Robot 6

U.S. government sues operator of pirate comics website

HTMLcomics

HTMLcomics

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Gregory Steven Hart, who operated HTMLcomics and five similar pirate websites.

The complaint asks for a federal judge to order Hart to forfeit the domain names of the sites — among them, HTMLcomics.com, ComicBooksFree.com and PlayboyMonthly.com — which the government says were used to commit criminal copyright infringement.

HTMLcomics hosted more than 100,000 copyrighted titles, from Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man to Hellboy and Dilbert. Hart had asserted that because the comics couldn’t be downloaded, the website was legal and “like a lending library.” He reportedly told his attorney the site received up to 500,000 hits a day.

In April the FBI searched Hart’s home in Tampa, Florida, seizing records, hard drives, computers and DVDs containing copyrighted images. The raid followed an investigation spurred by a consortium of publishers and copyright owners, including Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse, Bongo Comics, Archie Comics, Conan Properties International, Mirage Studios and United Media.

Hart claimed as recently as December that he had spoken with Marvel representatives, and “all is good.” “Our approach is not distribution,” he wrote on a comics forum, “hence the reason we’ve been around for over a year, and will be around for a long time to come. Google is using our site as a reference of how to create an online library, and not violate copyright laws.”

However, according to the lawsuit, Marvel and other companies sent letters to Hart demanding that he remove their publications from the site. Curiously, Hart reportedly said that if no publisher agreed to a revenue-sharing arrangement, he would continue to operate the site without charging users.

At the time of the HTMLcomics shutdown, Hart had more than 6 million pages from some 5,700 separate series.

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Comments

81 Comments

::Applause::

Pirates beware….

Comic shop owner

May 29, 2010 at 10:02 am

Prison.
Seriously.
And I would like to see more of his kind end up there.
Forget the fines and slaps on the wrist.
Lock these guys up.

With the financial state being what it is and the price of comics going steadily up and blockbuster events every month where you have to read 10 other comics at least other than your regularly favourite monthly title he seems like an oasis in a desert. I am not saying that what he did was right but I would be a hypocrite to condemn him for something that I and many more readers were party to.
The comics industry is partly to blame I believe. Let’s not all judge too hastily. The major fault on his part was to keep the comics online after letters from the publishers demanding their removal.
live and let live

@poor guy — how is the comics industry partly to blame and what are they to blame for?

Reading comics is a fun hobby, but it is not a right. People like him, and the readers who support sites like his, are stealing from the comic companies, fellow readers (who have to deal with price increases because of lower sales), and retailers.

If you like something, you have to pay for it. If you are not willing to pay for it, then don’t read it. Feel free to boycott Marvel, DC, whoever or mail them letters, ask for legal alternatives…whatever within the law.

It makes me sad that people sell their integrity for a chance to steal a $3 or $4 comic.

Prison? Really? He doesn’t pose a threat to my safety. We have enough people in our prison economy.

Disenchanted Comics Fan

May 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

HTMLComics had mostly old comics publishers were too lazy to republish that used a far superior digital reading system to Marvel’s AWFUL Digital Comics Unlimited. Praising locking up one guy for doing what corporations refused to get paid to do is a farce. Just watch as the comic industry sinks like the music industry for not adapting to the change of the digital age and continue to jack up the prices and whine. With comics at 3.99 and everything crossing over into each other, there’s frankly no point in giving this industry money. To keep up with a story can cost you up to 50 bucks a week, and ya know what? Screw that.

More pirate sites will spawn and win over the comic book fans until the corporations in charge choose to abandon this current “Fuck the consumer” model of business.

Disenchanted Comics Fan

May 29, 2010 at 11:41 am

Oh and

“Curiously, Hart reportedly said that if no publisher agreed to a revenue-sharing arrangement, we could continue to operate the site without charging users.”

Good for him, he was trying to push the comics industry into the future where they would get paid for online digital content. Instead, they called down the law on him. Pity. They could’ve made a killing.

There goes another source for the poor reader living miles from civilization, who can’t afford to order online… How am I supposed to enjoy anything, with the odds so stacked against me? I finally find a quality source, one that lets me appreciate the time and effort put into creating such beautiful works, and it’s taken away from me..!
I’ll never love again…

@DCF – “he was trying to push the comics industry into the future where they would get paid for online digital content” <– ridiculous. The comics publishers, while they may be a bit slow at it, are pushing themselves in to the digital future and in due time (I'm guessing sooner than later based on recent developments) they'll be there in full. A BULLY has not and does not get to push the comics industry in to the future, as you put it. They will pave their own way. The only way Gary Hart was paving was illegal use of copyrighted material, which certainly isn't original in any sense. The guy wasn't a visionary, he was just another idiot with a scanner and access to torrent sites.

“Oh and

“Curiously, Hart reportedly said that if no publisher agreed to a revenue-sharing arrangement, we could continue to operate the site without charging users.”

Good for him, he was trying to push the comics industry into the future where they would get paid for online digital content. Instead, they called down the law on him. Pity. They could’ve made a killing.”

Apparently, you didn’t understand the actual statement. He was trying to force the publishers into a revenue-sharing arrangement WITH HIM. This wasn’t an altruistic “push them into modern times” thing.

The guy committed a crime but I don’t think it’s worth going to prison. Particularly, considering what he did didn’t really damage anyone. At least, not in a substantial way.

