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AAEC to DM Register: Give Brian Duffy his artwork

Ted Rall, the President of The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) has sent a letter to The Des Moines Register’s editor asking her to reconsider their decision to donate Brian Duffy’s editorial cartoons to the University of Iowa. Ted argues that the cartoons represent Brian’s life work and that current industry practice allows the cartoonist to retain ownership of the original artwork.

The letter in full:

Ms. Carolyn Washburn
Vice President and Editor
The Des Moines Register
P.O. Box 957
Des Moines IA 50306-0957

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,
Ted Rall
President
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

Community Comments

#1 Rich Diesslin
February/26/2009
@ 1:35 pm

Ted, it’s great that you (in your capacity as pres.) are going to bat for Brian on this. I hope it has some influence. Compared to your letter to Time, I’d say you did a good job making your points without being too “in-your-face.” I’m sure you were probably chomping down on a bullet when you wrote it.

#2 Stacy Curtis
February/26/2009
@ 1:36 pm

That is a commendable letter, Ted.
Let’s hope they listen to the organization.

#3 Clay Jones
February/26/2009
@ 1:45 pm

As a critic of Ted’s past letters I have to say, this letter is excellent.

#4 Dan Collins
February/26/2009
@ 3:59 pm

Glad to see you lending the weight of your office behind this Ted. We all hope it is successful.

#5 Garey Mckee
February/26/2009
@ 5:23 pm

I must applaud Ted’s efforts to stand up for Brian Duffy, also in doing so defending the rights of ALL cartoonists. This is especially poigniant in today’s environment where cartoonists are getting the axe right and left and papers are closing every time you turn around. Ted is standing up for ALL cartoonists here. As an industry cartooning has always been undermined and underrated. If cartoonists don’t give their rights a voice, nobody else will. Thank you Ted!

#6 Wiley Miller
February/26/2009
@ 6:14 pm

Ted, I hope you’ll let us know what, if any, response you get from them.

#7 Eddie Pittman
February/26/2009
@ 7:06 pm

Well written, Ted. I hope they do the right thing.

#8 Ted Rall
February/27/2009
@ 12:21 am

If I hear from the Register, I’ll let you know.

#9 Joe Rank
February/27/2009
@ 2:53 am

Very good letter, Ted.

Send off a copy to the regents of the University of Iowa to inform them what heels the Register management is.
Shame is also a form of punishment. They should be aware of their complicity with this orchestrated thievery, and offered the opportunity to deny it.

#10 Mike Peterson
February/27/2009
@ 4:10 am

Good piece. Well written. Not sure there’s a heart there to be touched, but perhaps they’ll have some notion of public relations and will give in.

#11 Paul Fell
February/27/2009
@ 9:42 am

Well done, Ted. Even if the DM Register doesn’t respond, the AAEC still has the obligation to stand up for its members as well as other editorial cartoonists.

#12 Jeff Darcy
February/27/2009
@ 10:37 am

What the paper is doing with Brian’s cartoons would be a good case study for a University of Iowa business ethics class.

Maybe Ted should also send a letter to the University of Iowa’s President. It would be refreshing to see the school do the right thing and either not accept the cartoons, considering the conditions under which they are being given. Or, if they do take them, turn around and donate them back to the rightfull owner-Brian Duffy.

My predecessor, Ray Osrin donated his Originals to The Ohio State University cartoon library. The difference of course, was that it was his choice to make.

#13 Wiley Miller
February/27/2009
@ 11:13 am

“My predecessor, Ray Osrin donated his Originals to The Ohio State University cartoon library. The difference of course, was that it was his choice to make.”

The other difference is, he couldn’t take a tax write off for the donation, while the newspaper can.

#14 Greg Bulmash
February/27/2009
@ 6:18 pm

Seeing as he was laid off, rather than being fired, standard corporate procedure is to have as little contact with him as possible.

And honestly, negotiating the return of part of his work has its own complexities… Who decides which ones he gets back? Who has to go through all the originals and pull those? Who handles the negotiations over the number and selection of works?

All of those activities have a cost for the paper above and beyond boxing them all up and shipping them to the university. Plus each one he gets back diminishes the value of the donation and thus the write-off.

Then again, they can possibly write off any originals they give back to Duffy as compensation (severance?). But that leaves Duffy with a tax liability because he then has to declare the value of those originals as income. Let’s say they claim the originals are worth $200 each and give him back 500 of his originals. He’ll have to pay taxes on $100,000 in income… forcing him to sell enough of them to cover the tax bill (sort of like when you exercise stock options).

The only way to escape the tax liabilities is if it was determined he owned all of his originals in the first place, from the get go.

If the university does turn around and donate them back to Duffy after the newspaper took a hefty write-off, then there are probably some tax liability issues for both the university and Duffy.

Giving the originals back to Duffy is morally right, but complicated. Probably need an accountant and/or a lawyer to provide some advice. I’m not an accountant, so this is all based on my understanding of the issues as a layman.

#15 Zach Trenholm
February/27/2009
@ 8:26 pm

Quote: “The only way to escape the tax liabilities is if it was determined he owned all of his originals in the first place, from the get go.”

Excellent point Greg—last thing an unemployed cartoonist needs on top of everything else is a $100,000 (or more) debt to contend with….

Never a political cartoonist ( ok, well I’ve done a few over the decades :-) ) but briefly a staff illustrator for the old S.F. Examiner in the 90’s, i always made a point to scan my work & then take the originals home ( which i still have & can’t bear to look at now with my more seasoned eye :-)) Some months into the job everything went digital anyhow, including the creation of my illos so this issue was even further rendered moot….

But as for Mr.Duffy’s very tangible archives, I’m sure all this attention on the matter is sure to prove positive for him….

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