After a discussion last week with several of my cartoonist peers (and at the behest of Steve Bissette): I want to talk about image theft and uncredited content on social media. I’m only going to speak from personal experience (and only about the one image posted above) but I hope that this example will show the disservice this causes to any artist whose artwork is edited and reposted without credit.
[Disclaimer: I post all my work online for free. I want people to read, enjoy, and share my work. I have no problem with people reposting my work if it’s credited and unaltered. (That way new readers can find their way to my site to read more.) My problem is when people edit out the URL and copyright information to repost the images as their own for fun or profit.]
Below, I’ve listed the sites where my comic was posted and how many times it was viewed on / shared from each of those sites. (The following list was composed from the first ten pages of Google.) Let’s take a look at the life of this comic over the last 11 months.
On January 23 (2013) I posted the comic on my journal comic website, Intentionally Left Blank, and on my corresponding art Tumblr (where it currently has 5,442 notes). The same day, it was posted (intact, with the original URL and copyright) to Reddit. (There, credited, it has received 50,535 views.)
The Reddit post alone was exciting but on January 24, someone posted an edited version of the image (with the URL and copyright removed) to 9GAG. That uncredited posting has been voted on 29,629 times and shared on Facebook 22,517 times. That uncredited image caught on and spread like wildfire:
January 25: LOLchamp (39 comments. Views unknown.)
January 26: WeHeartIt. (With the 9GAG ad at the bottom. Views unknown.)
January 26: Random Overload (2 Facebook likes. Views unknown).
January 26: CatMoji (41 reactions. Views unknown.)
January 26: The Meta Picture (1,800+ Facebook likes. 6,000+ Pintrest shares)
February 5: damnLOL. (929 Facebook shares. Views unknown.)
February 7: LOLhappens. (1,400+ Facebook shares.)
February ?: LOLmaze (121 shares)
February ?: LOLzbook (37 likes and 37 shares).
On March 25, I was lucky and this comic was featured in a Buzzfeed post “36 Illustrated Truths About Cats.” The comic was featured alongside work by a 35 other artists who I admire and aspire to be. (Exciting!)
Buzzfeed was able to trace the uncredited image back to me and listed a source link to my main website but still posted the uncredited version of the image. The post currently has 6,000+ Facebook shares, 14,000+ Facebook likes, and 727 Tweets. Ever the optimist, I’ll count those numbers in the “credited views” column.
The problem with Buzzfeed posting the uncredited image and only listing the source underneath was: people began to save their favourite comics from the article and repost them in their personal blogs without credit. (13, 3, and 60 Facebook likes, respectfully.) I’m mentioning this not to target Buzzfeed or the individuals reposting, but to show the importance of leaving the credits in the original image.
March 30: FunnyStuff247. (47,588 views.)
March 31: LOLcoaster. (1 Facebook like. Views unknown.)
April 5: ROFLzone. (1,200+ Facebook shares. Views unknown.)
April 26: LOLwall. (70 Facebook likes. Views unknown.)
July 23: The uncredited image was chopped into four smaller pieces and posted on the Tumblr of TheAmericanKid, where he sourced it to FunnyStuff247. (124,786 notes and featured in #Animals on Tumblr.)
Aug 21: Eng-Jokes.com. (87,818 views and 41,400+ Facebook shares.)
There were 14 other sites which listed uncredited versions of the image within the first 10 pages of Google, but they were personal blogs so I’m not going to include them here.
One additional website I haven’t mentioned was Cheezburger, who originally posted the uncredited version of comic on January 23; but later modified it to the credited image after I contacted them. They didn’t contact me when they made the change but the image currently has 2,912 votes and 4,700 Facebook shares. Let’s be optimistic and count those as credited views and shares.
That brings us up to the current views and shares of the comic. Now let’s do some math.
I’ve removed the comments and reactions (because they could already be accounted for in views). I’ve left in votes, however, because some sites list votes instead of views.
