Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

106 Comments

  1. I’m starting to think that this kind of fight is not going to be solved by artists and programmers. Both sides have drawn their lines.

    The more I think about it, the more I believe a lawyer is necessary. A “cease and desist” letter carries a lot more weight than any BBS message does. Perhaps if cartoonists got together and started a fund for legal representation, like the CBLDF, we could work problems out a lot faster than any rhetoric could.

    I know I would certainly be willing to donate to a lawyer that would represent online comic artist interests.

    Just an idea.

  2. “In conclusion, the choice is yours. Either you can spend your time and money fighting people like me and my users, or you can embrace what I believe to be the future of webcomics(…)”

    Somehow I find this sentence to be awkwardly disturbing.

  3. No, no, I’m not even thinking about the problems comic rippers bring to we, cartoonists, regardind profit and revenue anymore. I just feel a little uneasy by the thought of that becoming the future of webcomics. I’m just being paranoid here, because I don’t see a future to that software. I don’t see it becoming so hugely popular we actually have to quit our comics because we don’t get enough pageviews.

    It’s just, what makes me love webcomics so much is the fact that they make use of such a beautiful media, allowing us to make websites for our comics, draw and color our strips without having to worry about size or costs, and most of the time not even with the content. What comic rippers do is take our comics from us and spread them, as if we were generic syndicated crap. Our comics are just displayed as if they were regular newspaper strips, without the uniqueness and personality the websites lend to our comics. Not only that, but it also takes away the in-touch we have with our readers, our fans. Taking those away from me is taking the very thing that made me decide to start a webcomic in the first place.

    Like I said in the Comictastic’s forum, if this is the future of webcomics, I don’t want to be a part of it. But again, I’m just being paranoid.

    Sorry.

  4. Ok, so after thinking about this a bit more, here are a few extra thoughts I’ve had.

    Bandwidth vs Vision
    One of the complaints raised was that folks on low bandwidth connections (wrong end of a 56K modem) don’t want to deal with image heavy pages, and are therefore looking for “just the meat”. Most comic creators want to give the most professional looking page they possibly can and don’t want to put a lot of work into doing extra effort for what they see as only a fraction of their audience. Comictastic attempts to solve the problem from the point of view of the low speed audience. It may just be that folks might want to consider putting together a very light weight page that doesn’t use as many 32K color JPG images and let folks pick that “view” if they want it.

    Techie vs. Artiste
    Most webcomic folks aren’t Geeks. They don’t know HTML from an over-ripe mango, nor do they really care. They’re more focused on providing content. What’s more, they use any tool that’s sufficiently free and does the job. Asking them to radically modify their site to support some random bit of jargon is like asking your cat to perform neurosurgery.

    Trying to create a solution that provides content creators with a way to publish things out is nearly impossible because of the sorts of limitations that exist. (e.g. Keenspace and GeoCities provides *no* interface other than HTML, where as setting things up on your own server gives you nearly unlimited access to do anything.)

    Reinventing the Wheel
    Something has been kind of nagging at me about this whole thing. Artists want to be able to distribute their comic, links, and info as a bundle. Slow folks want just the basics. Folks have bandied around RSS as a solution, but there already is one out there. It’s called HTTP and it’s what every site already uses to display their content. The only problem is that most sites aren’t structured in such a manner so that their easy to pull apart.

    There Will Always Be A Next Time
    Even if, by some stroke of luck, law, or lot, everyone now sets things up to use Mystical New Technology, what happens when enough Clueless Noobs show up and the cycle repeats again?

    For now (and if possible) I’d suggest folks create a “light-weight version” where the entire page size is under 150K. That will still take around three seconds or so to load, but that’s probably forgivable.

    Granted, I really would love to run a survey of folks and find out if they have programming access to their site; if they use PHP, perl, or MySQL; and if they want a tool that allows them to distribute in multiple formats.

  5. I don’t believe that there are THAT many people on dialup anymore. The majority of people have reasonably fast connections. When I was on dialup halfway across the world from the servers I was accessing didn’t find that I had to go make a cup of coffee to wait for a page to load–most pages loaded within a 3-8 second timeframe. I think the dial-up excuse is just that — an excuse.

    I just find the gall in this incredible. Creating a program that rips off websites and demanding that the comic artists find a solution that satisfies him is a complete ego trip. Comic artists should be drawing comics, not negotiating with every hack that creates these kinds of programs. It’s simply NOT FAIR.

    This is why I recommend a legal approach. If the comic artists banded together to hire a lawyer (and we could certainly raise the revenue to do so) then we can go back to our drawing boards knowing we are being looked after.

  6. I agree with you.

    However, that’s not going to be the future of webcomics. It’s not going to be decided by a theif, it will be decided by people who actually draw webcomics.

  7. I’m puzzled that Scott McCloud wrote that this is a “toxic development” and “irony abounds” in the letter, and that somebody on this thread is talking about a cease and desist letter.

    Am I hearing this? Are comic artists really so ridiculously ignorant of the nature of the web, and of copyright law? Yes, I know that’s harsh, but it really is ridiculous and ignorant: the comic artists are sounding like the RIAA. And just look at how successful the RIAA has been….

    Look, Jan’s open letter is incredibly reasonable, top to bottom, and makes a good point: Comictastic is really just a very specialized web browser. The different parts of a web page can be loaded and formatted independently. Consider the following sequence of different browsers. Which ones are illegal? (Hint: none.)

    • A browser that lets people resize and scroll the window so as to hide certain images from view.
    • A browser that does not load any images on a page until the user says to.
    • A browser that does not load any images, and lets the user click on individual ones to load them.
    • A browser that does not load any images, and lets the user click on individual ones to load them, and pre-loads certain ones, configurable on a page-by-page basis.
    • A browser that lets users change the font size.
    • A browser that lets users change the font size so small that the text is illegible.
    • A browser that hides the text altogether until the user chooses to show it.
    • A browser that hides the text and shows only certain images, configurable on a page-by-page basis, with a button to load the rest of the page.
    • A browser that hides the text and shows only certain images, configurable on a page-by-page basis, with a button to load the rest of the page in a different, better browser.
    • A browser that has a bookmarks window, shows only certain images, configurable on a page-by-page basis, with a button to load the rest of the page in a different, better browser. (This is Comictastic.)

    The fundamental problem here is that digital content is inherently fluid, and the end users are (rightly) in control of that fluidity — not just in technological practice, but under copyright law. Users have just as much right to mangle content onscreen as they do to, say, cut up their comic books with scissors in order to rearrange the panels … or to do that with a photocopy of the comic. Scott McCloud, you are awesome, your comics are brilliant, but you are just plain wrong that making a Five-Card Nancy deck requires permission from anybody (unless, of course, you start redistributing the copied decks).

    Basically, the simple razor of fair use is: in personal use, all is legal; if you don’t redistribute it, you can do whatever you want. And seriously, it might be upsetting to imagining somebody buying your comic, cutting up the panels, and rearranging them — but would you really want that to be illegal? Should it be illegal to hire somebody else to do it to your comics? Is it only illegal if you hire a robot?

    Ridiculous! But that is essentially the argument the comic artists are making against Comictastic.

    The RIAA is going through something similar: somebody came up with a way of delivering their content that they didn’t like. They are trying to take legal action to stop it, but didn’t actually start recovering any money from this little technology crisis until they stopped ignoring the fact that the popularity of P2P indicated a real demand from their audience, and stepped in with their own online music services that actually started giving people what they wanted.

    Comic artists, you situation is similar, but different in a few very important respects:

    • Unlike Napster, the technology in question is actually legal. (Sorry, but it is. Get over it.)
    • However, the technology in question only a single program, written by a single well-known person…
    • and he wants to work with you to figure out a model that makes both you and your readers happy…
    • and he is suggesting a way of doing this.

    This is a dream situation. The RIAA would kill to be in your position. For heaven’s sake, stop spiting Comictastic and your readership, and work with this guy.

  8. I can’t believe just how arrogant this guy is. What gives him the right to dictate to webcomic artists what revinue model they should and should not use. We’ll use what revinue model we feel is best suited for our work wether it’s subscription, adviews, or merchandising. It’s our legal right as artists to control the access to the content we provide and to employ our own business models.

    We don’t have to work with any programmer at all to determine “the future of webcomics”. Believe me if comic-rippers become the future of webcomics then the future is pretty bleak because a lot of webcomics will simply go under.

    I’ve created a website for my comic, the website, as a whole, is representitive of my comic, apart from the fact that the adviews on my website cover the bandwidth costs of hosting my comic, I do not wish for my comic to be viewed outside the context of the website I have created for it. It is my right as an artist not to have my work picked apart.

    Saying that this is just technology that people want does not justify violating the rights of artists. There are a lot of people who want to have sex with children, that doesn’t make it right.

    This guy claims he loves comics and yet he shows absolutely no respect what-so-ever for the artists who create these comics. You can try to euphamise your software as a nothing more than a “special image browser” but that doesn’t change the fact that what it is is a program that rips comics off of the artist’s sites and displays them out of the context that the artist wishes them to be displayed in. To make it worse this guy is profiting from our labour. Is he paying royalties to each comic artist being violated by his software? I seriously doubt it.

    Trying to justify this in terms of “sticking it to the man” is rediculous. There is no “man” here to stick it to. Over 90% of webcomics are independent artists creating these comics for the love of creation. We’re not a big, faceless corporate conglomerate looking to rip you off. We’re artists who love to create comics. Most of us have dayjobs and create these comics in our spare time. Most of us are providing these comics free for readers to view. All we ask is that you view them on our websites. I don’t think that’s asking too much. It’s not like we’re the RIAA trying to sell you a six song CD for $25 that only has one song on it you want.

    The only justification for comic-ripper is “I’m a lazy, selfish bastard who only cares about myself and want what I want when I want it and I don’t give a crap about what the consequences are for anyone else.” Well I’m sorry but that isn’t justification enought.

    If I didn’t care about the context within which my comic was viewed I wouldn’t bother with all this annoying HTML and webhosting nonsense. I’d just post my comics to Usenet. That would certainly be quicker, easier, and cheaper on my end. I’ve taken time and effort to build a home for my comics and I don’t appreciate them being ripped from that home.

    If your modem is so slow that reading my comic on its website is too much of a chore (and considering my comics are about 150K to 200K each, you’re not saving a lot of time by just ripping the comic) then don’t read my comic. If it’s not worth the time and effort for you to read it within the context that I have expended the time and effort to place it then don’t read it. Read another comic that you feel is worth your time and effort. Fans who violate my rights as an artist are not fans I need. I’m letting you view my work for free, there is simply no valid justification for violating my work by ripping it from the context I want it to be viewed in.

  9. Once again we see just how little respect some people have for webcomic artists.

    Having a gun held to our heads and being told “I’m going to rape your content wether you like it or not so you’d better find some way to enjoy it” isn’t exactly what I call “working together”.

    I don’t want my comic viewed outside the context of my website. PERIOD. If you can’t repect my rights as an artist to have my comic viewed within the context of my website then I don’t particularily want, or need you as a reader. PERIOD. If I didn’t want my comics viewed within the context of my website I’d just post them to Usenet.

    There is no dream situation here. Some guy has arbitrarily decided that his software is going to be “the future of webcomics” and the rights of the artists, the people who create the webcomics, to decide for themselves how they want their work viewed is being violated.

    If it’s not worth it to you to read the artists comics within the context they wish them to be displayed then don’t read them. Webcomic artists are under no obligation to provide you with entertainment custom tailored to your desires. We make our comics the way we want to make them. We display them the way we want to display them. For those people who find our work is worth the time and effort it takes to view them then great, welcome aboard, I’m thrilled you like my work. For those readers who don’t feel our comics are worth the time and effort it takes to read them, well so long, sorry you couldn’t find what you were looking for, best of luck out there on the internet finding a comic that more suits your tastes.

