This is going to bother me and stop me from sleeping, so let me get this out here.

I recently ran into another site scraping my comic out of my RSS feed, and hot-linking it straight off my server. Yes, the site in question was linking my site and had some fine print suggesting that users should go check the individual sites out. But it was also still illegal.

First up, a quick recap on copyright law: Anything published is automatically copyright to the creator, unless the create waives or transfers those rights. There's different levels of copyright protection, but if I put something on my site, it's copyrighted until I specifically say it is not.

Now, as a webcomic, I tend to work pretty loose with my copyrights. If a site links me, re-posts the image on its own server, and is nice about it, I'll usually let it stand. But I retain my copyrights to make exceptions to this selectively. 9gag is an example of what not to do - they were watermarking my comics, so I revoked their ability to use my work.

Now, a scraper site isn't always bad. But this one did two things to annoy me. First, it used my bandwidth. And second, it scraped away my blog post. When people read my comic, I want them to do it in one of two ways - either coming to my site, commenting and adding to my advertising numbers, or through my RSS feed. The RSS feed sends it directly to a reader of their choice, and those readers tend to be very, very loyal. Because they're following faithfully and reading my blog posts, I don't care that there's about 5,000 readers of my comic not getting counted for ads.

But a scraper site gives a reader that near-RSS experience, but with loyalty to THEIR site and not mine. I am selfish about this loyalty, because this loyalty is what pays my bills. So yes, I do not like people building up a fanbase off of my work.

In this particular instance, the scraper had an opt-out clause. Between that and his logic that he wasn't making any money, he claimed that what he was doing wasn't illegal.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: What he is doing is illegal.

You can not steal something, then give it away and claim that what you're doing is legal. He took a product of mine - the comic and blog post, which was protected by copyright. He did not ask permission. That alone is a copyright violation. The fact that he also stole bandwidth from me was an extra slap in the face (although to be fair, the bandwidth in question cost less than a cent, so I will not be pressing charges).

And I do want to say, I get it that there are fans out there that are honestly trying to help. So here's some key tips on how to:
1 - Ask permission. Opt-In is always legal. Opt-Out is almost always not.
2 - Have your own server. If your site actually becomes a thing, don't be a dick taking bandwidth.
3 - Offer more of a service than just re-posting someone else's work. Offer a ranking service, or reviews. Just The First Frame is brilliant this way in that it only offers a peek into what the comic is like.

And one final caveat - I know there is such a thing as personal websites, where fans create an HTML page to track their favorite comics instead of using 50 bookmarks. I really don't have a problem with those, as they normally click on the links and go to the specific sites.

OK, that's all for now. Old Dern needs to sleep a bit.
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