Byron’s note: This is an editorial by Hervé St-Louis, but I felt the situation needed some attention. The opinions express are those of the author and not necessarily those here at the Webcomic Alliance..
The Case of the Stolen Web Comics: Mangaforadult.com and Copyrights Infringement
On August 3rd, 2015, the community of comic creators on the Web portal Tapastic got a rude awakening. A new for pay comic portal registered by a person in Indonesia had copied many manga-related comics and was reselling them as comic porn. Over a dozen Tapastic users’ work had been copied and repackaged without authorizations. Members of the community banded and reported the case to the American Internet service provider of Mangaforadult.com. Within hours, the site was taken down by ISP Digital Ocean.
While I felt that Digital Ocean’s reaction was slow and incredulous, they did do the right thing. The problem is that the owners of Mangaforaldult will just pop over elsewhere possibly under a new name and start their operations again. Fraudsters like Mangaforadult are not new. They are probably very common and their existence is a threat to Web comics and the way many creators choose to offer comics to the world.
First, it is quite likely that Mangaforadult just vacuumed the comics from an existing Web comic portal like Tapastic or even from Ink Blazer who no longer operates. Scripts to swallow the contents of a Web site are common. The practice of swallowing up contents on a site with automated robot is what legitimate search engines like Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo rely on to feature results in their Web searches.
Sites like Tapastic may prevent individual users from bulk copying images and comics, but these measures rarely deter professional thieves. Yet, the real risk and problems are not perpetrated by the overzealous fan who copies images of a comic and uses them as backgrounds for her desktop, phone or tablet.
The problem is worse than just a few manga comics sold as porn. Whatever comic were stolen from Tapastic or Ink Blazer, also included the non-manga material hosted there. There is no way of knowing what was stolen, how often, and if it was resold as a new comic, or part of an anthology in shady comics markets in Indonesia or Malaysia. There is just no way of knowing.
All cartoonists can do is attempt to deter copyrights infringements. Part of the solution has to do with the comic itself. The other part has to do with the Web platform used. Finally, one has to realize that infringement has to do with practices that affect more than a few copiers in Indonesia. Many Western-based comic fans also infringe on comics all the time, thinking that it’s fair game.
First, Web comic creators must be able to claim their exclusive copyrights to the material that they own. I’ve been criticized a lot for putting the Johnny Bullet logo on every one of my strips at Tapastic. I was told that it was redundant, that people get the point already. They are reading Johnny Bullet. The main part of my motivation for this practice was inspiration from classic newspaper comic strips that strongly influence the aesthetics of the comic. But there is also an understanding that as a weekly comic, individual strips have to stand on their own. Each strip includes my copyright and my name. Copiers can erase them, but will probably not go through that trouble. Legally, I’ve covered myself a bit, and clearly claim my ownership over my work.
Creators must choose carefully the platforms where their work is displayed. The support team at Tapastic was quick to respond to their users and promised to investigate the security of their servers and if they were used to feed Mangaforadult. Currently, I display Johnny Bullet on six different Web comics portal. One of them seems to be laisser-faire in terms of security and feedback. My qualitative assessment of their security and how much they really bring in terms of new Johnny Bullet readers has made me questioned my presence on their site. I’ll remove my comics from there ASAP. If a Web comic portal is buggy, doesn’t seem to respond to users, and is more work than the readers it brings, it might be an opportunity to cut your risks and dump them. Your comic doesn’t need to be on every Web comic portal.
When posting Johnny Bullet on third-party platform, I always post strips smaller in size than the one at Johnny Bullet’s home at ComicBookBin. If my work is copied without my authorization, based on the size of the pages, I can easily tell where it was stolen from. Another trick is to leave small marks on your artwork when used in third –party portals that clearly identify where the comics was taken from. Chances are thieves will attack Web comic platforms first if they need many comics, as opposed to individual sites.
They’ll also attack people using popular non-comics platforms such as WordPress and Tumblr. Why? Well, each has plug ins for Web comics. But the architectures of WordrPress and Tumblr are by default open to third parties, allowing contents on a site to be managed and manipulated with plug ins. Many Web comics users rely on the ComicPress plug in for WordPress. Because of the ubiquity and popularity of WordPress, any vulnerability can be exploited. Creating a robot that vacuums all the contents on sites using ComicPress is not difficult for a good hacker.
I understand that this is not encouraging news. But as a Webmaster, even if you are mainly a cartoonist, you should make sure that your WordPress and ComicPress versions are the most up to date and running the latest security patches. If you need help with this, hire a developer who will help you patch and upgrade your site. Web comics are not as free to produce, as many believe.
Finally, you as a creator or a comic fan must stop consuming comics that breaks copyrights. Reading Marvel, Viz and DC Comics illegally is exactly the same as some Indonesian dude copying your work and reselling it on a porn Web site. Copyright infringement is copyright infringement. You cannot support one group of copiers that you find convenient while complaining against another that takes your own work.
Hervé St-Louis is the publisher of ComicBookBin, a news and review comic site informing readers since 2002. St-Louis, also known as Toon Doctor ®, is a doctoral student researching usable security and human-computer interaction at the Faculty of Information, at the University of Toronto. His comic, Johnny Bullet is about a brash drag racer set in the 1970s.