Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Paying for Cartoons is Like "Extortion"

Old story: two employees argue. They both come in to the boss, explain their points of view, expecting the boss to make a decision about which one of them is right and who is wrong.

And the boss makes a decision. The boss gets angry and then fires them both on the spot.

It's not the right way to manage things, but you may know the story.


Let's talk cartooning for a living.

When you invoice a someone for a cartoon that they bought from you, have you ever had a client refuse to pay?

Did you ever have a client complain that your invoice is an "extortion letter" and refuse to pay?

Did they post about it online, at a site devoted to talking about extortion letters called "Extortion Letters Online," and have other people to cheer them on, telling them to ignore the bills for cartoons?

Did anyone ever compare paying for a cartoon with "a version of the Nigerian scam?"

It didn't happen to me. I hope it did not ever happen to you. But it did happen last year.

Here's the story. This is from the Extortion Letters Online chat board:

Stacy McArdle from Chicago used a cartoon on her site. The image was owned by

Cartoonstock emailed a letter telling her it was theirs and she had to pay $98.70 for its use. She responded by saying she had pulled it off of Google and it didn't have the Cartoonstock logo all over it, so she was ignorant that it was owned by them. Besides, she had taken it off her site.

Other people chime in on the chat board:

"My suggestion is either pay them or ignore them."

"It is too easy for these extortionists to move their model to a $100-$200 per image scam operation and allow them to make unsupportable claims on anyone due to their sloppiness."

"It's only about the money for them."

"You could publicly shame them on the interwebs, it would be a nice 'ding' to their reputation."

"I would ignore them."

"This is a version of the Nigerian scams."

When you can read a whole chat board topic all about a cartoon and someone says that paying for a cartoon is a scam and extortion, it kinda puts a dark cloud over your day.


I am not the boss of Stacy McArdle and Cartoonstock, but if they came to me with their problems, I would be angry at both. Stacy used an image for her business without paying. Cartoonstock's approach of a formal demand letter is wrong.

People taking my cartoons and posting them for fun on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram is fine with me. They are doing it for fun. But a business taking one of my cartoons without consent to help promote their organization -- well, that's wrong.

Most people who do that are ignorant of the laws. When it's happened to me, I have called the company, and found that person. I have chatted with them on the phone. Yes, the phone.

Over the phone, I have thanked them sincerely for liking my cartoon so much that they used it to help promote themselves, but they have to compensate me. After all, I am the person who took that blank piece of paper and made an image that is of value.

This goes for for-profit and non-profit companies.


My thanks to Randy Glasbergen for letting me know about this. Thanks, Randy!


Anonymous said...

I think your rule is a good one. I have contacted websites that have used my cartoons without permission, and usually they take them down, but occasionally they have chosen to leave the cartoon up and pay me.

Unknown said...

If I had a nickel for every time I had to contact people about stealing my work, I'd have enough nickels to make such a good living from contacting such people, that I wouldn't have to create new cartoons.

I've never really figured out how it is that people have a deep seated belief that cartoons are the same thing as leafs on a tree...if you want one just pull it off the branch. I'm reminded of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz - he not only felt he had a right to pick the apples off the apple trees along the yellow brick road, he did so in a taunting, and justified manner, thumbing his nose at the defruited trees. What's worse, all of us viewers of the Wizard of Oz cheered him on. Admit it. We did. When you think of this scene from Oz in light of being a cartoonist, you can plainly see the Scarecrow was wrong. He was dead wrong. Of course, he had the excuse of not having a brain. The excuses used by those online who pluck the fruit of our labor and those who witness the plucking are not a matter of brainlessness. Many are ignorant, and they need to be informed (that would be a good use for government),but many know exactly what they're doing, and when called on it they respond in the same way that someone does who cuts you off in traffic...with a one fingered salute. They figure they'll be way down the highway, lost in traffic, before you know what happened.

Cartoonstock is finally making a move in the right direction. This is a move I suggested to them a long time ago. You see, the thing is, many people on the highway and the internet superhighway like to play dumb until they realize that someone is taking a picture of their license plate, and will hold them accountable. This is the ONLY thing that will get the word out there to all the would-be cartoon pilferers that they'll be served a summons and justice will be served. This will act as a lock on the door of our cartoon houses, but remember that door locks only keep out the honest people. there will always be people who will try to thwart the system to avoid paying someone for their hard work. If everyone were honest, we'd spend a lot less for things in stores. When you pay for an item at a store, you're always paying a tax imposed by the thieves who steal which the store owners try to cover. It comes under the cost of business. it's not a 5 finger discount. It's a f finger increase.

In a related topic, I would also like to call to task the cartoonists themselves (being one I can say this), who do not check to see via Google if a cartoon has been done before. Hardly a day goes by when I don't see cartoons (not themes, but cartoons) be re-done when all the cartoonist had to do was to do a 10 second check on the internet. So, I call to task cartoonists as well!