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Dealing with content and traffic theft

Ruben Bolling, creator of Tom The Dancing Bug writes about an interesting spike in internet traffic to a couple of his cartoons in the last couple of days. The first was a tweet with link from Roger Ebert to a jpeg image (Ruben’s cartoon) – not the page (with advertising) hosted by the Village Voice. The second instance was another spike of traffic to another one of his cartoons, which unfortunately had been copied from Boing Boing (where TTDB is currently hosted) to another site which reaped the benefits of the high traffic.

So for all the activity generated, not much happened to those who had a stake in it.  The Village Voice hosted the Toy Story 3 comic, but they get nothing from traffic passing over a jpeg image.  Boingboing.net hosted the Nate comic, but they got nothing from corporatecomplianceinsights.com’s apparent theft of the comic.

This world of marketing on the internet, which I’ve only just begun to dip my toe in, is wild.  Sure, it’s fun to get all the attention, but if the name of the game is attracting traffic, it’s frustrating when you succeed in creating content that does so, but not to your sites.  Something can blow up for 24 hours, then disappear completely, often leaving its creator bewildered and unsure if there was any benefit from it whatsoever.

I post this hoping for constructive discussion on what can be done to protect one’s work. The internet is indeed a wild arena which makes content theft trivial. For those of us who derive income from creating content – how can such incidents be decreased or turned into something positive? Please no web v. print smack talk. I’m sure the incidents described by Ruben are happening to the web guys as well.

Community Comments

#1 Tony Piro
June/30/2010
@ 11:12 am

Generally it you email the webmasters of the websites in question, they are fine about taking the comic down. Sharing sites like Reddit or Stumbleupon are a little harder to control. I’ve definitely had my share of images being shared, but that’s why you should ALWAYS include your URL on everything you put on the internet.

It also helps if you have your own site. That way traffic spikes are not only great publicity, but can also be monetized with ad revenue. That’s how I make most of the income from my comic.

#2 Thom W
June/30/2010
@ 11:25 am

One thing I’ve known people to do when someone hot linked to an image on a site they had control of as soon as they discovered the hot link would change the image to something wildly inappropriate or a message saying what had happened and where the full image could be found.
tww

#3 dan reynolds
June/30/2010
@ 11:30 am

If I had a penny for every stolen piece of my work, I could stop cartooning and live off the proceeds. Of course, I don’t want to stop cartooning

#4 Gus Snarp
June/30/2010
@ 11:51 am

I’m not sure how to stop it, but people running blogs, especially someone like Ebert, who I admire and I expect would have liked to do the right thing, need to understand what the right thing is. Namely, when you link to someone’s work, you need to link to it’s full original context, the site that is making money off it and passing the money to the creator. Sometimes that takes some work to find, and I think one thing that could help is making sure your work is available online and easy to find. If the site that makes you money is the first thing that comes up in a Google search, then you’re more likely to get linked to properly.

So the Ebert’s of the world need to be educated and the content needs to be available, searchable, and preferably have a little search engine optimization going on. But that won’t solve the problem altogether, it’s just a start.

#5 Kevin Moore
June/30/2010
@ 11:57 am

I use share plug-ins on my comics, they work well with facebook, twitter, reddit, etc. And I have found significant traffic spikes as a result of others blogging about my work, even when they either hotlink or not. So long as they have a link referring back to my site, and the cartoon is properly attributed, I don’t see a problem. Visitors will want to read at least a few more cartoons, especially if the cartoon that attracted them has tags that point them to other work of a similar vein.

None of this is to say that I have reaped any financial rewards from all this. Ruben is dead on about the “bewildered and unsure” experience. I’ve had ads and other products, but monetizing remains a mystery to me.

#6 David Jones
June/30/2010
@ 12:12 pm

I got an email from my provider saying that I was about to use up my allotted traffic for the month. I called and talked to them and it was my “latest.jpg” that I have hooked up to a few sites offering a changing dose of “Just Say Cheese”. The traffic on these sites did not come close to maxing out my transfer size allotment so I just figured others are tagging it. At my stage, I am thrilled someone likes my strip enough to steal it! When I am famous, I am sure I’ll be mad… or if my provider starts charging me more…

#7 Glenn Fleishman
June/30/2010
@ 12:15 pm

Tony Piro is dead on: every illustration should have a URL, copyright, etc., in clearly readable text. Web sites that are smart can use CSS “sprites” to create a window in which that’s cropped out, but the information appears when the image is shown in isolation.

It’s also possible to have a little server-side scripting (on sites you control or that are friendly to this) that redirect external referrals to an image to the full page context in which the image appears.