  10. I can’t help but wonder if this might not be something the CBLDF might not be interested in. It does defend our rights as comic artists.

    I’m certainly up for donating to a fund to send a message about these comic-rippers.

  11. Trying to justify this in terms of “sticking it to the man” is rediculous.

    Nobody is trying to justify it that way. Read the actual letter — carefully — and listen to what he’s saying, not what you presume he’s saying. Here, I’ll help you out. His argument is: (1) I am within my rights, (2) your readers want this, (3) let’s figure out a way to do it that makes you happy as well as your readers. I repeat: read the letter.

    The only justification for comic-ripper is “I’m a lazy, selfish bastard who only cares about myself and want what I want when I want it and I don’t give a crap about what the consequences are for anyone else.”

    No. The justification is: “Under copyright law, I am free to rearrange information of all kinds, as long as I don’t redistribute that rearrangement. I want it arranged this way, so that’s how I arrange it.”

    What is arrogant in the extreme is to think that you as a creator should have power over how people view your work.

    If it bothers you that somebody can buy your paper comic book, run it through the washing machine, and sculpt the resulting pulp into the shape of the Pillsbury dough boy, don’t put it on paper. (Kind of a dumb thing to do, but it’s not up to you whether people can do it!) If it bothers you that your web page is a bunch of separate files, and nobody is legally obliged to download them all, then don’t put your work on the web.

    You have no right to control how people rearrange your comic (on screen or on paper) in the privacy of their own home, no more than you have the right to control how people rearrange its meaning in the privacy of their own minds. And if that bothers you, don’t publish your comics at all.

  12. After people have viewed my comic on my page I don’t care what they do with it as long as they don’t redistribute it. They can print my comics out and wipe their asses with them. That doesn’t bother me. Once you’ve viewed my site wich includes an ad banner that pays for the hosting of my site you can cut and paste to your hearts content on your own computer.

    What I find arrogant is that people believe they are justified in stealing the bandwidth it takes to host my comic. A 4K adbanner is not asking a hell of a lot, even if you’re still slogging it out on 14.4K.

    I also find it arrogant that people think artists are obligated to submit to whatever it is any fraction of their audience demands. Most of the people who read my strip respect my rights as an artist. If it ever got to the point where most of my readers did not respect my rights and were simply stealing my bandwidth and ripping my comics from the context in which I wished them to be displayed then I would stop doing my comic. There’s no point in providing something, especially for free, to people who do not respect you.

    You act like you’re entitled to view our webcomics and that your entitlement is more important than the rights of artists. That’s simply not the case and if this kind of narrow-minded selfishness becomes prevelant amoungst webcomic readers then don’t be too shocked if you suddenly find yourself with a whole lot fewer webcomics to read.

  13. Once again we see just how little respect some people have for webcomic artists.

    You presume too much. While I am not a comic artist, I am a musician and poet, and I have many of the same problems you face. People like to deep-link my images; search engines can take people straight to my MP3s without having them view the page it was displayed in. I am not making this argument out of disrespect; I am making a wake-up call as a fellow artist.

    If you can’t repect my rights as an artist to have my comic viewed within the context of my website….

    In the legal sense, you have no such right. Sorry. I do not mean this spitefully; that is simply reality. One can choose to deal with it, or one can choose to spite your readers. I choose the former; you choose the latter. We both have that prerogative, but the reality remains the same.

    Webcomic artists are under no obligation to provide you with entertainment custom tailored to your desires.

    And your readers are under no obligation to treat content you make available to them exactly the way you want. You can argue that it’s disrespectful, sure, but they’re not legally obliged to respect your work. Again, I am not making this argument out of disrespect. This is simply the reality that we have to figure out how to deal with.

  14. What we have here … is a failure to communicate.

    I am not arguing about what you think is fair, or what your readers think is fair. I am making an argument about reality: about your actual legal rights, and the situation you are actually in (whether you accept it or not).

    What I find arrogant is that people believe they are justified in stealing the bandwidth it takes to host my comic.

    Under the law, it’s not stealing. Your web server is under no obligation to serve those images. They ask; it’s your choice to give it to them. You choose to let your web server make that choice for you, fine, so accept your decision.

    I also find it arrogant that people think artists are obligated to submit to whatever it is any fraction of their audience demands.

    Nobody said they were. What I did say is that readers are under no obligation to read your comic the way you want it read.

    My point is twofold:

    • You have no legal recourse here.
    • You are likely to end up better off if you accept the situation and deal with it instead of complaining about it.
  15. I don’t know what lawschool you went to but you really need to do a little more research before you start to bandy about your expert legal advice. I know that here in Canada our Copyright Laws do provide context protection.

    As well, bandwidth theft is also illegal.

    As for what we’d be better off with, I think we’d be better off with educating the public why comic-rippers hurt the artists who provide them with their webcomics and why using them is wrong and why making money by selling software that steals bandwidth from artists sites is wrong.

    This guy had no interest in working with artists. He’s just found a way to make a quick buck by exploiting our hard work and talent and he’s trying to justify it as “if people want it, it’s not wrong”. Well that is simply bullshit.

    If he wanted to work with artists he would have created his software so that it would only accesses a list of artists who agree to be part of his system. Does he do this? No. Wether you want to be part of the comictastic system or not is irrelevent. Your work will be violated anyways.

    He could have set up a subscription system using comictastic so readers pay 50 cents for each comic they view with the software and that 50 cents is forwarded to the comic artist. Did he do this? No. He just stole our work and then said “Hey, you’d better find a way to work with me on this because I’m going to ***** you wether you want it or not”.

    This guy is an arrogant asshole and a thief who is making money off other people’s work. This makes him even worse than those people out there making freeware comic-rippers.

  16. I don’t know what lawschool you went to but you really need to do a little more research before you start to bandy about your expert legal advice.

    I apologize for not beginning all my posts with “IANAL.” I will do this in the future.

    I know that here in Canada our Copyright Laws do provide context protection.

    IANAL, but it sounds like Canada’s copyright laws differ from law the US. My (admittedly limited) expertise is in US law. If you want to sue him in Canadian court, have a ball with that.

    This guy had no interest in working with artists.

    It certainly doesn’t sound that way to me, at least not from the letter he wrote. Your argument is, “because he didn’t do everything exactly the way I would want him to, he isn’t willing to work with me at all.” Ahem. He is looking to work with you, not for you.

    It sounds to me like you are the one who’s not willing to work with him. At no point did he call you an “asshole”, or anything half so rude.

    I think I may need to point out the painfully obvious fact that you have a great many options for making things work the way you want, including:

    • Using referrer filtering to block deep-linked image requests. (Not sure if Comictastic sends a referrer, but this would rule out most deep linking.)
    • Using a cookie set by the containing page to accomplish the same thing. This would rule out even Comictastic.
    • Using a login-based system to do the same.
    • Place your ads and your comics in the same image.
    • Use server-side dynamic compositing of the comic and ad to do the same in a more flexible, easy-to-maintain fashion.

    For heaven’s sake, if you really want 50 cents every time somebody views you comic, just sign up with BitPass, charge the money, and see if people still read your comic! This would get you your money and keep Comictastic from displaying your comic.

    Me, I’d engage the guy in conversation and stop using the words “theif” and “asshole.” You don’t want to. Fine. You still have reasonable ways of dealing with the problem, so use them and quit whining.

  17. The problem is that the owner of Comictastic has not shown himself as willing to work with CARTOONISTS.

    He talks a good game for a while, but the business about “clinging to antiquated advertising models”– antiquated models which made Keenspot over $150,000 last year– shows his true colors, as far as I can tell at present.

    No, banner ads did not account for all that dough, but Comictastic’s system also removes a strip’s ability to promote its own merchandise or to sell said merchandise using its site. It removes everything from the equation but the strip itself. Essentially, it gives comic strips all the DISadvantages of appearing in a newspaper with none of the advantages. I really don’t want to have to start sneaking my URL and e-mail address into the borders of every installment, the way comic strip artists have been forced to do for years.

    Modern Tales-like models are untouched for now, but a modified version of this software could bring trouble for them, too.

    Melquiades, I would argue that what Comictastic does is the very definition of “redistribution.” I really don’t see how you can feel otherwise.

    The problem with the music industry (which doesn’t begin and end with the RIAA) is not that it didn’t just roll over and accept piracy, it’s that it took so long to come up with a POSITIVE response to a changing marketplace. There IS a market for a legitimate “comic-sampler” program, but this program does not strike me as in any way legitimate.

  18. FWIW, I have gotten in touch with him and tried to spell out some of my concerns reasonably. And his response will be the test. If he learns from this furor and comes up with something that doesn’t cause more, then I’ll reconsider my position on Comictastic. If, however, he continues to write as if his critics are dull-witted dinosaurs or “RIAA suits”… however uncivilly they might address him… then he’ll never get my support.

  19. This guy’s program is for mac only, so for the time being it’s no real threat. However, someone will eventually develop a PC version and then trouble may loom. The smart thing to do is for the Webcomics community as a whole to be the ones who develop this program. Head them off at the pass and be smarter than the RIAA was. We can have our cake and eat it too. We just need someone to step forward and develop it. I know this is all easier said than done, :\ but as someone wrote earlier, I’m a webcomic artist, not a techie. 😉

    Just my 2 cents.

    Jamie
    http://clanofthecats.com

  20. Thanks for the breath of reason.

    I think that, though his dander is clearly up, if Jan Van Tol gets some respectful and realistic suggestions from comic authors, the name-calling will die down and something really exciting might even come out of the exchange.

    The test will, as you say, be whether he learns from this furor … and also whether artists do. If either side walk in with eyes or mind shut, it will go nowhere.

  21. Here’s the full text of my blog post that melquiades is quoting (yeah, I know he linked to the original, but most people don’t bother to click out):

    “Irony abounds in Comictastic creator Jan Van Tol’s Open Letter to Web Cartoonists , and yeah, on balance, I think it’s a toxic development, but it is worth our while to try to understand the guy’s point of view before condemning him. Programs like Tol’s have little relevence to weirdly formatted experiments like mine (not to mention gated content like The Right Number ), but it’s easy to see how this trend could affect us all in the long run. Here’s a Comixpedia Thread on the guy if you want to help ’em untangle it all. Me, I’m still mulling it over.”

    THAT’S IT. My entire comments to date.

    Now, for the Record:

    1: I haven’t even started to discuss the reasons I think it’s a toxic development. (It was just a BLOG POST for pity’s sake). It’ll take a full length essay to discuss why I think ripping comics out of their original context does more harm than good in the long run. Until then, please don’t assume that you can characterize my arguments beyond “doesn’t like it”, because that’s all I’ve said so far.

    2: The “Irony” is, of course, the plea for financial support for the programmer’s hard work. I just thought it was funny in context and I suspect I’m not alone.

    3: “Five Card Nancy?!” Oh, great… Thanks. Now I have to spend the next 20 minutes of my life explaining THAT comment to the 99% of Comixpedia readers who haven’t heard of it. Okay, here goes… Five Card Nancy is a card game using Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy panels, rearranged to make weird new sequences. If I ever sold it, I’d obviously need permission, but it’s just a party game played by some friends and me so it stayed in the realm of public domain. When putting the rules on my website, however, so others could do it, I wanted to post a lot of the resulting sequences so my readers could get a laugh. Unfortunately, because the resultant combos were basically New Complete Comics Starring Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy I figured that I’d need to contact United Media for clearance—legal gray area and all. They made it clear that they’d make the process needlessly difficult and expensive, so I figured Hell, I’ll just replace Nancy with pictures of Fish. I thought it was funny and still do. But yeah, I might well have needed permission to do it the other way.

