Rippin' And Scrappin'
March 16, 2004 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Tivo for Webcomics? Found by way of Comixpedia, this Sun-Times article finds shareware that rips comic files off the web to be something of a God-send. As a web-comic creator, I have no problem with my readers writing personal scripts that pull the .pngs from my front page. But when the rippers begin asking for money for their app that distributes someone else's content (without asking the creators' permission), it seems as though somewhere, there are some enormous balls just a'swingin' in the breeze.
posted by wigu (29 comments total)
Awesome. Was just thinking the other day of writing a program like this, except I don't know how to program in anything except QBasic.

Now I can download all my fave comic strips and view them at my leisure. Penny Arcade, Achewood, Wig--HEY!!!
posted by Hildago at 8:02 PM on March 16, 2004

What I would suggest would be to adopt measures similar to hard from Sexylosers (splitting the comic strip up into a collection of randomly-shaped, named, and sized jpgs that will display correctly in a webbrowser but will confuse most collection utilities, employ various means to keep the entire page the comic is on from being direct-linked, etc) right up until the people making this app agree to also put in code that at the very least fools your advertisers into thinking their banners got displayed. This is also unethical - but stealing from companies with enough money to buy advertising is a lot less problematic ethically than stealing from lone webcomic artists.
posted by Ryvar at 8:06 PM on March 16, 2004

Argh. More headaches. Naturally, I'm biased, but this isn't like the users of these apps are stealing from large corporations here. These are, for the most part, struggling artists, many of whom (such as myself) make their livings (or desperately try to) from advertising, merchandise sales, and the like. Apps like this will kill free webcomics dead before they even get a chance to be recognized as a legitimate medium.

That they're charging for their crummy program is just insulting.
posted by toothgnip at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2004

The article also suggests a free alternative. This is what I'm using. It sounds like it just pulls images off the remote servers and combines them into an html file on your machine. Does this circumvent the ethical issues?

It's also written by the guy who wrote Renamer, which also deserves a plug.
posted by Hildago at 8:22 PM on March 16, 2004

Hildago: it really doesn't circumvent the ethical issues because the webcomic artists aren't making any money - if you just pull the image files the ad banners never register a hit and the artist doesn't get paid. Hence my advice for wigu to play hardball until comic-tastic agrees to retool in order to trigger ad banners into thinking they've been displayed.
posted by Ryvar at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2004

if people keep ripping comics off of websites without the context that makes them pay for themselves, cartoonists are going to either have to (a) quit giving stuff away or (b) waste a lot of precious time and energy fighting off scrapers.

either way, this hurts the readers more than anyone.
posted by clango at 8:39 PM on March 16, 2004

I should make it known that my comic (Wigu) does not run paid ads, so I'm not concerned about that. What disturbs me is being "syndicated" without permission or profit, when the "syndicator" stands to profit from our independent efforts.

Any promotion our readers provide helps us, and is infinitely appreciated. But when someone else begins to profit from our labors, it's weird. When money is involved, comic-making, like sex, becomes kind of awkward and loveless.

Also, like Clango said, it hurts the readers by not being in the "know" in terms of context. Sometimes we post links that expound on the subject matter of the current comic, and promote our merchandising efforts which serve (in my personal case) to cradle the occasional Benjamin in our clammy, scab-covered, socially inept arms.

What is Metafilter the new Dumbrella blog?!?
posted by wigu at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2004

it seems as though somewhere, there are some enormous balls just a'swingin' in the breeze - Hahaha, man, that brought a tear to my eye
posted by cmicali at 9:00 PM on March 16, 2004

Hahaha, man, that brought a tear to my eye

And to think, if all you had was some software that pulled links to FPPs, you would have never secreted that ocular fluid.
posted by wigu at 9:09 PM on March 16, 2004

Nice link and topic, wigu. Thank you.

I for one am not interested - as yet - in these programs. Like you said, you miss out on context and other things.

