Agency: Robert Kolker recently wrote about a legal case involving friendship, plagiarism and art for The Times Magazine, which divided social media users. He talked to Times Insider about how he approached the reporting.
In early January, I got an email from a writer in Los Angeles named Dawn Dorland. The email was straightforward: She believed she’d been plagiarized in a short story by another writer named Sonya Larson. Now they were in court.
Over several months, I examined the case for the recent New York Times Magazine article “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?,” which became a major subject of conversation online, with readers taking sides. This was, on one level, a story about a friendship torn asunder. But it was also about how people can take details from real life and weave them into their fiction, and the question of whether artists must adhere to a certain set of ethics.
Then there was the astonishing nature of what was appropriated: Dorland had donated a kidney, and Larson’s short story was about a kidney donation.
“Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” is a Rorschach test. Some readers might land on team Dorland, others on team Larson. But neither I nor any of the editors involved in the piece expected it to turn into Twitter’s favorite parlor game.
I feel that a lot of the debate that continues to swirl across Twitter risks flattening the piece into a tale of good guys and bad guys — which, you might say, kind of proves the story’s point. We all can retreat into our own echo chambers and decide on our own versions of the truth, which can turn any of us into bad art friends.