    4: Don’t lump me in with those calling for lawsuits! I’ve done no such thing and I’ve long been publicly critical of those who take that path (especially the RIAA).

    5: I SAID I’m still “mulling it over”. I SAID we should try to understand the guy’s point of view. I specifically SAID that we should NOT prematurely condemn him. Short of jumping up and down cheering him on, what do want from me?!

    6: Calling the development “Toxic” does NOT mean that it’s illegal (it’s probably not) or even unethical (maybe not). It just means that I think the end result will be a net loss for creative control, industry evolution, and the ability of certain strip artists to support their work. (Doesn’t affect me personally, but I figure I have a responsibility to comment if it affects others adversely).

    The funny thing is, I don’t even disagree with a lot of what you’re saying! (Teevo might be an even more convincing example, by the way; Napster has too much baggage). I just think you’re glossing over the very real impact this sort of thing may have on artists and some of the unique challenges of comics on the web which Comictastic’s One-Size-Fits-All approach is bound to clash with.

  22. Believe me, I’m all for people calling me an asshole. Some of my best friends have called me an asshole from time to time. What this guy has done is even worse than calling me an asshole. He’s made my comic part of his distribution system against my will without even contacting me to see if I wanted to be part of it. Then he tells me that I have to work with him because he’s not going to stop violating my work. On top of this he’s making money by violating my work.

    As for fighting tech with tech, we’ve been trying that and it’s always just a matter of time before the comic-rippers find a new way to work around any tech we put in place to block them. Keenspace has been trying to stop the comic-rippers with tech but just the other week I followed my referers back to a comic-ripper website that had my comics and the comics from several other keenspace websites proudly displayed for all to access completely outside the context of my site.

    This is why I think education will work best. Most people using comic-rippers probably don’t want to hurt the webcomic artists. They’re using them out of laziness and ignorance. I’ve known from previous rants of mine on this subject that a number of people will give up using comic-rippers once they find out the true costs involved in these programs and how it hurts the artists.

    For some people litigation may be neccessary. I’m certainly keen in being part of a class-action lawsuit against the author of Comictastic. With any luck we’ll set precidence to protect the work of artists from being distributed in ways they do not wish them to be distributed. An artist’s distribution rights are protected by copyright law, even in the US.

  23. Well said.

    To that I’d only add: I’m not so certain that Jan Van Tol is the enemy of artists. He is a techie, and it sounds like he’s interested in developing something with artists. Not for, but with, so you won’t get everything you want … still, something good might happen if you get him working on your side instead of “heading ’em off at the pass.”

    Here’s my take on the conversation thus far:

    • Artists: Hey! Stop that!
    • Tol: I will not compromise on giving comic readers the viewing experience which so many of them want.
    • Artists: We will not compromise on protecting our revenue model, or having the chance to present our work in a context.
    • Tol: OK, so explain what you want, and let’s see if something works for all of us. I even have some initial ideas….

    My suggestion: talk to him.

  24. There are comic-rippers galore already available for the PC and Linux systems this software is already out there.

    I don’t really see why there’s a need to re-invent the wheel. We’ve already got a great system for delivering comics to our readers. It’s called HTML. Works like a charm. They bookmark the site they want to visit, click on the link and bingo, they’re there.

    We could create a subscription system that just sends people the comics only, via e-mail or some other means. Artists could choose to join this system or not depending on how they feel this business model will benefit them.

    The problem with Comic-rippers is they give the artists no choice at all. Our content is raped and we simply have to sit back and take it. Well I say we don’t. We can educate our readers and let them know why these rippers are harmful to the webcomic community and in extreme cases we can employ litigation against the people who write the software that violates our distribution rights as artists.

    It should be the artist’s choice what method of distribution he wishes to employ for his work, wether HTML, or RSS, or E-mail, or Usenet, or what-have-you. We shouldn’t surrender our rights to theives who violate our work especially for their own profit.

  25. You’re right. Working with this guy may be the best solution. We won’t know until someone talks w/ him. When I said “Head them off at the pass” I was speaking of future programers like this guy, not him specifically. It’s just that there seemed to be an overabundance of argument on the principle of this, but no real solutions being discussed.

    Jamie

  26. Just checking the Comictastic site it seems the software malisciously circumvents anti-hotlinking methods which does not make it a simple image browser but a piece of bandwidth stealing code.

    Despite his dubious claims that his software “helps” the webcomic community by promoting comics (something a simple bookmark list would do without the need to steal bandwidth)the fact of the matter is, the artists have no choice in wether or not their comics are part of this system.

    By denying us the right to choose if we wish to be part of this distribution method he’s invalidated the legitimacy of any supposed efforts he claims to be making to work with the artists. He’s holding all the cards. Our content is held hostage by his distribution system. He never asked us to be part of his distribution system and he does not even give us the option of opting out of it.

    If he respected the artists he would give us the means to be excluded from his distribution system. He clearly has no respect for us what so ever and is simply exploiting our work for financual gain.

  27. As for fighting tech with tech, we’ve been trying that and it’s always just a matter of time before the comic-rippers find a new way to work around any tech we put in place to block them.

    If you actually make even a half-assed effort to protect your content, then circumventing that protection is actually illegal. (Granted, I disapprove of the DMCA, but you’d certainly have more of a leg to stand on.)

    This is why I think education will work best.

    Education will help. IMO, artists could also use a little education on how their readers actually want the mechanics of viewing the art to work. You say you don’t care — “my presentation won’t change; take it or leave it.” Well, sure, that’s your prerogative … but that attitude is spiteful to your readership. Wouldn’t you rather not have the format get in the way of people viewing the work?

    Ignoring usability is a common mistake — and a common downfall — of web site designers. Don’t underestimate the importance of Google’s ultra-simple homepage on its incredible rise to the top. Other search sites packed their home pages with what they wanted users to see: hooks to other services, ads…. Google focused on what people actually want, and they came out on top.

    Granted, Google is not a presentation of creative work, but some of the same principles apply, especially this one: your work has to be pretty damned incredible to overcome a presentation method that pushes people away. Maybe you think your work is, or maybe we just need to agree to disagree on this point.

    An artist’s distribution rights are protected by copyright law, even in the US.

    There might be a legal avenue here, but though IANAL, I’m not sure of that. You are choosing to distribute your work through a public web server; people have the right to use that public distribution as they see fit. If you only sell your magazine at newsstands with colorful signs and big ads, is it illegal for people to buy your magazine blindfolded? That’s more or less what you’re arguing.

    (Even if you won such a suit, the legal ramifications would probably be detrimental to art in the long run, as I believe the DMCA will be. Every artist was a reader/viewer/listener first, and killing off the rights of readers kills of art itself at the roots. But that’s another discussion.)

    I still think that your angry condemnation of the guy is off base. It sounds like he wants to talk and is willing to compromise. No, seriously, it does. Have you even tried? It sounds like TCampbell is….

  28. Agreed to all that.

    Another thought: Keep in mind the lesson of the iTunes Music Store. Labels tried a bunch of times to launch music services, and they kept flopping. Conventional wisdom said, “Online consumer are a bunch of freeloaders, and will never be willing to pay for anything.”

    Then Steve Jobs came along and said a bunch of things that the record execs didn’t want to hear, like “people hate subscription-based models for music,” and “copy protection can always be circumvented, so your DRM needs to be very generous to remove the incentive for circumvention,” and also “you’re charging too much.” And somehow he got them to actually believe it, and now the iTMS is vastly more successful than any of the other legal download services ever were.

    Subtle shifts in the user experience can have a huge impact.

    My point is thus: be ready to change your mind for the sake of your readers. Focus on what matters. Is it your web page, or your comic art itself? Is it readership or revenue? Be willing to hear unpleasant facts about technology and your readership that you really don’t want to believe. This guy clearly understands something about how to make online comics more successful by changing the presentation format. If we tells you “X or Y won’t work,” think about it: do you really need X or Y? What alternatives would be acceptable?

  29. If he wants to talk he has to give us back our rights first.

    Allow us the freedom to opt out of his distribution system first and then we can talk on even footing. Right now everything is slanted in his favour because wether we want to be part of his system or not our comics are still part of it. Even if we have anti-hotlinking tech in place our comics are still part of it.

    Until he acknowledges our rights to not be part of this system then there’s nothing to talk about. He’s a thug, a thief, and a bully, of course I’m angry with him.

    As for alternate distribution methods. I’ve actually been contemplating a number of them, but his software denies me my right to determine for myself what alternate distribution methods I wish to employ. He’s simply taking my artwork and distributing it in a way I do not wish it to be distributed in. He’s profiting from this and he’s not even compensating me with royalties.

    Allow us to be excluded from the system and then we can talk.

  30. Sorry for the trolling, Scott. I’m very excitable.

    The reason I kind of flipped out is that everybody seemed to be viewing this guy and his program as the enemy, and I don’t think he is. True, you didn’t call for lawsuits, but words like “toxic” suggest that you are hostile to him — I don’t think that’s an unfair inference.

    The 5-Card comment was not about the fish (you’re absolutely correct on that point), but this sentence:

    Find a reprint book of “Nancy” comic strips. Photocopy a good portion of the book onto white card-stock (with permission of course), and cut up the copies…

    Maybe you meant that humorously … but seriously, you don’t need permission from nobody nohow to photocopy comic books for personal use.

    It just means that I think the end result will be a net loss for creative control, industry evolution, and the ability of certain strip artists to support their work.

    I think that is true only if comic artists continue to treat programs like Comictastic as their enemies, and fight them instead of learning from them. See this other comment. A more constructive approach could yield very exciting new formats, perhaps richer than web pages, and certainly more conducive to having a more dedicated readership reading more cartoons every day.

  31. Melquiades, You make great comments that need to be heard by everyone here!

    Jamie

  32. The problem is that the owner of Comictastic has not shown himself as willing to work with CARTOONISTS.

    I disagree; this seems to be precisely what his letter is asking for: “Stop attacking me, and let’s work together on this.”

    Melquiades, I would argue that what Comictastic does is the very definition of “redistribution.” I really don’t see how you can feel otherwise.

    Maybe only because I understand how the program works.

    When you put something on a web site, you are saying to the web server: “give this file to anyone who asks!” When you create a web page, you’re grouping several files (HTML and images) in the hopes that people get them together. The conversation between the web browser and the server goes like this:

    • Browser: I’d like “foo.html”
    • Server: Here you go.
    • Browser: I’d like “ad.gif”
    • Server: Here you go.
    • Browser: I’d like “comic.jpeg”
    • Server: Here you go.

    The thing is, all those requests are independent. It’s up to the browser how it arranges them, or even whether it shows all of them at all … or even whether it requests all of them at all.

    Sorry for the tech, but the point is this: when you put an image on your site, you are really publishing it independently of every other file on your site. Comictastic is thus not redistributing anything. It’s asking for a file from your web server, and displaying it, just as you published it. Your server is still doing the distribution of the material; Comictastic is just displaying it differently from how other web browsers would.

    Regardless of whether you conceptualize it this way, it’s how the web works.

  33. Thanks. And thanks for your level-headedness. (And also for your comic.)

  34. He’s a thug, a thief, and a bully, of course I’m angry with him.

    I believe he is not, and if you were less angry, you might see this.

    If he wants to talk he has to give us back our rights first. Allow us the freedom to opt out of his distribution system first and then we can talk on even footing.