“Mike
May 29, 2010 at 11:08 am
Reading comics is a fun hobby, but it is not a right. People like him, and the readers who support sites like his, are stealing from the comic companies, fellow readers (who have to deal with price increases because of lower sales), and retailers.

If you like something, you have to pay for it. If you are not willing to pay for it, then don’t read it. Feel free to boycott Marvel, DC, whoever or mail them letters, ask for legal alternatives…whatever within the law.

It makes me sad that people sell their integrity for a chance to steal a $3 or $4 comic.”

Thing is, and this comes from someone who’s never downloaded comics, I don’t think sites like his hurt the industry. If anything, they help by providing a way to check out something new or old and see if you’re interested in acquiring the real thing. In any case, shutting down sites like his won’t help the industry. People who wasn’t buying the comics still won’t buy them. Particularly considering what’s really hurting the industry (and our pockets btw): the ever increasing price of comics.

Comics Retailer

May 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I am not that happy with this. I was hoping that htmlcomics.com would grow into something like Youtube with revenue sharing for companies with copyrights and a selection of non-copyrighted independently produced material. If you study the Youtube model, it is a very good one with compensation for producers of copyrighted stuff that goes up and an opt-in for profit sharing for the studio.

I didn’t think that htmlcomics was stealing. I even recommended to customers that they check out a series to see if they wanted to get into it. People downloading of comics at sites such as htmlcomics has almost no impact on purchases of monthly comics. The people who are doing that want the issues as they come out. Its very hard to get the comic in a download form before it comes out. I think it was great marketing for the comics industry and hope that the publishers give up the fight before they spend too much on it, the music industry had to cave to downloading eventually as well.

This will be an interesting case, especially since current copyright law needs an overhaul regarding the brave new world of information freedom.

CA Comic Shop Guy

May 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

“Thing is, and this comes from someone who’s never downloaded comics, I don’t think sites like his hurt the industry.”

I can tell you, at least anecdotally, that pirating does hurt the industry, at least to some degree. I’ve overheard people in my shop encouraging their friends to instead download the comics they were about to buy. Most of these pirates idly comment that they’ll eventually get around to buying the TPB for the comics they read online, but it seems clear to me they would have bought that TPB or the comics already if the pirated comics weren’t out there.

The comics and TPBs we stock are all open and free to browse if someone wants to see if it’s something they want to buy. I’m mean that’s just shopping.

Pirated comics have hurt my business. As have torrents of DC Animated releases. I can tell you that based on customer and non-customers that I’ve interacted with directly.

What’s the differance from what he did & someone letting their buddy read a comic they bought? He bought the books to upload… I loan my comics out, am I going to be in trouble?

Sir Manley Johnson

May 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

It’s the Napster story all over again. This time for the Comic Book industry.

Comic shop owner

May 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Yes.
Prison.
Because he has hurt people. Plain and simple.
I also agree that the prison complex in America is exploited and the fact that this nation has, per capita the highest prison population of the civilized world, is reprehensible.

But this man is a criminal.
He is not a champion of the poor, or for people that cannot afford comics.
No. That is not the case.

I own and operate a comic book shop. It is my life long dream.
I can personally attest that we constantly lose customers to illegal downloading.
People that used to spend money in this industry weekly and monthly simply steal those comics from sites like this one and it has taken millions of dollars out of the delicate economy of this industry.
Employees are losing jobs.
Stores are closing.
You can romanticize it away.
You can rationalize it away.
These sites are damaging this industry.
Fact.

The operator of this site has helped take a hammer to the comics business.
He did so with cavalier and he did so with arrogance and he did so with complete disregard to the creators who made the work he pirated.

He needs to be imprisoned for his crimes.
He needs to be banished form this community and shunned, not made into some Robin Hood.
He is not a hero.
If you read comics you should have somewhat of an understanding of the concept of heroes.

Sir Manley Johnson

May 29, 2010 at 12:49 pm

2john wycough
“What’s the differance from what he did & someone letting their buddy read a comic they bought? He bought the books to upload… I loan my comics out, am I going to be in trouble?”

Are you offering to lend your comics to everyone on the planet simultaneously? I think you know what the difference is.

Comic shop owner

May 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm

And I don’t want to be someone who hides his identity or is just another talking head.

My name is Jeff Watkins.
I own and operate Cloud City Comics and Toys in Syracuse, NY.
There are two locations.

I stand with other creators, retailers, readers and fans who do not participate in pirating and downloading.
I am realistic about the future of digital technology and it’s role in publishing and periodical distribution.
I do love this industry.
I do love comics.

The big question is what will eventually happen with the domain names – will the goverment give them to the publishers as part of a settlement?

Atleast the Napster guys got to keep the name and domian.

Let’s see. To make a comic book series takes a writer making about $1,000 a week. A penciller, another $1,000 a week, inker, letterer and colorist another $1,000+ a week. Plus, an editor. So before producing and printing the book you have at least $250,000 a year in expenses for one series. I’m sorry. But I want the people making and creating the books to get their money. So if the Feds shutting these sites will help, I’m for it.

Also, I want the comic shops to be successful. And yes, it doesn’t bother me that the publishers who put up the risk also get paid. Especially now when average print runs for many books are in the 10,000 range versus back in the day when they were 10 or even 100 times that. Below is an occupational site showing average salaries of people in the comic book biz.

http://careers.stateuniversity.com/pages/7762/Comic-Book-Writer.html

One problem is that it COULD be downloaded to a computer, but he claimed it couldn’t. You can download content from any website, even if they have blocks by simply using your browser. Which gets saved to a folder on your computer.