Besides, the last thing I need is the ability to read a hundred strips a day. It's much easier to choose and use in moderation without such an evil utility automagically delivering an endless stream of crack rocks. But hey, don't let me stop anyone. Scarf away. :)
posted by loquacious at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2004

I'm a bit torn over the issue. Being on a 56k on a shared phone line limits the amount of time I can be online, so I'll admit to using Wget to grab the full archives of a few comics I like. I still try to visit the sites on a constant basis, and I'm the type of person that will pay to support a comic. (Even being incredibly poor, I have a signed copy of the first Megatokyo collection, a few random webcomic posters, etc.)

If there was a way to paypal $5-$10 for a zip containing the entire archive of comics and news, I (among others) would likely take advantage of it.

But yeah, site rippers that charge money are pretty damn unethical. I second the Sexylosers approach that Ryvar mentioned.
posted by Darke at 9:22 PM on March 16, 2004

three things:

- i know the comictastic guy and i know he's not writing this app to hurt anybody. he's just a big comics fan.

- an app that checked for comics updates and directed them to your browser would ROCK.

- this site is now known as DumbFilter.
posted by clango at 9:37 PM on March 16, 2004

Maybe I'm a DumbFilter member, but I really don't see how this is 'stealing' any more than using a popup-blocker is.

Why don't you ask the Comictastic guy to add a frame underneath the comic frame that shows the comic's homepage?
posted by Jairus at 9:55 PM on March 16, 2004

...or perhaps, work out some agreed-upon metadata for messages to Comictastic users? I mean, these people love comics enough to write/download software so they can read your comic ALL THE TIME. They're your fans, work with them.
posted by Jairus at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2004

Wasn't there a strip aggregator service once? If not, is some kind of service like that something you comics creators would be into? Something that would work like the funny pages in the paper, gathering the current day's comic from a variety of sites (but not the archives) with the author's permission and cooperation?
posted by RylandDotNet at 10:24 PM on March 16, 2004

I am now communicating with the Comictastic creator. I am hoping we will come to a solution that supports us all! Thank you all for sharing your opinions on this matter.
posted by wigu at 10:30 PM on March 16, 2004

Great, that's the way to do it. I hope you guys find a tweak that makes everyone happy.

uh, whats going on with this trackback below?
posted by dabitch at 12:15 AM on March 17, 2004

an app that checked for comics updates and directed them to your browser would ROCK

It's not an application which runs local to one's own machine, but provides a webcomic update list. I found it in the referrer log of my webcomic.

It provides links to the sites of those comics which have updated, thus neatly sidestepping the question of serving content without the ads which go with it.

I suspect that if "scraping" becomes extremely widespread, there will be an escalating war of technologies, such as we see going on between spammers and antispam software.
posted by jkilg at 12:29 AM on March 17, 2004

funny, i never realized that it was so hard to read a strip from its original website.

EGAD! all that pointing and clicking!

or am i just the only person that only reads 6 or 7 comics on a daily basis? are the rest of you reading ~100, as to necessitate the coding of a PROGRAM?
posted by sunexplodes at 1:49 AM on March 17, 2004

One option would be to embrace syndication and offer RSS/Atom feeds. That way you have some control over what's being served up at least.

I'm sure most people most web nerds right now would rather just add a feed to their current aggregator rather than run a whole other program.
posted by frenetic at 3:55 AM on March 17, 2004

funny, i never realized that it was so hard to read a strip from its original website.

EGAD! all that pointing and clicking!

funny, I never realized it was so hard to wash clothes by rubbing them on a rock beside a stream. EGAD! All that rubbing and scrubbing! People who use washing machines are so lazy!

I read about 15 web comics more or less daily (a few of those are weekly or bi-weekly or just whenever). Some people read more, some fewer. I don't personally mind clicking on each website in turn every day, but if there was a way I could get all those comics on one site, without screwing the authors, I certainly would use it.
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:17 AM on March 17, 2004

Goats (my comic strip) offers an RSS feed for specifically the sort of aggregation thing people are suggesting here. The benefit to our approach is that we're able to include news posts in our feed, so readers can be aware of contextual posts and new merchandise, and can link over to our site from there to help support us.

