Pay Per Laugh: Il Manifesto and the "Visibility" Currency

Homo_social_medialis__emanuele_del_rossoText and illustration by Emanuele Del Rosso

Have you ever been paid in visibility?

Visibility is an odd currency, whose value increased ten-fold when the internet era kicked in - say, the beginning of the 2000s. If my visibility liquidity was converted in euros, I'd be a millionaire.

What is this visibility retribution? It happens when a professional in some field, a political cartoonist, for example, is published without being paid actual cash with the stated or unstated promise of future payments, and/or with the stated or unstated guarantee the visibility granted by this or that publication will help this professional in her/his career.

Simply put, it's unpaid labor.

When visibility payments become a habit

But what happens, really, when visibility becomes the most used currency? Let's take an example among many, but really poignant because we are talking about a publication that has been around since 1969.

Il Manifesto, an Italian newspaper distributed - digitally and in print - in around 10 thousand copies a day. Il Manifesto spun from the most left-wing area of the PCI, the Italian Communist Party and, over the last five decades, has always championed fair work conditions, freedom of expression and democracy.

Obviously, satire plays a big role in this newspaper. Vauro's illustrations were published on page one until 2012 and, after him, another wonderful editorial cartoonist, Mauro Biani, took over.

Then, in the fall of 2019, Biani left.

At that point, someone at Il Manifesto had an interesting idea. Why not opening a cartoonist contest to find Biani's inheritor? Cartoonists could send their works, being told up front they won't be paid for that, but being promised the possibility of becoming the new in-house cartoonist.

This, in September 2019. I am part of a number of cartoonists groups and, obviously, the contest sparked a lot of interest. Many of my colleagues decided to participate and started sending their works.

What happened then is explained in a note dated 30 September. Il Manifesto had been receiving so many brilliant cartoons they decided to publish the best ones in the "community" pages of the newspaper, to - wait for it - show them to all the readers. So, simply put, cartoons wouldn't be paid, not now, but in the end they would... kind-of-be paid, in visibility.

Since then, visibility has been the currency. Biani's successor? No sign of this mysterious cartoonist. And after all, why stopping this bevy of illustrations, if cartoonist seems to be content with the visibility retribution?

Pay per laugh

I never sent a single cartoon to Il Manifesto. I admit I was tempted by the idea of being published by them, but I couldn't bring myself to accept this contest of theirs and maybe, for once, I could see through their good intent and foresee what would have happened.

Publishing editorial cartoons for free is a disgrace for the profession of the editorial cartoonist. Cartoons can be donated - I did it many times - but the promise of glory can't replace real retribution, which is what distinguishes a nice hobby from an important profession.

If editorial cartoons are not paid, if the profession of the editorial cartoonist is not recognized, then the value of a satirical work is diminished. Moreover, the safety of the author is at stake, because he won't be protected by any union or real employer - and we saw cartoonists are targeted as much as journalists are.

One could even argue that because Il Manifesto doesn’t pay for these illustrations, it also doesn’t really believe in what they express. Otherwise, they would be retributed and recognized as employees.

Cartoonists are, in the end, journalists, and Il Manifesto, with its 1,555,748.37€ of public funding in 2018, pays - I hope! - their journalists. Newspapers are expensive machines, that's true, and this newspaper saw rocky moments, being short of money, touching bankruptcy in 2012. But this can't justify this lack of professional ethics.

They should stop this silly contest and pick a cartoonist, or pick none and live without satire. They should do that because, at some point, an editorial cartoonist might decide to draw an illustration about them. For free, of course.

Emanuele Del Rosso is an Italian communication specialist and political cartoonist.


Questions of Copyright

Questions of copyright is a regular feature on our blog, in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.

Iraqi cartoonist Saad Murtadha contacted us about resistart.ir, an Iranian website that features art and cartoons from around the globe. He was rather surprised to find a comprehensive gallery of his work on this website, as he was never contacted or informed in any way. It makes us wonder how many other cartoonists have a gallery on this website without them knowing. A number of Cartoon Movement cartoonists can be found on the website.

Although it is always an honor to have people value your work, the honor becomes questionable when the website in question probably has ties to the Iran House of Cartoon (we wrote about this before) and thus the Iranian regime.

 

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Questions of Copyright

Questions of copyright is a monthly feature in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.

WebsitesScreenshots of mjcobs.com and toonsonline.com

In this edition we highlight two websites that are something of a mystery to us.

The first is one is the recently launched (we think) mjcob.com, which defines itself as an ‘art community’, has been reposting almost all of our cartoons, as soon as the are posted in our newsroom. We tried to contact them, but they do not have contact information on their website.

The second one is toonsonline.com, which has been around longer. This is another cartoon aggregator site, posting many cartoons from around the world.  We have contacted them several times, but never received a reply.

Both websites do credit the artists whose work they post, but neither of them asks artists for their permission, nor do they link back to Cartoon Movement, which seems to be a big provider of content for the two websites. The purpose of these websites is rather mystifying; there seems to be no revenue model or general mission. If anyone reading this has more information on the purpose of these website or who is behind them, we’d like to hear from you.


Questions of Copyright

Questions of copyright is a monthly feature in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.

This month, the US elections provided ample fodder for cartoonists, and media outlets proved eager to showcase how the world’s cartoonists responded to the unexpected win of Donald Trump. First, credit where credit is due: we know that CNN and Politico Europe both offered payment to the artists whose work they ran. CNN even commissioned the cartoons, asking several cartoonist beforehand to do a cartoon, instead of selecting the ‘best’ cartoons after the event, like the majority of media outlets do.

We’d like to see more media actually commissioning cartoons if they plan to show cartoons on a particular event, as this will help in making the business model for cartoonist that much more secure.

