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Are your cartoons being used without permission?

I received an email from one cartoonist who found his work on the social photo and video hosting site Photo Bucket without his permission. It appears a user “lynn5150” has been uploading several cartoons (editorial, syndicated comics, gag cartoons, etc.) from a variety of sources. There is over 50 pages of cartoons and images that “lynn5150” has posted. Once the cartoon is on Photo Bucket, other users can embed the cartoon on their blog, web site or other social media sites.

My source, contacted Photo Bucket and asked them to remove his work – which they did. Based on the number of cartoons that have been uploaded, I suspect Photo Bucket ought to close down “lynn5150” and remove any media s/he uploaded. If you’re uncomfortable with your work being hosted on the site, please contact Photo Bucket. If there is a deluge of complaints, maybe Photo Bucket will take this more seriously than just removing certain cartoons.

Community Comments

#1 Aaron Taylor
June/18/2009
@ 9:37 am

Yeah, but think of the exposure!

#2 Dan Collins
June/18/2009
@ 9:43 am

People have been swiping my toons for ages and posting them on their websites and emailing them around the world. There’s not much you can do about it that will benefit you one way or the other so I have pretty much given up trying to police it. Of course a for profit use will get my attention every time.

#3 Scott Metzger
June/18/2009
@ 10:53 am

Hereâ??s a funny story on this topic.

About ten years ago, this guy in Ohio contacted me asking if I could draw some Christmas-themed cartoons for him. He described the images he wanted and I asked him what they were to be used for. His response: “I want to make custom wallpaper for my sonâ??s bedroom. He loves reindeer.” A little odd, I thought – but I negotiated a fair fee and emailed him a simple contact which he agreed to.

Did the art. He paid me. Everything was cool.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine me calls me and says, â??Did you do some cartoons for Christmas gift wrapping paper?â?

â??No.â?

â??Iâ??m looking at some gift wrap and either you drew the art for it or this guy is ripping you off.â?

Turns out the guy I drew the cartoons for was selling â??humorous holiday wrapping paperâ? – and some of the designs were my cartoons.

I emailed him immediately telling him to either sign a new contract agreeing to pay me a royalty on the wrapping paper sold or stop using my work for that purpose.

His reply was classic, something like: â??OK, Iâ??ll stop using your artwork. May I ask how you found out about this?â?

The guy had mailed a sales package to my friend â?? who is the owner a greeting card and novelty gift store.

#4 Anne Hambrock
June/18/2009
@ 11:53 am

I find Edison strips posted on other websites – and once or twice on photo bucket – all the time. As Dan said, there’s not much you can do about it. When it’s in a complimentary way like “check out this great cartoon”, I equate it with people cutting strips out of the newspaper and putting them on their office door or fridge. It makes a public statement about them and their sense of humor.

However, I did find one where the art for an Edison strip had been lifted lock stock and barrel with different words in the word balloons. THAT one got sent to King Features to deal with as it is clearly a copyright/reprint type infringement.

#5 josh shalek
June/18/2009
@ 11:56 am

Great story, Scott, although it must have been very frustrating at the time.

There are so many ways to take and use images online. I wonder how the lone cartoonist (lacking an army of lawyers) is supposed to supposed to seek out copyright violators. And yeah, there’s a big difference between someone posting your comic on their Facebook page and printing up thousands of yards of wrapping paper.

It’s weird; the idea of it frustrates me, but deep down I also couldn’t help but feel flattered.

#6 Dave Stephens
June/18/2009
@ 2:07 pm

I stopped being flattered decades ago.

Give some $%#@!! money for my time just like anybody else!

Wanna work for 10 hours on the plumbing in my house for FREE for the wonderful EXPOSURE you’ll get? No? Gee, I wonder why…

Still, every site like photobucket has tens of thousands of images they scraped off the web – that’ll never stop and can’t be policed…

#7 Pab Sungenis
June/18/2009
@ 2:38 pm

What upsets me is that nothing of mine was in their “funny cartoons” folder.

Well, that and the blatant ripoff of the S. Gross “dismembered frog” cartoon.

#8 Garey Mckee
June/18/2009
@ 2:55 pm

If your work is published online in any manner, I think it’s unrealistic to expect your work not to end up on various sites. Welcome to the internet.

#9 Mike Cope
June/18/2009
@ 3:26 pm

It’s examples like this which make me wonder, “Does the Orphan Works Act really matter?”

But then I notice all of the banner ads that Photobucket is profiting from, thanks to users like “lynn5150.”

#10 Jason Large
June/18/2009
@ 4:14 pm

Someone who uses your work without permission to make money should be shut down. A girl who reposts your obscure comic on her blog to share the joke with her friends is not your enemy.

