Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Caveat Empire

I wrote a post a month or so ago on Michael Mann. An A-Z thing. If you're a regular here then you may have read it, or, intimidated by its length, skimmed or skipped it. Believe it or not, it could have been twice or three times as long but I cut a lot and tried to keep it as short as I could. Anyway, a couple of weeks later my old buddy Monsterwork informed me that Empire Online had posted their own Mann A-Z .

Mine was up on Tuesday June 30th, theirs on July 6th, and there were definite similarities, but then you would expect a lot of similarities in longish pieces with such a tight focus on a single Director. For instance, we both had The Keep as our K entry, and whereas I had B is for Blue, they had I is for Indigo. Which seems almost a schoolchild's level of plagiarism. But it was some of the details that got me and seemed most suspicious: references to Peter Berg, FX Feeney's Mann book and Andy McNab's advisory role on Heat. Friends who read both pieces seemed more outraged and certain than I was that I had been ripped off.

So I emailed one of the Online Editors at Empire, received an "Out of Office AutoReply" mail with an alternative address, and sent another mail to that address. I kept my mail polite and just requested some acknowledgement or clarification. Nothing. Two weeks without any reply. Until yesterday, that is, when I sent another mail to the original address. This time the editor replied to me within an hour with a polite explanation that there was no plagiarism, that he saw little resemblance between my copy and theirs, that the two(!) writers had never seen my post before he showed them the link I had supplied, and that their piece had been commissioned on June 12th and filed two weeks later, before my post even went up. All of which is fair enough, and I dropped the matter.

Except for this post. what was most interesting about this whole thing for me was comparing my version with Empire's. I haven't read Empire regularly for years, and indeed I fail to understand its purpose in the Internet era. When I purchased it avidly the Internet was in its infancy, and Empire was literally the best - indeed only, alongside its glossier, more American sister publication Premiere - place to see frames and hear news about forthcoming movies. The Internet is a one-stop shop for all that now. Empire was never the place for great criticism or analysis; it is far too dependent on a lowest common denominator demographic, and its inverse snobbery means that it pays little attention to World Cinema or anything pre-Star Wars. This means that while my Mann post is full of attempts at analysis, some more successful than others, Empire contains virtually none whatsoever. Instead if is factoid-heavy, a few vague efforts to understand some of the trends in his work being made amidst lots of gags. The Empire house style - ultra-readable and slick - is also evident, whereas my post seems almost academic by comparison. A decade ago I would have been thrilled by even the tiniest suggestion that Empire might have copied a piece I wrote. But now, while heartening in a way, it didn't seem that big a deal. A blog is good in that way. You just write something and let it go.

I prefer my version, obviously. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

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Blogger Daniel said...

I read your A-Z and thought it was, like so many of your posts, excellent. You've even persuaded me to watch Miami Vice. I was a little too young to appreciate the TV series when it was on, beyond the credits, and Don Johnson's wardrobe.

I haven't seen the Empire thing, I tend to avoid magazines completely now, as you can get a book or two pints for that much money (probably four at Wetherspoons) but it does seem a mite suspicious. I think it might be safe to assume they've at least swiped your idea, if very little of your content. You only have to read Deus Ex Malcontent or Bob Cesca to see where most of Britain's broadsheets get their American news snippets from.

11:13 am  
Blogger David N said...

Well, it wasn't in the actual magazine, just on their Website. And the editor also said that they had done A-Z features before (he cited a Tarantino one), so I doubt they stole the idea.
What I thought when I initially read theirs, how it struck me, was that their writer(s) read mine halfway through writing their one, and took a few elements. Adapted them and used them.
But Mr Editor, he say nooo.

Miami Vice- if you can get past how incredibly dated the clothes/hair/cars/music is - still contains many pleasures.

10:31 pm  

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