Another problem is that he was telling the comic publishers “pay me to host this material and we split the profits or I will continue to show your stuff for free.” So he was blackmailing the comic companies.

Another problem is that he had comics that were released the week prior and in some cases the same week it was released.

I think his greatest sin was his arrogance.

The You Tube analogy is not a good one. You Tube had a WIDE swatch of videos — both copyrighted and videos of peoples kitty’s. And You Tube allowed people to upload their own content, which HTML Comics did not — they just stole other peoples work. In fact, they’d take scans that they didn’t even do and post them on the site. Kinda double stealing right there.

You Tube also worked with all content producers and responded to DMCA take down requests. They have a great record of that. HTML Comics did not. Yes, there is an argument to be made that initially You Tube did profit off of copyrighted material, but they did endeavor to remove the copyrighted content. HTML Comics did not.

Comics Retailer

May 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

@ Comics shop owner

Exactly how many comic subscription boxes have you lost to illegal downloading?

In three years in the industry I have not lost a single one to downloading; the economy (includes: company closing, lay-offs, and involuntary transfers) has cost me customers, not downloading. It really is not a problem for the industry. Downloading comics is not like downloading music or movies. When you get those, there is nothing else to purchase; that is stealing! When downloading comics you do not get the physical product; that is what artists, writers, inkers…etc get paid to produce. We sell physical products, not downloads of them. It is a completely different experience collecting comics versus downloading series.

Also, lets face it, there are comics out there that are absolute crap! They suck and I do not want my customers horn swoggled into buying them by slick marketing. So, yeah, “Check the book out online. Let me know if you want a copy and I’ll get you one.”

Use it for marketing Comics shop owner. The more you rail against it the quicker the public is turning against you, turn against poorly produced product with your customers and they will support you.

I would give my name but do not own the store I work at and do not want the owner receiving any ramifications of my own impassioned argument.

The problem is I don’t think anyone downloading comics illegally is going to buy them if they are not available to download. I think that they’ll just stop reading comics.

This man should be punished for his crimes.

That said, between the hardcovers that are roughly five issues worth of content for forty bucks, the four dollar payment for issues with 22 pages of story…There’s a way to combat piracy, and this is not it. In a sense, companies are biting the hand that feeds them and almost ignoring the one that pokes them in the eye, knowing they can’t do anything about it. And as they continue this abusive behavior towards their consumers, they may find themselves going completely blind one day very soon.

The problem with the website is it was never in Mr. Hart’s right to redistribute that material. That right is reserved for the owner. If they want to give it away for free, they will find a way to do that, nobody else has the right to do so.

I think a lot of people fail to put themselves in a creator’s shoes by thinking anyone should be able to redistribute anything on the internet. If it was their material that they depended on sales of to make a living, I hope they would think differently.

Content owners have to protect their ownership, otherwise they can legally lose the right to it.

all online piracy needs to be shut down. if you really wanna support comic books, buy them!

Seriously people, the real crime here is that logo. I haven’t seen anything that fugly since the internet- year one. Did he upload comics via his Prodigy account or his pay by the minutes AOL account. That thing looks like it should be in a how-not-to graphics art book

Pirating does force the industries (be it comics, music, television or motion picture) to rethink its business model and to try and move its products in new ways that are more acceptable to the consumers. Often times this involves cutting fat, and the resistance is huge. Legal battles with the consumers are often part of the initial resistance to change.
Pirating will not go away. But it can be lessened by changing the model to something that is satisfactory for both sides. Dissatisfaction with pricing is a huge motivator for piracy, along with difficulty in ease-of-access of product for a huge portion of comic book readers. Products like the iPad are beginning to tackle some of these problems, and maybe this will be reflected in a lowering of numbers in piracy.

‘Course I’m not in the biz and am probably talking out my ass, but it’s a forum and I get to post my 2 cents worth.

Comics_Fan said…
Let’s see. To make a comic book series takes a writer making about $1,000 a week. A penciller, another $1,000 a week, inker, letterer and colorist another $1,000+ a week. Plus, an editor. So before producing and printing the book you have at least $250,000 a year in expenses for one series.

1) Writers, artists (including pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, etc.) get a per-page rate, not a weekly salary.
Some pencilers/inkers are so slow that they only do 1-2 pages a week. (one of the reasons people like Jack Kirby did 3-6 pages a DAY was to just make enough to pay bills!)
Rates vary depending on the popularity of the writer and/or artist.
2) Editors get paid to do numerous books per month, so split their weekly salary among anywhere from 4-20 books.

Not On Your Life

May 29, 2010 at 10:16 pm

FWIW, this guy wasn’t posting series he bought and scanned, he was putting up bootlegged product he got from torrent sites.

That’s not what a library does! :P

Prison? Right, because posting a comic on a website is totally the same as raping or murding somone. Give me a break.

Actually, the bootlegger in question may be within the law, after all. There is actually precedence in case law that, if presented to the court properly, may cause a ruling in his favor.