You come off as a total pussy for stressing her name like she’s Mrs. Hitler. You had your image removed, so pretend to be a man and stop crying already.

And sleep soundly. Photobucket is not profiting from your crummy comic strip.

#11 Joe Rank
June/18/2009
@ 5:05 pm

Garey M has it. The world is the canvas now with electronic communications. Double edged sword.

Given that once anything is in print/media it does become public. People passing around YOUR cartoon, posting it on the refrigerator or bulletin board is part of the ego trip that we all look for. It’s going to happen, so why cry about it?

I take somewhat the Grateful Dead philosophy of any PR being good PR. I may be in a minority opinion on that here; but there are now over 100 of my original cartoons that pop up #1 on a google image search.

When people have the courtesy to ask me, I regularly forgo any fee if their use is non-commercial, non-profit, educational.
I go after the ones that don’t meet these criteria thru legal remedies.

#12 Shane Davis
June/18/2009
@ 5:22 pm

I don’t think Mr. Cope came off like a cat at all.

And since when do cats diss Braun anyway?

#13 Shane Davis
June/18/2009
@ 5:23 pm

Eva Braun, that is…

#14 Ted Rall
June/18/2009
@ 6:18 pm

Happens all the time. But the event that really sticks my craw concerns Comics Sans Serif–the worst font of all time. There’s even a website devoted to hating it!

In the early ’90s a small online font shop based in Florida posted a half dozen fonts that it bragged were brazenly ripped off from various cartoonists’ lettering. Among them was Comics Sans Serif–which the website said was developed from my lettering.

My syndicate fired off angry lawyer letters, and they caved. But fonts are viral and, by the time they went under, the Florida outfit had sold “my” font to Microsoft. Not only did I never receive a cent, my lettering–which I was proud of–ended up being bastardized into this total piece of dung.

The irony is, if they had asked me to develop a font for a small fee, I would have done it. But of course it wouldn’t have been crappy enough to become huge.

#15 Rick Kirkman
June/18/2009
@ 7:24 pm

We have no problem with people who basically use our cartoons for personal use or share with friends, but this person on Photobucket is posting a library of cartoons, and all those cartoons are accompanied on the page by ads. I’m sure the member receives some form of compensation for the ads, or at least Photobucket does. In that case, the more cartoons they post, the more ads they can run. That is profiting from our work, and where we draw the line.

They have a process for challenging this use, which is a pain in the @ss, but I did it. They promptly took the cartoons down (of course, without admitting any wrongdoing). I’m sure they shared in whatever ad revenue was generated, too. I notice that quite a number of Creators’ strips were taken down as well.

#16 Rick Kirkman
June/18/2009
@ 7:26 pm

BTW, thanks, Alan for posting that.

#17 Mike Cope
June/18/2009
@ 7:28 pm

@Shane Davis … I don’t think Jason in #9 was addressing me. I didn’t find any of my cartoons on the site, nor asked for any to be removed. Maybe one of my pit-bull lawyers did so on my behalf.

Meow.

#18 Garey Mckee
June/18/2009
@ 8:53 pm

Let’s just face it. It’s a free for all.

#19 Shane Davis
June/18/2009
@ 9:41 pm

@ Mike Cope,
Pretty sure he was talking about you…I actually looked at her site and a LOAD of pix were gone. I guess by him saying they had been removed he had been to her site to.

Maybe he knows her. Maybe she’s a friend. Maybe she has a cat that hates Hitler’s matrimonial partner, too.

#20 Joe Rank
June/18/2009
@ 11:17 pm

New idea: I got dib’s…
“Hitler’s Cat”

Kinda like “Krazy Kat” but more right wing extremist paranoia.
I can just haircut the wingers newest in my own style and have a hit!

#21 Shane Davis
June/19/2009
@ 4:51 am

Or, other new idea: You can have dibâ??sâ?¦â??Stalin’s Pitbullâ?

Kinda like â??Pooch Cafeâ? but more left wing extremist vitriol.
You can just haircut the lef wingers newest in my your own style and have another hit!

#22 Jeremy Nell
June/19/2009
@ 5:50 am

Funnily, it’s precisely because of the unauthorised distribution of my cartoons that got me one of the largest newspaper contracts of my career. A few of my strips were doing the (internet and email) rounds and eventually randomly landed in the inbox of, who is now, my said editor. He noticed the tiny URL in one of the panels, contacted me, and Bob’s your uncle.

Unauthorised distribution of my work?

I’m all for it.

#23 Bearman
June/19/2009
@ 6:27 am

Tom Richmond has classic stories about how other “artists” post his caricature work to draw people in to their business.