Taking into consideration that Tumblr notes are made up of both likes and reblogs, let’s be conservative and say the Tumblr notes are twice as high as they should be. (That every single person that has viewed the image on Tumblr has liked the image and reblogged it.) Dividing the Tumblr notes in half, that leaves us with:
Posts using the credited image:
2,721 Tumblr notes
0 Pintrest shares
14,000 Facebook likes
10,700 Facebook shares
Posts using the uncredited image:
62,393 Tumblr notes
6,000 Pintrest shares
2,085 Facebook likes
347,984 Facebook shares
Adding those up and treating them all like views (assuming that every shared post was viewed once):
The original (unaltered, credited/sourced) version of the comic has been viewed 81,595 times.
The edited, uncredited/unsourced version of the comic has been viewed 588,310 times. (That’s over half a million views. Seven times more than the original, credited version.)
What does that mean for me as a creator? On the positive side, I created something that people found relatable and enjoyable. I succeeded at that thing I try to do. But, given the lack of credit, it also means that 88% of 669,905 people that read this comic had no chance of finding their way back to my website.
This was a successful comic. I want to be able to call this exposure a success. But those numbers are heartbreaking.
Morally, just the idea of taking someone’s work and removing the URL and copyright info to repost it is reprehensible. You are cutting the creator out of the creation. But worse yet, sites like 9GAG are profiting off the uncredited images that they’re posting.
9GAG is currently ranked #299 in the world according to Alexa rankings. As of April of this year, their estimated net worth was around $9.8 million, generating nearly $13,415 every day in ad revenue.
As a creator of content that they use on their site: I see none of that. And I have no chance of seeing any kind of revenue since readers can’t find their way back to my site from an uncredited image.
I don’t want to sound bitter. The money isn’t the point. But this is a thing that’s happening. This isn’t just happening to me. It’s actively happening to the greater art community as a whole. (Especially the comics community. Recent artists effected by altered artwork/theft off the top of my head: Liz Prince, Luke Healy, Nation of Amanda, Melanie Gillman, etc.) Our work is being stolen and profited off of. Right this second.
I do my best to see the positive in these events but the very least I can do as a creator is stand up in this small moment and say “This is mine. I made this.”
Something need to be done by the community as a whole: by the readers as well as the creators. We need to start crediting our content/sources and reporting those who don’t. Sites like 9GAG need to be held accountable for their theft of work. If you see something that’s stolen: say something to the original poster, report the post, or contact the creator of the artwork.
If you have an image you’d like to post but don’t know the source: reverse Google image search it. Figure out where it came from before you post. If you like it enough to share it, it means there’s probably more where that came from.
Last weekend I was a panelist at OryCon in Portland—an awesome city which, alas, in this Seattle-ite induces mass transit envy and massive donut envy. But I’m not here to talk of sweet, sweet donuts. I want to discuss something even better: the concept of WIBBOW.
More than one author I met at OryCon swore by this handy acronym. It stands for, “Would I Be Better Off Writing?” and it’s already serving me too as a golden perspective tool. It’s even inspiring me to keep this blog entry short and to the point! (Well, for me.)
So, here are the three types of situations in an author’s daily life I figure where WIBBOW applies:
1. Money. Ask yourself WIBBOW before forking over your hard earned cash. To write and publish you need: a working computer and internet connection, a basic (cheap or free) website, a competent copy editor/proofreader, and a professional looking book cover. Everything else is to some degree a luxury. I’m not saying it won’t help to hire a fab developmental editor, or buy a gorgeous custom website, or contract a skilled publicist—it may help a great deal! But then, it may not. And it’s not strictly necessary, so, if it would bust your budget and cause you any stress, well… YBBOW.
2. Energy. (Especially extrovert energy if you’re an introvert.) Ask yourself WIBBOW before embarking on authorial travel adventures. Before agreeing to a multi-city book tour, a school visit, a signing, a keynote, a radio interview. Such events are seen as opportunities for an author, and sometimes they are. But ask yourself also, What’s it going to take out of you? How long would it take you to recover from the depleting effects of this wonderful “opportunity?” Even if it is good for your career, is it as good as spending those three days at the keyboard would be?