Most comic readers are probably unaware of a preacher named Herbert W. Armstrong. He was a very prolific writer of all things spiritual, religious, biblical, etc. and the leader of a church called the Worldwide Church of God. He died in 1986. Shortly thereafter, the new leadership of the church decided they disagreed with his doctrines and stopped publishing virtually everything he had written. A few years later, a breakaway church, that still believed things the way Herbert had written them, started re-publishing his works verbatim, even though the copyright was still held by the Worldwide Church. A lengthy court battle ensued, over copyright-infringment. The Worldwide Church lost the battle, and the breakaway church was allowed to continue publishing Armstrong’s material. The court declared the Worldwide church was guilty of a form of censorship by refusing the publish Mr. Armstrong’s material.

The same could be argued that the comic book companies are guilty of the same thing, most of whose back published material has been out of print for decades.

Most points in favor of HTMLComics and the likes state that
a) comics aren’t available (or at least not available online)
b) people stealing comics wouldn’t buy them anyway

To that i say that
a) is true – i myself would love to buy tons of books online if they were available. Currently marvel’s online published works is spotty at best. And DC is still waiting for a standard to emerge before they enter the game.
That is indeed a grave mistake and in part causes online thinking people to go to sites like HTMLComics.

b) is not based on facts and there is no way to prove or disprove it. So make of it what you will.
But i think (and it often is done already with comics published on mobile phones) the best way to get people to buy comics is to let them have a taste and want more, i.e. publish either the first issue or an 8 page segment for free and charge for the rest.
So if HTMLComics had only featured first issues i’d argue that they had served comics publishers a favor. But as far as i heard they published full runs – and that is plain stealing.

Plus – has anyone information on how much money HTMLComics made off the comics via ads?

James from the Block

May 30, 2010 at 5:44 am

Attention: all prisoners not guilty of raping or murdering someone will hereby be released from prison! Repeat: All prisoners not guilty of rape and/or murder will be released! After your release, please report to the home of BurningDoom for further instructions. He presumably knows how best to handle non-murdering, non-raping criminals. That is all.

James from the Block

May 30, 2010 at 5:50 am

Re: Bernie Madoff
Prison? Right, because securities fraud and operating a billion dollar ponzi scheme is totally the same as raping or murding somone. Give me a break.

“There is actually precedence in case law that, if presented to the court properly, may cause a ruling in his favor.

The cases aren’t similar, particularly as the one you cited hinged in large part — if not entirely — on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Besides, I don’t think you followed Worldwide Church of God v. Philadelphia Church of God far enough: In 2000, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of the Worldwide Church of God: “Having to ask for permission and presumably to pay for the right to use an owner’s copyrighted work may be an inconvenience, and perhaps costly, but it cannot be assumed to be as a matter of law a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.”

The Supreme Court declined to hear the Philadelphia Church of God’s appeal. The church later purchased all rights to Armstrong’s works.

Glad to hear it. It’s especially deserved considering what I’ve read elsewhere re: Hart’s attitude.

Comics_Fan said…
Let’s see. To make a comic book series takes a writer making about $1,000 a week. A penciller, another $1,000 a week, inker, letterer and colorist another $1,000+ a week. Plus, an editor. So before producing and printing the book you have at least $250,000 a year in expenses for one series.

I would like to know what comic book company(s) you work for or are referring to… Most comic book publishers including in some instances the majors pay off the back end of profits… That means if the book doesn’t sell you don’t get paid… Unless you have an exclusive contract with a company you are pretty much doing the work up front and hoping at the end of the day there is some sort of paycheck… Or that one of the big boys will see the quality of your work and sign you up…

As a Web developer that never saw the site live, can someone PLEASE explain to me what the heck the site owner means by “the comics couldn’t be downloaded”. Just because there is no simple “save as” link or the pages aren’t put together into a zip or some format doesn’t mean that the user didn’t download them. You download everything you see on a Web page. That is how the Web works.

“Seriously people, the real crime here is that logo.” <– TRUTH!

ok boil it down.

Is what he did illegal and wrong on all other levels? Yes.

He reproduced work without permission for public viewing and tried to asked companies (revenue sharing) for money to do so. The scale of what he has done pushes this way out the ball park so arguments like ‘don’t you ever lend a friend a comic’ are redundant.

The guy comes across as delusional and as for not being able to download the pages…well I will hold my hand up here and say that when I read that I felt something was amiss. I picked a comic at random (that I already owned for the sake of fairness) pulled up a page on htmlcomics and pressed the magic ‘print screen’ button. Guess what? I now had a page of a comic.

As for the ‘try it out before you read it argument’ I call bullshit. Site like CBR and Newsarama do reviews of a hell of a lot of comics including 4 or 5 pages worth of comic to look at. If you can decide to buy or not to buy of the strength of that great but even if you do buy it and don’t like it well it’s one comic and there’s plenty of comic warehouses out there that will give you some money for it.

HTML Comics was a great site. It farts that comic fans have been stopped from enjoying it.

POWRSURG, all he did was disable the Save As function. You could pull the pages out of your cache of course. It was just part of the flimsy excuse he was trying to sell people on that don’t know any better.

I’ve visited so many places where you can obtain comics. OMG! I’ve seen 1 site go down and 3 take it’s place. There are torrents and other places where you can download them on the day that they come out. This will never end. I’m sorry for those of you that don’t like illegal downloading, but it’s not going away. This guy goes down and 2 others are ready to take his place. The internet just makes things harder to stop illegal downloading.

Kendrick said:

“HTML Comics was a great site. It farts that comic fans have been stopped from enjoying it.”

