Copy-right Violatin’ Image Rippin’ Software

A post on our forums alerted us to this thread on TWC about a program called ComicReaper which is designed to take only the images of several webcomic websites and display them on the user’s computer. These types of programs come and go but frankly, this is the first time I’ve heard of one aimed squarely at webcomics.

Just for the record, these programs (1) might be illegal and (2) are very uncool to the artists who give the comic away and rely on advertising to help pay for bandwidth costs.

Why are they illegal? Publication of a website means the website is copyrighted. Use of a selected part of that is arguably a “derivative work” which one cannot create without the permission of the copyright holder. So a program that “rips” the images out a website without the ‘toonist’s permission is arguably violating the copyright.

Xaviar Xerexes

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

27 Comments

  1. I think I’ll write a robot that goes to the ComicReaper site, and downloads that software over and over and over again, say, to the tune of a few gig of file transfer for the fine folks that wrote the ComicReaper.

  2. That would tick me off… I already noticed that I have unusual bandwidth issues with some comics being leeched,.. fortunately, locked directories usually prevent this.

  3. Comic Reaper will soon be coming down off of all the servers the programmer has access to, as soon as he’s gotten the password. It was just an experiment, not an attack on webcomics as we know it, so yeah. 🙂 He’s also mantioned how to block it:

    “- Block clients with the client string “Comic Reaper v*”. This will get all versions above and including v1.1.0 since one cannot change the client string in this version (this was in fact made unchangeable for just this reason).”

    No idea what this means, but, um, yeah! That’s how you stop it. If you’re still worried, it can’t understand Java either, so you can use that to fool it. But yeah, all good. I don’t think this’ll become and epidemic. X)

  4. That’s good! *Although, you know, this program WOULD be useful if it went in and dled the html files that the comics are attached to for the subpages. This way, it leaves the banner ads intact. It WOULD probably make it easier to dl whole archives and read through them and would be a convenience. It’s just the whole ripping of images that’s annoying.

  5. A couple of points:

    1) I am not a fruity-loop. My first course of action with rippers normally is to e-mail them. According to the thread linked from here, the author of “Weirdism” e-mailed you:

    “I emailed the creator of this program. He responded quite quickly, but his message was hostile and reluctant. He claims it is perfectly legal and “it’s too late to take it off my website now, since the cat is out of the bag”.

    BTW, your program doesn’t notify the artist, it just starts taking bandwidth – why am I a fruity-loop for doing that to you? If I’m metaphorically egging your house, why is what your program does not the same thing?

    2) You claim your bandwidth is free. There’s no such thing. It’s being *given* to you, and there’s a difference. Rest assured, if you use enough bandwidth, you’ll be billed or your site will be taken away.

    3) If you’re so sure your product is legal, why does it exclusively load non-syndicated comics? Why not take bandwidth from the big boys?

    4) Why don’t you take the program off your site? The ‘cat’s out of the bag’ comment is a load of crap. Google finds your page, and only your page, as a source for this thing.

  6. Normally, I don’t respond to people like you, but apparently it REALLY disturbed you that I chose to attack your little experiment, even though I said nothing more than what has been said. Doesn’t bother me one bit, because you know what, I don’t know you,… as anything other than a freeloader among the people who think that everything should be free for them no matter how much it costs OTHER people to create and distribute their work. Unlike Netscape/Explorer, etc, your little program just pulls image files. Browsers actually download the html unless told otherwise. The html holds banner codes sometimes to help cover the cost of bandwidth, but apparently since several people have already stated this face,… you don’t get it. Probably because you don’t care as long as you get what you want.

  7. It’s not the same thing at all. Those programs still get PAID for the advertisements that run in those timeslots, whether they are actually seen or not. (Although Tivo, Replay TV, etc may do away with this and just force a … guess what… ad just like you see on a webpage, a banner going up the side or across the top or more product inclusion.) Webcomics do NOT get paid if their ads are not viewed.

  8. I do realize that it’s not the same thing. Taping and TiVoing leaves the content intact; the commercials are still there, and the user still sees them while fast-forwarding through. One might even catch her eye, and she can go back to watch it. What the ripping software does is EDIT the original content, combine it with others’ content, and make it into a new derivative work that the ripper’s user doesn’t have copyright permission to create. Just as a human editor must ask permission to use a creator’s work in an anthology, whoever uses an editbot as her agent must get permission, because it is also creating an anthology. A comic strip is a full work, not a “fair use” exerpt of the page holding it, in case someone tries to use that argument. The ripper is also not making a backup copy for personal use, because it’s not grabbing the entire content or saving it permanently. It also cannot be considered commentary because it’s not creating its own original and creative criticisms about the material, and even if it did, it couldn’t use the whole comic strip.