Maybe that is why on all my stuff, the contact and ownership info is now larger than the actual cartoon.

#24 Scotty A
June/19/2009
@ 8:35 am

Good luck finding anyone willing to be responsible for any of those cartoons.
Those are the kind of cartoons you find as 25th generation Xeroxed and stuck to an auto garage’s cash machine.

#25 Ben Carlsen
June/19/2009
@ 8:54 am

There are a few blogs, mine included, that post images of strips and comment on them. I don’t know about others, but all of my images come from either GoComics.com or Comics.com. I simply save them and upload them to my Blogger/Picasa albums to save loading time an direct linking problems. Is this wrong? Is it illegal? I make no money from my site. I’m simply a comic strip enthusiast who wishes to share his passion with others. I don’t think that should be stigmatized.

#26 Tony Piro
June/19/2009
@ 10:35 am

Maybe this should also be taken as a warning that it’s a good idea to put your contact info on your comic, and make sure it’s large enough that people can actually read it!

I for one post code on my site to encourage bloggers and forum members to steal my comics. It’s one of the best ways I know to gain readers.

#27 Mike Cope
June/19/2009
@ 11:13 am

@Ben Carlsen: I think your blog is a legit fan site — actually, I like the term “comic strip enthusiast” as you use :)

My only suggestion would be that you cite your source for every graphic you use (i.e., provide a URL to GoComics.com or Comics.com) and, most importantly, credit the title of the feature AND the cartoonist. I saw you used ‘The Duplex’ as a label, but not many readers pay attention to those. The URL needn’t be a direct link to the day’s feature because sites like GoComics will prevent non-subscribers from accessing old pages, so a link to the feature’s main page is probably best.

So long as you don’t add ads of any type or start posting links to any merchandise or services you’d like to sell, I think your blog is a great example of a comic strip enthusiast using examples fairly.

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for the funnies!

#28 Steve Lowtwait
June/19/2009
@ 12:05 pm

“If youâ??re uncomfortable with your work being hosted on the site, please contact Photo Bucket.”

If you’re uncomfortable with your work being hosted on any site by anyone, don’t put it on the internet. On the web, you don’t control distribution. Users control it.

#29 Ted Rall
June/19/2009
@ 12:54 pm

Even if a cartoonist were to follow your advice, Steve–and who would?–it wouldn’t prevent someone with a scanner from distributing your work in an unauthorized manner.

I have little patience for the implication that nothing can be done to control the Internet because cntrl-C and cntrl-V is so easy. A few dozen well-placed copyright lawsuits would do wonders to tame the Wild Online West.

#30 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 1:15 pm

“A few dozen well-placed copyright lawsuits would do wonders to tame the Wild Online West.”

Like this…

http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/content_display/industry/e3i6c3a49109c5609b6d1e2d8a0c47835fd

#31 Abell Smith
June/19/2009
@ 1:38 pm

I’m sorry, but that story is freakin’ insane… a 32 year-old mother of four has to pay the record labels $1.92 million after her 8 and 10 year-old kids and ex-boyfriend downloaded and shared 24 tracks on Kazaa (which comes to $80,000 per track).

Does anybody seriously think going after the little people and common web-surfer, and destroying this one woman’s life, is going to solve this problem?

#32 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 1:42 pm

“Does anybody seriously think going after the little people and common web-surfer, and destroying this one womanâ??s life, is going to solve this problem?”

Yes.

#33 Abell Smith
June/19/2009
@ 1:45 pm

Wow… that’s cold, Wiley.

#34 Randal Milholland
June/19/2009
@ 1:53 pm

“A few dozen well-placed copyright lawsuits would do wonders to tame the Wild Online West.”

And here I thought you couldn’t top the hilarity of, “Comic sans was based off my lettering.”

Lawsuits? All it will do is turn fans against you and make you look like a prick. And, as Wiley points out, the RIAA stuff isn’t doing any publicity favors to anyone. I really doubt any cartoonists want the same reputation. Just be nice, explain, and ask for removal.

Honestly, if you see someone using your stuff without permission/leeching your files, nine times out of ten a simple, “Please take that down” works well enough. If they refuse or ignore you, contacting most service providers and letting them know a user/customer is participating in copyright infringement will get the problem settled (and possibly the person booted).

I do agree you shouldn’t HAVE to shrug and say, “Oh, well. Nothing I can do about it.” It’s your work and you have every right to put your foot down. Gary Larson did a decent job of swaying fans not to scan/repost Far Side strips back in the early days of the web and, for the most part, it still works.

