Stealing Gifs: The Manifesto of a Tumblr Criminal Mastermind (or Why I Repost Those Awesome Gifs You Made)

Let’s be clear about something:

When you take a screengrab of a television show to make a gif, you are not creating art.

You are not creating anything. You get no credit for a screengrab; you didn’t make the show or movie or series it’s from; you are not the actor or director or lighting technician or set decorator or writer featured in said screengrab; you are not the producer or studio or network who owns the rights to the series. 

It is not yours.

You are a fan who took a picture of a screen showing a television show, and you put it on the internet. On tumblr, a free blogging service, which anyone can use. Tumblr, which is about sharing.

If you drew a picture, you created art.

If you made a short film, you created art.

If you composed and sung a song, you created art.

If you screengrab a character from The Vampire Diaries or Parks and Rec saying something awesome/absurd, you are not creating art.

At any given time, there are about 300 fellow tumblr users who are, at the same time you are screengrabing, also screengrabbing the same image.

Now, if you take a shot of Adam Scott and then juxtapose it with a shot from some other thing, like a gif of a happy puppy, then that’s different. That’s original. It’s still not yours. You didn’t create Parks and Rec, it’s not your puppy. But it is something you legitimately made.

If you make a gif of the characters from New Girl, and add a black and white filter, it’s still the property of Fox. You cannot sell that, you cannot profit from it. It’s theirs. You can post it and enjoy the likes you’re getting, but you didn’t create New Girl, you didn’t write it or cast it or direct it, you didn’t edit it and broadcast it. You simply added a filter to a screengrab after all those other people, who got paid for their work, made an episode of television.

Which, let’s be 100% honest here, if you screengrabed it the night it airs, then there’s a giant chance you pirated the show, so you didn’t even pay for it.

So let’s say you do that, and you post said gif on tumblr. And you hashtag it with #NewGirl and I go browsing through that hashtag, and I see that there are 17,000 pictures with that hashtag, and of those, about 117 are of that same shot, and of those, about 37 look exactly like yours.

Now, I want to post a picture of New Girl. I want to comment about the episode I watched. Let’s say I choose your screengrab. I have several options:

  • I can link to it, which does nobody any good.
  • I can reblog it, which means I repost exactly what you post, as you posted it, giving you some sort of perceived credit for illegally downloading the show and then manipulating the image in mario paint. (Although, how do I know you “created” the image? You could have reblogged it or reposted it from someone else.)
  • Or I can save the image and then upload it myself, therefor allowing me to say whatever I want to say about it, and at no time taking credit for making the image in the first place. I don’t add a watermark or manipulate the image in any way; I don’t say “Look at these gifs I made!” I simply repost the images (that you don’t own) and I add my own two cents about the gif.

Now, unless whatever you said about the image is 100% exactly what I want to say, I will save it and upload it myself.

This isn’t stealing. [Insert Any Television Show Here] isn’t yours, it’s not your property, it’s not your work, it’s not anything you had a hand in creating.

This isn’t committing any crime.

This isn’t taking away from the hard work you did pirating the television show and running it through photoshop.

I, at no point in time, take any credit for making the gif or image in question. Nobody profits from me posting it, nobody makes money, nobody gets famous or gets a job or gets rich or gets a girlfriend. Nobody cares.

It doesn’t even take away from you getting any appreciation or likes. Which are intangible things.

It is the way the world works.

More importantly, it is the way tumblr works.

If you had written a giant review of New Girl along with the image, and I copied and pasted that and posted it as my review, that’s plagarism. If you did a sketch of the cast of New Girl, and I posted it and said “Look what I drew!” then that is me taking credit for your art. That is stealing.

If I post a gif from New Girl that you posted, that’s not stealing, that’s not taking credit, that’s not criminal, that’s not even mean or unsportsmanlike conduct.

You want credit for your art? Make art.

You want credit for something original and creative and magical? Make something that’s yours, that is original and creative and magical.

There is an entire industry that exists to entertain you (well, to sell advertising), and they work long hours and deal with executives telling them what is and isn’t funny, and they make compromises and they get screwed and eventually we end up with Community Season 4. And when you gif Abed in the latest Community, that isn’t art, that isn’t original, and that certainly isn’t being a part of the industry.

You are a fan. Tumblr is a fan community. Everyone here exists to spread good cheer (and sad feels) about everything that is happening everywhere.

If you want to be an artist, make art. If you want to be a good artist, make good art.

If you want to get upset at me because I posted a screengrab you took, go for it. But don’t send me messages telling me I stole your art. Don’t pester me into deleting my post.

Use that energy and time to make something that’s yours.

A television show isn’t yours. A gif of a television show isn’t yours. You didn’t create the show. You stole the images/frames from the show to make the gif. Do you understand how hypocritical that makes you when you accuse me of stealing your gifs?

Life is too short. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Make something that’s yours.