After not knowing about Aleppo — the Syrian city at the center of the country's bloody civil war — copyright infringement isn't exactly a good new look for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
Yesterday, Houston Chronicle editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson spotted his own work on Johnson's Facebook page. His cartoon was altered to include a different message and opinion he doesn't even agree with (that being: "I'd vote for Gary Johnson if he had a chance to win") and also with his name and copyright blotted out in the top right. "It was altered as though a five-year-old had scribbled it out," Anderson told the Houston Press. "It looks so amateurish. How does a presidential campaign that [says it's] ready for prime time manage to do this?"
The original cartoon was published a few years ago before the Texas gubernatorial election, picturing a mass of potential voters all saying in a cartoon bubble, "We didn't vote because it won't make a difference!" It also featured a note reminding readers that a whopping two-thirds of eligible Texas voters don't make it to the polls. Anderson said the cartoon became so popular that a national version of the cartoon was republished across the country, and that over the years it has been shared on social media without his permission over one million times. But, Anderson said, "I just go ahead and let it slide, because the message is important enough."
Different story for Johnson, though — especially given that the altered cartoon was being used to advance someone else's political ambitions. "That's what really set me off," said non-Johnson supporter Anderson.
Anderson commented on the photo to inform Johnson's campaign that this was his work and that this is a copyright violation. The campaign responded not by removing the photo, but by adding, "original cartoon by Nick Anderson." "I'm like, come on," Anderson said, "I still didn't give you permission!"
So, finally, after he explained in as clear language as possible that using the altered cartoon was not okay, the campaign removed the Facebook post altogether after it had been shared nearly 30,000 times. The social media response multiplied after Anderson posted about it on Facebook and tweeted about it, and after the Houston Chronicle found out, too.
Seeing the backlash, a Redditor who went by the name Aristotle Grumpus on Twitter came forward to save his candidate, Gary Johnson, from any more negative publicity by explaining that, actually, he is the one who altered the cartoon. "They didn't alter it," he wrote. "I did on reddit as a meme. Terrible misunderstanding!"
As far as we can tell, Mr. Grumpus isn't kidding. He sent us a link to this Gary Johnson Reddit page showing a four-day-old thread titled "Gary Johnson can't win anyway," in which Grumpus writes in a comment that perhaps they should change the text of the photo. "Something like this?" he writes, linking to an imgur page showing his new creation with Nick Anderson's credits splotched away.
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"MS Paint skills.. comic font lol," he writes.
"Thing is, one big reason I support him is how honest the guy is, so I could not feel worse about this," Grumpus, who did not provide his real name, wrote to us on Twitter.
In any case, Anderson said he won't be taking any legal action since the campaign took down the post — even though he still faults Johnson's staff for not realizing it was so clearly altered. Asked whether Johnson chimed in to perhaps apologize or clear anything up, Anderson said no.
"He's still trying to find Aleppo on a map."