#35 Randal Milholland
June/19/2009
@ 1:55 pm

@31: If you really believe that, Wiley, good luck with it. I’m sure the syndicates tossing lawsuits around will do wonders for the health of the industry.

#36 Bearman
June/19/2009
@ 2:21 pm

Abell…not cold if as I have read they have offered the woman to settle all along for about $5000. I think they are still willing to settle.

#37 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 2:47 pm

“Wowâ?¦ thatâ??s cold, Wiley.”

Holding people accountable for theft is “cold”?

#38 Abell Smith
June/19/2009
@ 3:06 pm

“Holding people accountable for theft is â??coldâ??”

Cherry-picking a few poor shmucks who do stuff that millions of people do every day, and subjecting them to excessively harsh penalties to make an example of them… yeah, it’s kinda cold.

Why not focus on Kazaa? Why not go after the people who make the media players and web browsers, or Microsoft and Apple, for creating a culture that makes it so hard to protect content? Why does it have to be so damn hard to copy-protect digital files? They can make an iPod the size of a chiclet, but they can’t plug the “analog hole”?

#39 Rick Kirkman
June/19/2009
@ 3:11 pm

As far as the recent RIAA case, I think applying copyright infringement law to an illegal download is overkill. If anything, it is more akin to shoplifting. However, uploading to a site like Kazaa is an infringement. I think that’s where the trouble lies: massive illegal distribution that involves profit for someone (in this case, it must be profitable for Kazaa, or they wouldn’t be in business).

Whether it’s music or cartoons, I have no real beef with individual or private sharing on a small scale because there is little harm and possibly some gain. That’s always going to happen anyway, and we do want our works to be exposed to more people who will seek out our work and pay for it. If someone’s starting to get into a gray area, I agree, it’s usually enough to ask them to stop.

Sharing, passing along, or distributing–whatever you call it–someone else’s work for profit is not a good thing, and should be stopped when it’s discovered. I don’t want to see people making money off my work where I don’t receive anything.

#40 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 3:42 pm

@Abell- First of all, I’m not the one who raised the issue here, I simply posted an article that served as an example of what Ted was talking about to help bring about an end to theft of our work.

Secondly, I didn’t say I agreed with the ruling of the court in this case, I simply answered your question on if anyone thought this sort of legal action would help bring an end to it. If you had read the article, you would have seen that it was more than just this woman. Hundreds of cases were filed and they settled, just as this woman could have. She gambled on the courts and lost. The same tactic could be used on people who steal our work. They’d have a chance to pay for it, as they should have in the first place, or risk going to court. But along with the individuals being sued should also be the web sites that allow stolen material to be posted. Again, holding people responsible for their actions. An operator of a web site is no different than someone who operates a store. You are accountable for selling stolen material in your store, whether you knew it was stolen or not.

Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp when it comes to the web?

#41 Abell Smith
June/19/2009
@ 4:29 pm

Well, I agree with going after websites that post copyrighted material… but not arbitrarily beating on a few web-surfing individuals (“hundreds of cases” does not put a dent in the millions who share files every day).

Then again, I also think drug dealers should probably be prosecuted, but drug use and possession should be legal…

#42 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 7:05 pm

“Well, I agree with going after websites that post copyrighted materialâ?¦ but not arbitrarily beating on a few web-surfing individuals…”

Why do you assume it’s arbitrary? Regardless, it doesn’t excuse theft, which you are doing.

#43 Abell Smith
June/19/2009
@ 7:46 pm

I assume that it’s not hard to find much more egregious offenders than someone who shared 24 tracks, which are probably available on iTunes for 99 cents apiece.

Here’s an analogy: a supermarket hires a security firm, who sends them a narcoleptic security guard to stand watch. While he’s asleep, looters make out with thousands of dollars of stuff from the store. Instead of going after the security firm or the major looters, the store presses charges against a few customers who sometimes help themselves to grapes in the produce aisle.

#44 Jeff Mahon
June/19/2009
@ 8:04 pm

From Abell Smith:

“Does anybody seriously think going after the little people and common web-surfer, and destroying this one womanâ??s life, is going to solve this problem?”

Yes, it’s called “cut the head off and display it in Town Square as warning to all” tactic.

#45 Wiley Miller
June/19/2009
@ 8:09 pm

So, Abell, I take it from your analogy that you think it’s perfectly ok for people to steal property.

#46 Jeremy Nell
June/20/2009
@ 3:05 am

“So, Abell, I take it from your analogy that you think itâ??s perfectly ok for people to steal property.”

Yes.

Because I don’t consider unauthorised distribution of my work as theft.