    To summarize my take: you’re the one publishing the comics on your web site, so you don’t have much to complain about. He has a clever idea, and it’s clearly successful. You should lose the attitude (and he hope loses his), and talk to him. There’s a compromise here to suit both of you.

    Clearly we disagree, so I’ll bow out of this discussion. Have fun with your lawsuit.

  35. Ah! Okay, on the 5 Card Nancy quote, I see what you meant. I did actually mean that “permission” comment humorously. There are paranoid universities and copy shops that may disagree and require waivers, but in fact, the use I described should indeed be fair use. My parenthetical was pure *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* in that context.

    “Toxic” = hostile? Reasonable assumption I suppose. He did kind of lose points with the whole asking for donations thing (obvious rejoinder being to ask him if we could give away his program, using his bandwidth, while stripping his donations request! Hmm), but no, I’d say the jury is still out on the guy personally. As I said in the blog post, there’s no need to personally condemn him, and every reason to try to understand where he’s coming from in preparation for what is likely to be a growing trend.

  36. Again this invalid comparison between webcomics and the RIAA.

    We’re not charging $25 for a 6 song CD full of 5 filler crap songs and one hit.

    We’re giving this stuff away for free. All you have to do is come to our webpage and view it. I don’t think we’re being unreasonable here. I don’t think we’re demanding too much from our readers to respect our contextual and distribution rights.

    This method is, by and large, working. My readership totals over 50000 readers and is growing in leaps and bounds. The adviews are sufficient to cover the costs involved in hosting the comic and the merchandise sales is enough to cover the costs in producing the comic.

    Comictastic is a program by a guy who is not involved in the webcomic community who is saying to himself “Gee, how can I make money off of the work these artists are doing” and he’s found a way to do it, against our wishes, without compensating us.

    I’m pretty sure he’d be pissed if we started distributing free copies of Comictastic, or even selling copies of it. We could say “we’re just giving people what they want” which is his excuse.

    We’re not out to “rip off” our readers. We’re not trying to stick it to them. Their argument that they’re fighting an injust distribution method and giving their customers what they want is fallacious. Most of our readers, I am sure, if educated as to what these comic-ripper programs actually cost the webcomic community would not wish to employ them.

    I have no doubt that webcomic distribution methods will change in the future, however, it should be a distribution method arrived at and agreed upon by the webcomic community, not forced upon us by an outsider looking to exploit our work for financual gain.

    We have no choice at all as to wether or not our comics are part of the Comictastic distribution system. Even if we try to employ security measures to remove ourselves from this distribution system they are circumvented. Our best bet lies in educating the readers as to why violating the distribution rights of webcomic artists is wrong. By being and apologist for Comictastic your are supporting the legitimacy of a system that violates the rights of artists to distribute their own works in the manner they wish to distribute them. You are legitimizing a system that exploits webcomic artists against their will. You are legitimizing a system that denies us the right to choose.

  37. Scott, I see I should add that my comments were not primarily directed at you, though I can see how they might feel otherwise.

    My concern is the following: I am not a comic artist, but I am a musician (a composer and classically trained pianist). The RIAA, never a likable organization, has done things that range from reprehensible muckracking to fundamental crimes against human rights … and many musicians have supported them in this.

    I see in this thread many of the same attitudes that lead to this support, which alarms and frustrates me: comics have been far savvier that most every other form of art in dealing with the move online creatively and productively (something that’s due in large part to Reinventing Comics, I’d say). I hold up comics as an example to my fellow musicians, and don’t want to see the comic community go down the same dark pit as music.

  38. To summarize my take: you’re the one publishing the comics on your web site, so you don’t have much to complain about.

    What the hell kind of nonsense is this? I have the most to complain about in this case. I am being forced, against my will, to be part of a distribution system I do not wish to be part of, and on top of that the person who is violating my work is also profiting from doing so.

    I think that’s something to complain about.

    If someone held a gun to your child’s head and said “I’m going to rape your child. I’m going to charge people money to watch me rape your child because there are people who want to watch it. There’s nothing you can do about it so you might as well find some way to enjoy it.” do you not think you’d have a little something to complain about here?

    The only difference here is instead of being our flesh and blood creations being raped, it’s our intellectual creations being raped.

  39. I don’t believe that there are THAT many people on dialup anymore.

    There are, but they all live in Britain. (DSL penetration has been slow because of poor business decisions on BT’s part, and cable is still a bit on the patchy side.) That might be exaggeration; I’m led to believe that many Americans outside urban areas are in the same boat. But I’m *still* seeing dialup plans being pushed as aggressively here as they were two or three years ago, many of them still metered to boot.

    Also, a poorly administered cable modem network can be worse than dialup. Way worse. Way.

  40. The numbers I’ve seen state that 40% of most US housholds have DSL or Cable modems. That means that 60% don’t.

    Likewise most webcomic pages clock in well over 300K by the time you factor in all the graphics and javascript. That means some poor slug is waiting anywhere from 6 to 20 seconds (depending on the quality of line) before the page renders.

    That said, I also agree that HTTP is a perfectly well structured delivery mechanism for web comic content, provided the pages are structured to be as light-weight as you can make them and still have them look good. I’d say that Sexy Losers definitely does a good job of making the page lighter weight than the comic.

    Can you absolutely prevent anyone from stealing images and bandwidth ever? No.
    Can you sue everyone that writes a program that does it? No.
    Can you remove the appeal of such programs by providing fast loading versions of your content? Yes.

  41. Folks have bandied around RSS as a solution, but there already is one out there. It’s called HTTP

    RSS feeds, and ditto Atom ones, are typically served over HTTP. I’m not getting your point; do you mean HTML?

    The only problem is that most sites aren’t structured in such a manner so that their easy to pull apart.

    Most sites aren’t created with structure and hierarchy in mind. If you can’t “pull them apart,” bluntly, that’s a symptom of poor design.

    Just keeping your pages under 150k (150k!?) isn’t going to cut it. You can write an awful lot of poor, presentationally-geared HTML in that space which browsers on slower machines will struggle to render; user-end bandwidth isn’t the sole concern here. (Never mind the days when those spaghetti pages and their associated chrome are spat haltingly from overloaded servers.) I’m on the back of a dsl connection here, and I still have to go and *make coffee* for a few poorly authored comics sites.

    Disclaimer: I bandy RSS about (here, even, though I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else), and I have a really hard time buying the idea that most webcomics are so dependent on being read in a particular context that separating them out is artistically destructive (I’m leaving revenue considerations aside for the moment here). I’d hate to read the print versions.

  42. I dont think it would work, regardless if its an attempt att cooperation with comictastic or an attempt to create an “inhouse” comicripper. The reason is simple, in order for it to actually be an app everyone would stand behind it would have to have either an opt-in or opt-out mechanism. The creator of comictastic wont add an opt-out mechanism and if it was developed by the webcomic community it should (at least in my opinion) have an opt-in method which is inefficient. This because the really big players which would have to be necessary to get on board has nothing to gain by grouping with the smaller webcomics.
    The only way I see a community webcomic ripper as likely is if Keen industries themselves created it and demanded that everyone on their sites were part of it.

  43. Goodness me. I do wish he wasn’t dragging RSS into it (fella, if you want to write an RSS aggregator, go join the queue), because I think he’s just done more damage than good to something with strong potential for the field.

    Once again: full content distribution is not the be-all, end-all of syndication’s potential within webcomics. It’s just an option.

  44. Having a gun held to our heads and being told “I’m going to rape your content wether you like it or not so you’d better find some way to enjoy it” isn’t exactly what I call “working together”.

    The analogy is, at best, disrespectful. Intellectual property violations are hardly so traumatic.

  45. Can you absolutely prevent anyone from stealing images and bandwidth ever? No.
    Can you sue everyone that writes a program that does it? No.
    Can you remove the appeal of such programs by providing fast loading versions of your content? Yes.

    Can you educate the public so they understand why violating an artist’s distribution rights for short-term satisfaction causes long-term harm? Yes.

    This is why I think a week of educational content would work. Instead of regular comics, each day that week we post a drawing of our characters explaining what comic-rippers are, why using them shows disrespect for webcomic artists, and why using them hurts the webcomic community and that if they become the norm it could mean the end of the webcomic community.

    Heck, I only do a weekly strip but I’d gladdly post a new educational strip each day of a given week if it would educate people. I know from experience that explaining to people what is wrong with comic rippers has a positive effect as people have e-mailed me to tell me they’ve stopped using them because of my rants. A concentrated effort by the webcomic community at large should maximize this effect. After a week of no regular comics I think readers might not take us for granted anymore and realize just how much they have to lose if the webcomic community suffers.

    We’ll never stop people from using rippers but we can lessen the number of people who employ them by educating them. We can also delegitimise their use which is one of the problems we’re facing right now. People think this is a legitimate and valid distribution system when it is not. It is exploitive and harmful.

    I think most people are rational enough that they will realize the folly in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  46. 1) Keen is not synonomous with web comics; they would face the same problems as everybody else.

    2) Good standards build support remarkably quickly, even in the face of these “opt-in / opt-out” questions. And a good standard for syndication is what’s necessary here — readers are actually willing to pay money just for a jerry-rigged simulation of one!

    3) You should never presume negotiation won’t work until you’ve tried.

  47. Something seems funny here – aren’t there already a bunch of programs and scripts like this people can get FOR FREE? I think it’s kinda pompous for everyone to be bickering, “You’re stealing views from my site!” “You’re just jealous people are paying me and you’re not getting any of it!” I’m sure some stupid people are going to pay for this program, and other people are going to bother visiting the actual sites. But lots of people are just going to get the better of both deals and download a free program and never know either side said anything. As much as we try to decide what is free and what is at cost, those without the money or the bandwidth will find a way to get what they want. Just because Napster lost doesn’t mean I can’t get a free mp3 if I want it. Mac has a similar program for viewing webcomics and I’ve seen a number of webcartoonists support it. Maybe we should just focus our attention on getting the comics to the viewers and then maybe they’ll bother to visit our sites once in awhile. I’m more inerested in getting stuff to my audience than starting some stupid fight.

  48. That this is our property isn’t an issue. It is our property. That we are already giving the readers a great source to view our FREE comics isn’t an issue either. We are giving them a great source to view our free comics. The issue is what the readers will do. We may all be jumping the gun and this type of “ripping” will fold. Still, do we want to end up like the RIAA and miss the boat of a possible alternative outlet for our stuff? I’m not saying anything has to be done now, just that we should, as a community, discuss it … which we are doing.

    I’m a big advocate for choice in just about any matter, but whose choice is right? Is the choice of the web artist to have their comic distrusted a certain way more important that the choice of the reader to have the easiest access to our comics possible? It seems to me that if the bottom line is to get as many people as possible to read our stuff, then a compromise is more in order than any cease and desist order.

    Take care,

    jamie

  49. I’m getting my comics to my readers as we speak. In the time I’ve been involved in this thread a few thousand people have received my comic by accessing my website.

    Heck they can even access my MP3s by accessing my website.

    I’m not bickering about the fact that this guy has come up with an alternate distribution method. What I am rightfully complaining about is that this guy has forced me to participate in his distribution system against my will. I believe strongly the artists should have the right to distribute their work in the manner they feel fit. If I want to opt-in to his distribution system I should be able to. If I want to have no part of it then I should be allowed to be discluded from it.

    That’s what I am arguing about.

    Plus, at the end of the day someone has to pay for the bandwidth it takes to host my comic. My comic is one of the moderately popular ones and requires a substantial amount of bandwidth. Small and unobtrusive ad banners are placed on my pages which cover the hosting cost. When people access my site the costs for viewing my content is covered by the ad banner, thus I am able to supply my content to be viewed for free by the reader.

