No, I'm Not Happy About Being Ripped Off

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I checked into Facebook last night to find that one of my most popular cartoons – the one where Tom preaches the Church of Doctor Who – was making the rounds again.  Facebook told me, “Ten of your friends have shared this link!”  I got tagged six times from people going, “Ha ha, Ferrett, this is making the rounds again, aren’t you happy?”
No, I am not happy.
Because the site you’re linking to is not my site.
Some asshole stole the hard work that Roni and I did, without asking, and put it on his site where it could fuel his ad revenue.  If I hadn’t insisted to Roni that all our strips have the URL as part of the image, there’d be no way of tracking it back to us, the creators.
And as of now, not a one of the people who shared this or tagged me seemed to think there was anything wrong with this.
I am by no means the first creator who this has happened to, nor will I be the last.  And certainly many webcomics creators have had it far worse – I have a day job, whereas for many of them the comic is their income, and when someone steals their artwork to fuel their traffic, that means they’ve lost both fans and ad revenue and possibly merch revenue.
But the problem is you.
Fuckin’ seriously.  The first thing you should ask when you see a funny image on the web is, “Is there an identifying mark?  Did this belong to someone before this schmuck stole it?  Is this a site that routinely grabs other people’s works without accrediting them, and am I encouraging the success of assholes at the expense of the people who actually created this wonderful thing?”
Because let’s be honest: all these content stealers thrive because 99% of the Internet treats art like it’s leaves that fell out of the trees, just some interchangeable amusement to be picked up and put anywhere else.  Art isn’t “an artist’s way of earning a living” – it’s just some random amusement, hey, who cares who made it, it’s funny!  I’mma post it to my blog.  I don’t care who did it, that doesn’t matter, the Internet doesn’t care.  You know that book you spent two years of your life working on?  I think it should be, oh, $0.99, and if it’s not I’ll just pirate it because you don’t deserve any better.
Yet when you shit on artists – and let us be strictly factual here, you not caring where something you liked was made or who’s earning from it is shitting on the artist – you basically tell them, “Hey, you know all that effort you put into creating things?  You don’t deserve to be rewarded for that.  Stop doing that, because nobody cares what you want.”  And so some of them listen to you, and go away.
Look.  I don’t pay for movies and books and music because I like paying for movies and books and music.  I pay for movies and books and music because I want to tell directors and actors and writers and musicians and producers who made all of this stuff I fucking love, “Hey, that?  You deserve to be paid for this beauty.  You should make as much of it as you can, and I’m going to do what I can to help you in this.”
And seriously, if you’re not with us, you’re against us.
And hey, not every artist in the world minds being having their stuff pirated.  Neil Gaiman doesn’t.  Neither does Randall Munroe, creator of XKCD.  And that is awesome.  If that’s what they want, then please, go forth and do it.  But the truth is, you’re probably not actually checking in with the artist to say, “Hey, do they mind this?”, you’re just saying, “No, fuck all the artists, I don’t care where it came from or who benefits, it’s not my job to think,” and then you should shut your fucking hole if you ever wonder why that guy you loved isn’t doing this any more.  Because there’s a good chance he’s not doing it in part because he had bills to pay and a job to get to, and you decided that his continued artistic lifestyle wasn’t your problem.
The point is that as consumers, you should value the artist who did something funny, even if it’s a one-off comic strip you found pasted into some forum thread.  That guy and/or girl (or in our case, and/or both) worked hard to make something for your enjoyment.  Take a second to trace the original image, link to the site it really came from, and decide that the scumbucket who’s riding on the back of a thousand artists who he is quite literally robbing of both credit and possible revenue is not worth mentioning.
Hey.  If the dude had said, “Can I post this?” I would have said yes in a heartbeat.  I’m not really making money off of Home on the Strange any more, and I don’t mind sharing.  But he didn’t ask, and nobody thought to ask him “Say, why is this on your site when it clearly has someone else’s URL listed on the bottom?  Why is the image link in this site to your site?” and as such that dude’s probably gotten a ton of hits and inbound links that he doesn’t deserve – not just from me, but all the other people who he’s treated like they were free candies in a Halloween bowl.
It doesn’t take much.  If there’s a URL embedded in the image, find the original page that was on and link to it.  If not, do another quick Google search for a phrase in that funny comic to see if it turns up the creator, and link to them.  Funnel traffic towards the people who made it, not the assholes who stole it.
I can’t stop you.  But if you’re encouraging this stuff by just blindly linking whenever something’s funny, you are contributing to a culture that treats artists like they don’t matter.  And I’m not gonna be proud of you if you do.
(EDIT: Some friends of mine have told me that they tagged me to ensure that I was aware that my content was possibly being used without my knowledge, and to inform the people who were linking just who this belonged to.  Go, friends.  Sorry if I was snappy to you.)
(EDIT TO THE EDIT: Roni has a different take, which is entirely fair. The principle remains the same: I’m willing to bet nobody checked in with her to see whether it was cool first.)

1 Comment

  1. kelly ness
    Nov 7, 2013

    Hey Ferrett, I read this post of yours this morning. This afternoon I randomly saw this link on facebook. I checked, and Geeks Are Sexy did link to you. You probably already know this, but I didn’t see it here, so I thought I’d let you know just in case.

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