We’re not sure how many other media that published cartoons slideshows actually paid contributing artists, but based on our experience, probably not a lot. Here’s one example that might serve to illustrate the point we’re trying to make:

No response.

A little later, on the Indy100 website:

Screenshot

Granted, the journalist was probably only asking for permission to use the cartoon as the lead image above the article, which is the only image actually hosted on the website. The Twitter embed function is generally used without permission (like we do above, ironically). A lot of cartoon slideshows are now published this way.

Perhaps the journalist just did not understand that we meant we were opposed to the use of our cartoons by another media outlet for free in general. We can only surmise that our message wasn’t quite clear enough.

Another outlet that’s worth a mention this month is Euranet Plus. One of our cartoonists was very surprised to see on of his cartoons included in a video on Euranet Plus. Checking more videos in the EUphoria series produced by them (and cartoons posted on the page with each video) we could not help but notice a lot of familiar cartoons. We of course assume that they have asked all the cartoonists for permission to use their work (and simply forgot one), but they have yet to respond to our inquiries.


Questions of Copyright

Questions of copyright is a monthly feature in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.

A cartoon by Miguel Villalba Sanchez (pen name Elchicotriste), responding to the lack of media attention for Haiti after the devastation of hurricane Matthew, went viral. Elchicotriste’s haunting image again proves how the Internet offers cartoonists the potential to reach a massive audience with every cartoon they do. Which is of course wonderful, although many media outlets that shared the cartoon did forget to ask for his permission. But instead of listing the sheer endless list of media websites with this particular form of selective amnesia, we’ve decided to highlight the two media outlets that did contact Miguel.

Miguel has informed us that Al Jazeera and Europa Press both contacted him before publishing the cartoon. Europa Press even linked to Cartoon Movement (the original platform of publication), one of the very few that did. Well done!

On a more negative note, another platform we’d like to highlight this month is Sada El Balad, a news website from Egypt with almost 2,5 million fans on Facebook. The English version of the website has a page that’s devoted to cartoons, publishing cartoons from various sources including Cartoon Movement. We’ve contacted them to inform them of our copyright policy, but have yet to receive a reply. In the meantime, they continue to provide an additional (if unasked for) outlet for our cartoons.

We refer to this unauthorized use of cartoons by media outlets as the culture of free content on the Internet. Because people on social media freely share content, many professional journalists and editors feel they can do the same. In our view, this is one of the biggest threats to our profession. If you're in Australia (near Sydney), and you're interested in the future of editorial cartooning, we recommend you attend 'Surviving in a Digital World, a panel discussion on November 12 that is part of the annual conference of the Australian Cartoonists' Assiciation.

 

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Questions of Copyright

1639-160818 Women (Cherradi)_small

Questions of copyright is our monthly feature (previously named The List) in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.

Last month, the burkini ban in France inspired many cartoonists; it also inspired many media outlets to publish galleries of the cartoons that were created. Most media circumvent any issues of copyright by publishing embedded tweets (as we explained last month), such as this gallery by Buzzfeed.

Another big media outlet that ran burkini ban cartoons was the BBC. Instead of embedding pictures they ran the pictures on their website, including one cartoon by Khalid Cherradi that was originally published by us (pictured above). Although we were properly credited, we did wonder why no one contacted us or the artist to ask for permission to run the cartoon.

So we sent them an email to raise the issue. We received a very polite reply stating: ‘We did in fact contact your organisation via Twitter to ask permission to use this cartoon but it appears we did not receive a reply.’

Although technical glitches are certainly not unheard of, this would in fact be the first time since we began our Twitter account that we missed a message on Twitter. However, the most surprising thing to us is that, although they did not receive a reply from us, they went ahead and used the image anyway.

We’re not well versed enough in copyright law to know if the concept of ‘silence implies consent’ is legally sound, but we do know we do not agree with the practice.


New Monthly Feature: The List

0748-120515 Iran (Magnasciutti)Cartoon by Fabio Magnasciutti

Perhaps the most tedious jobs of being editor at Cartoon Movement is tracking down and following up on the unauthorized use of our cartoons by other media. We try to take action in every case of copyright infringement, because we feel it’s important to point out that cartoons are made by professionals and thus aren’t free.

One of the current trends in media is to publish slideshows of cartoons when a world-shocking event has taken place (most recently, the attack in Nice). Most media get around the issue of copyright by embedding cartoons from the Twitter feed of the respective artists. Because they’re not physically hosting the cartoon on their site, there’s no need to pay the artist or ask for permission to feature the work. Examples (including one of our cartoons) can be found on the websites of the International Business Times, the Huffington Post, Newsweek and many, many more.

There’s not much we can do about this. For artists (and websites such as ours), it’s a catch 22: one the hand hand, we want to share work with our fans, but in doing so we give media a free pass to use our work.

A lot of media also feature cartoons without using the embed method and therefore should ask the artists for their permission (and offer a reasonable republication fee). The majority of media does this, but we also encounter a lot of instances where our cartoons are used without any permission or compensation.

In addition to following up on these cases, we also want to showcase these in a new monthly feature on our blog. Here’s a list of recent cases:

1) Tagesspiegel, a German newspaper, used no less than 13 of our cartoons in a slideshow about the attempted coup in Turkey.

2) Le Figaro, a major French newspaper, published a slideshow of cartoons responding the attack in Nice, including one of ours.

3) The website of a Serbian TV station has used numerous of our cartoons, such as this one, this one and this one.

4) Ukrainian news portal eurointegration.com.ua used one of our cartoons.

This is not a complete list; these are the instances we were able to track down. The list only features the sites that clearly identify themselves as 'media' and should know better than to use images without permission, in effect stealing them. We have contacted all of the organizations in the list; we have yet to receive a response from any of them. Next month we'll give an update and its very likely we will have a new list.

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