Is Being Ripped Off Really a Form of Flattery?

Don't Steal This!Update: Michel the owner of the site in question has posted a response in the comments below, and sent both Mike and me a private response. I have to say it takes a lot to own up to something, especially in a public forum, and I really respect that. I’ll be contacting Michel directly to work out the details, but I’m glad this all worked out amicably.

I actually had another post all ready to go for today, when I saw this.

Interesting, ain’t it?

Seems that some enterprising individual decided to take a bunch of strips that Mike Vizdos and I do for Implementing Scrum, and some of my work from here, and make it their own. With ads. No attribution, so linkbacks.

Of course the first reaction is…

But you know what?

There’s something I tell my creative clients, colleagues, and friends about life on the interwebs — something I knew from the beginning — if you put your work online, be prepared to have it stolen. Watermarks and other garbage won’t stop it.

That’s just the nature of the beast, and it’s just too damn easy to do.

Does that make it right? No.

I just realized a long time ago that I’m better off making money from various entrepreneurial ventures and projects, and make the art thing be for fun.

The interwebs are filled with this kind of thing, but it could be much, much worse.

It’s flattering in a way, since no one copies crappy work.

Hugh MacLeod had a similar perspective when Michael O’Connor Clarke pointed out that his work was being copied (allegedly):

I’m just guessing some kid came across my work randomly one day, thought it looked like fun, and decided to have a go himself. I did the same with my favorite cartoonists, when I was young. Whatever.

At least the guy taking our stuff is doing a pretty decent job of it. If you’re going to have your girlfriend stolen, at least you hope the guy’s good-looking, right? I am interested in hearing his (or her) side of the story. I’m also asking kindly via this post for credit and a linkback.

The first thing I’m going to do is something I’d been planning to do for a long time and just never got around to it. It’s to explicitly state that the work here is under a Creative Commons License. I get asked all the time to use stuff, and some just do it (with credit and linkback, of course). So now it’s clear.

Now, when it comes to readers I am lucky enough to have a group of creative, sharp-minded business folks, with a sprinkling of lawyers (based on email and feedback). So to you I pose the question:

What do you think and what would you do?

Categorized as News


  1. I’ll take a few lines from the movie Road House:

    Patrick: “Just be nice.”

    Bouncer: “But, how do we know when NOT to be nice?”

    Patrick: “I’ll let you know.”

    In other words, ask nicely for some credit. If that doesn’t work, go Road House on him.


  2. Tony, should we call in the “Iowa Blogga Nostra”? I’m thinking copyright attorney Brett Trout might have some interesting thoughts to share… I’m also pretty sure with your network of blogging fans, your “flatterer” is bound to get some interesting comments on “his” cartoons. Hey it’s flattering, but it’s still a rip-off, and it sucks. ~ Janet

  3. The following is not legal advice, contact your attorney for specific legal advice taking into account all of the facts.

    Whew, looks like I got here just in time. Janet told me there was someone in copyright trouble. Sorry I did not have time to slip into my SuperCopyright Man outfit, but rest assured, I am a copyright attorney (would anyone ever lie about such a thing?).

    I appreciate what you are saying about flattery, but this is pure theft of intellectual property. Blog scrapers are the worst of the worst. Even though this appears to be a manual version of blog scraping (Click my link for more on blog scraping) and it appears they have vainly attempted to couch their theft as fair use commentary, this is not fair use. This is copyright infringement.

    So where is the harm? Well, first there is the harm to you. They are generating revenue from the fruits of your labor. Even if you do not see a drop in revenue now, what if things really take off for you? Are you going to care when you are trying to syndicate and all of the potential buyers balk because the subscribers can get it for free from this guy? What are you going to do when the infringer says “Well even if it was an infringement, they knew about it and let it happen. Based upon that, I dumped $20,000 more into my project and they are now estopped from trying to get me to cease infringing”?

    Moreover, how are you going to tell the next ten people who steal your stuff to stop? They are going to point to this post as Exhibit “A” stating that you gave them an implied license to do whatever they wanted with your stuff. They will argue that since they invested in reliance upon that license, you can not retract it. See what you get from trying to be a nice guy? It happens all of the time.

    So on the one hand it is bad for you and will only get worse. On the other hand, it is bad for all of us other bloggers when artists like you accept this as how blogs should be treated. It makes it tougher for me to stop people from stealing my content. Well, not really because I am a 6’4″ 250 pound, over-caffeinated (can you tell), cage-fighting overly agitated attorney, but for most other bloggers it is a problem.