Real fans support the industry. They don’t steal from it.

cactusjac2000

May 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

There’s a discrepency between the rate of inflation and the average minimum wage in this country.

There’s also a discrepency between the NUMBER OF WORDS PER PAGE in oldschool 25 cent comics and modern day 4 dollar comics.

Not to mention the fact that the market is flooded with Bendis and James Robinson……

I say read it for free, and buy it if you like it.

BUT MOST OF IT ISN’T WORTH PAYING FOR ANYMORE

Kevin T. Brown

May 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm

“Re: Bernie Madoff
Prison? Right, because securities fraud and operating a billion dollar ponzi scheme is totally the same as raping or murding somone. Give me a break.”

Well, actually, Madoff DID hurt people financially, making them destitute and putting some out on to the streets. I believe some even committed suicide over what he did.

It’s simple though: Theft is theft is theft. Because this crossed statelines, it’s a major case now. So, yes, prison is probably in his future. However, expect a prison for whitecollar criminals (a.k.a. country club with bars).

cactusjac2000 said:

“Not to mention the fact that the market is flooded with Bendis and James Robinson……

I say read it for free, and buy it if you like it.

BUT MOST OF IT ISN’T WORTH PAYING FOR ANYMORE”

I think you’re missing the point. You’re not entitled to take something just because you either can’t afford it or you object to paying for it. The world does not owe you free comics. If you think the comics aren’t worth your money then clearly it’s time to move on and spend it on something you enjoy.

Marvel and DC put up free previews of many of their comics every month. These are the pages that they, as copyright owners, decide to show for free. It’s their choice what gets shown for free. No one else’s. They show about 6 pages of each comic. That’s just over 25% of the issue, so a generous portion. Surely readers can determine whether or not they’ll like the story and art from reading 1/4 of it? There’s absolutely no excuse to torrent the entire issue on the weak reason that they’re “trying before they buy”.

And what if someone lives in a country, where he can’t afford American comic books? Is it a big crime to download some comics, if you don’t have any chance buying them?

marvelous one

May 31, 2010 at 7:37 am

“And what if someone lives in a country, where he can’t afford American comic books? Is it a big crime to download some comics, if you don’t have any chance buying them?”

Yes, it is a crime if you’re downloading a book that the copyright owner hasn’t given permission to be available for download.

Marvel doesn’t have a Digital Comic library with a selection anywhere near html comics. DC does not even have any kind of online service.

Another site like html comics WILL come online again but this time it will be in a country where American lawyers will not be able to do a thing. They will keep popping up until Marvel and DC decide to put up affordable and high quality online comic services.

badasshiro asked:

“And what if someone lives in a country, where he can’t afford American comic books? Is it a big crime to download some comics, if you don’t have any chance buying them?”

Yes it is I’m afraid. We all live in countries where comics from various other countries aren’t available, and none of us can afford *everything*. Comics are a luxury, not a right.

As copyright holders it’s up to us to protect our property. No one is entitled to steal it. “But I want it” isn’t a valid excuse.

With deference to creators and IP owners, I have to question terming the idea of downloading/viewing comics (et al.) on the internet in lieu of physically purchasing them as “theft”.

What exactly have the downloaders/viewers stolen from the IP owners that the IP owners resultingly no longer have? A product sale that didn’t yet exist anyway? Or was it the potential for a product sale, which (it could be argued) they were guilty of stealing already because they hadn’t yet purchased the product — in which case we are all guilty of this “theft” for any products we haven’t yet purchased AND we are thereby legally bound to purchase any and all products created by any IP owner. …a bit of a ridiculous thought, that.

I understand the need to regulate IP owner rights to prevent others from unjustly profiting from someone else’s IP, a longstanding problem that was faced even by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra with his Don Quixote IP. But when no profit as garnered, and no actual product is removed from the owner’s possession, is it truly necessary to brand the label of theft onto a carrier of the previously produced material.

How soon will the DoJ start knocking on your door searching for mixtapes, mixCDs, or shared playlists — all of which are illegal equal to the degree of the “theft” perpetrated by the former HTMLComics? (or maybe even more so, depending on your material volume, or the level of your teenage angst)

Clearly, as has been mentioned repeatedly, the entire notion of intellectual property ownership and its applicable laws needs to be reexamined and redefined for this emerging age of easy information dissemination.

Is it really theft? What was stolen?

- A

“Is it really theft? What was stolen?”

The right to copy.

I don’t know why pirates and their clients keep trying to muddy the waters. It’s plain and simple: copyright infringement is wrong. If we, as copyright owners, say you can’t have it for free, then you have no right to take it.

That’s not an opinion. It’s the law. And it’s a good law. All arguments against that law boil down to one thing, the “I wannit!!” tantrum of someone who won’t pay for a comic. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

The right to copy was stolen? So the IP owners no longer have the right to copy their own properties? Somehow I have to disagree.

Certainly the right to copy held by the IP owners was breached, but since they still retain that right, it was not stolen from them.

While this breach is patently illegal, the problem here is with the law as it is currently established. The law is a bit too vague, too far-reaching, and too counter to intellectual and creative development in our current society. Therefore it should be reexamined and changed.

I’m just a bit worried that the DoJ (and the industry) might be striving to “make an example” of HTMLComics, and resultingly quash possibilities for future IP distribution channels.