Some people have firewall or scrubbing software enabled that removes referring URLs, but plenty of folks’ browsers send them.

#8 Rob Tracy
June/30/2010
@ 12:22 pm

If you are doing it right people stealing your images is what you want not what you lament. Very few folks will go through the trouble of removing copyright, website and creator attribution from a comic. So even if the traffic goes elsewhere it’s like every person who reads it get’s handed a business card with your URL on it.

Having been through a couple large spikes myself I can tell you that the befits lie in reader retention. If you keep one in a hundred from a very big spike you are doing really well and the exposure to those others will bring some of them back around later if they get exposed again.

Tony is spot on about the ad revenue but also building a regular audience with compelling, regular content is what leads to monetizing the comic. And no matter how good that one comic that got stolen is no one is going to steal every comic you produce and maintain an archive of those comics for fans to sift through. That’s where your own site comes in.

Content, people, money in that order. Cyanide and Happiness for example is probably one of the most copied comics on the web. It is routinely run on College Humor and social networking sites are riddled with profiles containing the account holders favorite strip. Yes till, most folks go to Explosm when they want to read Cyanide and Happiness. Because that’s where it lives, that’s where it’s home is and all the rest is just great exposure to bring folks to the site.

#9 Cedric Atizado
June/30/2010
@ 12:50 pm

It helps to remember that most people who copy an image rather just post a site link to one of your images is not doing so maliciously.

They just honestly like your content and didn’t realize that linking to just your image is effectively stealing your bandwidth.

So, as someone mentioned, a bit of education is needed.

To stop bandwidth leak, you can ask them to host the image themselves.

To get people looking at your site, make sure to include your URL in every image you post.

#10 Bearman Cartoons
June/30/2010
@ 2:10 pm

I actually had someone go to the trouble of removing my copyright and URL notice on my cartoons before republishing on his site.

#11 Bryan Senka
June/30/2010
@ 5:14 pm

Cartoonists are complaining about sudden increases in interest in their work? Really? They are PROMOTING you, not stealing from you.

I regularly read a couple of dozen webcomics that I was first introduced to by a comic reposted without permission in someone else’s blog or forum. The actions people like Reuben are crying out against are the only reason I even know these strips exist, let alone go to their sites 3-5 times a week.

#12 Howard Tayler
June/30/2010
@ 5:47 pm

When I first started cartooning we complained all the time about rippers, scrapers, and deep-linkers who were STEALING OUR BANDWIDTH RAWR LETS KILL THEM ALL.

These days bandwidth is cheap. All I’m losing is the ad revenue, and even that is chump change for a single day’s glut of readers.

If I notice traffic from a deep link I might take the trouble to email the webmaster or blogger in question and ask for a courtesy link under the image. I don’t watermark my images, I don’t put my name and URL in every image, and I certainly don’t worry about somebody stealing from me.

I DO worry about keeping myself focused on business priorities that matter — attending the right conventions, configuring my advertising stack correctly, and redesigning my site around faster conversion of first-time readers to fans.

Energy spent combating deep linking is wasted. Include your URL on your comics if you absolutely can’t bear not to, but then move on, and focus on stuff that matters. Yes, I do this full-time, and have the full-time help of my wife and the part-time help of a colorist, and I STILL don’t judge combat of deep links to be worth my time.

This post? Totally worth it. Five minutes well-spent.

#13 Ted Dawson
July/1/2010
@ 8:19 am

The entire Internet is practically BASED ON stealing other’s content.

The only thing we can do is keep educating the public, just like we did a few years ago. Inserting copyright info is useless on the Web. We have to add readable text to or near the image about unauthorized use. If a person doesn’t, he has nothing to complain about.

Cartoons are uniquely vulnerable because 1) folks love to find a visual image to put on their website and 2) you usually can’t just copy and post part of a cartoon like you can with an article.

The best examples of doing things the right way are here on The Daily Cartoonist and at The Comics Reporter. I try to follow their example.

The other issue is How to take advantage of an unexpected spike in traffic? That’s the Big One, alright. Maybe somebody will write a book.

#14 Garey Mckee
July/1/2010
@ 2:34 pm

Content wants to be free.

#15 Beth Cravens
July/2/2010
@ 10:21 am

I don’t really have a problem with people that link to my work. Everyone has been very gracious and polite enough to ask or link back to my site. Oddly enough my most popular drawing was on a Bud Lite Lime coaster. I had no idea that there were that many people googling “Bud Lite Lime” weird.

#16 Mike Peterson
July/2/2010
@ 10:38 am

Bud Lite Lime wants to be free.

#17 John Cole
July/2/2010
@ 11:28 am

One ought to be paid to drink Bud Lite Lime.

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