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Live Free or Die

Copyright? Copy Wrong.

Dave Barry admitted to plagiarism.

It was horrible but true. The nation’s leading elected syndicated writer made a horrible mistake. Impeachment proceedings were called immediately.

“Dave Barry is a smart guy,” Larry King said on his televised talk show. “It doesn’t matter that he only copied himself. It’s still breaking the law, and he should know that.”

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Everyone should remember with a warm fondness in their heart when the 1918 Sedition Act expanded and outweighed the Constitution during World War I. After First Amendment rights were suspended, newspapers couldn’t even write an obituary without fear of being sued for libel or invasion of privacy. No form of speech was protected and that made lawyers happy. A young Art Buchwald rallied the newspapers together to form an honorable code between them, and the Honor Among Journalists Act was created.

The federal government, always in favor of curbing the rights of the citizens to read and publish whatever they wanted, embraced the legislation. The bill required newspapers to hold open elections to hire their journalists. Reporters would have to provide funny clips from their years on the college paper, their grades and letters of recommendations from other excellent writers. Whoever got the most votes won. It was simple. Journalists would be held to the same standards as politicians. Well, higher standards.

Journalism schools merged with law programs around the country so that their students could learn all the libel laws before they had a chance to get sued. Movie audiences sighed with relief when they learned sequels were now prohibited.

In addition to Barry’s widespread popularity as columnist, he wrote several books, kept an active family life with his wife and children, and brought an era of prosperity to the nation’s newspapers with his syndication deals. Still didn’t stop him from making a dumb mistake.

Statute IX, Article 4 of the Honor Among Journalists Act states succinctly that “no reporter shall make mention of another body of work, foreign or otherwise, without express written consent.”

The liberal press defended Barry, saying that the only work Barry copied from was his own book, “Dave Barry is from Mars and Venus.”

“The fact that charges are being brought up are absurd,” said News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. “The law is, to say the least, retarded. Really, you can’t talk about your own works? Ridiculous! You crazy Americans!”

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Never assume anything. Especially with the federal government.

Conservative newspapers called quickly for resignation. “Put another ten inches of ‘Ann Landers’ in,” said one syndicate. “No one will notice the difference. The important thing is that the letter of the law is obeyed absolutely with complete disregard for personal opinion. People are flawed. The law is not.”

Barry knew when he wrote that article about men and how they hate zippers he was drawing on a previous body of work he’d published before. Morally, it was wrong, but not criminal.

Then Barry committed perjury. He said that he didn’t remember his license plate number, even though he did. The information he forgot was unrelated to the case but was used to destroy Dave Barry’s career by conservative forces who don’t like to laugh. Now his job as our top funnyman is in jeopardy.

Barry’s testimony before the grand jury put his career on the line and opened his career to unmitigated scrutiny by his peers. Dennis Miller laughed about the scandal for weeks on HBO. Cecil Adams from “The Straight Dope” labeled Barry as something unsuitable for these pages.

In Europe, newspapers frequently cited and quoted from one another. In Luxembourg, the same newspaper is reprinted every day because there was nothing going on there. Only in America is our culture so uptight about literary values that our society as a whole can be shocked by a small indiscretion like this one.

Now, Dave Barry is a good guy. He happens to be a really good writer, too. Twenty million men read his articles on morning sex for a reason. He appeals to a lot of people, and most of these people don’t care about whether or not Barry shamelessly plugged his own book. Dave Barry provides stability in a nation that is often wracked with moral problems, crime and poverty. Most importantly, he takes 10 inches of newspaper space and makes them special.

It’s unfortunate that Dave Barry got caught in the act of being human. Hey, it happens. Ego gratification is very important to a lot of people, and Barry isn’t the only person that’s forgotten to cite a text before. There are thousands of men and women out there who owe their college degrees to some obscure professor they never cited in their term papers.

In a rousing bout of hypocrisy, journalists have turned this into a media circus. Is it necessary to print every rumor and innuendo about Barry in the paper? Does it really matter that he admitted to stealing a pack of gum in the fifth grade? Sure it… doesn’t.

Art Buchwald would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead. But he isn’t, so he’s probably just really upset at the way other elected journalists are attacking Barry, especially when they probably have skeletons in their closets.

Does anyone even remember the freedom to publish? It must have been a grand thing. It’s wrong to restrict speech, especially with vague generalities that don’t allow for mitigating circumstances. We all know that Barry is being punished because he’s so famous. Miss Manners isn’t being attacked for her all-knowing views of etiquette.

The federal proceedings that took place are personal and have nothing to do with Barry’s prowess as a writer. It’s about people who have no sense of humor. Professionally, Barry is a broken man. It’s doubtful he’ll be able to talk about toilet stalls with such conviction anymore.

Should Dave Barry be impeached from the Syndicate for some lies that protected only his standing with his family? No. Is Dave Barry’s perjury as bad as Janet Cook’s article about the heroin child in the 1970s? Janet Cook held flagrant disregard for the office of the journalist. She misused her powers, bullied opponents and won re-election right after winning the Pulitzer. Her actions merited impeachment. Dave Barry’s does not. Impeachment is something that happens very rarely and should be taken with all due seriousness.

You can quote me on that, provided you filled out the necessary forms.

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Dave Barry is a warm, personable guy that brings life to the printed page, and some people can’t stand to see a little life in their newspapers. Wake up, folks. It isn’t all stock statistics and farm reports.

For now, readers are forced to read the Comics page for their morning laughter. With Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson and Gary Trudeau in jail for major copyright violations, it’s going to take more than one cup of coffee to bring a smile to John Doe’s face.

It makes you wonder what would happen if someone like the President got caught up in something like this.

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Dave Barry replied to this piece in December 1998. Here’s his erudite response:

I'll sue.