UT Professor Considers Legal Action Over Use Of Charles Darwin Bio

Stan Guffey had been waiting months for Nov. 18 to arrive. On that day, Christian groups handed out free copies of a 150th-anniversary edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species on college campuses across the country. Guffey is a biology lecturer at the University of Tennessee who earned his doctorate studying genetic differences between northern and southern populations of brook trout. When he heard talk outside his office about people handing out books on the UT plaza, Guffey says, “I hot-footed it over to get myself a copy.”

“Would you like me to autograph this?” Guffey asked the distributors, telling them he is one of the authors, albeit unacknowledged. Since spring, e-mails had been trickling in alerting him to extensive similarities between the first three pages of the edition’s introduction and “A Brief History of Charles Darwin,” which Guffey wrote in 1997 for UT’s first Darwin Day event. He wrote the biography, handed out on campus each February and available through the Darwin Day website, “to make Darwin accessible to people who thought Darwin was a devil, to make him human.”

It seems to have appealed to New Zealand-born evangelist Ray Comfort, who wrote a 50-page introduction for Florida publisher Bridge-Logos’ reissue of Darwin’s treatise on evolution. Bridge-Logos lists dozens of titles by Comfort in its catalog, including some co-authored by actor Kirk Cameron, who also co-hosts a television series with Comfort. Guffey is not acknowledged in the book, but the introduction begins with his biography of Darwin. A few sentences were chopped or shortened, and a paragraph on Darwin’s youth was rearranged and reworded, but most of the passage appears taken directly from Guffey.

Comfort put his introduction on the Web months ago, and several bloggers who monitor anti-evolution efforts noted differences in style between the biography and the rest of the introduction. A brief computer search uncovered the source, and they confronted the author and publisher about the apparent plagiarism months before the book was printed. Guffey says he was never contacted for permission to use the biography. Both the author and publisher declined to comment for this story. Contacted by phone, Bridge-Logos publicist Shawn Myers said it was the first she had heard of matter, so she was unable to respond.

“I am party to a scam,” Guffey says. “The introduction begins with a nice, sweet little biography, then degenerates into intellectually lame, lazy distortions, selective reading of the literature, picking and choosing of facts, and misreadings of the historical record.” He says Comfort “gently moves folks into the notion that they don’t want to read what comes after the introduction. He just wants his 50 pages read, 47 of which are anti-intellectual, dishonest drivel, the first three of which are pretty good because I wrote them.”

According to local experts on intellectual property law, plagiarism can be more an ethical matter than a legal one. Were an academic like Guffey to do what Comfort did, it could potentially cost him his job. The website of Comfort’s Living Waters ministry says, “An angry backlash from atheists has prompted best-selling author Ray Comfort to stop answering questions about [the book].” Guffey says he believes this discrepancy encapsulates the different standards to which scientists and their religious critics hold themselves.

“I would like to engage him in intellectual combat, but it wouldn’t be fair,” Guffey says. “If he were to play by the rules of reason and logic, I would whoop his ass, but he’s not constrained by those rules, so it wouldn’t be fair to me.” Guffey is preparing a cease-and-desist letter through an attorney to prevent further distribution of the book and is contemplating further legal action.

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Comments » 10

pjbcox54 writes:

You Go Stanley!! I've always said you were the smartest man I know....I'm behind you 100%...give those Antidarwinism jerks Hell!!

kiwichick writes:

We're sorry, okay! On behalf of my fellow New Zealanders, I
would like to apologise for giving the world Ray Comfort.
Usually we'll go to any lengths to make sure everyone knows
that someone (or something) famous came from our fair
shores, but I think this calls for an exception. I propose
that we give Ray Comfort to Australia - they're always
trying to pinch things from NZ anyway, like Russell Crowe,
Phar Lap, Crowded House, Pavolva (mmmm), etc. After all,
Australia is responsible for Ken Ham, so I think it's very
believable (in this case it helps that people can't tell our
accents apart). So in conclusion, everyone repeat after me:
Ray Comfort is from Australia.

aebrown writes:

I agree with kiwichick "Ray Comfort is from Australia." I'm a yank but my husband is a kiwi. He wouldn't want to be associated with Comfort either. Australia does get all the glory.
I hope Stan Guffey takes this thief down. Of course Comfort will still keep blaming everything on atheists. That shows how evolved he is!!!

gfsmith writes:

Typical creationist dishonesty. Whoop his arse, Stan!

