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Open Soapbox: Comictastic: 'tastic or not so 'tastic?

I'm getting tired. It seems I've been reading discussions on the whole Comictastic thing for ... three or .. maybe 5 .. or 6 hours now. (link, link, link, link) It's silly. No, Comictastic and similar programs are not a "distribution system", they are NOT "redistributing" your comics - your web server is doing the distributing. Comictastic and similar programs don't even do "deep linking" which has been found illegal in at least one US court case. Comictastic and programs like them are simply specialized web browsers doing something that I have done manually in the past; requesting only the image of the comic from the web server because of bandwidth concerns.

Most of the people in these discussions seem to either be A) comics creators who haven't had a whiff of dial-up in years and B) people who have never created/hosted webcomics and don't know anything about what goes on behind the scenes.

Since I AM a comics creator, and I AM on dial-up, and I have just downloaded and taken a look at the Mac-based Comictastic (yes, it is a Mac program causing all this hub-bub), I feel I have more perspective than many of the people who have been commenting.

See, for me, whereas when I had high-speed internet access I read as many as 100 different web comics every time they updated, on dial-up I can't conceive of reading more than 5 or 6 with any regularity. It just takes too long. A couple of comics I've dropped from my reading list specifically because of what I refer personally to as "detritus" on their pages. Every navigation element is an image, their background is a huge image, more images in the form of "top 100" link buttons, "comic webring" buttons and ads (ads are usually not the largest of the 'detritus' files), plus clunky or bloated HTML code, and by the time my browser gets to trying to load the comic itself, it often times out and I have to try again. This is ridiculous.

This is also why every basic page on my site, Modern Evil, (save for author-modified blogs) has only 40k of HTML and images (combined) beyond whatever content that particular page is offering. The entire layout, the navigation bar at the top, the links to sections, the links forward and back through archives, the copyright notice at the bottom, the stylesheet, it's all about 40k total. So when I upload a 100k comic, you only have to dl 140k to see it. And when I upload a poem, you only have to dl 41k to read it. Which even on my dial-up modem is a second or two, and on high-speed should load in a flash. Personally, I'm not worried about people choosing something like Comictastic to download the "meat" from my site because it's too time-consuming to actually visit.

But I don't even read the "free" comics on Modern Tales sites ... it takes too long, last time I looked. I don't read some comics I very much enjoyed ... their web pages are not optimized for the 60% of internet users who are still using dial-up. It's silly.

I'll be taking a careful look over the next week or so, to see if browsing comics with Comictastic makes my comics-browsing faster... perhaps fast enough to start looking at more than a few comics every day. By not downloading the 'detritus' on the web pages, perhaps my experience can be enhanced. At the same time, with comics like Penny Arcade, I know I'll want to go to the page anyway; the 'news' posts are at least as entertaining as the comics, if not moreso. Reading that is like reading a blog I like. And I use an aggregator for most of those, too; I built it into Modern Evil.

My point on bandwidth is that for a lot of us, it's at a premium. We want to read online comics, but it takes too long. Cut your 'detritus' size down to something manageable (How about we say 100k? Your website should not take longer to load than the comic it's based around.) and we'll keep looking at your web pages. Keep your web pages unmanageably slow to load and we'll look for alternative ways to browse your comics, or stop reading them altogether.

Now, on the subject of losing the ad-revenue from readers:

I have been running Modern Evil since 1999. I have paid not less than about $300/year just for hosting and domain registration to maintain the site. Though traffic has been traditionally fairly low, I still had hosting costs to cover. I've been paying these costs out of pocket and doing everything I could to bring in revenue; offering merchandise, putting ads on the site, and now trying to sell content directly through BitPass. In four and a half years of operation I can honestly say that I have not made even $100 between all income sources, accumulated over the entire run of the site. Not inlcuding the value of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of hard work I have put into the site over the years (not to mention into all the comics I've put there), I've personally paid at least 13 times as much out as has come in. Running a website, a comic website, a blog, a community site, whatever, is not even a break-even prospect for me. Or for most, I expect.

The last time I heard a statistic on it, I heard there were around 30,000 online comics out there. I doubt more than 1% of them are break-even or better. This is reasonable, considering popularity follows a power law. But is also means that around 29,700 online comics creators out there are in my position or worse, putting their time and their money and their sweat and tears into creating and running an online comic and the website it is hosted on, and never making a buck.

I just got my biggest check ever for ad revenues from Modern Evil, from Google AdSense. It was for all the clicks for all of 2003. It was under $14. I just don't get the traffic to make ads cover bandwidth or hosting costs. Which is why you don't see ads on most Modern Evil pages; thy never worked when I had them on every page, and I don't like them. But hey, $14. Maybe I'll put some more Google Adsense ads around this year. See if I can't get to $20.

But even though I don't make money, even though it costs me money to run the site, I don't expect to stop running it any time soon. I don't think I'll stop putting comics up when I draw them. I don't think I'll stop posting stories and poetry and whatever else. I don't think I'll stop hosting other people's stuff, either (I host three or four other people's comics, plus a dozen people's blogs), just because I'm losing money. I may, eventually, if the costs sky-rocket out of control (say, if traffic jumps from 1k people/day to 50k or 200k people/day), put more content behind a BitPass wall, but there'll always be "free" content on Modern Evil that I pay for out of my own pocket. Like those other 29,700 independent comics creators out there, I'm doing it because I'm passionate about it and I want it out there, available for people, not because I think I'll get rich.

So here's my point on ad revenue being lost when people browse comics with Comictastic and similar products; for 99% or more of online comics we're just increasing readership (which is why we have our comics online in the first place), we're not worried about the pennies we might have received if they'd viewed our comic next to an ad. We're just glad people are reading our comics. We're glad to see someone likes what we're creating. And with the site and merchandising linking built into Comictastic, if people want to see the site or want to help out financially, they're going to anyway, even if they prefer reading our comics in a specialized browser.