Making money from my work, without my permission, however, is theft. But I know of no such cases. (Google ads on blogs, etc, don’t count, in my opinion.)

In my case, unauthorised distribution landed me one of the largest contracts of my career.

We need to break apart our traditional mindsets and silly purism.

#47 Oliver Knörzer
June/20/2009
@ 3:55 am

This sick judgment is just another nail in the coffin of the music industry. Ruining the lives of people for a damage worth two music CDs is absolutely unethical and will give them even more negative publicity.

I have stopped buying products distributed by the music industry long ago. The artists only get pennies of the profits anyway. Instead, most of the profit seems to be used to pay expensive lawyers for even more lawsuits.

Whoever is of the opinion that ruining the life of somebody for a first time small-scale offense is the right thing to do is morally bankrupt.

#48 Wiley Miller
June/20/2009
@ 6:13 am

“We need to break apart our traditional mindsets and silly purism.”

Which part of “copyright” don’t you understand?

#49 Bearman
June/20/2009
@ 6:25 am

Abell here is how your analogy should be. A woman shoplifts a $24 item from the store. The store catches her and agrees to allow her to make restitution. She refuses. They sue and win a large judgement.

Everyone looks at this as a big band company going after the little guy but she could have prevented it. She rolled the dice and lost.

Personally, I am all for non commercial distribution of my work. The only thing I ask in return of those who ask is they provide a link back to my site and that I can refuse if I don’t agree with the content of their site (ex using my cartoon on a racist website to make a point).

But let’s assume someone posted my stuff on a site I don’t agree with the content of or the way they do it. They aren’t making money of it and refuse to take it down. My decision to take legal action that that point is their fault..not mine.

#50 Mike Cope
June/20/2009
@ 6:31 am

“But what about the Yellow Kid?”

“What about him?”

“Wasn’t he already in public domain–free to be used? And what about all the libraries and museums? I mean, if cartoons were such cultural icons, what’s wrong with letting people share and enjoy them?” Giles couldn’t believe it … He was defending the funnies!

Well, at least the fans who’d grown to love them.

“That isn’t the same,” said Frost, pointedly. “Would you walk into someone’s house and steal their supper because you liked how it smelled? Hmm? …” (p. 49)

The Last of the Funnies

#51 Tom Wood
June/20/2009
@ 7:54 am

I doubt she rolled the dice all on her own. That was a very expensive lawsuit to defend, and I suspect that there are larger legal issues in play. The attorneys involved probably went to battle in order to create/affect some arcane legality that we’ve not been told about yet. I suspect she was selected by the defense team because her story elicits a lot of sympathy. I bet a dollar that her actual payout will be about a dollar.

#52 Anne Hambrock
June/20/2009
@ 9:19 am

There is a reason every DVD you buy comes with 10 minutes of federal warnings about copyright protection and why the video industry is working so hard to crack down on piracy. It’s one thing to rent a video and invite 20 friends to watch it with you, it’s quite another to charge your friends 5 bucks a head. Now you are profiting from the intellectual property of someone else without any contractual compensation for that intellectual property.

In the case of copying cartoons to your blog or website – as long as it is a non-commercial site, it probably falls into the “posted on your office door” category. As soon as it is a site with any advertising on it all – even if it’s measly little google ads – you are now drawing people to your site with someone else’s intellectual property and the owner of said property deserves compensation, no matter how small the dollar amount.

This is the way it SHOULD work. Is this the way it really DOES work? Of course not because, as we’ve seen on this very thread, there are millions of people (who I suspect own no intellectual property to protect – otherwise they’d be on the other side of this argument) who have no respect for copyright or intellectual property rights of any kind. Rather, they enjoy stealing and rationalize their argument with “everyone does it – that makes it OK and you can’t stop it”.

#53 Anne Hambrock
June/20/2009
@ 9:41 am

I should add that, if a micropayment system akin to itunes or paypal is ever properly instituted for other properties such as comics, and also properly embedded in all visual images on the web, the whole picture changes. All that would have to happen is that, when you click and drag any image, a dialogue box would pop up informing you that this is copyright protected material and that, by proceeding to copy it you are agreeing to have (insert amount here 5 cents, 50 cents etc) deducted from your micropayment account.

#54 Ted Rall
June/20/2009
@ 12:12 pm

Randall: I have a box full of early ’90s litigation about my troubles with Comics Sans that I’d be happy to share with you sometime. Let me know if you’re ever in New York. You buy the beers, though. Believe me, it’s nothing to brag about: that font makes my skin crawl. It sucks.

Also Randall: The key phrase was “well-placed.” I don’t think going after ordinary civilians who illegally download music is smart. That said, Wiley is right–if this keeps up, people will stop it.