Desertphile writes:

"An angry backlash from atheists has prompted best-selling author Ray Comfort to stop answering questions about [the book]."

Rev Comfort wants people to believe that only atheists object to his lies and plagerism; Rev Comfort appears to believe, or at least wishes people to believe, that atheists hold the higher ethical and moral high ground.

In that, studies within the USA and studies among similar countries show Rev Comfort is correct: the more atheists a state in the USA has, the fewer crimes; the more atheists a country has, the fewer crimes and the higher standard of living. But I doubt Rev Comfort meant to tell the truth about this.

Seems to be one of the requirements for being a Fundamentalist Christian is a total lack of morality and ethics. Rev Comfort certainly offers yet another data point for this observation.

notFredDagg writes:

Listen Kiwichick, no way is Australia taking any credit for Ray
Comfort. He's all yours. And you forgot John Clarke, one of
your finest now speaking in a fine Oz accent.

I hope Stan sues and wins.

qhorse101 writes:

this is to desertphile: I am sure you meant to include that you are not just referring to Christianity vs atheists when you made your statement about crime and atheists. I read the article and it appears to me you put you own spin on it, the most violent countries are indeed religious.....not Christian but religious nontheless. So perhaps the entire article failed to take into account the other factors involved. Hmmm, does this sound like the same thing that you are accusing Comfort of doing. Blanket statements are generally hard to prove.

ManimalX writes:

Was Guffey's free pamphlet copyrighted? I see no copyright info anywhere on http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/darwin/index.htm, nor is there one on the .pdf of the free pamphlet, nor is there any copyright mentioned in any of the articels I found while searching the web.

If there was no copyright, there was no plagiarism. Lazy scholarship perhaps (or perhaps not, it isn't like there is a lot to change when recounting the basic events of Darwin's life, and there are additional details in Comfort's writing that is not Guffey's), but I am not aware of any laws against using short excerpts of freely distributed, non-copyrighted materials.

This makes sense on the legal front as well... Guffey's attorney is only considering a cease-and-desist letter, not a cease-and-desist order. You don't even have to be a lawyer to send a c&d LETTER. I can write a c&d letter to my neighbor for where he built his fence if I wanted. It doesn't mean I am right or that he has done anything wrong.

If there were copyright infringement, I imagine they would be threatening a c&d ORDER through a judge, or flat out suing for plagiarism. Since they are just threatening a c&d LETTER, it leads me to believe that Guffey doesn't have any legal leg to stand on. His pamphlet wasn't copyrighted.

If you have information contrary to this, please let me know. Until then, I call shenanigans on Guffey and his evolutionist supporters who merely like to harass creationists and others who reject evolution.

Rikki writes:

Copyright is automatic upon publication; no notice is required. This has been true in the U.S. since it joined the Bern Convention in 1988.

Plagiarism is a general term for any attempt to pass off another person's work as one's own, and Comfort did not credit Guffey. Copyright is a legal term more sharply defined, and whether this constitutes copyright infringement is for a court to decide. Copyright also involves publication of another's work, whereas plagiarism can apply to any use. If a student had done this as part of a term paper, it would be plagiarism and cause for disciplinary action, but Guffey would have no grounds to sue because term papers are not published.

Comfort did not use "short excerpts." He used nearly all of Guffey's biography, with one paragraph mostly rewritten and another shortened.

anaconda writes:

in response to pjbcox54:

You Go Stanley!! I've always said you were the smartest man I know....I'm behind you 100%...give those Antidarwinism jerks Hell!!

If this man is the smartest man that you know, then you must not know to may people. Just because a person doesnt believe in Darwin's theory doesnt make them a jerk. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

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