Personally, I'm struggling so much with my finances this year that I can't afford to spend more than a few dollars here and there, through a BitPass account I put money in before I had so much trouble. I'm not going to be buying merchandise or paying for comics subscriptions (or even registering Comictastic) until my personal financial situation turns around. Of course, before I have enough money to try to support my favorite online comics I'll pay for satellite broadband and likely start reading a lot more online comics... so we'll see how that goes if/when it happens.

***

If you are a comic-creator:

Comictastic and other similar programs are NOT violating your rights any more than IE, Netscape, Opera, Mozilla, Safari and similar programs do.

They do not duplicate, reproduce, or redistribute your comics or any of your intellectual property any more than any other browser.

If you want to keep your readers from using programs like this, make browsing your web pages easier! Cut back on the 'detritus' and offer a low-bandwith page! 60% of all internet users are on dial-up! Not designing with us in mind is like trying to ignore that the male gender exists (or females, take your pick). Half or more is NOT a minority.

If you believe that the "context" in which your comic is delivered is just as important as the "content" of the comic, then you should be even more aware than other web-designers of the bandwidth requirements of your pages! If you claim that the non-comic "context" is important to you, make sure you treat it that way when you create it.

***

If you are a comic reader:

Be aware that no matter what comics or web sites you are visiting, every time you visit it costs the creator/host money to offer you this service.

While some creators and hosts are more than happy to go on providing you the content you enjoy at their own expense, it never hurts to help out in whatever ways you can. Whether this means purchasing merchandise (shirts, hats, books, comic-collections, &c.), donating small amounts (via Paypal or BitPass or the like), or just viewing the ads on their web-pages (which nets them fractions of a penny per view, but may make the difference for them when it comes time to pay the bandwidth bills), if you can - do your part to support the content you enjoy.

Remember that these creators are offering you their comics at no cost to you, so if a new standard is agreed upon (RSS, Comics Markup Language, whatever) and adopted widely, go with the flow - it'll be better for everyone in the long run.

***

Which brings me to perhaps my last point:

It has come up in (and mostly ended) conversations that the programmers behind Comictastic are going to be supporting RSS in the next version of their software. Conceivably, comics-creators could easily block Comictastic by adding a blank RSS file to their web server, or choose to put the entire content of their web page in every RSS item, or anything in between. This would allow comics-creators the freedom to control what appears in Comictastic when they load a comic - ads, links to merchandise, news posts - it could all appear in Comictastic.

Personally, I think this is a bad idea.

And for me, it's simply because of bandwidth. I can see that some creators would "be nice" and just put their comic and perhaps a banner ad into their RSS feed, but I can also see that some people wouldn't stop short of putting their entire bloated, detritus-filled web pages in every item of their feed. And since these bandwidth-offenders already have "not-the-best coding" in their HTML, I expect that I'll end up downloading ten copies of their bloated code every time I want to look at the latest comic. (A typical RSS feed displays ten or more of the most recent items for a blog, so if the entire code for a web page was in each item, the RSS file would be that many times larger than the original web page.) I like the idea of a browser like this specifically because of the limits on my bandwidth.

I wouldn't mind a 10k-15k ad alongside each comic, but I certainly don't see the point in using an app like this if it doesn't help save time/bandwidth. I'd switch to a competing app, refuse to update, or just go back to reading web pages and only read 5 or 6. Personally, I'd rather read more comics than fewer. And as a creator (even one who loses money on every viewer), I still prefer to have more readers than fewer.

So. That's just my two cents.

Teel McClanahan III is a guest columnist for the Comixpedia. You can check out where he puts his money where his mouth is here.

Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

It's an important issue and deserves discussion - not that we want to beat it to death but it still continues to be an area where Comixpedia readers express a lot of interest (both by reading about it and by posting comments). Teel's Open Soapbox column is his opinion on the matter and we thought it a worthwhile contribution to the ongoing discussion.

For those calling for a definite opinion it may be possible to publish a more legal-oriented article on the topic (although I suspect it would bore a lot of you to read) but it can't be what some of you are asking for because the copyright issues at stake here are not resolved. There are lawyers with very good arguments and some cases that have been decided that shed some light on some courts' thinking on the matter but the Supreme Court and Congress have not answered this very specific question in a way that would shut down any need to further discuss it.

Most copyright questions (heck most legal questions) take some time and litigation or legislation to arive at a definite answer. Any time a new distribution medium has arived it has taken time to resolve the application of copyright to it and the same is true for the digitalization of content and the Internet. It isn't just a matter of what's technically possible or what's happened before (although lawyers love making analogies between older technologies and newer technologies to convince judges and legislators of the validity of their clients' viewpoints) because the law must be applied to the new medium and technologies or new law must be written. Either way nothing is written in stone until it is (and even than it's not really). Right now, IMHO, nothing is written in stone on these matters.

Just for example, there are two new bills in Congress floating around that would significantly limit American's rights to use P2P technologies. That means Congress considering making perfectly technically feasible aspects of the Internet illegal. Wasn't that what Napster was as well - a judge deciding that perfectly technical feasible aspects of the Internet were illegal under her view of how to apply existing law to this new software (Napster)?

I myself am unsure of the legal status of non-traditional browsers. If I was making arguments that they violated copyright I would argue one of several things. One thing I would argue is that as a creator I can copyright a "page" as a single work and that I am licensing it to the world to view as it is. (Ironically I can see this theory leading to every website using a java pop-up to impose the equivalent of a shrink-wrap license agreement on every visitor, ugh!) Taking elements of that work and displaying them individually might be considered a derivative work - as the copyright holder I don't have to give you permission to do that. Arguing that html and the http protocol allows you to do it isn't really going to answer the question under copyright law. It might help the other side's argument but I find it totally unlikely that a judge would say "you can do it?, oh ok go ahead" without delving into whether s/he thinks you should be able to do it under the law.

