I’m sure over the holiday you heard about how graphic designer Juan Luis Garcia presented pretty compelling evidence that his striking design for a poster for the Oldboy remake was shamelessly ripped off by studio Film District. When Garcia complained, director Spike Lee didn’t seem too sympathetic:

The whole incident enabled us to learn a few things:

• The Oldboy remake was a horrible horrible bomb at the box office

• Spike Lee, who has unquestionably made some amazing movies, is shockingly unaware of the proper use of Title Case punctuation.

• You’re gonna get ripped off.

2013 01 23 420x1024A less publicized case of theft was also revealed just before the holiday, in this case a more subtle and more pernicious case: credit removal by humor sites. In this case the victim is cartoonist Rachel Dukes. who drew the charming cat cartoon above. She posted it, as so many do, on her Tumblr for free, and saw it linked everywhere. however, as she writes, some sites literally cropped off her name and credit, including many of those obnoxious but addictive humor reblogging site that everyone passes along endlessly on Facebook. The result was not pretty:

Taking into consideration that Tumblr notes are made up of both likes and reblogs, let’s be conservative and say the Tumblr notes are twice as high as they should be. (That every single person that has viewed the image on Tumblr has liked the image and reblogged it.) Dividing the Tumblr notes in half, that leaves us with:

Posts using the credited image:
2,912 votes
2,721 Tumblr notes
727 Tweets
0 Pintrest shares
14,000 Facebook likes
10,700 Facebook shares

Posts using the uncredited image:
29,629 votes
62,393 Tumblr notes
0 Tweets
6,000 Pintrest shares
2,085 Facebook likes
347,984 Facebook shares

Dukes estimates that her original credited cartoon was viewed 81,595 times; the “anonymous version” 588,310 times.

Crediting stuff you find floating around on the internet is not the easiest thing. But cutting off someone’s name and credit is one of the most lowdown things you can do. Dukes is philosophical about the matter—Tumblr isn’t a money maker in itself—but she’s right to point the finger at sites like 9gags, LOLcenter, FunnyJunk and so on, which do this kind of thing ALL THE TIME and do it to make money.

Something need to be done by the community as a whole: by the readers as well as the creators. We need to start crediting our content/sources and reporting those who don’t. Sites like 9GAG need to be held accountable for their theft of work. If you see something that’s stolen: say something to the original poster, report the post, or contact the creator of the artwork.

If you have an image you’d like to post but don’t know the source: reverse Google image search it. Figure out where it came from before you post. If you like it enough to share it, it means there’s probably more where that came from.

But…more to come on all of this later today.


  1. The problem with holding social media sites accountable for image theft is the same problem with hunting down stolen gold/silver/platinum, once its out there’s not much that can be done. because that one site who altered the work and used it can then subsequently be copied by other sites and saved to individuals computers who liked the image and organically spreading through the web. we have little regard for the use of photos online to generate memes already. the genie is out of the bottle.

  2. I do a small, weekly image meme roundup called Friday Frodos– been doing it for years. In principal, it’s the same kind of content as 9Gag or Funnyjunk, albeit, with a much smaller audience.
    That said, all the images are curated by me, unlike the above mentioned sites whose content is user generated– and as a rule, I never crop credits or watermarks.

    Reading Dukes breakdown, I plan to go one step further: Whenever possible, I’ll hyperlink the image back to the original creator’s site. It’s a small step, and obviously, I can’t control the folks who Pin/Tumble from my site– but still, I’ll do what I can to help original content creators.

  3. Unfortunately it’s hard to stop stuff like this. The best way is for people who care to stop using those humor reblogging sites and do a little research to find the authors. It’s terrible, but very hard to stop people from doing. :(

  4. I love how everyone below that Buzzfeed post is jumping on the opportunity to call Lee racist.

    Assuming everything Garcia wrote is true, it’s not surprising Lee would really have no idea who the guy is. The ad agency wouldn’t bother telling him who the comps came from. I don’t think companies like Urban Outfitters are aware when their freelancers steal designs either. What’s unclear is whether Garcia tried to contact 40 Acres at all before throwing his case to the web’s kangaroo court. It sucks to get jacked like that but I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors.