    I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here asking that readers respect my wishes and view my strip on my site instead of stealing my bandwidth to view it. If people can’t respect my wishes as an artist enough just to do that one simple little thing then I don’t really care to be reaching those people as an audience. I’d much rather have a smaller audience of people who truly respect my work than a larger audience that takes me for granted and acts as if I owe them something.

    Yes, rippers will always be there and so will the people who use them. What I want is for people to understand why using comic-rippers is disrespectful to the artists who provide the comics and why it is harmful to the comic community. I also do not wish for comic-rippers to become the norm by which comics are viewed rather than the exception.

    I also object to being forced, against my will, to be part of a distribution system I want no part of. The people who create these comic-rippers have no respect for the artists whose work they exploit. If they respected us they’d give us the choice to join their system.

    I’m not going to negotiate at gunpoint. Release my work and then I’m open to discussing a mutually beneficial distribution system.

  50. 1) True, but if a ripper was to use opt-in it would have to be able to accumulate webcomics that freely would join fast to be an alternative to those rippers who simply add comics regardless of what the author thinks. I think Keen would be the only who could do this effectively, heck it might even be a good idea for them to do it. They could save bandwidth and the user could save bandwidth. They could even build in a system to still display ads in the app.

    2) Maybe, but Im not convinced. The problem is that the app would essentially have to be better than the existing alternatives, something which is tricky when you give creators the option to refuse to participate.

    3) True, but I dont entire share your opinion of the willingness of the comictastic creator to cooperate with the webcomiccreators. And ofcourse a lot of comiccreators dont want to cooperate with him because they simply want to have control over whether they participate or not.
    Besides, any attempt at a “sanctioned” app should probably be directed (at first at least) towards the Windows platform. I love my mac, but I have no delusions about how big the userbase is.

  51. There are some points that are being lost here and I’d like to refresh them.

    Why I And Many Others Are Personally Upset Over Comic Rippers
    Bandwidth. Bandwidth. Bandwidth. Bandwidth is not free and it costs money. For many comic artists like myself, this is the primary issue. Bandwidth costs money (way too much money). Most of us do this webcomic thing for free (most of us hobbyists more than professional comic artists, and this is just a fact) and we’re stuck with the bill for people viewing our comics. The easiest way to get this money back is through ads. My comic eats up 400GIGs/month, and I have to be able to pay that back. Donations and merchandising are not stable sources of income, but advertising is. My site pays for itself through advertising. Whether or not anyone claims this is an outdated model or whatnot is irrelevant — it’s what keeps my comic online, and at this point, there is no better model. Comictastic certainly isn’t. Comictastic just takes up bandwidth, costing the comic artists money without a stable means of paying it back. This is a lose situation for the artist. To date, the arguments for Comictastic haven’t addressed this point sufficiently, and it is a major one. Like it or not, ad banner revenue keeps a great many popular comics afloat. To criticize the model by saying it’s outdated ignores the fact that 1) there is no financially stable alternative and 2) without programs like Comictastic, the model works great.

    So What Can Comictastic Do?
    We are urged to work with the guy but as it is, I don’t see how artists can win in this. Most artists with bandwidth woes like me are more interested in making sure the bandwidth bill is paid than attracting new audiences (sorry, but this is just reality) and I don’t see how Comictastic can help comic artists out. The only thing I can see is a user fee for “subscribing” to comics — like, if you want to subscribe to a comic, the cost is $1.00 a month and the artists gets that — I don’t see that happening. The whole point of the program is that it uses the artist’s server’s bandwidth for free.

    On the legality of Comictastic
    Joey Manley has said in a previous comment that the whole legality of deep linking is in question. Is it legal? Is it not legal? That’s a good question. People here are making claims that it IS or it ISN’T legal without really knowing. It simply hasn’t been decided yet. That’s why I proposed a lawyer — someone who would represent comic artists and at least explain to us what exactly our rights are. Read above and you’ll see a lot of people claiming to know but the truth is it’s still pretty damn hazy.

    One thing that is particularly not so hazy is the use of faking the HTTP_REFERER header to gain access to the comic. Basically a lot of these programs lie to the server about where the referral is coming from in order to bypass security. This IS a form of fraud. If you have to stoop to lying in order to get something, then you MUST be aware that what you’re doing is not exactly right. I think that it is on this point that the legality of these programs is the most vulnerable.

    But I really do think (a REAL, not ARMCHAIR)legal opinion is necessary to sort this one out. We can all argue the rhetoric all we want, but it would be nice to know exactly where this is on a legal standpoint from a professional who would know better than we do.

  52. In many of your posts on this topic- including twice in the one above- you say something like this:

    I also object to being forced, against my will, to be part of a distribution system I want no part of.

    This is not entirely correct. You are already participating in the “distribution system” which is the web– It’s HTTP. What you are objecting to is the ability of HTTP to serve up any file (the image containing your comic) outside of the context of a specific HTML document (your webpage). The proper name for what Comictastic is isn’t “distribution system” but “HTTP image viewer.”

    This sort of practice has been going on for as long as there has been a web and there are ways to defeat such direct image viewing and deep-linking. However, we know that each time somebody comes up with one way to do so, there are other ways invented to circumvent it and so the cycle continues.

    At some point, anyone who puts content up on the web has to come to terms with the fact that HTTP is a system that is quite open to be accessed in many ways and there is a tradeoff between allowing a lot of users to access the content and protecting that content from being accessed in ways the author did not originally intend. To not reconcile this in one’s own mind is to deny the nature of the web.

    What Comictastic does isn’t unusual, shouldn’t come as a surprise and certainly isn’t the first or last one of its kind.

  53. How’s Comictastic going to affect a comic’s chances of getting known about? Visiting the genuine comic websites, you get a bit of exposure to other comics through banner ads, link buttons and the Keenspot newsboxes. If I’m understanding it right, Comictastic cuts all that out.

  54. [url=http://members.lycos.co.uk/anubisnc/screen.jpg]You currently do not have complete control[/url] all Comictastic does is cater specifically to the viewers who want to be able to control how they view webcomics.

    [url=http://members.lycos.co.uk/anubisnc/screen2.jpg]I can alter your webpage however I see fit without Comictastic and there is nothing you can do[/url]. I can kill your advertisements.

    If you are going to sit there ranting about Comictastic. I want to hear you ranting about Opera and Mozilla as well. If your going to sit there and talk about sueing Comitastic, I want to hear you talk about sueing Opera and Mozilla.

    NOTE: I am not affiliated with Comictastic in any way. I am not a user of Comictastic or any comic ripping programs that takes away the ability for artists to make me view advertisements when I view their comic. I currently view 14 webcomics and only block popups, please don’t hate me for blocking popups when I view your comic.

    This has just been a demonstration to kill some of your misconceptions.

  55. Congratulations. You have created an opinion out of thin air and argued demonstrably against it.

    Now, the real test is arguing against an opinion that actually exists.

    No one is saying they have complete control over how their page is viewed. They are saying they WANT it. Very different.

    No one is saying they are suing. I didn’t read that anywhere. Hell, I was the guy who brought up the lawyers and I never said anything about suing. I talked about “cease & desist” letters, that’s as far as I got. Very different.

    No one has talked about blocking pop-ups. I don’t think anyone is for them. So why people would rant on about Opera and Mozilla I have no idea, since nobody has talked about preserving popups.

    As for the demonstration “to kill some of your perceptions”, I wonder who the “your” is, since your arguments have not been relevant to the discussion here, simply arguments against far-more extreme ideas, none of which have been presented in this forum, as fas as I have read.

  56. No one is saying they have complete control over how their page is viewed. They are saying they WANT it. Very different.

    Well it’s impossible for them to get it. Getting rid of comic rippers isn’t going to give them complete control. Nothing will. Unless you get rid of browsers that give the viewer control.

    No one is saying they are suing. I didn’t read that anywhere.

    Actually, there have been a couple of comments talking about sueing. No-one saying their will but there have been comments about it.

    Seeings you suggested the cease and desist order. Will you be doing the same to Mozilla? After all, it can kill adverts, just like Comictastic.

    No one has talked about blocking pop-ups. I don’t think anyone is for them.

    I figured I’d throw it out in case any comic artists do use pop ups. I also don’t see why cartoonists would be against pop ups. They’re needed so people can fund their free websites that people use.

    So why people would rant on about Opera and Mozilla I have no idea

    I was also able to kill an advertisement on Ghastly’s website. I can now view his website without having to view his advertisements. All without the use of a webcomic ripper.

  57. We’re not technical idiots here, bub.

    That images and HTML are separate computer files has no legal bearing on the issue. Yes, you can point to an individual file URL. That doesn’t mean that you have the right to. Comictastic is like someone dropping twenty-five cents in a corner newspaper vending machine, taking all the papers there then handing the newspapers out for free. Just because twenty-five cents gets you into the corner newspaper vending machine, you don’t have the right to take all the newspapers you find in there. Likewise, just because somebody gave you free access to his/her website, you don’t have the right to do anything you want with that access, just because it’s technically possible.

    I’d like to see more webcomics creators offer a specific and deliberate set of material for scrapers and syndicators to use (as we have at Modern Tales), and to spell out exactly what rights they are willing to grant to scrapers and syndicators. And I’d like to see programmers gain more respect for the work of artists, and a). stop talking down to artists who have concerns about the fruit of their labors being used in ways they didn’t intend, and b). realize that just because the technology allows for something to be done easily, doesn’t mean that doing this thing is an inalienable right — it isn’t.

    Joey
    http://www.moderntales.com

  58. While other browsers can block ads (at the specific request of the consumer who is viewing the pages for his/her own entertainment) — those browsers are also capable of displaying the page as the artist intended it. Comictastic is not capable of displaying the page as the artist intended it. If/when this ever went to court, you can count on that being a significant part of the case.

    Joey
    http://www.moderntales.com

  59. I don’t know about CBLDF…
    They tend to only take the anti-censorship side of arguements…
    And I’m sure Comictastic’s author would be the one claiming his “freedom of speech” is being censored.

    Not that *I* personally think ripping webcomics and stealing cable falls under freedom of speech…

  60. : The only justification for comic-ripper is “I’m a lazy, selfish bastard who only cares about myself
    : and want what I want when I want it and I don’t give a crap about what the consequences are for
    : anyone else.”

    He’s not a lazy, selfish bastard.
    He’s just wrong.
    He just doesn’t understand that his program is violating our rights.
    That doesn’t make it OK, but it is an excuse.

  61. I simply don’t know what’s the deal with people comparing this software to ad-blockers.

    Ad-blockers are like the remote controls of our television, they give us the option of viewing an advertising or not. Comictastic DOES NOT give that option.

  62. Taken from Ten Mythis About Copyright Explained.

    “If it’s posted to Usenet it’s in the public domain.”

    False. Nothing modern is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain(*). Explicitly, as in you have a note from the author/owner saying, “I grant this to the public domain.” Those exact words or words very much like them.
    Some argue that posting to Usenet implicitly grants permission to everybody to copy the posting within fairly wide bounds, and others feel that Usenet is an automatic store and forward network where all the thousands of copies made are done at the command (rather than the consent) of the poster. This is a matter of some debate, but even if the former is true (and in this writer’s opinion we should all pray it isn’t true) it simply would suggest posters are implicitly granting permissions “for the sort of copying one might expect when one posts to Usenet” and in no case is this a placement of material into the public domain. It is important to remember that when it comes to the law, computers never make copies, only human beings make copies. Computers are given commands, not permission. Only people can be given permission. Furthermore it is very difficult for an implicit licence to supersede an explicitly stated licence that the copier was aware of.