Jeremy and Bearman: It’s all well and good for you not to consider unauthorized distributed of your copyrighted material to be theft. Fortunately for you, there is the Creative Commons license, which allows you to make your work widely available to everyone provided they cite you as the creator. But other copyright holders may not feel the same way and may have had bad experiences with unauthorized distribution.

Personally, I have found unauthorized distribution to be a mixed bag. On a small personal political blog, it probably does me more good than harm to have a cartoon appear. It will be seen by readers who might like my work and perhaps buy a book or something. On the other hand, widespread distribution online destroys my ability to monetize my work by having it appear in print.

Before 1995 or so, when a paper canceled my work readers often wrote them to ask that my stuff be brought back. Since then, readers write to say “hey, no biggie, I read you online now.” The pressure on the paper is gone. Like many cartoonists, more people read me than ever before. But I get paid less than ever before too.

If my goal was to be read and not paid, the Internet would rock. But I lean more toward the getting-paid side.

I agree that there are many flaws with copyright laws. Until we replace the Western capitalist system with a state economy wherein artists receive a state salary and pension as they did in the Soviet Union, however, there is literally no other way to force people to pay creators for intellectual property than copyright laws. My problem with the “information wants to be free” clowns (by the way, the expression originally referred to free of censorship, not free of payment) is that they have yet to suggest a no-copyright model that results in cartoonists, musicians, illustrators, etc. getting paid.

#55 Mike Cope
June/20/2009
@ 12:22 pm

My problem with the â??information wants to be freeâ? clowns … is that they have yet to suggest a no-copyright model that results in cartoonists, musicians, illustrators, etc. getting paid.

T-shirts, Ted … Lots and lots of t-shirts.

#56 Ted Rall
June/20/2009
@ 12:32 pm

http://rall.com/gallery2/d/690-2/3-24-08.jpg

#57 Zach Weiner
June/20/2009
@ 3:05 pm

I have ads running on my website. This is the main source of my income. I do sell some merch, but it’s only about 15% of my revenue.

So, there’s your model. Make money the same way the big papers do. Run ads and sell stuff. And the best part? It’s completely out of my hands. Ads are handled by major providers and shirts are handled by Topatoco.

I also sell prints. These too are out of my hands because I have an assistant who takes care of it.

I am a webcartoonist. Getting paid. Full time. With an assistant.

#58 Ted Rall
June/20/2009
@ 4:29 pm

(Sigh) I can’t help myself…

Zach:

1. When you say you “ads…[are] the main source of your income,” how much income are we talking about? It could be 85% of anything.

2. When you say you’re “getting paid” “full time,” do you mean you are receiving a full-time salary from your webcartoon (including ads and merch) exclusively?

3. When you say you have an assistant, is said assistant paid?

The reasons for my skepticism are:

a. I know the ad rates. No cartoon could possibly generate the unique visitor numbers to generate a full-time salary from those rates.

b. I know how hard it is to sell T-shirts and how little profit they generate.

c. People have assistants–girlfriends, etc.–who aren’t paid.

I really don’t want to start up the web vs. print thing. I just wish one webcartoonist would use specifics to talk about how it is possible to make a decent living selling ads to a comic site and associated merchandise in detail. It all sounds so Bernie Madoff to me–no one addresses how terrible the rates are.

#59 Anne Hambrock
June/20/2009
@ 4:54 pm

@ Zach this is not about you putting your own content on your site and then getting revenue. This thread is about other people putting YOUR content on THEIR site and getting the ad revenue while cutting you out of the picture. I think Alan’s original question is about fair use practices.

#60 Mike Peterson
June/20/2009
@ 5:38 pm

When I was a reporter at a paper up on the Canadian border, we’d periodically get calls from Customs inviting us up to see what they’d caught this time. And it was usually pretty amusing — like the Nigerian mule who had been held up by late flights and long lines so that all the coke in condoms that he’d swallowed … well … came out. And he didn’t want to swallow it again in its present state. So he sewed it into a toy dinosaur for his daughter and stuffed the rest into her moonboots and they got caught.

Or the car that came through with a table full of kilos of coke in the panels. My photo of that haul made the wire.

Each time, we duly reported these great stories.

But it always made me wonder how much more was getting through that they WEREN’T catching.

And I think of that when I see a story about some poor, innocent person who only downloaded a few Perry Como tunes for her dying mother ….

How many more am I not hearing about???

#61 Zach Weiner
June/20/2009
@ 6:43 pm

Happy to answer all your questions, with the caveat that I am not doing any of this to be antagonistic to anyone. I think we’re all in this boat together, and freedom of information (as much as is possible) is probably best for everyone.