On the other hand I am deeply persuaded by many of the idea put forth by Larry Lessig (lessig.org I think, too lazy to look up now) that copyright in this country has gotten totally out of whack. (c) has become a total monopoly for (c) holders and that is not what was intended by the Constitution - (c) was intended to be a limited monopoly - just enough incentive to creators to tip the overall balance in society to more creativity rather than less creativity. So I am troubled by any view of copyright that does allow for a healthy fair use exception.

My 4 or 5 cents on the matter.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

This software is a great idea! As it becomes harder for webcartoonists to see if they are developing audiences or not, more of them will quit in frustration and then there will be fewer strips for you to worry about browsing!

[url=http://www.acidkeg.com/][img]http://www.acidkeg.com/akbanner.gif[/img][/url]

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

Uncle Ghastly's picture

The difference is the "free" newspaper was already paid for in advance by the advertising wether you read it or not.

Comic-rippers remove our revinue model from our work. You basically steal our bandwidth without paying for it by viewing our ads.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

I suggested this in an earlier discussion on this topic and I still think it's necessary. Let's hear from people who actually KNOW the law instead of armchair lawyers, because this continued argument by speculation isn't adding anything.

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

Teel, I wasn't saying Comictastic does or does not make fair use of our works.

I just said, not every personal use you do of someone else's work is fair use. Do I need to prove this to you again?

Anyway, I'm stepping off this discussion. Have fun with your Comictastic. You'll be very welcome to read my comic the day you decide not to use it anymore.

Thanks for this discussion!
--Rodrigo Pin

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

This software is only for the mac. Does anyone know if they are planning a version for WinBlows?

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

I want to hear from someone who actually know something about this, Teel.

You've already heard from an attorney (or two). American law has just not resolved this issue.

The best analogy I can come up with is this: You see a stack of free newspapers. You take the stack, cut out the comics without ads or any indication where you got them, staple them together, and sell them cheaply, claiming the cost is to remunerate you for the staples and effort.

It's not quite a perfect analogy, because the newspaper already got paid for the ads, and the cartoonist already got paid, whereas on the web, they never will. On the web, you've actually reduced the money the artist will see. On the rippers' side of the equation, though, I think the analogy is pretty good, and reduces the question fairly well - should you get paid for cutting out parts of a product and reselling it?

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Joey Manley's picture

I'm as tired of talking about Comictastic as Teel says he is of reading about it in the first paragraph.

The issue of HTML coding for webcomics sites, particularly MT (which gets, um, special mention) is an important one, though.

Just FYI, on the next version of MT, there will be several templates for the reader to choose from, one of which, to be called "LoFi," will reduce everything on the site down to plain text, except for the actual comics. Um. But you'll have to be a subscriber to change templates permanently (non-subscribers will be able to change templates one-page-at-a-time, so they can get a sense of how it works, hopefully enticing them to subscribe for this extra functionality).

Thanks.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Joey Manley's picture

I've just published a grand theory about this whole controversy, and others like it, over on my blog -- nothing to do with copyright, though (I'm not expert), but the cultural difference between programmers and artists. In a nutshell: programmers view the user as primary -- anything that stands in the way of usability or convenience is anathema. Artists are not necessarily inclined to treat their audiences as gingerly. In fact, sometimes artists deliberately inconvenience their audiences. Anyway, full post, with more explanation, here:

http://www.joeymanley.com

I don't know how to do permalinks to the blog yet.

Just in case anybody finds my Grand Theory interesting.

One thing it doesn't do is, um, offer any solutions.

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Clint Hollingsworth's picture

In the end, the whole "comic ripper" thing is going to happen.

Just like people download music for free, people are going to rip web comics. In the end, webcartoonists have to come up with a way to make that work for themselves. Ads attached to strips, half comics (first have ripped, with a note that says "see the rest of this comic here", specialized RSS feeds, what ever.

The comic rippers are being innovative, if not concientious. The webcomic community needs to find a way to go all Aikido and use their strength for our own benefit.

Of course, being a techical illiterate, I won't be one of the innovators... :D

Clint Hollingsworth

The Wandering Ones Webcomic
http://www.wanderingones.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

First, I want to commend you on your fast-loading site. And your suggestions are valuable (I hope) to other comics-creators. And the book that Stuart linked to also seems like it may be helpful - maybe one could request it through their local library and read it for free. Offering an alternate version of the page or an alternate stylesheet is very reasonable, and yes, Joey, it may entice me to subscribe again at some point - or subscribe to Serializer (which has more comics I enjoy) if they offer the same.

I never much got interested in many print comics, but there are many, many webcomics I find I can enjoy. I want to read them, but there are only so many hours in the day to download slow pages; I'd rather spend my time downloading comics than complex pages surrounding them. I'm sure there are a lot of comics out there without a lot of 'detritus', but it seems there are more that just aren't thinking.

Oh, and re: webhosting, I haven't found a well-reviewed, stable webhost that has lasted, with a hosting plan with enough space for everything on my site and which doesn't require ads on every page that charges less than about $23/month. Dedicated servers (which would be even more stable and supported than the shared hosting I've been using) seem to start around $75/month. I got in on 1&1's 3-years-free-hosting offer, so right now (and for the next 2.6 years or so) I'm not paying anything for hosting, and only about $6/year for domain registration. If my bandwidth goes over 5Gb/month with 1&1, I pay only about $1/Gb for the overage. When my 3 years is up, depending on how much space I'm using at the time, I'll probably go with one of the plans they offer in the $19/month to $29/month range. Oh, yeah, and including everything on Modern Evil, all the blogs and all the comics archives, are a little over ... looks like 350Mb right now ... and with some recently-optimized pages I'm using around 3Gb of bandwidth/month (it used to be almost twice that).

