On: Image Alteration and Theft on Social Media

by Rachel on November 27, 2013, 12 comments

Life with/out a Cat by Rachel Dukes

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.)

Oct 2: MemeCenter. (284 Facebook likes. Views unknown.)
Oct 5: FunnyJunk. (3,327 views.)
Oct 10: LikeaLaugh. (1,486 views.)

Nov 20: Quickmeme(280,090 Facebook shares. Views unknown.)
Nov 20: JustMemes. (6 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:
2,912 votes
2,721 Tumblr notes
727 Tweets
0 Pintrest shares
14,000 Facebook likes
10,700 Facebook shares

Posts using the uncredited image:
29,629 votes
62,393 Tumblr notes
0 Tweets
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 PrinceLuke HealyNation of AmandaMelanie 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.

12 thoughts on “On: Image Alteration and Theft on Social Media

  1. Can you tell me what it means to “reverse Google image search” something? I understand the concept, but how exactly can that be done?

    I must admit I have definitely seen your cartoon above somewhere on facebook, and unfortunately I do not recall if it was credited or not. I can only imagine how horrible it must feel to see something you have created taken from you. I also can’t help but absolutely despise 9gag after reading this.

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  3. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Years ago, before Facebook existed, I wrote a column called “But I Digress” in which, in one installment, I wrote a “Disney Princesses Roundtable.” It was exactly what it sounded like: All the Disney princesses grouped around a table and talking. Six months later someone sent me an email of it, except it wasn’t just to me: It was to me and a few dozen of their friends. It was headlined, “I thought you might like this.” It was my column, minus my name or any reference to where it had first seen print. Someone had actually taken the time to transcribe the whole thing except for my name. I contacted the friend and he expressed surprise, saying, “It’s been making the rounds for months.” So I can sympathize with your frustration.

  4. As a musician, I empathise – sites like BuzzFeed are to illustrators what Napster et al have been to us. You are right – it is theft – and it will surely stifle creativity in the long run.

  5. Thank you for this. Very sobering. Is there any way you can embed your name, copyright date, and URL directly into the picture frame, so it cannot be deleted?

  6. For what it’s worth, I saw one of the uncredited ones as a reshare on FB, liked it, noticed the lack of credit, did the Google image search thing, commented back to the person who posted it with a pointer here, and then read your entire archives :).

    But I wholly understand your frustration. I was astonished when I found the original, with the URL, and upset enough that I was somewhat rude to a friend who was more-or-less innocently resharing something she thought was funny.

    On the other hand, I also brought some attention among my circle of friends to the issue. I view it somewhat like the ongoing “rape culture” discussions – simply standing by as a guy, and not commenting when I see something happening is insufficient.

    About the only workaround I can imagine is placing the URL and copyright in interstitial space, between panels or floating in a panel, much like the syndicated comics artists do. Now that I think about it, it’s obvious (and unfortunate) why they do that.

  7. It is insane to hear these kinds of stats. Whenever I post on tumblr or instagram I always credit the original artist, tag them their website etc. I was just going through old sdcc comic con stuff which brought me here but I do recall seeing people share the alive cartoon on Facebook and the original source didn’t credit it. :/

  8. This just happened to me, too! A comic of mine made it to the front pages of reddit before I stumbled across the now URL-free comic linked to a imgur site. I just don’t get the logic of why someone would go through the bother of doing that. It’s like knowing someone pick-pocketed your wallet and then threw it away without taking the money. No one wins and the creator is certainly the biggest loser.

  9. A well thought out, cogent analysis Miss Dukes. There will always be malicious hooligans in the world (many of whom gravitate to the anonymity of the net). Then there’s the rest of us who actually think we should behave decently to one another.

    I now know how to do a reverse image search, thanks to you. *grin* Keep up the good work, miss.

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  11. Those numbers really are heartbreaking. It seems like anytime I post one of my cartoons on Instagram, the next thing I know one of my Instagram friends is tagging me in the comments section of another IG users account who reposted my artwork after cropping out my signature.

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