Sunday, August 28, 2016

Without Compensation or Attribution: The Afterlife of Caption Contest Captions

A copy of the Office Cartoons from The New Yorker 2017 Calendar caught my eye last week in a bookstore. The cover cartoon by David Borchart struck me because it was not originally published as one of the magazine's many office-themed gag cartoons. Rather, it is a former Caption Contest cartoon now bearing the winning caption, but without being acknowledged as such. That caption—"We're tabling the motion."—is the clever work of Patti Smart of Chicago who composed it for Contest #450 dated November 10, 2014. Although I didn't purchase a copy of the calendar, I don't see that she is credited anywhere, at least not on the outside.

Office Cartoons from The New Yorker 2017 Calendar

Instead the calendar credits the cover cartoon to artist David Borchart and to no one else:
Published Attribution of Cover Cartoon Authorship

Should Patti Smart be credited too? Of note, the Caption Contest Rules allow the entrant to retain the copyright to the submission, while granting the New Yorker the broad right to use that entry in all media "without compensation or attribution." To confuse matters, this right is specifically elucidated as one which allows the New Yorker to "...display the Submission and the entrant's name and city and state..." It is not clear to me from this possibly contradictory legalese whether or not the entrant should expect to be credited every time the  successful caption is subsequently republished.

Excerpt from the Caption Contest Rules

As a matter of good sense, it seems to me then that when former Caption Contest cartoons are published in a general New Yorker cartoon collection, it might be awkward or distracting to include the names of the successful entrants with each caption. Therefore I do not believe Ms. Smart's name belongs on the cover of this calendar with the cartoon, although I would certainly not forbid its use altogether. Yet where a specific credit is given to the artist, such as on the back cover of this calendar, it seems appropriate to credit the Caption Contest entrant as well and to acknowledge the process by which the finished gag was created. The caption contestants are not to be treated the same as gag writers who work in anonymity as a condition of their trade; instead they are uncompensated problem-solvers, three of whom compete for the public recognition that their caption more than any other has resolved a specific cartoon conundrum. The resulting cartoon comes about by a very unique process and the caption author deserves much credit when there is an outstanding result.

I should note that the Condé Nast store routinely offers prints of Caption Contest cartoons but does not credit the Contest winners:

On a further note, the Contest rules allow the New Yorker to use any submission in any manner, not just the winning entry. I am not aware of any instances yet where caption entries aside from the winning caption were published except in the context of a discussion of the Caption Contest itself.

Here are images from the first two months of the 2017 calendar with cartoons by Zachary Kanin and Tom Toro. For the record, they are not Caption Contest cartoons.
January cartoon by Zachary Kanin

February cartoon by Tom Toro

Note: For the record...

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David Borchart

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