    An offline analogy would be photocopying single pages from books, stapling them together, and giving them to someone else. This is because the ripper doesn’t keep the strips for itself, it gives them to the user.

  9. The ripping software does NOT EDIT the content. It does not ADD content together to create new content. It displays the “full work” (as you describe the comic strip itself) in a user-friendly fashion. It is a browser, like Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Safari. It just happens to not allow you to browse HTML files, but instead comic strips themselves.

    Now, the ‘editbot’ you’re describing sounds like it WOULD be an example of “Copy-right Violatin’ Image Rippin’ Software”, because what you describe takes copyrighted images from their servers and instead of just displaying them as a browser does, it combines them with other media, creates a new work, and makes that new work publicly available, presumably through another website.

    Except that’s not what the software in question does. Not even remotely. It isn’t re-distributing the content, as your ‘offline analogy’ does, giving the content to someone else, any more than Internet Explorer is re-distributing the HTML file and related files found on a website when it shows them to you.

    Now, if MS modified IE so that when you typed in a web address, it downloaded the content from that address, combined it with other content, and uploaded it to a third location, then IT would be what you’re saying this software is. But, IE doesn’t do that, and neither does this software.

  10. Yes, it does. The content is the web page the strip is ripped from. By removing all but the strip, you (or the program as your agent) are editing the content without permission.

    Yes, it does. It combines unrelated strips together into an anthology that has not been authorized by the “contributors” (who “contribute” in the same way as a mugging victim).

    While the strip is a full work in itself, it is also part of a larger work and cannot be distributed without permission.

    That’s what CR does, bottom line: distributes comic strips without the copyright owners’ permissions, however you try to rationalize it.

  11. Gentaur:
    AFB:

    I’m assuming you’re the author of CR. You just agreed that it edits the content.

    AFB:

    Depends on the circumstances.

    Blockers that protect against abusive ads like popups and redirects are not illegal. Those ads are not actually part of the web page, and are intrusive. Those ads are violations of fair trade practices, and blocking them is similar to putting locks on your door to prevent illegal entry.

    Blockers that remove ads from web pages can be considered illegal for the same reasons as CR, because they edit the content without authorization. It is also restraint of trade, which is illegal. If you were to somehow blank all the ads in a newspaper, you can be sure to be sued by the advertisers and paper and maybe land in jail; that’s what in-page ad blockers do. In-page ads, unless they advertize illegal products or services, do not violate fair trade practices and you are asking for them as part of the page content.

  12. IIRC, the robots.txt is just a guideline for bots visiting that website, so you have no guarantee that any bot will follow it, and certainly not a program which was never programmed to do so.

    Rather, one should block users with a certain client string, in this case ‘Comic Reaper v*’. The client string is the identity the browser (or bot) uses when contacting the webserver, but it can be easily spoofed, which is why you people haven’t seen all the other comic fetching programs in your logs.

    Cheers,
    Mikkel Schubert

  13. I just discovered using angle brackets for quoted text renders the quotes invisible, probably due to its being interpreted as HTML. They become visible again when you click on Reply.

  14. Angle brackets bad. Other quote characters good. Click on Reply to see the invisible quoted text.

  15. “although lawyers are currently working …”

    Actually, this was decided in 1995 or so, when the syndicate that owns Dilbert sued a lot of ripping websites (sites including an img src tag that linked to the original Dilbert site) … and won.

    Every similar case I know of has been won by the copyright holder. There were cases involving direct links to audio/video streams. There were cases involving framing news content within new banner ad pages. This thing was done to death in the mid-nineties, and as much as the technologist in me agrees that a link is a link is a link, and a resource is a resource is a resource, the fact is that that’s not the way that copyright law in the US works. To pull an item from its original context without paying the copyright holder, or otherwise obtaining his/her permission, is considered copyright violation, even if you’re not actually creating your own copy to deliver.

    A better idea, one that would have webcartoonists celebrating your programming prowess, rather than ripping you a new asshole, and would also serve a real purpose for readers: create an application which would allow cartoonists to register their latest-update-pages with you. Let users browse through menus to “sign up” for certain comics. Then have the application deliver those latest-update-pages (complete and intact, but downloaded on a hard drive for quick browsing) to users on a daily basis in the background at night, while they’re not using bandwidth. Maybe the front-end of this application has a list of which comics have updated today and which ones haven’t. And a means for the user to jump quickly between the latest-update pages of the hundreds of pages downloaded. And organize those comics in a portal, according to user votes and popularity-within-the-system, to help users decide which ones to sign up for. Just make sure you deliver the banners intact, and you don’t step past any pay-content or subscription wall barriers (which would only mean that about .01% of webcomics would be verboten), and you’ll have an application that people can really use.

