Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on March 20, 2004 - 22:14
Jan Van Tol is the author of the software program Comictastic mentioned in an earlier news post this week. Van Tol posted an open letter to cartoonists this past Wednesday.
by hard - 03/20/2004 - 23:15
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.
by RPin - 03/20/2004 - 23:46
"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.
www.alexandilia.com.br is my site.
by RPin - 03/21/2004 - 01:51
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.
by technoatheist - 03/21/2004 - 05:22
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.
by hard - 03/21/2004 - 09:07
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.
by hard - 03/21/2004 - 09:10
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 15:36
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.)
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:
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 15:37
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 15:58
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 16:01
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 16:02
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 16:12
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 16:15
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 16:25
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:
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 16:35
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 16:50
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:
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.
by TCampbell - 03/21/2004 - 16:55
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.
by TCampbell - 03/21/2004 - 17:02
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.
by Jamie Robertson - 03/21/2004 - 17:12
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.
Clan of the Cats
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 17:16
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.
by Scott McCloud - 03/21/2004 - 17:17
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 17:17
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 17:23
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:
My suggestion: talk to him.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 17:29
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.
by Jamie Robertson - 03/21/2004 - 17:42
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 17:47
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 17:48
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....
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:00
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?
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 18:02
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:10
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.
by Jamie Robertson - 03/21/2004 - 18:16
Melquiades, You make great comments that need to be heard by everyone here!
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:21
I disagree; this seems to be precisely what his letter is asking for: "Stop attacking me, and let's work together on this."
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:
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:22
Thanks. And thanks for your level-headedness. (And also for your comic.)
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:26
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.
by Scott McCloud - 03/21/2004 - 18:29
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 18:39
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 18:50
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 19:05
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.
by Wednesday Burns-White - 03/21/2004 - 19:05
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.
by technoatheist - 03/21/2004 - 19:28
The numbers I've seen state that 40% of most US housholds have DSL or Cable modems. That means that 60% don't.
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.
by Wednesday Burns-White - 03/21/2004 - 19:30
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.
by Erik Melander - 03/21/2004 - 19:34
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.
by Wednesday Burns-White - 03/21/2004 - 19:34
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.
by Wednesday Burns-White - 03/21/2004 - 19:38
The analogy is, at best, disrespectful. Intellectual property violations are hardly so traumatic.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 19:38
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.
by melquiades - 03/21/2004 - 19:59
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.
by Townie - 03/21/2004 - 20:04
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.
by Jamie Robertson - 03/21/2004 - 20:05
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.
by Uncle Ghastly - 03/21/2004 - 20:25
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.
by Erik Melander - 03/21/2004 - 20:32
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.
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