    Note that all this assumes the poster had the right to post the item in the first place. If the poster didn’t, then all the copies are pirated, and no implied licence or theoretical reduction of the copyright can take place.

    (*) Copyrights can expire after a long time, putting something into the public domain, and there are some fine points on this issue regarding older copyright law versions. However, none of this applies to an original article posted to USENET.

    Note that granting something to the public domain is a complete abandonment of all rights. You can’t make something “PD for non-commercial use.” If your work is PD, other people can even modify one byte and put their name on it.”

    Maybe this would help clearing this BullS*** about because or work is in the internet, we have no claim about what people do to it.

  63. A very good link, RPin!

    Here’s another interesting excerpt from that copyrights page:

    9) “It doesn’t hurt anybody — in fact it’s free advertising.”
    It’s up to the owner to decide if they want the free ads or not. If they want them, they will be sure to contact you. Don’t rationalize whether it hurts the owner or not, ask them. Usually that’s not too hard to do. Time past, ClariNet published the very funny Dave Barry column to a large and appreciative Usenet audience for a fee, but some person didn’t ask, and forwarded it to a mailing list, got caught, and the newspaper chain that employs Dave Barry pulled the column from the net, pissing off everybody who enjoyed it. Even if you can’t think of how the author or owner gets hurt, think about the fact that piracy on the net hurts everybody who wants a chance to use this wonderful new technology to do more than read other people’s flamewars.

    In reference to the open letter:

    In conclusion, the choice is yours. Either you can spend your time and money fighting people like me and my users, or you can embrace what I believe to be the future of webcomics, and work with me for everyone’s benefit. People want this technology; don’t deny them that.

    How nice. We have a choice. Sort of.

    Really, I’m all for working together, and as long as I have the choice to opt-out, I won’t complain. But dog-gone it, at least give me the right to make that choice and have that decision respected.

    Opt-in or Opt-out. That’s all I ask. If you can settle that, that’s great, I’ll happily shut up.

    Otherwise it’d be just like inversed spam, where you get the ‘free advertising’ done for you whether you want it or not.

  64. I think that a browser developed specifically to view webcomics is an awesome idea, and I think that we should foster an open and friendly conversation with this developer.

    As far as I can tell, the leading criticism is the lack of publisher controll over content. Has anyone brought this up with Jan and asked for more support on this?

    If Jan is really interested in creating “new sources of revenue” let’s ask if we get support for additional markup that will allow publishers to add text, links (to the cartoonists stores, blogs or anywhere), and even low-bandwidth banners.

    Maybe we’ll get a friendly response.

  65. It is clearly not illegal to download a webpage as many times as I wish to, in order to view it.

    And yet, Distributed Denial of Service Attacks, where webpages are deliberately downloaded over and over again in order to shut down someone’s server, are illegal.

    Each individual discrete act of downloading is not illegal — but the overall intent of the action is taken into account, as well as its effect.

    A similar argument could be made for a piece of software which deliberately and at great length goes out of its way to deny many webcomics creators their source of income. I’m not saying that the case would be won. But it’s likely enough to be won that I wouldn’t want to be in the business of defending against it. A similar case was won in the mid-nineties against a website that was hotlinking Dilbert files.

    Joey
    http://www.moderntales.com

    Joey
    http://www.moderntales.com

  66. I dunno… I see some points on both sides of this argument, but can’t get over the fact that this looks a lot like cattle rustling.

    Cattle Rustlers would take steer owned by other ranchers, add their own brand — frequently by obscuring the original owner’s with another brand in order to create a third mark they could claim ownership of (a slash ‘/’ easily becomes and x ‘X’ by adding another slash-brand) — and then sell the stock as their own.

    I see a lot of parallels in this situation:
    Comictastic seems to be rounding-up a lot of other people’s strips from their rightful corrals, adding the CT brand (the title bar of the broswer window clearly shows the Comictastic name added in front of the strip title being viewed: http://comictastic.com/screenshot.png) and packaging it for sale to the public — donation-based or not.

    I think the artists should have more say over how their work is viewed than CT allows. If a traditional publisher came to the cartoonists and made an offer the artist found unacceptable, the publisher could not just go ahead and print the material anyway.

    Just because clip-art is sold as royalty-free work, you can’t simply package someone else’s clip-art and sell it as your own. At the same time, I don’t think you could make those clip-art files available to anyone wandering onto your website and allow them to copy the files to their own computer.

    I have a couple ideas:
    1. Blocking by Choice
    Comictastic could provide a blocking service for those who do not wish their strips to be involved in the project.

    2. Secret Message
    Another idea is for every artist to add ‘Comictastic Steals Art’ (or some such message) as an ‘invisible banner or panel’ to their strips. If the text of this message was colored to match the background screen of your own website (maybe adding a transparent color to the text?) It could be designed to only show up when displayed in the white CT browser window.

    3. Organize a “Day without Toons”
    Modeled after the “Day without Art” AIDS awareness campaign — decide upon a single day that all cartoonists will substitute their normal comic for a text-only message against software that distills their work, or any other topic covering the infringement of artist rights. I think it would be quite startling to log-in to Comictastic expecting to see my favorite comics and instead finding out that the artists are speaking out against the very product I was using to view them.

    4. Sic the big dogs on ’em!
    I can’t imagine the big syndicates would appreciate their licensed properties being viewed in a format they found unacceptable. If the cartoonists are truly unhappy with the CT software, syndicates have much deeper pockets and attorneys on staff to handle alleged infringements of a this nature. Let them get into the fray and battle it out.

    In conclusion…
    Right or wrong, that software is out there. Figure out a way to bypass it or embrace it. There’s always a better idea waiting to be discovered, so don’t try and out *shout* this guy, out THINK him.

    I’m here to help brainstorm additional ideas if you need me!
    ~DON!
    http://www.dontheideaguy.com

  67. 1) I reach a wide enough audience right now and it’s growing, very swiftly too. The model I have in place right now allows me to publish my content free for my readers to view and I’ve got a lot of great promotional saturation with other comics, not to mention the fact that my readers themselves become my best promotional tool by telling other people on BBSs and chatrooms about my comic.

    2) There’s a big difference between being willing to listen to new ideas and having new distribution model forced upon you. Our content is being hijacked by comic-rippers wether the artists want to be part of that distribution model or not, and who pays the bills for our hijacked content? The comic-ripper programers? The comic-ripper users? Nope, the webcomic artist.

    We were never given a choice to be part of Comictastic’d distribution model. The author’s attitude has been “***** you, I’m ripping your comics wether you want it or not, so you can either learn to love it or not but it’s not changing the way I’m doing things.”

  68. What comictastic does is downloads our files off our webpages then redistributes it to the programer user on a new custom webpage devoid of the context in which the comic was published. It does this by forging the referal headers so that our website thinks the person accessing the file is a user who is accessing our webpage and not someone hotlinking our files. That’s all Comictastic is, it’s a browser that hotlinks files and uses fradulent code to bipass anti-hotlinking security features on websites that employ that (something which IS illegal).

    Try to dress it up however you want. Call it a “special” browser, it still doesn’t change the fact that the software 1) violates the contextual distribution rights of the webcomic author. 2) compromises the security of the webcomic author’s website. 3) costs the webcomic author money.

    The fact that he doesn’t seek permission for artists to be part of his distribution model shows that deep inside, despite all his grand pasturing and rationalizations, he knows what he is doing is wrong. It shows he has absolutely no respect for webcomic artists either. People who use this software to hotlink the graphics from webcomic artists who want no part of this distribution model likewise have no respect for the artists, particularily those who hack our security to be able to hotlink the images. If you’ve got to hack it to access it then you’ve got to know what you are doing is wrong.

    I find it hard to believe people are so eager and willing to piss all over the rights of artists just to save themselves a few seconds. It’s sickening that we publish our work, free for people to view, and that’s still not enough. They act like we owe them something just because we publish a comic they like.

    Now many people, I am sure, use rippers out of ignorance, not realizing the cost these programs have on the webcomic community. But there are some people who malisciously rip our comics with a “I’m sticking it to the Man” attitude. That’s absolutely sickening. If you want to stick it to the Man there are plenty of big evil corporations out there you can stick it to who truly deserve it. Attacking artists who are already allowing you to view their work for free just isn’t cool at all. It’s sad and it’s pathetic.

  69. Comictastic is a hotlinker. It pulls content off a webpage and displays it somewhere else. That’s redistribution. Try to rationalize it anyway you want it doesn’t change the fact that it’s screwing the artists.

  70. Sorry, but this quote misses the issue

    Dear, it doesn’t. I’m not talking about Comictastic, I’m referring to some comments people posted saying “What are you all complaining about? F*** it, it’s in the internet, it’s there to be stolen”.

    It’s this kind of mindset that angers me. Contrary to popular belief, internet IS NOT a no man’s land. It’s a place where we’re luck to have talented people sharing their talents with us for free. We should be thankful for it, instead what we have here is people asking them to change their works to fit into a comic ripper just to satisfy a couple of weasels. Sorry, that’s just how I feel.

  71. A-fricken-men, brother!

    It’s this sense of entitlement people seem to have reguarding our content that pisses me off. Like all the hard work we put into creating a webcomic and a site to host it means nothing compaired to their selfish need for instant gratification.

  72. On a like note, considering that the “content” you’d be pushing via RSS would be, well, the content of the page (as in the big, freaking 100K+ graphic) it’s kinda hard to build a low-bandwidth teaser that works for that.

    Heck, penny arcade only posts up that there is a new comic, not the actual graphic in their RSS feed.

    There’s a perfectly good, poll-oriented mechanism for retrieving graphical content. It’s called HTTP.

  73. It’s this sense of entitlement people seem to have reguarding our content that pisses me off. Like all the hard work we put into creating a webcomic and a site to host it means nothing compaired to their selfish need for instant gratification.

    Luckily, they seem to be the minority. But I think it’s better to take care of this problem while it’s still small.

  74. “What are you all complaining about? F*** it, it’s in the internet, it’s there to be stolen”.

    Huh? I didn’t hear anybody say that. I must have missed those posts.

    I personally made the point that HTTP serves files individually, and that Comictastic is only making use of your comics as your server publishes them. That has nothing — absolutely nothing! — to do with arguments that copyright somehow does not apply to the internet. You may be hearing that, but I’m sure as hell not saying it!

    What I am saying is that there are some basic physical facts about digital information in particular, and HTTP in general, which artists are generally slow to accept, but which are nonetheless true. Much of this discussion sounds to my technical ears as if the comic artists want to sue people who are using their comics as paper towels. Well, yes, it is disrespectful, but let’s face it, paper is porous and can be used for cleaning, and that’s neither illegal nor preventable.

  75. I don’t think it should be readership OR revenue. I think it should be readership AND revenue.

    I don’t mean that they are mutually exclusive. I mean that there are tradeoffs, and strategies that favor building readership versus ones that favor building revenue from the existing readers. Obviously a good strategy must strike a balance, and even shift over time.

    The point I’m making is this: saying “everything must be exactly how I want it, and anybody who forces me to chance that is a bad person” is not a very productive approach to the problem. I mean, yes, it is sad for us artists that we cannot retain complete artistic control over our work in the hands of every reader, and yes, it is sometimes good to take a firm stand against our own readers…but really, the world does change without our permission, and sometimes the change is not as bad as it first seems. Thus…

    The X oy Y that apparently don’t work for the ripper developer are advertising, subscriptions, merchandising, and anything about the presentation of the comic apart from the actual comic image file itself.