I’ve only ever downloaded 1 title. It was an older title from the 80′s published in the UK. It was unavailable for purchase anywhere I could find. Once a collection becomes available, I’ll purchase it to re-read and complete my collection. I have my $20 set aside. I’ve contacted the author expressing interest in a collection being made available, but I’ve had no reply and no news. Admittedly copyright allows for owners to keep titles out of print, but since it was originally published, people who would like access should be able to get access in some legal way. The library model only works if the library collected the comics. Graphic novels in libraries is only a recent thing. Unless some big collectors give their collections to libraries, and the libraries decide that they can be lent, many titles are out of print with no way of the reader to access them.

Prisons are too crowded to lock up guys like this. “Slap the cuffs on him” cannot be the response to EVERYTHING in America.

Plus I don’t get why you can’t slap a huge fine on him anyway. This whole thing’s about money in the first place.

“I’m just a bit worried that the DoJ (and the industry) might be striving to “make an example” of HTMLComics, and resultingly quash possibilities for future IP distribution channels.”

You make it sound like he’s the victim.

Thing is; piracy has gone on long enough. Why should our hard work be given away for free? It’s our living. There’s been an apathetic feeling in the industry for too long with people saying “You can’t beat the pirates”. Well, here’s a situation where the pirates might lose. Don’t you think they deserve to lose?

Yeah, other pirates exist and more will undoubtedly come along, but that doesn’t mean creators and publishers should give up without a fight.

I know pirates use the defense that they’re kind of distributing goods to the needy but it’s not their property to do so. Comic pirates aren’t some gallant Robin Hoods stealing from the rich to give to the poor. It’s comics, not essential items. Comics.

There really are enough comics around either to buy or to read online legitimately without resorting to the sly underhanded methods of illegal torrents etc. Don’t wanna pay $3.99 for Spider-Man? Read something else instead. There’s more to comics than superheroes. Everyone has to settle for what they can afford. That’s life.

It seems that the most important point is being overlooked. The intention of the site is to pave the way for the creation of the website LibraDome.com, which would consist of every book contained within the Library of Congress. The approach to the site was to present literature in quantities that the ordinary person would not be able to afford, as was the purpose of our nation’s first libraries and the conceptual purpose and vision of Benjamin Franklin.

As for me requesting profit sharing form the publishers, the statement has been poorly taken out of context. My goals were 100% altruistic. In multiple correspondences I clearly stated that I would run the site on my servers, on my bandwidth, and with my development team, and would give any percentage of income the publishers requested – even 100% if they so requested. Verbatim from correspondences to them – the offer of 100%. This was stated in 9 different eMail correspondence, and 2 telephonic correspondences. YES – 100% of all revenue is what I offered. My approach was that if they were overly concerned about loss of revenue, then I felt that an appropriate and fair value to charge would be one cent per page, and 25 cents maximum per any comic.

With regards to the “no copy” approach, the pages were crafted with a “DIV” layer atop each image page, and then a blank “gif” image atop that. If you tried to click and drag the image, you would only get the empty “gif”. Same went for using the print button feature, because the image was contained in a frame within a frame of the main page, thus disabling the print functionality. Finally, download of cache was impeded a much as possible by naming all the images the same, so that if you went into your cache, each book would have overwritten the previous book.

This approach mirrors the effect of a library as close as is reasonably possible for internet access to literature. It allows a single copy of a periodical to be viewed by multiple readers (a comic book is a periodical by definition, and not a work of literature). When comparing it to a library, the analogy is not so much to the few publicly owned and maintained libraries, but more so to your local grade school library, or a library at your apartment community. In those such libraries, for which there are many more than there are public libraries, all material is received via donation, and not a penny is expended purchasing books from publishers.

On a final note, there exist many circumstances where a single copy of a book or magazine is shared simultaneously. When a school teacher reads aloud a book to her students, and positions the book so that all students can see the pictures and read along, then a single copy of the book is being read simultaneously by multiple readers. Does digitizing the book to keep the original protected from damage differ so greatly that it crosses the boundary of becoming illegal? Or, is the teacher committing illegal acts? What about all the small libraries described above? Are they illegal because all their material was donated and none purchased?

I’ll admit I used the site and I also bought comics at the local comic store. The site did not cause me to cut back on my comic buying but what it did do was get me interested in books that previously I had no interest in. For instance, I’d heard good things about Mark Waid’s Irredeemable so I tried it out on this site and loved it. Now its in my subscription box at the comic book store and consequently so is its sister book Incorruptible.

I also used it for reading really old books that are not available anywhere else without forking over thousands of dollars in old back issues. I was reading Hulk, a book that in 30 years of collecting, I’ve only picked up if it involved a crossover. Once caught up I might have decided to keep reading Hulk and add it to my box. Alas we’ll never know as I was still working through 1970′s Hulk when the site went down.

Properly implemented a site like HTML could be a boon for the comic industry. Marvel and DC both suck when it comes to providing online content to back issues with only spotty content on a few books. I’d pay up money to Marvel for a site like HTML with an equivalent database that HTML had.

As others have said, this is like Napster. The issue isn’t going away and the comic industry can adapt to the times like the music industry did or they can wither and further die.

“Everyone has to settle for what they can afford. That’s life.”

No, that’s capitalism. Please don’t get the two confused.

“When comparing it to a library, the analogy is not so much to the few publicly owned and maintained libraries, but more so to your local grade school library, or a library at your apartment community. In those such libraries, for which there are many more than there are public libraries, all material is received via donation, and not a penny is expended purchasing books from publishers.”