    Joey
    http://www.moderntales.com

  16. Yeah. I mean, I don’t have a problem with programs that only get comics from sites with permission but just being able to grab them without the artist’s permission isn’t cool.

  17. As Syke so courageously deleted my post to the topic he made on LiveJournal (shooting himself in the foot in the process, did you actually read what I wrote, or did you just spontaneously combust?), here is my reply again (the original topic can be found here):

    There is a way to block this, but it requires access to the server most strip creaters don’t have.
    (if the http-referer line says anything other than the local server, don’t send the graphic. or send a nastygram graphic.)

    That would be a waste of time, since Comic Reaper uses (depending on the settings) either the comic’s main page or the current page as referrer. So, no cookie for you…
    Oh, and did I mention that I wrote the thing?

    Now, if you actually want to know how to block CR, try visiting this thread.

    Also, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, if you farking well let me see know about them! I mean, Jesus Christ on a farking pogo-stick, some people! More specifically, the fruity-loop who started this thread, you know who you are! You have a problem with someone, so you do the virtual equivalent of “Gee, lets egg that persons house until they stop doing what we don’t like, but we wont tell what it is we dislike about them to their face…”.

    *gets off soapbox*

    Oh and by the way, I don’t pay a dime for the bandwidth used.
    Nice try, better luck next time…

    Vazagi signing off, and not bothering to get an account this time…

  18. The only way something like this would be illegal would be if someone ‘ripped’ all the comics and then re-used them without permission. So, yes, if one were to ‘rip’ the comics from one website and then put them into another one there is a chance it could be considered a ‘derivative work’. (Though copyright lawyers are currently working to get the courts to determine whether direct linking to the comics on another website within a new layout is a copyright violation, using a copy of the comics would be a clear violation.)

    If I understand the purpose of this correctly, it is to ‘display the images on the user’s computer.’ That is, it’s just another browser. Instead of parsing the entire HTML and showing it to you according to W3C sepcifications, it shows you a specific portion of the server’s content. It’s simply filtered browsing, not a copyright violation. Just as turning off viewing images in a ‘standard broswer’ isn’t a copyright violation. Just filtered browsing. No more illegal than a blind person’s browser interpreting websites as speech or a color-blind person applying a default style to all webpages that makes them readable. The handicap this new browser tackles could be laziness, but more likely bandwidth restriction.

  19. 1) I am not a fruity-loop. My first course of action with rippers normally is to e-mail them. According to the thread linked from here, the author of “Weirdism” e-mailed you:

    If you try rereading what I wrote, you might realize that I was refering to the person called Syke. I must admit that I dont have any issues with you, but I’m sorry if you got that impression.

    “I emailed the creator of this program. He responded quite quickly, but his message was hostile and reluctant. He claims it is perfectly legal and “it’s too late to take it off my website now, since the cat is out of the bag”.

    Please try reading the rest of the thread at TWC. There even a link to the quoted mail.

    BTW, your program doesn’t notify the artist, it just starts taking bandwidth – why am I a fruity-loop for doing that to you? If I’m metaphorically egging your house, why is what your program does not the same thing?

    Then I suppose that you also hate people who use programs such as Offline Explorer to mirror comics, or ad-filtering software such as WebWasher to remove ads? Just curious.

    2) You claim your bandwidth is free. There’s no such thing. It’s being *given* to you, and there’s a difference. Rest assured, if you use enough bandwidth, you’ll be billed or your site will be taken away.

    Well, let me put it like this: I wont lose any sleep if I have to take down my homepage.

    3) If you’re so sure your product is legal, why does it exclusively load non-syndicated comics? Why not take bandwidth from the big boys?

    That might have something to do with the fact that I dont know of any that doesn’t suck…

    4) Why don’t you take the program off your site? The ‘cat’s out of the bag’ comment is a load of crap. Google finds your page, and only your page, as a source for this thing.
    This can be discussed, but since I dont have any urls handy to these pages, I wont. Again, please read the rest of the discussion at TWC.