    That’s what you hear, not what Jan or your readers are saying. Here’s my take on Comictastic’s popularity, on the “X or Y” that don’t work:

    • Readers don’t like heavyweight pages that are slow to download. Even over broadband, a fast, low-bandwidth, prefetched comic is a pleasure to read.
    • It’s really convenient to have all the comics lined up in a tidy row, with just one click apiece to cycle through them. It’s a subtle difference, but a big one — it makes reading online comics much more like the experience of sitting down to the comics page in the newspaper (only with bigger pictures and much better comics).
    • Loud backgrounds, animated ads, and other districting visuals can detract from the comic, and make it less pleasant to read.

    Note that none of these things preclude advertising, subscriptions, or merchandising per se. They do preclude some of the current methods of doing these things. But I don’t hear Jan van Tol saying “I REFUSE to support merchandising!” or anything like that. (He does seem to think banner ads are passe, but look at Google: there are other ways to advertise.) I believe that there are creative approaches that could meet your wishes and the wishes of readers. Don’t dismiss it out of hand.

    Now I’m sure that some people reading this are gearing up an angry retort about how they’re not obliged to listen to any of that, and nobody can shove things down their throats. And that is true. You have no obligation to listen to Jan Van Tol, or even your readers. And they have no obligation to listen to you either.

    But what kind of artist can’t listen?

  76. Somebody said “To summarize my take: you’re the one publishing the comics on your web site, so you don’t have much to complain about.”.

    Oh, wait. That one was you.

    Also, someone said “Basically, the simple razor of fair use is: in personal use, all is legal; if you don’t redistribute it, you can do whatever you want.”

    Oh, that one was also you.

    Check that link I provided. It explains what is fair use. Try to learn something out of this discussion.

  77. All that said, I trust Joey Manley’s judgement. I’d rather wait to see the outcome of his negotiations before saying anything else.

    I don’t believe those guys are comic fans any more than just people trying to make money out of someone else’s work, but let us all pray I’m proven wrong.

    Seriously.

  78. And after looking at the discussion on the Comictastic message board, it looks like many of these features are already in place for anyone who can write an rss feed. If there exists an option to controll the content, I don’t understand the problem. Web browsers for the blind omit all images and banners, and a text desctiption is only given for images if the publisher puts in alternate text. Publishers who don’t care if blind people can access their content don’t have to worry so much about alternate text. The developer of Comictastic has said that his browser will read RSS code and display whatever the publisher wants.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see this as such a bad thing.

  79. Okay, I pretend this to be my last message on this subject.

    What me and many other people complained about Comictastic is the fact that the author never asked for permission to display works of other artists. The way Comictastic works now hurts many artists.

    I *DO* see this technology as a good thing. I think it can work nicely for certain comics, and if the author contacted artists before releasing this software, to reach an agreement, he’d have avoided all this headache he’s probably going through right now. Even if he acted in good will, people are bound to mistake that for the exact opposite. That’s what it looks like.

    He SHOULD have contacted artists before releasing his software.
    He SHOULD give them an option to be out of his system.
    He SHOULD respect their advertising model instead of calling artists stubborn for sticking to it.

    May he do that, and I don’t see any more reasons to complain about Comictastic.

    The author of the software has not pronounced himself for some time now. I hope he’s taking all of our requests in consideration, and trying to bring a solution to it.

    Peace,
    –Pin

  80. Somebody said “To summarize my take: you’re the one publishing the comics on your web site, so you don’t have much to complain about.” .

    Oh, wait. That one was you.

    Yes, duh, and what I meant by that — as I just attempted to explain — was not that you give up your copyright by posting online. Obviously you don’t. Rather, there are some surprising things that come with the medium which are still within the bounds of copyright law. I argue that Comictastic is one of them.

    It is like my paper towel analogy: If you said, “People should be sued for using my printed comics as paper towels!”, then I would say, “Well, it’s not illegal, and you’re the one putting them on paper, so you don’t have much to complain about.” Do you see the analogy?

    You may think that Comictastic violates copyright law. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. We’ll just have to disagree on that until the lawyers sort it out.

    Also, someone said “Basically, the simple razor of fair use is: in personal use, all is legal; if you don’t redistribute it, you can do whatever you want.”

    Oh, that one was also you.

    Check that link I provided. It explains what is fair use. Try to learn something out of this discussion.

    I read your link. It did not contradict my assertion: in the privacy of your own home, you can do with it what you will.

    Let’s all try to learn something, shall we? Here are the rights granted to copyright holders in the US. Only #2 leaves any avenue for the invasion of private modification, and I don’t think case history would favor that interpretation. But IANAL, it’s true. (Are you?)

  81. See above. RSS is served via HTTP, because it’s only a markup language. It’s not a server protocol!

    And, actually, this is bogus. There’s nothing to stop anyone from mocking up a low-res, single-panel teaser for the RSS feed. I’m reminded of the thing josh l. had (has?) going at Slipshine: the free users see lineart-only comics, the pay users get fully shaded ones. Slice out a sub-10k, 100x100pixel chunk of a panel which looks interesting, slap it up with a one-line description and a link to the day’s archive page.

    I feel like I just threw a feature article into a black pit.

  82. I want to step out of this before it gets a flame war. Just one thing:

    Rather, there are some surprising things that come with the medium which are still within the bounds of copyright law. I argue that Comictastic is one of them.

    You may think that Comictastic violates copyright law. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. We’ll just have to disagree on that until the lawyers sort it out.

    About this, I’m e-mailing one of my teachers, who happen to be a lawyer specialized in media delicts. I need an opinion of someone who actually knows something about it.

    I read your link. It did not contradict my assertion: in the privacy of your own home, you can do with it what you will.

    Not all private uses are labeled as fair use. Let’s check another link: Some notes on fair use

    Those are illustrative scenarios of possible fair use infringments. I’ll just throw one of them to illustrate my point:

    Downloading or Printing a Document from the Internet
    A professor is conducting research by finding materials on the Internet and locates a report that is directly relevant to his current study. The document was made available on the Internet with the copyright owner’s permission, and the professor had lawful access to it. For research purposes only, the professor wants to download a copy of the document to a computer disk or print a copy on the attached printer.

    Analysis
    The Internet provides access to a wealth of original material and, although it is freely and easily accessible, we must assume that original materials on the Internet are protected by copyright until we learn explicitly that the copyright owner has dedicated the materials to the public domain, or the copyrights have expired. Therefore, the fair-use limits for materials found on the Internet are essentially the same as the fair use of materials disseminated by any other means.

    Single copies of short items for a person’s own study may fall within fair use. If a work is freely available on the Internet, making a copy will have little or no effect on its market simply because no commercial market for the work has been established or claimed. Nevertheless, some publishers have argued that the potential market for charging Internet users for each copy means that any copying hinders the market. In the meantime, copying of works that are freely accessible to the public for personal uses only will likely satisfy the “purpose” and the “effect” factors of fair use.

    As with photocopying, one might reasonably conclude that the “nature” factor would favor uses of non-fiction rather than fiction, and that the “amount” factor might reasonably favor copying excerpts of longer works or copying short essays or articles rather than copying an entire book or other longer piece.

    See? Even if you do it for private use, using Comictastic to download an entire archive of comics would hardly fall into fair use.

    I fail to see the pertinence of the link you provided. I never argued that printing a certain comic to, say, stick in your locker would consist copyright violation. It certainly isn’t, and it would be stupid to think otherwise. But some may point this is not what Comictastic does.

    But I really would rather wait for the programer’s response before saying anything further. I’m not a copyright expert, and neither are you.

    I don’t want to turn this into a battle of egos. Groovy?

    –Pin

  83. Well, actually, you could simply include the url to the image.

    Yes, I’m fully aware of the fact that RSS is simply XML over HTTP, but the specifications of RSS don’t really fit. RSS is more designed for text content, not graphic content. If nothing else, delivering content via RSS could use more bandwidth than the actual top page.

    Look, if the difference between RSS and HTML is basically markup, and if there’s absolutely no difference in bandwidth, there’s no incentive for a comic author to use it. In effect, they’re doing a lot of out-of-band work to support a fraction of a nano-audience.

    Heck, I view webcomics as tabs in Mozilla. That gets the full page from the content provider, can be scripted to occur at any time, and doesn’t involve any extra work on the part of the comic provider. I’ve got the comics grouped into Daily, MWF, and TTH groups.

    How would RSS improve my lot better than that?

  84. I fail to see the pertinence of the link you provided.

    Well, it’s only relevant in that it’s the actual law in question here, at least in the US! The particular clause I linked to is the grant of rights; in other words, creators don’t have any rights under copyright law not listed on that page, at least as I understand it.

    I don’t want to turn this into a battle of egos. Groovy?

    Quite. I don’t either. On that note, I found your comment about “try to learn something” quite snide, so I’m doing my best not to snipe back, and steer toward something more positive to discuss (i.e. the law itself).

    This quote is much more relevant than your first one. And it looks like you’re right that copyright law may not be as forgiving of private use as I thought.

    It’s worth pointing that “publishers have argued” is a far cry from “courts have found.” I wonder, are there any actual court decisions that have favored the copyright holder in a case of private use? That would be illustrative.

  85. Yes, I’m fully aware of the fact that RSS is simply XML over HTTP

    But that’s not what you’re saying. So please say something else.

    If nothing else, delivering content via RSS could use more bandwidth than the actual top page.

    It’s the kind of thing you have to call case-by-case. For strips where the chrome runs heavier than even the ad content, or the underlying markup is heavy for whatever reason, RSS is inevitably going to be lighter. If your users are banging shift-refresh every ten minutes, sending them to an automated, lighter-weight notification method has to improve your lot. Uh, I have to go finish writing an article about this, so you’ll forgive me, I hope, for being tacky and referring you back here in about two weeks?

    Heck, I view webcomics as tabs in Mozilla. That gets the full page from the content provider, can be scripted to occur at any time, and doesn’t involve any extra work on the part of the comic provider. I’ve got the comics grouped into Daily, MWF, and TTH groups.

    How would RSS improve my lot better than that?

    I do the same thing (except with Safari). AND I use RSS via LJ — which spreads one hit’s worth of feed-retrieval over several users — with placeholders on. Grouping the comics per day doesn’t work when creators run chronically late or unpredictable, and rendering a single page’s worth of notifications generates far less system load than a bundle of tabs churning all at once. Plus, feeds won’t force you to fetch, render and churn through all the chrome and tag soup endemic in comics manned by creators for whom the frame is more important than the picture.

    I ask myself how I can improve my lot every time I leave a dedicated browser process alone for ten minutes of breakfast and teamaking to grab one of a half dozen gaming comics whose server is struggling to assemble 350k of components, less than half of which qualify as primary content, let alone getting round to sending them to me so I can give up and read the source partway through. Fortunately for everyone, I like reading source markup. If you can write an RSS feed which sensibly uses 100k+ of markup to deliver one comic and one ad — and let’s make it easy, let’s make the version cutoff 1.0 at the bottom end — then I’m so totally going to be in awe of you.

  86. I think that I’ve come up with a good analogy for this particular situation. I’ll use Ghastly for example since he seems to be a very vocal opponent.

    Let’s look at it like this: Ghastly has some money (comic) which he keeps in his wallet (website). When he wants to, he takes out his money (comic) and gives it to a store (audience) in exchange for goods and services (adviews). What Van Tol is doing is taking Ghastly’s money (comic), putting it in his own wallet (comictastic) and giving it to a store (audience) in exchange for different goods and services (the money he gets when people buy his program). Ghastly gets nothing, while Van Tol gets everything. That just isn’t right.