@Ted:
Last month was a particularly good month for merch sales, and was responsible for about 22% of my revenue.

“Getting paid” means I draw income solely from ads and merch. Without getting too specific, next year I’ll probably get to the six figures point (before taxes).

My assistant is paid and not my girlfriend :). She gets a salary that I believe is her sole source of income, and also receives a small percentage of merchandise sales.

Regarding ad sales: I use a long ad chain, which generates a reasonably good cpm. Again, I’d prefer not to get too specific, but in my case I draw a decent revenue more on pageview numbers than on high cpms. I prefer not to discuss my traffic numbers on a forum, but you can easily look them up using project wonderful. That said, the main reason I’m making good money is NOT from large readership, but from optimizing my ad chain. It’s a pain in the ass at first, but worth it (WELL worth it) long term. I could probably go on and on about how this stuff works, but you’re welcome to email me if you have any curiosity as to my particular system.

T-shirts have indeed been a royal pain. I tried twice on my own – lost money the first time, broke even the second time. But, thanks to the expertise of Topatoco and the awesome people there, I’m finally starting to make more than beer and pizza money. I know others are better at merch design, and they make much better income by this means.

Regarding the assistant: yes, definitely not my girlfriend. I pay her because she’s worth it and because I believe in paying people for service.

I completely understand your skepticism, as I’ve had similar thoughts myself. Often you’ll hear about the great ad provider, or the huge sums of cash to be had in (insert merch item here). My success has been about gradually building revenue streams over several years, and involves nothing extravagant. I sell a reasonable amount of shirts every month and as many ads per month as possible. I also sell prints. I try to get linked on blogs, social networks, and other webcomics, as this improves my readership and increases my revenue. None of these things are outlandish. It’s just hard work, perseverance, creativity, and a little luck.

@Anne

Yes, sorry for going in a different direction, but I was responding to some comments in particular about how webcartooning business (which can sometimes seem Byzantine) works. My attitude is that people can repost my work anywhere as long as they provide credit, a linkback, and don’t make any alterations.

#62 Tony Piro
June/20/2009
@ 11:54 pm

I don’t understand this skepticism about whether one can make a full-time living from a webcomic. Given how much I make from advertising on my site, and a little simple math, it’s pretty obvious that I could make a full-time living from my webcomic if I had the traffic that Zach does with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

If you don’t know anything about putting ads on your site (and apparently, many of you don’t) I wrote up a tutorial and ad service review that you might find helpful:

http://www.calamitiesofnature.com/extras/adservicereview.php

#63 Jeremy Nell
June/21/2009
@ 2:30 am

“â??We need to break apart our traditional mindsets and silly purism.â?

Which part of â??copyrightâ? donâ??t you understand?”

Like I said….

#64 Anne Hambrock
June/21/2009
@ 6:04 am

@Tony – Very comprehensive and informative – thank you!

#65 Milt Priggee
June/21/2009
@ 7:14 am

http://www.miltpriggee.com/index.php?pid=1&sid=8&img=3159

FYI-
My first professional cartoon was used without my permission ….. I sued and won.
You can see the cartoon at the link above.

#66 Tony Piro
June/21/2009
@ 10:53 pm

@Anne – No problem! I’m in no way trying to say that this is a definitive guide to ads. But since we’re all in this mess together, we might as well try to help each other out the best we can.

#67 Jason Nocera
June/22/2009
@ 7:01 am

Several points.

First off, the RIAA sued for $208 per track. She refused. The first trial of her peers decided $9,000 per track. This new trial $80,000. This was decided by a jury not RIAA.

Secondly, yes, I think such a crazy news story does help deter downloading. It gets the story in the news and probably makes some people think twice about downloading when their neighbors are being caught and sued.

Thirdly, this isn’t about downloading one song or stealing one CD. This is file-sharing. She was sharing songs with others so others wouldn’t buy the CDs. So be sure to include that in your analogies.

Fourthly, just because the individual artists aren’t being paid well by the record labels doesn’t make stealing the answer. The problem lies when the artist negotiated the contract. That’s the artist’s fault not the record company.

Lastly, if you want to distribute your content for free, go ahead, no one’s stopping you. But don’t tell me that I should or just sit by and watch while others take my work from me.

#68 Wiley Miller
June/22/2009
@ 7:07 am

“Lastly, if you want to distribute your content for free, go ahead, no oneâ??s stopping you. But donâ??t tell me that I should or just sit by and watch while others take my work from me.”

See? Now why is this such a difficult concept to grasp? Thanks, Jason.