  5. james – my understanding is that the ad agency that “didn’t bother telling him where the comps came from” is Lee’s own company. Regardless, your logic is off. If someone steals your car, then sells it to another person, would you argue that the 3rd party gets to keep your car? Being unaware that you are profiting off of stolen goods is not an automatic pardon. Plus corporate-types like Spike Lee tend to maintain constant plausible deniability because it makes it easier to screw over employees. “Don’t tell me where this came from, that way I can use it without payment!”

    Spike is no saint. He tried to force a royalty out of Spike TV “for using his name to enhance their network brand.” He also hasn’t made a decent picture since Ernest Dickerson stopped shooting his films. “Do the Right Thing” was more Dickerson’s picture than Lee’s…

  6. Nowhere did I say anyone should get any kind of pardon. I don’t KNOW who’s guilty of what. I said I don’t think the way he’s gone about it is going to help him.

  7. Quoted from the letter, excerpts of which are on Buzzfeed:

    “I hope we can resolve this between us because the agency refuses to work with me and they have tormented me and my family enough.”

    It reads like Garcia spent the entire time dealing with a separate entity, contracted by 40 Acres. It reads like this is his first attempt to contact 40 Acres directly. But “resolve this between us” doesn’t equate to “put our business on the internet.”

  8. james – yes, because as we all know, Spike Lee has always handled disputes in a quiet and humble manner. He never takes a disagreement public.

    Spike will probably have a Kickstarter campaign to cover the damage to his delicate feelings.

  9. Two wrongs make a right? He did it first? I dunno, Garcia’s picture makes me think he might be an adult, but maybe I’m wrong.

  10. It’s clear you have personal, delicate feelings about Spike Lee. So please allow me to back away from this conversation with some small shred of dignity. No harm no foul.

  11. I have no “personal, delicate feelings” toward Spike. His first 5 films were brilliant. But he’s brought this on himself with the angry and insulting tweets, particularly his Thanksgiving statement. He sounds like a Wal-Mart executive, justifying screwing over people who worked for him, just because he thinks his wealth makes him superior.

    And the feigned outrage & hurt feelings he’s hiding behind makes a mockery of the once-gifted filmmaker he promoted himself as a cage-rattling punk filmmaker. It’s probably why everything he’s directed in the past 10 years lacks the spark seen in his early films.

  12. ” It’s probably why everything he’s directed in the past 10 years lacks the spark seen in his early films.”
    25TH HOUR says you’re wrong, silly Poony.

  13. Any artist who reads, Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier, will likely have second (or third and fourth and fifth) thoughts about ever posting work on the web again — at least under the present business model – which Lanier makes clear is all about destroying copyright for the little guy.. and otherwise monetizing the links to an artists’ work while de-monetizing the work itself.

  14. At least one comic book community on Google Plus requires that any artwork which is posted must contain the source, either on the artwork, or in the post itself.

    As for copyright, comic strips usually place it in the margin.
    Of course, that can easily be removed or covered.

    Can Google be contacted to remove links to any cropped image?
    So that when the image is searched, only attributed copies appear?

  15. @jonboy: yeah, not that I’m criticizing her, but this could have been avoided with her info in white inside the bottom panels. Sure it kind of messes with the work itself but it’s what they do in the comics section of newspapers…likely for this very reason.

  16. @RegularSyzed Mike, well, not really. In this day-and-age of Photoshop it would just take someone seconds to match the color and paint over any signature or copyright. Unfortunately, if someone’s going to want to steal something and pass it off around the net no sig or © is going to stop them. There are TOO many people who have this self-satisfied opinion that anything can be “shared” (their words- I prefer to call it what it is, stealing) on the internet.

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