July 6, 2012 by Rick Rottman
Donna Barstow vs. Something Awful
Political cartoonist Donna Barstow is in an Internet war with the website Something Awful. Members of the Something Awful message boards have been re-posting her single-panel cartoons for the purposes of criticizing them. Evidently, they’ve been doing this to a lot with her cartoons. The criticism seems to be focused in equal measure to both her right-wing politics and her supposed lack of artistic abilities.
The criticism has been vicious.
Barstow has responded to all this by demanding that her cartoons be removed from Something Awful. She has accused the website of using her work without permission. She argues that she makes her living writing and drawing cartoons and expects to be paid when her work is used for publication. She’s accused the people behind Something Awful of theft and copyright infringement.
I think Donna Barstow has a point. Sort of. There’s fair use and then there’s blatant theft. I don’t see how it’s fair use for a site such as Something Awful to allow its members to post copyrighted material in its entirety without the permission of the copyright owner. Something Awful is making money from these forum posts and the traffic they help generate. The posts I saw had advertising for Toyota and Western Union, just to name a few. These forum posts aren’t linking to websites that have actually paid to publish Barstow’s work, sites such as Psychology Today, Slate, New Yorker, and a bunch of other publishers of content; they are embedding the actual images.
When something is posted in its entirety, in this case, a single-panel comic, it’s not fair use. It’s theft, especially when it goes against the wishes of the content owner.
If Barstow really wants to the images removed, she’s barking up the wrong tree. The images appear to be hosted on the image-hosting service Imgur and then hot linked to the Something Awful message boards. This is pretty normal when it comes to posting images to message boards.
Posting copyrighted material on Imgur is against the site’s terms of service. Instead of trying to get Something Awful to remove the images of her work, she should be contacting Imgur.