Most libraries, whether they’re larger municipal libraries or smaller school libraries, have annual acquisition budgets. However, the books that are donated are purchased by somebody (except, of course, in the case of donations directly from publishers themselves). Section 109 of U.S. copyright law allows anyone to resell, lend or donate a copy of, say, a graphic novel that they’ve purchased — it’s a foundation on which public libraries and their lending practices are built.

“On a final note, there exist many circumstances where a single copy of a book or magazine is shared simultaneously. When a school teacher reads aloud a book to her students, and positions the book so that all students can see the pictures and read along, then a single copy of the book is being read simultaneously by multiple readers.”

Sharing a work by reading aloud to a class, or lending it to a friend (or friends) doesn’t produce another copy of the work.

“Sharing a work by reading aloud to a class, or lending it to a friend (or friends) doesn’t produce another copy of the work.”

Correct. And, as close as a computer internet application could do so, neither did htmlComics. In order to retrieve a copy of the works, a user would have to deviate very far from the intended use of the site. Sure, you can check out a book from a library and take it home and scan it – but, that’s not what the library advocates and by doing so YOU the user of the library have been deviant. You surely wouldn’t hold the library at fault for your deviant actions. htmlComics did not distribute material, it enabled it to be read and shared. If a user defiantly manipulated the presentation, then they are the thief.

“htmlComics did not distribute material …”

Sure, it did. By scanning comics, or copying the torrent files, to make those titles available on the website, HTMLComics violated copyright and, yes, distributed material. To suggest — or rather, say outright — that the site “did not distribute material” is, well, baffling.

Again, though, the attempts to compare the website to a library fall short: If a patron borrows a book from a library and reproduces that book through scanning or photocopying, then it’s the patron who violated copyright; the library didn’t make a copy. But in the case of HTMLComics, the site itself is violating copyright from the start by reproducing the original work and making it available to its users.

Libraries are allowed to produce a copy as describd:

§ 504
(c)
(2)

The court shall remit statutory damages in any case where an infringer believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that his or her use of the copyrighted work was a fair use under section 107, if the infringer was: (i) an employee or agent of a nonprofit educational institution, library, or archives acting within the scope of his or her employment who, or such institution, library, or archives itself, which infringed by reproducing the work in copies or phonorecords; or (ii) a public broadcasting entity which or a person who, as a regular part of the nonprofit activities of a public broadcasting entity (as defined in subsection (g) of section 118) infringed by performing [Added Note: KEY WORD is "Performing"] a published nondramatic literary work or by reproducing a transmission program embodying a performance of such a work.

That addresses the assessment of statutory damages, and does nothing to support your argument.

We’re probably being forced to pay $4 a comic due to websites that steal from all of us. If the sales of comics had not been horribly impacted by theft, we might have been able to maintain the $3 price point in this industry.

This website operator stole from all of us who pay for our comics. He deserves to be treated as a criminal.

How does reading a book aloud to others differ from a public display/exhibition of a DVD-stored film?

Are the DVD/VHS/BD-stored movies, which more-often-than-not include a strongly worded FBI warning against public display/exhibition of the materials contained on the media (comparable to the information stored by the words/letters on the pages of a book), somehow different or more protected than the book’s information? Is the one prohibited by law and the other allowed?

A little off topic, but I might think that such a literal interpretation of copyright re:public exhibition might lead to a large number of Library/School Storytime arrests. Hmm.

“We’re probably being forced to pay $4 a comic due to websites that steal from all of us. If the sales of comics had not been horribly impacted by theft, we might have been able to maintain the $3 price point in this industry.”

Oh, PLEASE!!!!! Mine was the first and only weebsite of its kind! That’s what all the hooplah is about. All the other sites outright distribute material via torrent downloads. The price of comics has risen due to the cost of manufacturing them – gthe costs of patper and petroleum that fuels the factories. The price incrfeas has NOTHING to do with my site.

Even with the (probable) demise of the htmlComics site, I’d like to see the same model used for an archival library, particularly with nigh-impossible-to-find literature (e.g. illuminated medieval texts, or Yale’s copy of the Necronomicon — check the card catalog, it’s there! ;P).

It’s a shame that the model/mechanism’s pioneer outing is being quashed, despite the arguable legality of the materialsources presented.

…I’d also like the pages to load faster. ;P

The law here seems to have to do with the larger law of an online library of ANY kind being able to give you the full text to read on a screen. As a law student I can tell you that it is NOT illegal to run a library EVEN if your entire library consisted of only comic books (or magazines) in a real brick and mortar building. The law hasnt caught up with virtual libraries and what is involved with them. This is why Google books flaunted their ability to try to digitize every book out there even large chunks. The law has NOT been worked out in this area. But they the publishing industry is trying to sue Google I didnt see the FBI raid Google offices.

About Brick and Mortar libraries in the real world (not the virtual one):

Now if I opened a brick and mortar lending library in my city and called it My City comic book library and lent comics to my patrons and I made sure I had all the legal documents in order to have a library the comic book companies MAY NOT stop me. Remember your better local libraries have ALL the NEW and CURRENT issues of highly visible magazines such as TIME and FORBES and PEOPLE etc which outsell comic books 100 to 1. Magazine companies were never happy that libraries could do this but they have to abide by the rules that allows a citizen to access such items in a library. And many libraries through the governement pay a SMALL fee for such matters.