-Teel

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

I don't understand your position.

If you're just putting your comics out there in hopes that people like them, why does it matter via what software they view them?

Let me say that another way: If you're just creating comics in the hopes that people will like them, why wouldn't you at least try to present them in a way that the readers would like?

Honestly, I don't know what, if any, comic you do, or whether your website loads fast or slow or excessively slow - I'm just trying to understand your point, and to help you to understand mine.

I think comics-creators who are creating comics for an audience (ie: anyone who posts them publicly on the web, distributes them manually in the form of mini-comics, or publishes through a major publishing house, whatever, I don't care) should at the least be aware that the way their comic is presented effects how much a reader is interested in reading it. If your comic was only available on stone tablets and I had to pay for shipping, I'd wouldn't like it - even if the comic was great, the medium ruined the experience. If you have a webcomic and I have to pay too much for its presentation with my time I probably won't like it either. The audience does matter, or you wouldn't be putting your work out there. And if the audience matters, then providing your work "the way they want" matters.

And artists already HAVE a way out of the system: If you don't want people reading your comics by downloading them from your webserver, stop putting your webcomics on a public webserver. Distribute them only to the people you want to see them via WASTE or other private network.

-Teel

Re: My Open Letter

Hey,

I just looked at your site for the first time, and while (in my personal opinion) the graphical interface on the front page leaves something to be desired (the litte images are nice, but don't seem to tell me anything about what I'm about to click on), damn if it doesn't load fast. You did a good job. Heck, you did a righteous job. Look at those comics pages; the only thing on them is the comic! Amazing! I love it!

I am bookmarking your site.

Despite the fact that I don't like our war president.

Because I don't mind having to download comics; it's all that other stuff. I personally create single comics (look at New Comic on Modern Evil) that are half a meg or more per image, and am working on some experimental stuff where the comic itself will take a while to load because they're composed of hundreds of small files. I'm trying to make them as small as possible without sacrificing my ideas and vision, which is what you're doing too. And I'm trying to present my comics in as low-bandwidth an environment as possible, which you actually beat me at.

Your site is an excellent example of how comics can be presented without 'detritus', and shows that the story, the entertainment, doesn't suffer. Thank you for your love.

-Teel

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

"Thankfully most readers don't have this "how dare the artist not give me exactly what I want exactly the way I want everytime I want it" attitude..."

It's like you're arguing against someone else. I never said your comics should be altered, just that if you care at all about the fact that there are people in the world other than yourself who read your comic (which, yes, you have just said you don't care), it is a responsible and reasonable thing to pay attention to how it is delivered.

Obviously my site has never become popular, whether I was creating a regularly-updated comic or not. And I'm doing the only thing I've tried to recommend here; I designed my web pages with the intent of having low-overhead on bandwidth. I didn't do it to try to become popular, but because whether I have 1 reader or 10 readers or 1000 readers or 100,000 readers, I want them to have the best possible experience possible. I don't want to have to wait for 200kb+ of website to load to see 150k (or less, typically) of a comic I'm interested in, and I don't want the people who come to my site to have to go through that, either.

Yes, you say you are not making your comic for anyone but yourself, not making your website for anyone but yourself. I do some of that. I don't upload it to a public webserver. If it isn't for anyone else, why in the world would you put it out there to be accessed by everyone else? If you are putting it out there to be accessed, you're deluding yourself if you think you're just doing it for yourself. If you were, no one else would ever see it. "A" is "A". "A" is not "non-A". If you're making it available to an audience, it isn't just for you.

Oh, and re: "Oh the deliscious irony of someone drawing only 3gb worth of traffic per month to his site telling those of us drawing 150+gb worth of traffic that we need to cowtow to the will of the minority using comic-rippers in order to become popular."

I never said you needed to "cowtow to the will of the minority" or anything at all about becoming popular. As far as I know there isn't a voice coming from the "comic-rippers community" you seem to be hearing, ordering you to change things to make their "comic-ripping" easier, or whining that you don't have an RSS feed. All I personally said was that if comic websites had less website and more comic, there would be no need for "specialized browsers" that automatically download less website and more comic.

And here's another thought: I don't know how much 'detritus' exactly you have on your site (though based on my experiences there I would guess it is 'heavier' than your comics), but if you're having trouble because of your popularity using up so much bandwidth, couldn't you save on bandwidth by reducing the amount every person looking at your comic has to download in addition to the comic itself? If you optimized all your non-comic images and worked to reduce the 'detritus' on every page by even as much as 50k per page, how many Gb of traffic would you save every month? Probably several times more bandwidth would be saved every month than I use total.

Oh, and in addition to reducing your bandwidth use, you'd be reducing the incentive to use specialized browsers to access your comics, and all of this would be a moot point.

***

I believe in the golden rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I don't want to access slow websites, so I make my website as fast as possible.

I know that when people aren't being treated well, they look for ways to avoid the mistreatment, to get better service. So my point, the point of what I wrote, was supposed to be that you have a choice: you can offer good "customer service" by making your websites load fast, or you can offer bad "customer service" and have people look for ways to get what they want without having to go through your "customer service reps" (ie: your slow web page). And no amount of arguing here is going to change that fact.

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

I don't see that I stated that Comictastic (or similar specialized browsers) do not "steal bandwidth" at any point. I said that it didn't "redistribute" your comic.

Heck, it doesn't even re-frame your comic in another website, which your quote refers to.

