! >:D

  49. #50 lonerganmichael99
    December 14, 2009

    The Professor may not be able to sue for any lost money, but the mere fact that this douche-bag, (Comfort) is even being sued, is enough to call his credibility into question. That can only be a good thing. BTW, I may be wrong here, but aren’t there such things as intellectual property laws?

  50. #51 Frankencone
    December 14, 2009

    Well, you can’t really expect someone like Mr. Comfort to know how to deal with books. ;)

  51. #52 Haruhiist
    December 14, 2009

    OT: the conservative bible project is still going strong ^^ I wonder if anyone is actually going to use this bible

  52. #53 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    December 14, 2009

    Maybe it’s the occasion to use UK’s outrageous libel laws for a good cause. Because the mangling of one’s ideas and words and their appropriation by such a pathetic enemy of science as Ray Comfort is definitively profoundly insulting. It’s a unbearable stain on one’s reputation that has to be cleaned thoroughly using the strongest legal detergents. Maybe Simon Singh can give a hand here ;-)

  53. #54 Moggie
    December 14, 2009

    It burns my goat to see Ray getting away with this dishonesty, but it appears that Prof Guffey has known about this plagiarism for months – since the introduction was published on the web. If he’s only now investigating legal action, wouldn’t that delay count against him?

  54. #55 MadScientist
    December 14, 2009

    @SEF: The same is true of copyright in the USA, but as semi pointed out, the law has its nuances. Still, if a US court would award damages for actual profit, Comfort can still stand to lose a lot of money even if the profit went elsewhere and not to him. Legal battles are such a nuisance though, I tend to agree with Wowbagger about just squeezing a public apology out of the little snit. However, the author can still demand an injunction to halt all sales of the book or even to recall all unsold copies which have his essay in there – I would certainly do such a thing since I wouldn’t want to be associated with a creationist. A good copyright lawyer could probably suggest a dozen ways to milk this cow.

  55. #56 MadScientist
    December 14, 2009

    @The Black Cat: Oh, I didn’t realize the original work was published elsewhere. Well, in that case if Ray’s publishers try to sell the book in the UK they’re in trouble. However, going after Comfort may suddenly become much more complicated depending on the nationality of the original author, trade agreements in force at the time, and also any laws on either side of the pond in support of the trade agreements.

  56. #57 Steve in Dublin
    December 14, 2009

    Wait a second, if Rays introduction came from Stan Guffeys essay, how come there is still Stan Guffeys essay?

    I second that, Peter. Sigmund’s little quip is definitely OM worthy :-)

  57. #58 marcushill
    December 14, 2009

    It strikes me that getting any remaining stocks pulped would be a win in itself. We were well prepared for the initial onslaught of stupid, but if they have any remaining stocks to use for their own publicity without making the mistake of letting us know when they’re coming, they might be marginally more effective. Of course, the story will need carful attention to avoid Ray spinning it as “censorship”.

  58. #59 Carlie
    December 14, 2009

    If he’s only now investigating legal action, wouldn’t that delay count against him?

    It might depend – it could be that he couldn’t until the thing was actually distributed. Kind of like it doesn’t matter if you put a necktie in your pocket at the store, it isn’t until you try to walk out with it that they can grab you for shoplifting.

  59. #60 Keenacat
    December 14, 2009

    @otrame:
    Yay for Houston! :)

  60. #61 Sigmund
    December 14, 2009

    Oh dear! Bad news for Ray……
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVBynRBsTQU

  61. #62 Steven Dunlap
    December 14, 2009

    @ Josh, Official SpokesGay | December 13, 2009 11:17 PM

    and have had to receive meeting on this topic from legal counsel, etc.

    Um, Steve, please tell me that was a typo, and that no one actually treats “meeting” as something one “receives?” Please?
    Your friendly pedant

    Sigh. No one gets my obscure pop culture references anymore. What are you people? Young!?

    It’s from Annie Hall

  62. #63 Strangest brew
    December 14, 2009

    I hope Stan Guffey has the heart for the challenge.
    And the grounds for proceeding with it…

    Banana idiot will twist and squirm no doubt…but a court case that ends with a Doveresque type analysis concerning this plagiarist and all round liar for jeebus might be just as damning as a public apology…which guaranteed will not happen till hell hits absolute zero and then some!

  63. #64 Gus Snarp
    December 14, 2009

    I don’t know if Comfort is making a profit or not, but the book is for sale on Amazon.com for $4.99. So there is money involved somewhere.

  64. #65 AJS
    December 14, 2009

    Just because the original author is not making money from their work, doesn’t mean that they can’t sue for damages. Look up GPL violations …..

  65. #66 mumonjmk
    December 14, 2009

    Of COURSE Comfort derived income from this book, and no doubt solicited funds for it, if only because the book was a form of “advertising” for his “ministry.”

    P.S., I hope PZ gets around to defacing a picture of Ayatollah Khomenie.

  66. #67 thomas.paul
    December 14, 2009

    Aside from the unwarranted assumptions that people who download it for free would have bought it in the first place, that none of the people who do so go on to buy it, and that no one who wouldn’t have bought it otherwise decides to after downloading it…

    Doesn’t matter. Suppose I buy an album from iTunes and then make it freely available on my website. Guess what happens to me if it gets downloaded a few thousand times? And guess what argument I don’t get to use when I’m sued? Hint: You used it above.

  67. #68 thomas.paul
    December 14, 2009

    Satriani’s copyright infringement suit, filed yesterday (Dec. 4) in Los Angeles federal court, claims the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida” incorporates “substantial original portions” of his 2004 instrumental “If I Could Fly.”

    The 52-year-old guitar virtuoso is seeking a jury trial, damages and “any and all profits” attributable to the alleged copyright infringement.

    The Rolling Stones sued The Verve because they used part of an instrumental from the 1965 song “The Last Time”. The Rolling Stones won ownership of the song including 100% of the profits. They even won the writing credits from the song.

  68. #69 andrewraygorman
    December 14, 2009

    Glenn D, you made my day bringing up the Satriani case. =D

  69. #70 redrabbitslife
    December 14, 2009

    @ Noel #28: Not only did you use the word “eschewed,” you used it in the same sentence with “balls!”

    A feat last accomplished in the mid 1980′s I think. Bravo!

  70. #71 AtheistAtLARGE
    December 18, 2009

    Greetings
    I interviewed Prof Guffey a few days ago, and he said he was interested in going forth with legal action if he could find the right lawyer.

    Well I found the lawyer, sent him docs about this alledged plagiarism against Prof Guffeys work as well as Dr Brian Regal work, and he’s interested. However when I called the Prof this morning he was a little short with me and said email me with the info.

    I did, and I hope he will persue, the governing bodies of the legal firm are waiting his call, Ray however will just caulk this up on his bullshit wall of shame Im sure, since so many people have threatened to sue him …

    All the ducks are in a row, its now up to Prof Guffey and Dr Brian Regal to make the call

  71. #72 wild390
    April 6, 2010

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