There's another way to skin a catBy Herb Bayles, RETIRED PROBEMOTER EDITOR - GUEST EDITORIAL
In the October-December 1999 issue of PROBEmoter, Editor John Petterson's editorial contained a strong warning about the sins and perils of copyright infringement. Every word he wrote was absolute truth, but it doesn't mean there aren't ways to obtain permission for use of copyrighted materials.
Since most infringements in barbershop bulletins seem to be cartoons from newspapers and other periodicals, that's the subject I'll address in this piece.
Almost without exception, cartoons published in a newspaper's comics section are distributed by some sort of a syndicate. Some of the most prevalent are United Feature Syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, King Features Syndicate, Tribune Media Services and North America Syndicate, but there are many others. You'll find the distributor's name in tiny, tiny print somewhere in every set of cartoon panels. While it won't always work for you, you may try to contact them by telephone by checking with toll-free directory information to see if they have a 1-800 number listing. Just call 1-800-555-1212.
The folks at these syndicates are highly protective of their artists and will almost always try to extract a fee for rights to reprint a cartoon. The fee is usually at least $75 for a one-time right. I have, on a few occasions, been able to get a fee waived by pleading that I publish a free periodical for a charitable, non-profit organization and operate in a constant state of abject poverty, budget-wise.
Another ploy that has worked for me is to make direct contact with the cartoonist. I used to have to do this by writing to him in care of the distributing syndicate, but it's getting much easier these days, with the advent of the Internet. Quite a number of cartoonists include their e-mail address somewhere in the panels - again in tiny, tiny print. Give it a try; all he can say is "no" or "$75 please."
Whatever method used to contact a cartoonist, be frank, be cordial and be brief. Tell him the nature of your organization (BHS), the number of readers you serve and how you plan to use his work. Be sure to mention you have no budget for use fees. It's also honest to mention the possibility of some less-forthright editor somewhere stealing from your bulletin and reprinting the work. And it can't hurt your cause to slather on a little soft soap. Tell the guy what a great cartoonist he is and how you always enjoy his work.
Of course, if the work you want to reprint is a product of your local newspaper's staff cartoonist, your job may be much easier. You can likely reach him by telephone, but again be frank, cordial and brief. Oh yes, and honest. And don't forget the soft soap.
Finally, a point Editor Petterson failed to mention in his editorial: it is NEVER ethical to change the caption or dialogue associated with a cartoon in order to fit your own chapter's particular situation. Just DON'T do it!
Finally, if you are granted permission to reprint someone's artwork, be sure to note it adjacent to the piece. And if your permission is limited, note that also. "Reprinted with permission; do not copy" should do the job.
I wish you good hunting. With luck you may meet some rather interesting denizens of the cartooning world.