Yes, there is not a legal decision on this yet, I agree. Personally, I'm not sure lawyers or juries are capable of generating a fair, reasonable, or moral decision. But once a decision has been reached and there is a legal ruling, I'll follow it.

As far as "stealing bandwidth" goes, I'm not sure that's even possible in the way that you mean it. If you host something on a public webserver, whether you pay for the bandwidth every time someone downloads that something or not, by having it on a public webserver (ie: not behind a password or pay structure or some kind) you're making that content, and that bandwidth use, a gift to whoever uses it. Copyright doesn't factor into that part of it. And I don't understand where you draw a line and say one person downloading your gift is stealing and another is not.

Now, if my neighbor was paying for a T1 line and I tapped into it and used bandwidth they pay for without their permission to download your gift, THAT would be "stealing bandwidth". But from my neighbor, not from you.

As far as context goes, and I'm not trying to say anything about the law here, but about what makes logical sense, one's viewing a single image from a website separate from the context of the HTML that the creator intended seems like the equivalent of a quote or excerpt from any other written work. Just as I can read a single line or page in the middle of a book (ie: read someone's creation outside of its original context - not redistributing it here, just reading it in the privacy of my own home) without violating the author's copyright, it seems logical to me that the same must be true of web pages.

Yes, when you offer a gift to me (your website, your bandwidth) and I am picky and only take part of the gift instead of the entire gift as you had intended, I may be being rude and lacking in manners, but I'm not stealing. You offered it to me as a gift.

Does this make sense? I'm just trying to make my understanding more clear to you. Obviously I do not fully understand your position; I would like to. Please explain it clearly.

-Teel

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

I do believe I have now read more words on the subject of "fair use" than on all discussions of Comictastic combined. And still believe that it's fair use. Because I don't believe it's distributing anything, or making any copies. The copying and distributing is still being done by the webserver the author put the files on. But here, let me try to clarify with a couple of examples, both of which I plan to work on and release at a later date:

1) A program that is a specialized browser, but which ONLY downloads that ADVERTISEMENT images from specified websites, and none of the other content.

2) An automated script (in my case an Applescript) that, at a specified time of day goes online, opens what you consider to be a browser (ie: Safari or IE or Mozilla), goes to the web pages of each of the comics I want to read, downloads each entire page (ads and all), saves just the comic from the pages to a specified folder, and closes the browser and logs off. Then later on I can read the comics at my leisure without looking at the ads or waiting for slow pages to load.

***

Now, would you say that these technologies are "illegal" or "stealing bandwidth" or "infringing on copyrights"?

The first one works just like the "specialized browsers" that only display a certain type of image from a web server, and which you are certain are evil. Since it's just downloading your ads, the part of the site that gives you revenue, would you complain about a minority of the people who might choose to use it? Would you complain that it was violating your so-called "contextual rights"? Since they're not downloading the "content" that the ads are supposed to be supporting, are they in fact doing the opposite of the "bandwidth stealing" you keep claiming other "specialized browsers" are doing?

The other one is a lot closer to the "fair use" argument I was trying to make. The idea being that what I do in the privacy of my home with someone else's creation which I already have access to a copy of (ie: a book or magazine I have purchased, a free local newspaper I have picked up, or a web page I can or have freely downloaded from) is not protected by copyright. I'm not quoting it to someone else, I'm simply reading a quote or excerpt of it, silently, in my own mind. I'm not cutting pages out of the book or magazine or free local paper or printing out part of the web page and stapling them together and offering them to people or worse - selling them to people - and I'm not putting together a new web page on a public webserver that does the equivalent. I'm just reading, say, a single page from the book, a single column from the magazine, a single article in the paper, or a single piece of the web page. All by my lonesome. Not putting it into another context, not making copies of it, not quoting it into another work, just reading it. Out of context. To myself. In the privacy of my own home.

Are you saying that's still not a fair use? 'cause seriously, I better throw out all my books and magazines and newspapers if it isn't fair use for me to read my own copies of things the way I choose to.

Likewise, would the automated script described in 2) above be violating copyrights? It's downloading a web page you made available, saving an image that was distributed to it by your server, and I'm reading that to myself, not sharing it with anyone. I don't see where there's a problem there.

Of course, I also don't see the problem with the "specialized browser" idea.

-Teel

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

A more accurate adjustment of the analogy:

You see a stack of free newspapers. You know (because it is heavily advertised on the front cover) that an article you want to read is on page 7, but you don't want to waste your time looking through the rest of the paper. You grab one copy of the free paper and, with a dog-earing technique, find page 7, pulling it out of the paper without looking at the rest, including the big ad on page 6 that would have been in front of you had you opened the paper. You put the rest of the paper in the nearby recycling bin without opening it, and only read the article on page 7 that you wanted to read.

Now, if you want to factor in the fact that Comictastic is shareware, you could add this step: You document the above technique for looking at the newspaper's best content without opening it or seeing its ads on your website, asking only for a donation from people who use your instructions.

Which part of that was a copyright violation? Or stealing? The paper was free. The article was not re-distributed. The money was made by selling the technique for reading the article, not by selling copies of the article. I don't see the problem.

-Teel

My Open Letter

Dear 60% of internet users with a dial up modem,

I have tried my best to simplify my HTML and shrink down my image file size so you wont have to worry about growing old while waiting for my site to load.I spent many a torutured night worrying about what I can do to help your backwards and ever shrinking majority view my webcomic. But I had to draw the line somewhere considering that most of you are also using an 800 x 600 monitor as well.

I had to choose between making a comic that was artistically pleasing to me, or making a crappy three panel gag strip (involving video games in some manner) so I could satisfy your impatience. I chose the first, and if I am to be damned for it, damned I shall be.

But I pray that our war president will get reelected and he fullfills his promise of broadband in every home right after he brings peace to the middle east. If that should come to pass, I will forgive your damnation of me, and make some really big pictures (At least 40k!) so you can show off your download speeds to your pals.

