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Tracking Down a Cat GIF

At the source of the digital content market

I was struck by the level of detail in this amazing GIF of a cat destroying everything, forever:

I saw the image first on Mlkshk. Curious, I looked the image up on the “reverse image search” service TinEye, and that led me to a page for the artist Oleg Beresnev on CreativeMarket. CreativeMarket sells stock art, icons, infographics kits, and even more ephemeral things like Adobe Photoshop actions and templates that help you achieve certain styles and effects.

It turns out that the rampaging cat GIF is actually a sort of teaser or trailer — you can buy all of the visual elements in the image (including the cat), for re-use in your own projects — 60 items in all! — and they’re all cut up nicely as vector graphics, so you can resize them and use them however you’d like.

I bought a set for $9, which works out to 15 cents per tiny abstract household object. The file downloads promptly in single EPS file of 7.5 megabytes, and opens fine in Adobe Illustrator and in the “Preview” app on MacOSX.

As with everything related to digital copyright, the licensing information on CreativeMarket is vast and confusing, and reads as if the rules were arrived at not through some coherent philosophy but rather through trial-and-error. It appears that since this post is “commercial” rather than “personal” I’m allowed to use the images in one “project.” I am assuming this blog is a “project.” I could have paid $90 instead of $9 and then assumed more rights, but it doesn’t seem necessary.

For the last 20 years there has been an idea that we as a society would one day be able to watch TV and immediately order the products that we saw on the TV — that all recorded media would become a giant catalog. This is one of those ideas the business world found irresistible. Along with the idea of the Internet-connected fridge, just thinking this way helped large media, technology, and industrial firms understand why the Internet truly mattered. It turned something abstract and hard to manage (people consuming entertainment) into something concrete (people buying physical goods). I’m sure people are working on enhancing your NetFlix binge-watching with real-time ordering right now. In the meantime, the global “digital content” market is approaching half a trillion dollars (and even if that analyst’s estimate is off by a factor of ten, you’re still talking $50 billion).

It was weird to have that long-promised watch-and-buy experience with, of all formats, an animated GIF. But it finally happened: I watched a video, was curious about it, and saw that I could purchase things in the video, and did so. I needed TinEye to get me there, but the infrastructure exists to identify images and things and route them back to their origins. What I bought was not a fridge or a blender, but the vector representations of these things, to use in the media that I create. In this situation the viral media was not just a teaser for something else, but was itself the thing for sale.

Story published on Mar 9, 2016.