Also my library has comic books (and not just TPB collections or masterworks hardbound books) but actually single new comic books (ie Archie,Spiderman, and Batman because of demand)you can sign out and read and they are located in the magazine section right next to TIME and PEOPLE. Comic books are magazines and a library can have copies of them. Now what if my city opened a library of just comic books (if there was enough demad)? And remember a library can have more than one copy of an item for its patrons (mine has a 50 copies of the Twilight series books and 5-10 copies of all the curent magazines). Lets see 10 copies of the latest spiderman, superman etc. DC and marvel would try to shut it down (as the magazine companies tried to with libraries long ago) and they would not succeed. As a matter of fact they would not even be allowed to take it to court : Libraries are protected in Bern Convention countries and though companies wish they did not exist (believe me they do wish this) have a right if they are a legitimate library to carry own for the citizens around them (we are talking about brick and mortar libraries not virtual).

So the real topic here is not whether a library has a right to do what a library does but whether you can do it online.
htmlcomics it seems to me is in a grey area because they are online and maybe due to their status re being a library under the local jurisdiction they are located in. Its NOT about a library being able to allow access to patrons to read current periodicals EVEN comic books. Comics are not more sacred under the library laws of the US or canada then say TIME or People magazine (although you wouldn’t think it from reading their statements) which unlike comic books have much larger sales and distribution also. In addtion, libraries also have a right to reinforce magazines (ie by laminating pages or binding them) to make them last for their borrowing patrons. Brick and mortar Libraries may also lend out films and music on DVDs. Believe me companies do not like the right of the library to do this in real life so they are trying to control it in “virtual” life of online.

If I were htmlcomics I would make sure I have the license to operate a library AND would see the case through all the way to the top because its about the right of a library to lend ONLINE rather than the right of “comic book companies”. The law is simply not developed in this area enough. A lawyer friend of mind told me we are in the “wild west state” of laws in terms of online and the internet. Its not illegal for a library to have comic books but its not clear if its okay to have them online. Many university libraries and others have full text journals online but even that is a grey area and thats the real problem. Having comics online is not anymore immoral than that as far as Im concerned but if its “wrong” its wrong only in that it hasnt been worked out legally yet not the act in itself. We do what htmlcomics does in offline all the time. The question is whether you can do it online not whether its good or legal to do it at all. My library will continue to offer comics as long as the patrons want them as is our right (and theirs under the law).

PS Believe it or not Ive met people who So think because the libraries in thier towns dont carry comics its somehow against the law! It actually has to do with demand and what library budget managers feel patrons want (hence why many large city libraries like the ones Im familiar with have request forms for what they should spend their money on for patrons)

PPS libraries (at least in Canada) have their own laws protecting them above the regular copyright laws protecting citizens (ie in reselling a bought item etc). Libraries are seen here as in the UK as a right for a citizen so everybody can have access to reading materials whether they can afford to buy them or not.

PPPS (sorry for the extra notes) Having multiple copies of a book or comic or magazine might not be a simultaneous borrowing of items but believe me you can have 1000 or more people go through the same popular book or other item in a matter of weeks and the effect if not the same comes close to it: the Twilgiht books and harry potter books were read (the several copies available for each book) by over thousands of people in the last few months. The publishers (I heard) arent happy with that thinking they lost ‘sales’ from possible buyers. Maybe they did and maybe they didnt but a library is a beautiful thing and one of the rights we have in a free country. visit yours today! The more you sign out and use it the safer their annual budget is from cuts. (sorry can’t help the ad I love libraries).

Comic shop owner

June 5, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Dear HTML comics,

How altruistic and noble where you being when you told off Colleen Doran?
How selfless were you being when you told Harlan Ellison off?

When creators of the very content you were distributing expressed dismay, you spit on them.
Where was the valiant guy in that?

Exactly who do you think you are fooling?

Listen, I’m not here to defend Mr. Hart or tell you that piracy is legal, ownership is ownership and whatever else people want to spout out about. From my experiance of the site HTMLComics.com My friends and I never downloaded or printed a single page, just never felt the urge to do so. Since the discovery of the site our interest for comics grew and we started purcasing them as well as reading them on the site, mainly issues you can no longer get at all, unless your a rich SOB, or couldn’t get color copies of any longer. Since the sites demise I still am a fan of comics, but however am more apprehensive to buy issues and my friends were so disappointed that they again lost all interest in comics, again. Just an example of how it effected peoples lives…

“How altruistic and noble where you being when you told off Colleen Doran?
How selfless were you being when you told Harlan Ellison off?”

For the record, I was NOT rude to either of them. They wrote to me in eMail scathing and threatening letters to remove their material. I responded by stating that I don’t scare by threats, however; if they were to rewrite a request and ask politely, I would be more than happy to comply. They did so, and my response was to remove heir material, and to keep the thumbnails of their material on the site, but when you clicked on them, it redirected the users to their site. I also wrote a complimentary blurb, stating that their work was of fine quality, and complimented their talents.

For them to write negatively about me is reprehensible, and outright despicable. They are shameful for doing so, and they are the “bad guys”.

First let me say I love comics. I did look at this sight as often as I could, I really liked it. I also spent at least 20 dollars a week. But after I thinking I realized that what this guy was doing was really wrong. I do hope that the companies will learn a lesson and start up an online comic website.

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