Because I love you all.

Hugs and kisses,
-William Beckerson

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Considering my comic's graphics tend to be about 150K to 200K on average, and the HTML for my page is only around 4K I've got to really wonder about the validity of the "My selfish right to not suffer a minor inconvenience outweighs the rights contextual rights of the artist and the rights of the artists to be financually compensated for their bandwidth expenses" as it applies to ripping my comic.

Seems to me the pro-ripper argument simply comes down to "Me! Me! Me!".

Call it a "special browser" all you want. When you have to hack the headers to bipass our anti-hotlinking security in order to rip our comics you have to know you're going against the artist's wishes.

If people on dialup don't feel my comic is worth the effort it takes to read it, then they don't have to read it. Simple as that. Hell, back when I was on dialup I still read plenty of comics without having to resort to stealing the artist's bandwidth to do so.

Comictastic has redeamed itself by allowing the artists to either take part in the system or not as they wished. Other rippers are not so kind. If rippers are going to be propigated I'd rather see them follow the model of Comictastic where at least now the artists have some control over wether they're going to be part of this distribution method or not.

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

Uncle Ghastly's picture

As far as "stealing bandwidth" goes, I'm not sure that's even possible in the way that you mean it. If you host something on a public webserver, whether you pay for the bandwidth every time someone downloads that something or not, by having it on a public webserver (ie: not behind a password or pay structure or some kind) you're making that content, and that bandwidth use, a gift to whoever uses it.

Wrong. The bandwidth of my site is not "a gift for anyone to use". The cost of viewing the content posted on my site is the loading of an ad banner. There is software imbedded in my site that makes it so you cannot view my content outside it's page. Comictastic and other comic-rippers basically hack my site to bipass the code that prevents my graphics from being hotlinked and then hotlinks them either on another website, or inside a specially program where they are displayed with other hotlinked images (basically a website that's only run on your machine).

So it's not a matter of "it's freely available so we're just helping ourselves to your generous gift". It's a matter of them going into our site, bypassing our code, and ripping the content from our pages to display either on their own websites in the case of some comic-rippers, or inside a local program designed to display the ripped images from several comic sources at once as in the case of Comictastic.

I don't see how you can justify taking our images when our sites have to be cracked to do so.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Uncle Ghastly's picture

and with some recently-optimized pages I'm using around 3Gb of bandwidth/month

Oh the deliscious irony of someone drawing only 3gb worth of traffic per month to his site telling those of us drawing 150+gb worth of traffic that we need to cowtow to the will of the minority using comic-rippers in order to become popular.

Thankfully comic-rippers arn't the norm. Thankfully most readers have enough respect for the artists not to steal their bandwidth by ripping the comics from their sites. Thankfully most readers have enough respect for the artists not to interfere with their revinue models that allow them to deliver a comic their readers can view for "free". Thankfully most readers don't have this "how dare the artist not give me exactly what I want exactly the way I want everytime I want it" attitude that you seem to be advocating we submit ourselves to.

So a couple of readers start whining that they think our website is too much for their 14.4K modems, so we're supposed to do what? Compromise our art by reducing the size of our comic graphics (and making them almost unreadable by doing so), strip the design of our site down so it looks like the user is back in 1993 browsing with LYNX?

To me any cowtowing to the readers makes my comic dishonest. I'm not producing a comic and website for my readers to like. I'm producing the comic and website that I like. If my website strikes a sympathetic chord with others out there on the internet then great I'm glad I was able to entertain them. If not then "oh well". The internet is a big place, I'm confident they'll find something else out there they like better.

Why should your suggestion of designing our websites around the complaints of a few readers stop at just our HTML? Why not start writing and drawing our comics around the complaints of a few readers too. If a character is too offencive for someone then axe them. If a character is not exposed enough for someone then start whoring them. Cave into every little demand from the reader because god forbid you might lose a reader. Why stop at making our site design bland and boring to satisfy a few people still stuck on 14.4K modems, let's make our content bland and boring too just like the newspaper comic strips are.

My site and my comic are designed to be exactly what I want them to be. I would rather have 10 quality readers who respect me enough as an artist to respect my contextual rights than a 100000 readers who have no respect for me as an artist, steal my bandwidth, and rip my comic graphics.

I'm not making my comic to become popular. I'm not making my comic for the readers. I'm making the comic for myself. If you make a comic that is honest to you then it will be appreciated by other like-minded individuals on the internet and they will read it. It may turn out that there arn't many like-minded individuals or it may turn out that your comic resonates with a great many people, the numbers arn't important. What is important is you've created something that is true to you. What is important is you've expressed yourself with honesty. That's the essence of art.

You start cowtowing to what you think other people want to see wether in the artistry of your site design or the artistry of your content and all you're doing is promoting a lie. Who knows, you may even fool enough people to become popular but if it doesn't come from the heart, it's not art.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

I'm not exactly big on this idea of 'convenience'. Yes, there are artists who see this as a business, and may be concerned about the product they deliver to the public, but I think I speak in the name of a lot of artists when I say I just put my comics online in hopes someone might actually like them. For those of us who keep this merely as a hobby, providing content is already hard enough to start worrying about how we provide it. I think it's cruel to see a reader ripping off somebody else's work because the artist didn't provide what he wanted the way he wanted. It's like treating our work as a mere product, it's ungrateful, and unfair.

But I also point out I'm just a small fish, and most of the people who complained about Comictastic are as big as me. The big guys doesn't seem to care, and maybe it'll be a good idea to let the webcomic industry grow around comic rippers, afterall. But let's not forget the most important point the Comictastic discussion raised: artists need to be given the right to stay out of this system.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Uncle Ghastly's picture

It's like you're arguing against someone else. I never said your comics should be altered, just that if you care at all about the fact that there are people in the world other than yourself who read your comic (which, yes, you have just said you don't care), it is a responsible and reasonable thing to pay attention to how it is delivered.

