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.