The 21st century has provided writers, artists, and other creators with a multitude of platforms for sharing their work. Unfortunately, the systems that have made it easier for creators to share their work also make it easier for other people to abuse it. While copyright infringement is not always a case of outright plagiarism, it is important to be familiar with the process of contacting and crediting creators who choose to share their work online.
The importance of properly obtaining permission was recently demonstrated by Comikka, a comic aggregation site and reading platform. The owners of Comikka spoke to several creators at a convention to obtain permission to put pages of their comics on the site. However, they failed to get this in writing at the time, or to follow up over the phone or through email.
The situation came to our attention through the following tweets from comics creator Em Huff.
So http://t.co/OkoiZztLvp is hosting webcomic creators' work without their prior consent?? I see Cucumber Quest, Solstoria, what on earth
— Em |•̀⌔•́) (@strigiformes) March 20, 2015
@dechanique @comikka1 not only is this illegal to do without written consent, it's extremely bad form
— Em |•̀⌔•́) (@strigiformes) March 20, 2015
While a couple creators did come out and confirm that Comikka had obtained their approval before posting their comics, several artists stated that they were not contacted until after their comics were already on the site. When contacted for further comment, Dechanique provided us with the email she received from Comikka:
According to Dechanique, this was the first time Comikka had contacted her since they approached her at Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) in May 2014:
“If they did indeed speak with me at TCAF and I ‘showed interest’ in publishing on their mobile platform, that was almost a year ago, and [I] did five conventions last year, where I had many, many conversation. It’s ridiculous to expect that an artist would recall a particular conversation ten months ago that had zero follow up between then and suddenly two entire chapters of my comic were posted on their website as a ‘demo.'”
The two chapters of La Macchina Bellica that were posted consisted of almost sixty pages. It is also unclear how Comikka accessed these pages, as Dechanique’s comic has been off her site for edits since January.
Comikka has thus far defended their actions, stating that their intention was to provide a demonstration for creators, so they could “see how their stuff looks.”
They have since removed the twenty or so “demos” from their site, and posted an apology for using artists’ work without their knowledge. They are adamant that they made no profit off these comics, however some artists reported ads on their website, and because they failed to obtain permission and provided no attribution to the creators, it is still copyright infringement.
After speaking with them, it is clear that the creators of Comikka did not intend any harm, but I’m having trouble understanding how a group of creators who have had their own work stolen in the past can justify these kind of practices. If your service is truly as beneficial to independent artists as you claim, then you shouldn’t have to use shady business practices to manipulate artists into hearing your business pitch.
Unfortnately in situations like these, ignorance can be as harmful as malice. From Em Huff: “…their responses to creators’ emails show some serious lack of understanding as to why folks were upset in the first place. If they truly empathized with comics creators’ goals, they would realize that hosting someone’s hard work on an external website without their express written consent is both an egregious breach of trust and a terrible business practice; on top of being extremely illegal.”
If you’re interested in using someone else’s work for profit or promotion, Dechanique also has some pointers: “me showing interest at a con does not mean what they think it means. It’s proper form to send a follow up email, and get a contract in writing (either a full signed contract or email consent), before work goes live on a website, and certainly if they were wanting to make a demo, it should have been locked and unavailable to the public, and most definitely not work that is unavailable on the creator’s site.”
When in doubt: always get in touch, always credit.
And always remember: posting an artist’s work without their knowledge isn’t a marketing strategy, it’s theft.