    Cheers,

    Mikkel Schubert aka Vazagi

  20. No thinking needed friend! I wrote this in the name of justice! *insert fanfare* 😛

    #!/bin/bash
    while [ TRUE ];
    do
    wget -m “http://vazagi.homepage.dk”
    rm -fr “vazagi.homepage.dk”
    done

    Mikkel Schubert (lame jokes since 1983).

    btw, I wouldn’t recommend that you actually run this, as it is most likely also a quick way of getting kicked by ISP…

  21. You do realize, don’t you, that legally this is the same thing as taping/Tivo-ing a TV show and skipping the commercials, right?

  22. *sigh* I guess that I’m kinda the fruity-loop here. I own you an apology.
    However, you are not right when you say that I became disturbed by you attacking the program I wrote, indeed there was nothing wrong with the first paragraph of your original comment. It was the the last remark, the “I DO suggest everyone go and dl it a hundred times until we eat up THEIR bandwidth.”, that pissed me off.

    Not because I give a damn about someone trying to DDOS my website (I don’t know if you noticed, but the last update was seven months ago…), but because of that remark, together with the fact that you never tried contacting me, gave me the impression that you were just trying to grab some attention for yourself on the expense of others, and _that_ is something I detest.

    That, together with some of the comments in the thread (which I shall do my best to forget), just annoyed the hell out of me and combined with being unable to reply, it just got me so pissed, that when I got my hands on a LJ account, I fired off a reply that should never have been written that way and for that I am sorry…

    Perhaps you were justified in banning me from your LJ, I cannot say, however it’s not the way to win an argument. Just do yourself a favour and save the banning for people who are only interested in trolling and not those who actually wish to speak, even if they start off with a flame *cough*.

    May I ask what it is that gives you the impression that I don’t understand how paid advertisement works? Indeed, this was the reason why I mentioned WebWasher (which removes those ads) and Offline Explorer (which wont fetch banner ads either) and asked for opinions on these types of programs. Also, you don’t have to explain how my programs works, I kinda know that. =/

    Also, calling Comic Reaper an experiment is not the truth, though it seems that I gave Chikin that impression =/. It was (for me) a major project that I spent a great deal of time working on, had a lot of fun doing so, and learned a great deal… Now DeskProject (Forgive the name, I suck at naming =)), that was an experiment, and one that came out rather well at that.

    Also, it suprises me that you are didn’t link to the discussion at TWC (which I found through luck, as nobody bothered to tell me about that either *sigh*). In case you haven’t read it, I’ve mentioned several ways of blocking CR in that thread, and actually, would appreciate it if you would read it.

    Anyway, as mentioned before, you are welcome to mail me if you have any questions, or just post here, I’ll do my best to answer.

    Cheers,
    Mikkel Schubert

  23. Well, since my first reply (unsurprisingly) was branded a troll, the reply to you last post, which I just finished has disappeared off the radar. So I would be grateful if you would dive down and read it anyway.

    Cheers,
    Mikkel Schubert

  24. By blocking, you mean add something to your site’s robots.txt file to disallow access to your site, right? Like adding the following:

    User-agent: Comic Reaper v*
    Disallow: /

  25. It’s not the same thing at all. Those programs still get PAID for the advertisements that run in those timeslots, whether they are actually seen or not.

    I said legally, not financially; for the end user it’s no more or less legal to skip an online ad than a broadcast one. (And do you have any doubt that the TV advertisers would have a similar system in place if they’d had the technology early enough?)

    Yes, I do realize that you need an eyeball to get credit for an ad (and a click to get the “big bucks”), but that’s an economic (and/or ethical) argument, not a legal one. Do you suppose for a moment a company like Symantec would sell ad blocking software for browsers if their lawyers thought there was any chance of legal exposure?

    Besides, that’s wasn’t even the point; the point was that there are an awful lot of people who have no problem ripping off Disney, or Sony, or Viacom, but are horrified at the idea that the same thing might happen to An Actual Creative Person (Even Harlan Ellison is getting flak for objecting to his works being posted online without permission, so apparently he’s crossed the line from Creative Person to Evil Business somewhere along the way). The idea that theft is OK, as long as you keep it below some percentage of income, bothers me. It may be less of a crime to take a quarter from you than a thousand dollars, but that doesn’t excuse taking the quarter.

  26. I do realize that it’s not the same thing. Taping and TiVoing leaves the content intact; the commercials are still there, and the user still sees them while fast-forwarding through.

    Not on some of the newer VCRs, Replay TV, and I’m pretty sure Tivo.

    What the ripping software does is EDIT the original content

    As does every “ad blocker” browser program out there. Are you arging that they are illegal as well?


  27. Nope, the author would be me. My posts are those signed with my own name, but I guess this is a reason why I should sign up for an account. =/

    Cheers,
    Mikkel Schubert

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