Advertisements

Webcomics and the perils of social media

So what happens when someone takes your webcomic and decides to propagate it all over social media? Sounds like a great way to get free publicity, right? Not so fast, homes. With the rise of Twitter, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, Reddit and other applications with names so silly you’d swear that George Lucas made them up, it’s much easier for someone else to get all the publicity while the creator gets bupkis. Shaenon Garrity writes about Rachel Dukes’ experience over at The Comics Journal:

It’s common for Internet denizens to share favorite comics and illustrations without paying much attention to the source. But some go further than that, actively deleting names, URLS, and even artists’ signatures from the work before passing it along. Most cartoonists, when they discover their work floating around the Internet without attribution, groan with resignation or possibly make an irritated blog post. But when cartoonist Rachel Dukes discovered that this had happened to a strip titled “Life with/out a Cat” from her journal comic Intentionally Left Blank, she crunched the numbers and shared the results in a blog post, “On: Image Alteration and Theft on Social Media.”

With a little detective work, Dukes determined that the strip first went viral when, on the same day she posted it to her website and Tumblr account, it got shared (with attribution) on the megaforum Reddit. The next day, it was posted to an image-sharing site called 9GAG with Dukes’s URL and copyright removed. From Reddit and 9GAG, the two versions of the strip—one with attribution, one without—spread throughout the Internet. A few months later, BuzzFeed, one of the major hub sites for links and images throughout the Internet, posted the uncredited version of the strip with Dukes’s URL printed underneath. Unfortunately, this meant that most people who reposted the strip from BuzzFeed did so without bothering to give it any attribution.

Using Google Image Search to track as many appearances of her strip as possible, Dukes estimates that the version of her strip with her name attached has been viewed 81,595 times. Nice numbers—but the uncredited version has had over half a million views. The credited version has had 10,700 Facebook shares; the uncredited version has had a staggering 347,984. The credited version hasn’t made it onto Pinterest at all, while the uncredited version has been shared 6,000 times.

So what’s the solution? Well, it seems that one must resort to that most intrusive of methods:

Dukes suggests that webcartoonists put watermarks on their art and/or place their signature and URL inside the panels to make them harder to erase. Some cartoonists incorporate their name and the title of the comic into the art in decorative ways that can’t be removed without making the edit obvious. But ultimately, the most effective ways to curb attribution-scrubbing are to educate Internet users about the problem and crack down on the less ethical image-sharing sites. Most people, says Dukes, share uncredited comics “simply because they don’t know any better. And that ignorance is exactly what 9GAG is banking on.”

Ultimately, Dukes remains enthusiastic about the connectedness of online communities and the experience of making webcomics. “More than anything,” she says, “I think it’s important that creators keep creating despite image theft and alteration. But if we want to stop the complacency directed toward sites like 9GAG it’s important that we act as a community—creators and readers—to preserve artist rights and integrity.”

Frankly, I am personally no fan of watermarks. I think they’re effective, true. But they do tend to interfere with the aesthetics of any art piece, whether it’s a photograph or a comic strip.

EDIT: I wrote this as a response to one of the commenters on the above article. It’s still awaiting moderation as of this writing, but I thought I’d share it with y’all. It was about whether anything could possibly stem the tide of information sharing.

Technology has gotten pretty good at being able to parse out data, though. Just think of apps like Pandora or SoundHound that can detect what song is being played after a few bars. That same technology is what’s being used on YouTube to track down embedded music that’s being used without permission.

So why can’t something like that be used for webcomics? Sure, there are weird little spots on the internet that will always thrive and survive (I’m sure there are less scrupulous sites that will allow embedded music). But there ARE hubs. A few are mentioned in this article. Reddit, Buzzfeed, etc. It is not impossible to come down hard on these sites the same way the RIAA went down hard on YouTube. Install the same software to detect which images are being used illegally, and then forward on a cease and desist if it’s detected.

Now, that opens up another can of worms — namely public domain issues — but I think methods to stem sharing of images without author credit is very, very possible.

Advertisements

About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on December 13, 2013, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Google has a search function that lets you upload an image and search for it. I don’t know if it’d be viable for websites to implement that into their services, but it does exist and that’s how these authors often find they’re credit has been removed. Though according to some sites I’ve read this story from, some of the stealing has been done by the site itself. Sites like 9gag and FunnyJunk get their money from people staying on the site to look at funny pictures, and if their audience know the sources, they’ll go there instead. So they’ll just lop off the credit line and put their watermark on instead.

    • As I replied to a redditor asking how to protect their game against piracy, if people want to take possession of your content, they will go to great lengths for that. In the context of webcomics, this means going through painstaking processes to get watermarks removed, somehow. Using intrusive methods to ward off this sort of thing is fighting an uphill battle mounted on skateboards.

  2. “So why can’t something like that be used for webcomics? Sure, there are weird little spots on the internet that will always thrive and survive (I’m sure there are less scrupulous sites that will allow embedded music). But there ARE hubs. A few are mentioned in this article. Reddit, Buzzfeed, etc. It is not impossible to come down hard on these sites the same way the RIAA went down hard on YouTube. Install the same software to detect which images are being used illegally, and then forward on a cease and desist if it’s detected.”

    Given the farce that is going on right now with Youtube’s ContentID-stuff, I wouldn’t really trust on this either. There the system is so screwed right now that any fraudulent company can claim any video on youtube and receive all the funds it gets for 30 days until inevitably they get exposed and permabanned.
    Heres more info on that: http://youtu.be/nuTHhtCyzLg

    So at its worst if we follow the youtube-method of using automatic technology for it, content creators could get their stuff removed by any company throwing false accusations around. And you don’t want to give powers like that to sources like 9gag.

  3. Great post. This is a difficult issue. Creators & legitimate publishers deserve credit and proper compensation. The problem arises because new forms of mass media lend themselves to collaborative creativity, but at the simplest level that becomes just copy & pasting plus sharing.
    We need new business models to accommodate new mass media cultural attitudes. Unfortunately, the education system is running behind in helping the younger generation develop a media literacy that includes a better ethical & business sense of creative arts & their production.

  1. Pingback: Surreal Thursday: Impressive Nitrogen & Boom Bomb | Dark Pines Photo

  2. Pingback: Why I Don’t Check Facebook Till 6PM – Systems over Discipline | SoshiTech - Social Media Technology - Soshitech.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: