I’ve been reading webcomics, the kooky and usually ultra-specific modern alternative to the Sunday funnies page, for years. Like many fans I catch up on daily and weekly strips via an RSS reader (in my case Google Reader), but there are a lot of apps on the Android Market/Google Plus Store that will link you straight to an updated page for some of the most popular webcomics out there. One such app has caught the attention of blogger Chris Hanel, who notes that the app DailyComix has a listing of dozens of popular comics, all of which it is apparently presenting without compensation to their original creators.
Normally this isn’t really an issue – plenty of shady apps simply re-purpose an RSS entries and link to original content, including the News and Weather widget included in all versions of Android. But the problem with DailyComix is that it removes the comic images themselves from the RSS feed, then presents them without the advertising from the creator – usually their primary method of earning money. In the free version of the app, new ads are inserted, making the unscrupulous developer money in addition to the sales of the “Pro” version also offered in the Google Play Store. Popular webcomics like Ctrl+Alt+Del, Cyanide & Happiness, PvP, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, WonderMark and XKCD are all represented.
There’s no two ways about it: DailyComix is stealing content and making money off of it. As a subscriber to some of these comics, I know that not all of them actually publish the files themselves in the RSS feed, which means that the developer is actively procuring the files and reposting them. This isn’t the first time it’s happened in the Android Market (heck, you could probably find other comic apps that do the same thing on a smaller scale) but it is rather brazen, and the free version has already accumulated over 50,000 downloads. The developer has stated that he’s honoring requests from creators who ask him to remove their comics from the list, which is likely little comfort for those who have had their work exploited for months.
An easy way to avoid the controversy and make money for all parties involved would have been to include the ads that the creators place on their own RSS feeds and charge a nominal fee, without adding in more advertising. A lesson that many app developers (and Google itself) needs to learn is that repackaging someone else’s content for mobile without permission is still stealing.