Local playwright deals with plagiarism

Travis Perry

Following three simple rules are all that would have kept a Virginia playwright from a possible copyright lawsuit tied into Topeka, the Brown Foundation and Washburn.

Marcia Cebulska, wife of history department chair Thomas Prasch, was commissioned by Washburn and the Brown Foundation in 2004 to create a play for the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case. Titled “Now Let Me Fly,” Cebulska decided to make the play available to people across the nation by posting it on the Internet. Troupes were allowed to perform the play free of charge as long as the actors were not paid, the audience wasn’t charged admission and the dialogue was left untouched.

Discovered by the Academy of Fine Arts in Lynchburg, Va., Cebulska’s work was plagiarized by Brooke Farmer and made into a piece entitled “Thumbprints.” “Thumbprints” follows the same basic plotline as Cebulska’s, including scenes involving Brown v. BOE lawyer Thurgood Marshall being led by the ghost of civil rights attorney Charles Huston to multiple sites important to the civil rights movement.

“‘Thumbprints’ is a blatant rip off of ‘Now Let Me Fly,'” said Cebulska, who felt of a mix of shock, anger and horror upon learning of the plagiarism. “There are sections four and five pages long that are straight from my play.”

Farmer’s play is 30 pages in length, 20 of which contained material derived or verbatim from Cebulska’s creation.

Farmer’s excuse for plagiarizing Cebulska’s work was that she had misinterpreted the requirements for use, stating she believed she could do what she wanted with the material as long as credit was given to the original creator.

“Brooke Farmer stole Marcia’s words and claimed them as her own,” said Prasch in a letter addressed to the press. “She took Marcia’s carefully crafted play and bastardized and mangled it.”

While Farmer and Cebulska have talked since the discovery of the incident, Cebulska is still unhappy with the reasoning given for Farmer’s actions. A cease and desist letter has been sent to Farmer, but Cebulska has requested a formal letter acknowledging the plagiarism of her work. As of last Tuesday, she had yet to receive the letter and is threatening to pursue legal action for copyright infringement if it has not been received by today.

Unfortunately, Cebulska is not the only person to have been plagiarized in Farmer’s play. Works were also sampled and stolen from Phyllis Wheatley, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou and James Weldon Johnson.

As for Cebulska posting future scripts on the Internet for global distribution, she wasn’t sure what would happen. The current site offering the script for “Now Let Me Fly” has added a request form to help keep track of those who perform the piece.

“I’ll see how far this goes and what kind of toll it takes,” said Cebulska.