3. Time. Ask yourself WIBBOW before opening an internet browser. Kidding, but not really. As we writers know, anything can be a clever time-wasting strategy to prevent you from working, but at the top are social media, web browsing, blogging, and of course “networking,” “marketing,” and “research” which together cover all possible human activities. (Shrinking Violet Promotions offers an exhausting list of marketing activities, and they wisely recommend you choose just a few—the ones that you’re most comfortable with.)
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether something is worthwhile for you unless you’ve tried it a time for two, like taking a writing class or commissioning an Audiobook on ACX. In those cases I encourage you to experiment if your intuition is pulling you in that direction. But take note of how much time you spend and rate for yourself whether it was valuable enough to repeat or worth skipping.
All this is not to say don’t spend time, money, or energy on anything writing-related that isn’t writing itself. Just assume YBBOW in 90% of cases. If you can’t figure out which 10% will be surefire moneymakers—and most of the time you can’t—pick the ones that sound most fun to you as life experiences. For example, I will always treasure the memory of reading and signing at Books of Wonder in New York. Overall it cost me money, time, and energy, but it was worth it for the glorious mini-vacation with my husband and the chance to explore an amazing city and connect with other authors. Bottom line: some forms of value aren’t expressed in the bottom line.
If you’re an author, you’ve probably heard the story term “pinch point.” But what does it mean?And more importantly, what’s it good for?
In this post I’ll show you a neat little trick with pinch points—namely, how to mislead readers with it.
According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, a pinch point is where the reader directly experiences the power of the antagonistic force. (For example, how ruthless the serial killer is, how much damage that hurricane can cause, or how much of a challenge the character’s personal demons pose.) Got that?
Now let’s talk about placement. Brooks states that two pinch points must occur in every healthy story, at very specific points. In the diagram below, for example, those points would be almost EXACTLY between the Climax of Act One and the Midpoint (pinch one) and almost EXACTLY between the Midpoint and Climax of Act Two (pinch two):
That all makes sense to me instinctively, and probably to you if you’ve read and watched as many stories as I think you have. This means that on a subconscious level we are trained to expect pinch points… when we get to those places in the story, we know we are going to get a scene in which the bad guy reveals his badness.
Now here’s the trick. In any story with a false antagonist and/or secret surprise bad guy, you need to make your reader believe your false antagonist is the real one, while at the same time foreshadowing the true antagonist. So how can you achieve this?
So here’s what I did in my outline: I planned for two consecutive scenes to occur at each of the two scheduled pinch point times, making four scenes in all. In each pair of scenes, one will feature my false antagonist while the other features my real antagonist.
Throughout the rest of the story, the reader’s knowledge is filtered through the protag—who is biased against the false antag. Either because they have a history, or he’s damned by association, or she hates him, or she has baggage around what he symbolizes, or any number of fair reasons. The real antagonist either isn’t on her radar, or she’s in denial, or she doesn’t feel it as a primal threat… again, the reasons vary… but in the pinch point scenes it’s crystal clear to the reader that real antag is a formidable foe indeed. Done right, this should induce a nagging, worrying itch in the reader’s subconscious.
As a reader, I appreciate this kind of psych-out but I often see through it because the pinch points make it obvious who to watch out for. I think with this trick, combined with misdirection from your unreliable protag, your big reveal is more likely to be shocking AND satisfying.
Since a goose can mean a teasing prod or pinch on the butt, I decided to call this psuedo pinch point a goose point.
So, this Tumblr was once called “I am a huge nerd.”
As of today it’s called, simply, “phoebewriter.”
Why? I got tired of that old, self-deprecating joke and everything it implies. I still have a geek streak a mile wide (and I’m proud of it!). But, it’s not the only key to who I am. It’s not something I feel makes me stand out, particularly, either. Also, lately my interests have shifted. And so it felt, I don’t know, inauthentic to keep it as some sort of cornerstone in my bio.
Update: I realize that as inconsequential as this change is, it may be controversial in its own small way. In fact, I lost a follower immediately after posting this. But that’s ok too.
Feels good to change something that no longer feels quite right and replace it with something that does.
My friends’ dog Vanya is so damn keeeyute! This picture cries out for LOLification.
Well, Mom’s in London again for a couple of weeks. In honour of that, here I am basking in the sun. The sun, it is warm and makes me sleepy.