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Rachel Dukes tracks unaccredited cartoon theft

Shaenon Garrity has a great article in The Comics Journal about the recent experience of Rachel Dukes, whose cartoon went viral through various social media sites. The disturbing thing was how many times her signature and URL were scrubbed from the cartoon before being posted.

With a little detective work, Dukes determined that the strip first went viral when, on the same day she posted it to her website and Tumblr account, it got shared (with attribution) on the megaforum Reddit. The next day, it was posted to an image-sharing site called 9GAG with Dukes?s URL and copyright removed. From Reddit and 9GAG, the two versions of the strip?one with attribution, one without?spread throughout the Internet. A few months later, BuzzFeed, one of the major hub sites for links and images throughout the Internet, posted the uncredited version of the strip with Dukes?s URL printed underneath. Unfortunately, this meant that most people who reposted the strip from BuzzFeed did so without bothering to give it any attribution.

Using Google Image Search to track as many appearances of her strip as possible, Dukes estimates that the version of her strip with her name attached has been viewed 81,595 times. Nice numbers?but the uncredited version has had over half a million views. The credited version has had 10,700 Facebook shares; the uncredited version has had a staggering 347,984. The credited version hasn?t made it onto Pinterest at all, while the uncredited version has been shared 6,000 times.

There’s a lot to think about. Watermarks are ugly and the consensus I hear is cartoonists would rather not use them, but given the rampant and often belligerent disregard for creator’s rights, maybe some sort of watermark is in order. Unfortunately the internet isn’t going to police this issue itself.

Community Comments

#1 Nathan Rackley
December/13/2013
@ 2:37 pm

It’s one of the most frustrating things about posting your comics online. On the one hand, you have an opportunity to share your work with thousands of people. On the other hand, you want to make sure you get credit for your work.

What surprises me is the number of people that bother to scrub your information off of an image. I’ve caught a couple of people doing the same to some of my works, but never on such a scale.

There are a few types of watermarks you can do. Visual ones (that you see), metadata tags (file properties stuff like author), and digital watermarks which are like hidden tags that can only be seen if you have an unwatermarked copy of the picture. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

N

#2 Tom Richmond
December/14/2013
@ 2:12 pm

This is why the Orphan Works Act is such a bad idea. It only takes one person to remove copyright info and post and image, then plausible deniability comes into play.

#3 Gerry Mooney
December/14/2013
@ 3:48 pm

I feel for her but I must say the way she adds her credit and url make it easy to remove, a good 3/4 of an inch below and well outside the image area. She should get smarter about putting her info embedded or inside the image area. I’m sympathetic but she should think about this.

#4 Terry LaBan
December/18/2013
@ 8:49 am

Why on earth doesn’t she just sign it and put her URL in the corner of the last panel? It’s unlikely that people would remove a signature that’s part of the art.

#5 Jeff Pert
December/18/2013
@ 2:07 pm

I’ve had stuff pirated that featured my name and copyright info in the art. People wanna steal, they gonna steal.

#6 Brian Fairrington
December/18/2013
@ 2:50 pm

I am curious as to the motivation here. Is this a case where her name and URL simply got cropped out along the way of it being reposted? Or did someone take the time to deliberately open up her image in Photoshop and remove/erase it. And if so then why? Was someone trying to pass it off as their own work? I guess I don’t know why someone would go to the effort to remove this info if there is not some perceived gain for them.

I also agree that you need to take steps to place your info in the image so that it is harder to accidently crop out.

#7 Mike Peterson
December/19/2013
@ 3:52 am

I’ve seen comics reposted with the last quarter inch cropped off to remove the signature even if it was part of the artwork. I guess the trick is to add the signature and copyright notice diagonally across the entire piece.

She sounds like the sort of person who would lock her car in a parking lot but then fail to remove the spark plugs and left rear wheel before going into a store. Her own fault if it’s not there when she comes back.

#8 Terry LaBan
December/19/2013
@ 9:41 am

@Jeff Pert
The issue isn’t whether the cartoon gets reprinted without anyone paying for it, which is impossible to prevent and not necessarily a bad thing anyhow, but whether her credit is on it. Of course, anyone can get rid of an embedded signature and URL with Photoshop, but I’m guessing not many would bother. As it is, the way she’s set it up greatly increases the chance that her credits will be expunged.

#9 Tony Montano
December/28/2013
@ 4:50 am

Perhaps she could have put her name and/or web-add.
on the hand towel, panels 3 and 4 and/or on the bowl
next to the rice one or the one in ‘her’ hand, etc,.

Then again…I guess someone with PC know how could
probably remove or cover up a name, etc, …?

Cool comic by Rachel Dukes.

Tony
What The Art!

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