  87. You know, I admit that comic rippers help no one, but I feel that we artists can help ourselves…

    By hiring a detective with questionable morals and finding out where the authors of these programs live and paying them a visit. I’m a big supporter of the idea that you can’t hide behind a keyboard forever and punishment can, should and will come your way eventually.

    It’s not immature, it’s justice. As old as the sun itself.

  88. You know, I admit that comic rippers help no one, but I feel that we artists can help ourselves…

    By hiring a detective with questionable morals and finding out where the authors of these programs live and paying them a visit. I’m a big supporter of the idea that you can’t hide behind a keyboard forever and punishment can, should and will come your way eventually.

    It’s not an immature power fantasy, it’s justice. As old as the sun itself.

  89. While the lawsuit claims that Schwarzenegger’s repeal of the car tax was illegal, others have argued the opposite position. Senator Tom McClintock has argued that former Governor Gray Davis’s tripling of the car tax was illegal. Sleep Apnea Surgery Herbal Snoring Remedy Snoring Silent Snore Snoring Problem Snore Remedies Snore Aids Snoring Problems Sleep Apnea Causes Snoring While the lawsuit claims that Schwarzenegger’s repeal of the car tax was illegal, others have argued the opposite position. Senator Tom McClintock has argued that former Governor Gray Davis’s tripling of the car tax was illegal.

  90. What comictastic does is downloads our files off our webpages then redistributes it to the programer user on a new custom webpage…

    Nope. Sorry. Wrong. Your thinking it looks this way does not make it true.

    violates the contextual distribution rights of the webcomic author

    I saw you post about these before. WTF are these “contextual distribution right”? I mean, like, not your own little rant about them, but can you find the actual law for us, or some legal description of them online? A quick Google turned up nothing for me.

  91. Now that you mention it, that sentence does sound like Micro$oft, but he does have a point. People can either work with him and work towards a mutally beneficial arrangment, or not. I think it’s amazing a Mac Comic Viewer has become so popular that he is getting “hassled” 🙂

    Looking at his features, I do understand cartoonists being concerned about the lack of views on advertisements.

  92. Now that you mention it, that sentence does sound like Micro$oft, but he does have a point. People can either work with him and work towards a mutally beneficial arrangment, or not. I think it’s amazing a Mac Comic Viewer has become so popular that he is getting “hassled” 🙂

    Looking at his features, I do understand cartoonists being concerned about the lack of views on advertisements.

  93. Well, I see a ton of webcomic authors down there whining and crying about this, and, well, the fact of the matter is, there’s really not a damn thing you can do about this program. I’ve never used Comictastic, but it seems to me to be similar to programs such as Proxomitron and WebWasher (only more narrow in scope, and more powerful within its limited scope), which also draw a lot of fire. Hell, ISPs are now bundling on-the-fly content-alteration software that deprives content authors of revenue (i.e. popup killers) with their signup packages.

    The users are taking control of what they download. This is an undeniable fact, and trying to stop it is an exercise in futility. Either you can find ways to work within this new reality, or you can piss and moan about it. Van Tol is extending an olive branch here with his offer of RSS support. If you’re really that worried, you should take him up on it.

    It’s harsh, but that’s the way it is: lead, follow, or become a speedbump.

    /proud Proxomitron user

  94. Again, I wish I didn`t post right after waking up. I hope people excuse my misspellings, knowing english isn`t my first language.

    Opt-in or Opt-out. That’s all I ask. If you can settle that, that’s great, I’ll happily shut up.

    I totally agree. I won’t stay in their way as long as they let us opt out of their software. The guys said they’ll modify Comictastic to send an unique USER AGENT, but maybe that won’t be enough.

    I can see this working for more than comics on Modern Tales or Graphic Smash. They said they contacted comic artists in order to promote their software. Well, if they contacted people like Fred Gallagher, Mike Krahulik and Peter Abrams, I’m not surprised they didn’t get any answer. They were WAY over their heads if they thought these guys could find any advantage out of this.

    But this could be a beautiful way to cross promote less known indie comics who are still struggling for their place, like Pockybot or Pepperwood.

  95. You think a browser is legally obliged to give the option of showing an entire page, “as the creator intended?” Really? Even if you can just as easily open the comic’s page in a full browser that’s actually designed for that kind of display?

    Under that reasoning, black and white televisions would be illegal, because they don’t show color. So would FM clock radios (which are monophonic). But those are mild examples; think of the chaos if browser authors were required by law to implement every web technology for content display that authors chose to use — no matter how expensive to implement, or how it relied on proprietary technology…. Taking your legal reasoning to its logical conclusion, there would be no Macintosh browsers at all, because they’d be legally required to support ActiveX controls in order to show all pages “as creators intended them.”

    Remember, the set of web standards we take for granted were built by consensus and voluntary adoption, not legal coercion. Supporting technology censorship may seem reasonable when you’re an artist under threat, but the truth is that it’s destructive and dangerous for exactly the same reasons as artistic censorship.

    I would hope that a judge would dismiss this argument out of hand.

  96. One simple way around the comic ripping problem would be to build the ads graphically into the image file of the comic itself. Although the metered/$-per-click model wouldn’t work anymore. It’d be more like selling ads for the high-school yearbook or a fashion magazine. Instead of “You, advertiser, pay $x each time your ad is viewed and/or clicked on,” it becomes, “You, advertiser, pay $x to have your ad embedded into the content itself.” Product placement, like Agent Sidney Bristo on the TV show Alias, during an escape, yelling “No, let’s take the Ford F-150!!” So, even if you TIVO out the commercials for the Ford F-150, you have still seen an overt ad for the truck embedded into the content.

    I don’t actually LIKE that idea. I personally think product placement and built-in ads are cheesy, and distract and detract from the work. With a comic ripper, you’d have to sit through about 100k of download for the new PvP (for example), and you might think yourself clever for having dodged the ads, but if Scott starts embedding the ads into the strip’s actual jpg, then what are you going to do?

    If you want to keep a list of your favorite webcomics in one spot, great! Bookmark them. If you want to see the comic without advertising, while I may or may not sympathize, you’re not helping anyone. The webcomic market will do what it has to do in order to earn enough money to continue producing.

    If I (or just about any webcomic creator) could afford to do my comic full time, I would. Readers and fans should support that as much as possible, because the more money I earn from the comic, the more I can work on it, which means more pages, better art, better writing, more more, better better, for everyone involved. Before I was on Girlamatic, readers would have to wait as long as a month for a new page (on one occasion, 6 months). Because I was underemployed and literally couldn’t afford to buy the fricking art supplies. And even if I could have afforded the art supplies all the time, I wouldn’t have been able to put it on the web at ALL if it weren’t for Jim Francis hosting me, at his own expense, at the Well of Souls.

    Webcomcis aren’t free, ever. It costs somebody something. Rippers limit the ability of creators to support their work, meaning they have to do it less, or not at all. Then even the comic rippers won’t have anything. So I don’t see how ripping software like this helps anybody win.

    -Matt
    Knights of the Shroud

  97. It’s talking about duplication, which is clearly illegal.

    Comictastic does not duplicate the content any more than a web browser does. All it does is download it more selectively. What’s in question in here is not whether people are allowed to duplicate your comic just because it’s online (clearly they’re not), but whether they’re obliged to download and look at *all* of the individually published parts of a page just because you want them to (that’s not so clear).

    To the non-technical folks here who don’t know how HTTP works, I don’t know how to explain this any more simply: A web page can be made of many separate files, and a web server publishes those files individually. A browser can download several related files and arrange them together on the screen as a page … but it doesn’t have to, technically or legally. That is simply how the web works!

    By posting a file on Usernet (or your own site), you’re making copies of it. But it’s not at all clear that downloading the individual files from somebody’s web site in a different combination than they expected is illegal.

  98. So I don’t see how ripping software like this helps anybody win.

    By providing some really valuable usability research for comic artists about how they can reach a wider audience through some subtle changes in format, if we are willing listen to new ideas.

  99. Or, like I wrote below in the main discussion, and I cringe each time I write it, just combine the advertising and the comic into one image file. The creator keeps advertisers and ad revenue, and the ripper is forced to see ad anyway.

  100. Unauthorized distribution is also illegal. Does this affect your view at all? *curious*

  101. Comictastic isn’t distributing the comic. The distribution already happens via HTTP. Comictastic works the same way as any other browser in this respect. Comictastic isn’t a distributor or syndicator.

  102. My point is thus: be ready to change your mind for the sake of your readers. Focus on what matters. Is it your web page, or your comic art itself? Is it readership or revenue? Be willing to hear unpleasant facts about technology and your readership that you really don’t want to believe. This guy clearly understands something about how to make online comics more successful by changing the presentation format. If we tells you “X or Y won’t work,” think about it: do you really need X or Y? What alternatives would be acceptable?

    I guess we’re going to disagree on this one. I don’t think it should be readership OR revenue. I think it should be readership AND revenue. The X oy Y that apparently don’t work for the ripper developer are advertising, subscriptions, merchandising, and anything about the presentation of the comic apart from the actual comic image file itself.

  103. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. If you want to force people to se your ads, just make a single image of your web page. That way you have total control on how the page looks. Personally, I agree with the author of comictastic: the solution is not to force ads down your reader’s throat, but rather to give them what they want at a price they are willing to pay. A subscription based model with a delivery system like comictastic seems very appealing to me.

  104. While not the ideal solution, as people can just not use the updated version (although they will never get access to the new features if they choose this), it’s the best solution you have now that it’s already been released.

    Could he have added the feature in the first place? Of course. Did he think of it? Who knows. I think working with Comictastic (and others of it’s type) is a better method then outright blocking it, but everyone is entitled to an opinion of course 😉 I think it’s better to say “make it so my ads have to be viewed in your program and I won’t block users that use your program” would be a better solution.

    All IMO.

  105. [Melquiades again, not logged in] While I agree that the ethics of Van Tol’s program are dubious, I think your metaphor buries the real complexity of the situation. And it is a complex, and interesting, situation. I’ll torture the metaphor even further, and try to paint a better picture:

    The situation is more like this: Ghastly has something of value (comic) — sure, we’ll just call it money for the sake of argument, though this buries that fact that physical and intellectual property operate in wildly different ways — which he keeps in a newsstand on the street (website) with a big sign that says “free money — take some.”

    Standing next to his newsstand are people (advertisers) wearing sandwich board advertisements (banner ads), who are quietly counting people (audience) as they walk up to take their free money. The sandwich board people then pay Ghastly according to how many people walk up.

    Van Tol notices that many people don’t like to walk across the street to get their free money, so he started selling robots that will pick up some free money for you (Comictastic). This turned out to be very popular. But the sandwich board people don’t count the robots, Ghastly grows less wealthy than he thinks he might otherwise.

    So … is Van Tol unethical, even though Ghastly is still handing out the free money to the robots? But what if he posts a sign that says “humans only”, starts asking the robots if they’re human, and they say “yes” — is it unethical then? Is that just unethical, or illegal? If it’s illegal, should he sue the person who built the robots, or the many people who are using them, or both?

    But wait… What if Van Tol says, “Look, I don’t care about the sandwich boards; I just want to help my lazy customers not have to walk across the street. I won’t stop building the robots, but I’d be happy to change them so that they’ll bring back flyers from the sandwich board people or something like that, if you could just have hand out flyers for the robots to take.” If such an offer is sincere, is Van Tol still a thief (as you suggest) or a sexual criminal (as Ghastly suggested)? Regardless of whether he is, would the course of action most likely to benefit the artists still be ignoring his suggestions and suing him?

    The question that I wish artists were asking, instead just of lining up with their torches and pitchforks at Van Tol’s door, is this: Why are those robots so darned popular? What are they doing right? What can we learn from their success?

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