    What we make is valuable. At the very least we should have some say in how it is used. You absolutely need to stop this guy. How? I would opt for a copyright registration and a cease and desist letter, rather than a flood of complaints. The first costs him money, while the second makes him money. The flood of complaints will just start a don’t-throw-me-in-the-briar-patch colloquy. With the cease and desist letter, we might try to post it on his blog to try to garner interest, but the cost of defending a federal copyright lawsuit will tire him very quickly.

    While you might not think about bringing out the big guns on a gnat, it is much better than waiting for the 800lb gorilla for a couple reasons. First, you will have all of your ducks already in a row. Second, is the 800lb gorilla more likely to steal from the guy who tells everyone he backs down to a gnat? Or is he more likely to steal from the guy that needs a brass scraper to peel that gnat off his windshield after hitting him so hard?

    If you do a good job here, who knows, I am still looking for a 38 Regular to fill out the Creative Commons Boy outfit.


  4. Tony – It’s bad form to take someone else’s work without attribution. But on the other hand, I think you’re taking exactly the right approach.

    Just a thought, but you may even be able to leverage the amount of times your artwork is stolen to aid in syndication, if that’s your goal.

    If your goal is, instead, to spread your philosophy far and wide, then mission accomplished. I’ve been lurking here for awhile, and I love your stuff.

  5. First off, thanks for the plug! It’s nice to be thought of whenever plagiarism and scraping arises. That is, so long as I am thought of as part of the solution.

    From what I’ve seen, this doesn’t appear to be a typical spam blogger. They don’t seem to be taking anything via the RSS feed and seem to be doing it by hand. With that in mind, I doubt they own too many of these blogs. The labor requirements are just too high.

    Still, you need to take a moment and decide what your main concern is, that they are making money from your work, which they are doing through Adsense, or that they are merely copying your content.

    If the previous is the main concern, contact Google Adsense via their Adsense DMCA instructions and get their account there cut. You’ll have to send a fax or a snail mail letter, but it is worthwhile in my experience.

    Then, follow the link previous commenters gave you to the Blogger DMCA policy and get the hosting removed, if Google doesn’t do it on its own. Once that’s done, one can rest comfortable they aren’t going to gain anything from their theft.

    In regards to the larger issue of content theft and flattery, there are two elements here to delve into. A) Scrapers are looking for content and don’t judge much on quality so automated scraping is not much commentary on quality at all. However, this seems to be more manual in nature so, yes, there is some high praise here. At least someone liked your work. B) However, they are not a fan by any stretch. A fan would support you and work to help you grow as an artist. They would not try to detract from that.

    You need fans, not people who like your work but don’t give a hill of beans about you. There’s a world of difference between those two kinds of readers.

    If you anger him, you’re not losing a fan, just someone that is impressed by your work.

    Just my thoughts. Hope that this helps!

  6. Shane – That exchange is classic. My favorite part:

    Steve: What if somebody calls my mama a whore?
    Dalton: Is she?

    Janet – Thanks for the support, and calling in reinforcements 😉

    Brett – Great advice. You make some terrific points and I appreciate you stopping by to help out. I’ll keep you posted.

    Doug – That’s looking like our next move.

    Cam – That’s a good point. I don’t really mind the use, or mashups for that matter. But the non-commercial and attribution parts are non-negotiable.

    Jonathan – Thanks for dropping by and the advice. We’re considering both Adsense and Blogger DMCA options. I appreciate the thoughts.

  7. Every comment I have read here in regards to copyright infringement and Plagarism is right on the money.

    This coming from the same guy that blatently ripped off the cartoons is saying a lot (I hope)

    Please, to all, know this. The intent was not to discredit mr. Vizdos or Mr Clark, nor was it for monetary gain, but rather to entertain a small group of people all involved in the same project, whose daily tasks have become mondane and where the project manager (Scrum Master) is without doubt a strange fish.

    The fact that I didn’t post Links and gave any credits is that most people on the project are exposed to Implementing scrum when these cartoons are used in our monthly sprint reviews and therefore everyone exposed to these is well aware where they came from.

    Does this make it right ?

    After seeing this I realise it isn ‘t.

    Therefore I would like to publicly apologize to both parties involved as well as apologize to the many readers that enjoy both and

    Michel (Aka Dr. D. Funct Srum.)

  8. Well I’ve seen some great legal advice in the comments. I’m wondering how people discover that they are being copied. In this case the cartoons might not even show up in an internet search. Anyone know about some programs that scan the net for you?

  9. I hope that my info is worth stealing,lol. I’m not sure what I would do. Probably nothing. The internet is soooo huge, to compete on that level is silly.But from your side of it, I would probably be P.Oed.

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