No, what you have said, in essence, is "If you don't give me what I want I am justified in taking what I want from you." and that is how you justify using a comic-ripper. Damn those artists not catering to me, I'll show them.

What I'm saying is, if what I'm giving you isn't what you want, then go look somewhere else. The internet is a great big place maybe you'll find what you're after somewhere else. Just because I'm not giving you exactly what you want that doesn't justify stealing my bandwidth and disrespecting my work.

I believe in the golden rule too. I'm not ripping the comics off your site at the expense of your bandwidth and presenting them outside the context you have decided you want them distributed in, so don't do it to me and don't try to rationalize it that what you're doing is morally and ethically right.

I don't know how much 'detritus' exactly you have on your site (though based on my experiences there I would guess it is 'heavier' than your comics)

Each graphic icon is quite small and there arn't many of them. To further optimize my bandwidth usage I have built a page template for my site that is used on every page. The functional icons are arranged on one side and the central area is the content area. I get almost 800,000 pageviews a month and the average visitor reads about 10 pages each visit. By re-using the same page template it ensures that once the graphic icons have been loaded into the reader's cache from the main page the rest of the graphics serving, apart from content images is served from the reader's cache and thus is not only fast for them but saves on bandwidth for me. Yes, I could save even further bandwidth by putting up a bland, text only site ala 1993, but that's not the kind of site I want. So the entire graphics burdon on the site is limited to 16 small 3K GIF buttons and a 1K background .gif which is re-used on each page. Even for you poor saps still slogging it out on your 14.4K modems that's not to big a deal. Hell I was at my mom's this weekend viewing the site with her lowly 28.8K modem and it still loaded the page lickety-split. So I don't really see speed being a justification for ripping me off and abusing my work.

If it isn't for anyone else, why in the world would you put it out there to be accessed by everyone else? If you are putting it out there to be accessed, you're deluding yourself if you think you're just doing it for yourself. If you were, no one else would ever see it.

I put my comic online because I feel there are like-minded people who will share my sense of humour and enjoy my art as much as I enjoy making it. I'm not putting it online to become an internet celebrity (which seems to be pretty much the same as being a Canadian celebrity, everyone gets a turn eventually and the pay is shit). If people like it, great. If they don't, fine. I am not putting it up there for people to take via comic-rippers at my host's expense. So in otherwords, other than myself, the people who I am making my comic for are the people who respect me enough as an artist not to hotlink my graphics with their comic-rippers at the expense of my bandwidth.

So my point, the point of what I wrote, was supposed to be that you have a choice: you can offer good "customer service" by making your websites load fast, or you can offer bad "customer service" and have people look for ways to get what they want without having to go through your "customer service reps" (ie: your slow web page). And no amount of arguing here is going to change that fact.

I see, so your saying if something is inconvenient you're justified in taking it by any other means possible. Paying a phonebill is inconvenient. I'll just break into someone else's house and use their phone. Having to trade cash for a car is inconvenient, I'll just grab one off the lot at night when the dealership is closed. Getting shot down for sex is inconvenient. I'll just slip her some roofies and take what I want from her. It's the phonecompany/car-dealership/woman-at-the-bar's fault for not providing me with exactly the customer service I want. I'm just bypassing their "customer service reps" is all.

I'm sorry but no amount of arguing, as you put it, will convince me that "if you're not getting what you want, then just take what you want" is a morally correct attitude.

Generally I find once you explain to people how just taking what they want has negative consiquences for the person they're taking it from they'll often re-evaluate their position and come to the conclusion that just taking what they want isn't a very nice thing to do. Yes, there are always those who will say "Well screw you, my needs are more important than yours" and continue to take anyways. By and large the consequences of their actions tend to be visited upon them in the end.

Rather than trying to rationalize the violation of artist's websites and striving to make bandwidth theft socially acceptable I think it's much more valuable to educate people using comic-rippers that comic-ripping has a negative impact on the webcomic community, hurts artists, and is extremely disrespectful to those artists who do not want their comics ripped. I have faith that most people are decent folk, who do love comics and who do respect the artists and will stop using comic-rippers. Sure there will still be selfish, thoughtless people using comic-rippers but they won't be the norm and the practice won't be socially acceptable.

What I am fighting against is not so much the individual comic-ripper. What I am fighting against is attitudes such as yours that would seek to legitimize comic ripping and make violating the work of comic artists a socially accepted norm.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Incidentally, I'd like to say I'm a little disappointed at Comixpedia for publishing this column. It doesn't add anything new to the discussion (his arguments are the same as Andy Inatko's, which prompted this controversy in the first place), and he starts it with a very dangerous statement without giving any evidence of this truth.

Many artists (myself included) still think this is a copyright violation. Others do not. But all of us are acting based on speculations. We need to hear about someone who actually knows something about this.

Here's an idea: why not invite a lawyer or someone with legal experience (maybe Alexander Danner, who wrote that other column) to clear this up for us?

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

I don't plan to spend any more time on this discussion. Everything I could say has already been said.

What I argue to say is: I can't bother to learn how to set up a RSS feed for my comic, because drawing it already takes up all of my time. And I'd rather make comics than actually worry about learning RSS.

It's like Ghastly said: if my comic is too much of a burden for those on dialup (and I bet it is, with all the flash and stuff), then don't come to read it. I'll be sorry, of course, for not presenting what you were looking for. But I'd rather do something for my personal satisfaction than start worrying about what readers might like. That's what I call creative freedom.