#69 Dan Rosandich
June/22/2009
@ 9:59 am

This is an ongoing issue as long as artists present their work online.
If you offer your work for licensing, a preventative measure, as many already know, is to display low resolution images and embed them with digital watermarks to deter unauthorized usage. However I would suggest taking an additional step, and seek out and partner with a reputable digital legal firm with whom you can promote an alliance with and who will agree to represent you in the event you become involved in any type of copyright infringement. It’s a catch 22 situation as long as there will be images and this thing called the internet.

#70 Wiley Miller
June/22/2009
@ 10:02 am

What would be cool is if someone could create a program that would make the culprit’s computer explode if the downloaded your work without authorization. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

#71 Joe Rank
June/22/2009
@ 10:50 am

“But since weâ??re all in this mess together, we might as well try to help each other out the best we can.” – Tony Piro

That’s why there is the term “collective bargaining”.
Those working and published could do all of us a favor and be more transparent in what they get compensated for, broadly, on a per item basis. They don’t have to open their tax records or their total earnings; but they could provide a template for the rest of the industry to follow. Instead, most act like secluded monks cloistered in towers with their illustrated manuscripts.

The analogy with musicians is telling. Not getting paid for product ( by the ability to steal it for free ) now effects live performance. Soon, we will see nothing but karaoke cartoonists.

#72 Dan Rosandich
June/22/2009
@ 12:30 pm

I can understand where Joe is coming from. But the pricing of cartoons varies from artist to artist. The requested uses are so varied. I’m not talking about licensing something from the standpoint of applying an image in a PowerPoint presentation….which usually hovers around $25 to $35 (at least the way I’ve negotiated), or using one in a company newsletter where I normally ask $50 for 1X non-exclusive usage rights if it’s in a company newsletter – but recently, the owner of a law firm requested my price to “license” an existing cartoon in his company e-newsletter and I quoted him $100 for the image and he requested 30 cartoons total. The key word is “varies” and when you quote a usage fee, you need to keep your mind open to who is using the cartoon(s) and in what ways. I was thinking this firm would ask me to quote a “multiple image discount”, and I forgot to take that part of it into consideration. When I look back, I figure if law firms charge $150 (or more) per hour to represent a client, they surely don’t offer you a “multiple hour discount”. Think in logical terms when you’re approached about your work.

#73 Tony Piro
June/22/2009
@ 1:36 pm

I’m not sure if my readers would agree to pay more to read my comics just because of some collective bargaining.

#74 Jason Nocera
June/23/2009
@ 6:40 am

Dan makes some excellent points about pricing. You really have to know your client and the kind of work you’re doing. Not only can price be influenced by how big your client may be, it can also be influenced by whether you think you can resell the same cartoon again. I’ve sold cartoons for lower prices than usual because I knew (from knowing the type of niche market the cartoons was suited for and type of clients out there) that I could resell the same cartoon again and again and get payment.

#75 Mike Krahulik
June/26/2009
@ 5:55 pm

“1. When you say you â??adsâ?¦[are] the main source of your income,â? how much income are we talking about? It could be 85% of anything.”

I still think it is rude to ask people how much they make. I was always taught that you don’t ask people how much they make.

“a. I know the ad rates. No cartoon could possibly generate the unique visitor numbers to generate a full-time salary from those rates.”

PA pays 10 full time employees salaries + benefits like health care. I’m not going to tell you what they make but many of them support families and live in Seattle, not a cheap place to live. My personal salary is six figures if you really must know. I am officially telling you that you don’t know what the f— you’re talking about.

“b. I know how hard it is to sell T-shirts and how little profit they generate.”

It’s only hard if you’re making sh– people don’t want to buy.

“I really donâ??t want to start up the web vs. print thing. I just wish one webcartoonist would use specifics to talk about how it is possible to make a decent living selling ads to a comic site and associated merchandise in detail. It all sounds so Bernie Madoff to meâ??no one addresses how terrible the rates are.”

PA has three major revenue streams. Ads/merch/creative services.

ads- These are handled in house and highly targeted.
merch- We have an online store and visit a handful of cons a year. We sell shirts,posters and printed collections of the comic.

creative services- We create custom comics for publishers based on their games. These are often used as pre-order bonuses or placed online to generate interest before the game ships.

I’m not kidding when I say that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Just because you do not have a property that will succeed on the web or you do not understand the various ways of making money on the web does not mean that it is impossible.

#76 Shane Davis
June/26/2009
@ 7:08 pm

“I am officially telling you that you donâ??t know what the fudge youâ??re talking about.”

Just wondering what it would sound like if Ralphie from ‘A Christmas Story’ had said that…I guess someones lugnuts got flipped in the air….

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