If Comictastic used these feeds, it would be providing an additional service from its users and simultaneously helping the webcomics it includes.
posted by toothgnip at 5:23 AM on March 17, 2004

I am unsure here. You aren't really suggesting to a group of people (geeks) who have just spend years coming up with a rationalization for building vast networks of P2P software primarily for the purpose of pirating music and movies that they feel bad about downloading a web comic?

C'mon now. Didn't you know we have re-defined "fair use" to mean downloading anything we wouldn't have purchased anyway and convinced ourselves that by pirating an album we are actually helping advertise it? Hell, some of the Geek icons don't even think copyright is a valid concept.

I wouldn't expect to get very far trying to tell them to pay attention to such things as intellectual property or copyrights now.

Remember, they aren't really stealing from you, their helping advertise your comic :)
posted by soulhuntre at 8:37 AM on March 17, 2004

an app that checked for comics updates and directed them to your browser would ROCK

If you use Mozilla, you already have that app. Go into "manage bookmarks" (ctrl-b), right-click on one to get the properties, and tell it to alert you - or automatically open the page - when it's updated. Very simple, very easy. Or just do what I do, and bookmark a set of tabs with all the good stuff in it. Pop 'em open, go get a cup of coffee, and by the time you get back, it's all good.

As for the comic-ripper, I like the idea as a lazy nerd, but it does sort of suck for the authors. It'd be nice if it could run off an RSS feed or something that could include ad links, or links to the comic's store or something, so our favorite funny guys could still make a buck. (On preview, like toothgnip says.) Or maybe he should just distribute a sister app with that one that just hits their ad links a bunch of times. Alls I know is that if it weren't for web comics, I'd be shirtless like Quincy about half the time.

Now, where's that coffee...
posted by majcher at 8:53 AM on March 17, 2004

Scrapers are stupid for personal use anyway. Get firefox. Load all your fave comics into a bookmark folder on your toolbar. Program one of your mouse buttons to 'open folder in tabs'. Love life.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:57 AM on March 17, 2004

Why the hell is it that people consider such apps to be anything new or important? I don't get it. The TIVOization of web-based comics has been going on for a long time.

I have a custom friends group on LiveJournal called "comics", which creates a single page of the latest comics available on the web via RSS syndication... and there are a *LOT* of them already out there. Chances are that all your favorite web comics already have syndicated feeds, many of which have been scraped by various fans -- there are dozens of apps and homebrewed tools which do scraping.

This, of course, is not a phenomena limited to just LiveJournal. You can use other RSS readers to read them too, and create custom lists of comics in those apps as well. That said, if you want to locate syndicated comic feeds, looking at the list of LiveJournal's most popular syndicated feeds and copying links associated with the icon for the comics you are interested in will get you reading comics online in no time.

And did I mention that you can download a reader of your choice and start reading comics right away for free? How hard is that?!
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:34 AM on March 17, 2004

Preach on soulhuntre and insomnia_lj!
posted by mikhail at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2004

Tapestry: A series of RSS feeds for online comics. Brings Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, Penny Arcade, PvP, User Friendly...etc. etc. etc to your aggregator. No links, no text, just the strip. Not affiliated, just love the service.
posted by mnology at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2004

"Preach on soulhuntre and insomnia_lj!"

Just to be clear, it's not as if I am advocating the wholesale scraping of comic strips on the web. That said, it's technologically as much a reality as linking (or image linking) and ultimately no more (or less) legal.

People think little or nothing about copying and pasting content from other sites into their blogs... so *I'm* supposed to check every RSS feed I read to see whether it is authorized or not, in order to protect comic artists (as opposed to writers) from the possibility that they may not approve of such a usage, when they're the ones who put their content on the internet in the first place? Really, it shows a certain naivety and an ignorance of the medium.

I don't think that TiVO or Napster is an accurate comparison, frankly. You don't see musicians who publically release mp3s of their work on the web complaining about fans sharing or linking to the file in question, do you?

What comic strip artists should do (and what I have been encouraging them to do for over three years now...) is create their own RSS feeds, which link back to their site/merchandise, or which facilitates donations. Not creating such feeds only encourages others to create them themselves.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:36 AM on March 17, 2004

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