And artists already HAVE a way out of the system: If you don't want people reading your comics by downloading them from your webserver, stop putting your webcomics on a public webserver. Distribute them only to the people you want to see them via WASTE or other private network.

Okay, now you really has made me think you shouldn't have written this column. I'm happy with publishing over the internet, as long as there are still people accessing my website to read it. Fortunately, comic-ripper users are a minority, and it's for the people who use legitimate web-browsers that I publish. The rest, I'd be sorry to tell them: "go read something else".

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

It's okay. I just feel we need an official word about this. None of us are law experts, and Teel shouldn't have stated that Comictastic does not steal badwidth without providing any evidence of his words.

While surfing the net for "copyrights on the digital age" for a college project, I came across this particular link.

Pay special attention to the words:

"First, if one directly links to content that would normally be framed elsewhere, its owners are apt to object. There is little law directly on point because the few parties involved in such disputes have settled. Still, if a linking page surrounds other's material with its own ads, cuts out another's ads or makes it appear that the linking site is the source of the linked material, trouble is likely. It is difficult to argue that otherwise implied permission to link could be reasonably expected under such circumstances."

Nonetheless, I would like to say I am, too, a big fan of Lawrence Lessig's works. I am reading his book as we speak (Free Culture), and I've licensed a number of my works under Creative Commons licenses, so people can copy my illustrations, use them on their own works without having even to credit me.

I'm all about copyright violation when it comes to creative growth. I am all about the use of my works if that will help people reaching creative maturity. But that's not the case of a comic ripper. They do not incentive creativity, and that's the whole point of Creative Commons. It's not about having our works ripped shamefully.

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

My point is quite simple, Teel:

I'm not against Comictastic anymore, because the author said he's going to make changes to meet the artists requirements. He said he'll leave anyone who doesn't wish to take part on his distribution model, and I'm groovy with that.

I do feel this may be a positive thing in the end. But only if the artists wish to take part on it.

You basically started you column saying that Comictastic does not distribute our works, and does not deep link them. But I was curious to see what makes you think it doesn't do those things. I want to hear from someone who actually know something about this, Teel. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a lawyer, I'm just operating in as much speculation as you seem to do.

The link I provided is in no way a final word on this subject. Comictastic is too much of a particular case to be explained by that general exemplification, even thought what he (seems) to do is quite close to that example. But, if you took the time to read through all the page I provided (and I certainly won't blae you for not doing so), you'll notice the author points internet has brought many special situations hard to tell if it consists in Copyright violation or not.

I do not wish to talk about bandwidth. According to that link I provided, overloading a server on purpose may consist scope for a lawsuit as well. But, I don't know balls about this, and I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'd be happy to have what Xerexes proposed: somebody to write a view on comic rippers through the grounds of the law, even if it's not going to be definitive.

Re: Too Much Coverage of Comictastic?

As far as context goes, and I'm not trying to say anything about the law here, but about what makes logical sense, one's viewing a single image from a website separate from the context of the HTML that the creator intended seems like the equivalent of a quote or excerpt from any other written work. Just as I can read a single line or page in the middle of a book (ie: read someone's creation outside of its original context - not redistributing it here, just reading it in the privacy of my own home) without violating the author's copyright, it seems logical to me that the same must be true of web pages.

Damn, man. I wish I had paid more attention to your message. Just to clearup something from the very analogy you summoned, taking a comic out of the context of its website is not the same of quoting an excerpt from a book.

Follow this link

As you can see, there are four factors that rule over the decision wether a certain use is fair or not, being Purpose, Nature, Amount and Effect.

Let's just focus on amount: artistic works, like photographs, illustrations and even comic strips are always considered as a whole. That means, if you publish a single Garfield strip on your website, you would be publishing the whole Garfield strip, in opposition to a single quote from a book. Fair use seldom allows the use of an entire piece of work.

Still, that article starts by stating that fair use is still a dark path, which I agree. But you seem to think that any personal use one does of other's work can be considered fair use, and it's the second time I have to clear this up.

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

Every navigation element is an image, their background is a huge image, more images in the form of "top 100" link buttons, "comic webring" buttons and ads (ads are usually not the largest of the 'detritus' files), plus clunky or bloated HTML code, and by the time my browser gets to trying to load the comic itself, it often times out and I have to try again. This is ridiculous.
When we coded PVComics.com, we added a "Switch to: Low Bandwidth" link to the bottom of each page. This let's people with slow connections view the site without having to download the 'detritus'. Users with fast connections can still view the site with all the graphical banners, buttons, etc.
Webcomic creators interested in keeping their sites downloading quickly should check out Andy King's book: Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization.

Stuart Robertson
stuart@pvcomics.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

It's not exactly impossible to have a graphics-intensive front page that is still small. My entire front page is only 34 Kb (104 Kb including the comic) and it uses an entirely graphical interface made up of a combination of 16 color and 256 color GIF files. It would be harder to do in colour, but not impossible, as long as the interface used a reasonably simple, restricted pallette of one or two main colours.

I am really curious why you have to pay $300 a year for hosting/domain registration for your site! I mean, that's pretty steep, especially when your site is coded so efficiently and your traffic is generally fairly low. Are you using a lot of bandwidth?

-Sam
www.samandfuzzy.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Teel McClanahan III

you also have to realize that running a webserver is not free. Places like Keenspace, we rely on ads to promote nand keep the server alive when people download the image what does keenspace get from running this server and giving programs like Comictastic thier product?

Nothing.

if you call yourself a fan of the work or an artist yourself you'll realize that if services that are supposed to be good for the community is robbing and plundering the resources that many webcomic artists need to get their stuff out for free, then what you'll have is just pay-for-viewing webcomics.

and at the end of the day, do you want to wait a few moments for a page to load or log into your comic ripper and realize your favorite comics no longer are updating.