Publishers Bust HTMLComics.com

We don’t talk about piracy as much as we used to here at iFanboy. The arguments that erupt always meander into the weirdest logical cul de sacs (“There’s nothing wrong with stealing Jeph Loeb’s Hulk. I hate it too much to pay for it, but I won’t stop reading it”) and we generally don’t like to give publicity to the pirates’ trade routes. Recently, however, a site too mind boggling to ignore has hit the spotlight.

For a little while now, a 47-year-old man named Gregory Hart has been running a site called HTMLComics.com. Several thousand comics by essentially every publisher were available on the site (as was, for some reason, the Bible). You didn’t have to have a password or know a secret directory URL or knock a special knock and tell the guy at the door “Dr. Wertham sent me.” It was all just sitting right there, linked from the home page plain as day, a fact which netted the site 1.6 million visits a day. HTMLComics fascinated me like seeing a guy pull out a spliff and light up on the courthouse steps, or take out a porno on a city bus. “What—what the hell is he doing? Right out in the open? Is he the cockiest man alive, or missing important brain parts? Surely he knows someone is going to come along and haul him off to the pokey any second now. Is he making a point? Is this performance art?”

Hart would say HTMLComics’ unique design made copying its comic book files impossible, and since you could only read the comics on the site itself it was nothing more than a harmless, above-board lending library for orphans, widows and big-eyed kittens. In fact, he did say that (minus the kitten part) on a second site that he set up for the sole purpose of explaining why the first site was perfectly fine. A word to the wise: when what you’re doing is perfectly fine, you don’t have to set up a web site explaining for 2,000+ words how innocent and fine it is. Just the fact that you felt compelled to do that tells me you know what you’re doing is wrong.

Unfortunately for Hart, it seems that pasting and highlighting relevant passages from Wikipedia’s definition of “library” onto your home page staves off the Department of Justice about as effectively as a necklace of garlic cloves. We received a press release this evening from the attorneys at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP informing us that Katten, the FBI, the Justice Department, and a consortium of every comic publisher you’ve ever heard of and three you’d forgotten about teamed up to obliterate HTMLComics, confiscate its servers, and salt the earth where its servers used to be. I was amazed this happened today, as today is not six months ago.

In a recent interview, Hart claimed to run the site despite the fact that he hasn’t read a comic in forty years. He also seemed to believe that Marvel and DC would leave him alone as long as the comics he posted were at least 6-12 months old. As the case proceeds, I will be watching his defense in goggle-eyed awe. His mind is an inscrutable puzzle box to me.

This incident underscores the greatest mystery of piracy for me. I can understand why someone would want a day-and-date digital comic with or without paying for it; as long as I live, I will never be able to fathom the mindset that drives someone to buy all the books and then sit there scanning them all night for strangers. What motivates that?
 

Comments

  1. Nice one Jim, now I am intrgued. What an intreresting character, his persona should be used for some new villain.

  2. How Carthaginian of them:)

  3. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I thought I read somewhere that Hart’s goal appeared to be creating this website in order to create a partnership with Marvel and DC. I guess he wanted the site to be officially sanctioned by the Big Two and to be paid by them. The flawed logic in this scheme is amazing.

    Also, I enjoy that this guy just screamed, "I’m a library!" and magically wished for it to be so. It reminded me of Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy by walking out of his office and shouting, "I.. declare… BANKRUPTCY!"

    This is going to be a fun court case.

  4. Wow. Never heard of this site, but the whole pirated comics thing is fascinating to me. I 2nd the notion of not understanding people’s motivation for scanning page after page of comics to put them on the internet. I’m guessing it’s some kind of combination of the collector’s compulsion and a disestablishment impulse. But to be fair, the notion of copyright infringement, especially digital, isn’t as intuitive as other moral ideas. Maybe I missed the day in kindergarten when they taught "Thou shall not buy things and copy them and give the copies away to strangers."

    I’m not saying it’s ok, or that its victimless. I’m not trying to make any of anemic, self-serving excuses for file sharing that are typically bandied about. It’s just not as obvious a transgression as poking someone in the eye with a sharp stick. It’s kind of an esoteric notion. The freedom to share thoughts and ideas is one of the foundations of civilized society, and our country in particular. But, taking the expression of someone’s ideas and trying to profit from it, or hurting that person’s ability to profit from it, that’s just going to discourage people from creating things in the first place. And if you think about it, that’s kind of bad for everyone. And it’s against the law.

  5. Man, if this were the late 80’s or early 90’s this guy would be getting his own CBS movie of the week. I can see the commercial now. 

  6. It sort of touches on the ‘right of first use,’  which reminds me of the arguments that go all the way back to the days of tape recording LP albums (someone will need to explain the technology to the younger crowd.  ‘The Man’ worked very, very hard to show that it hurt the industry, but, there were some studies showing that it actually encouraged sales.  I wonder if the same concept applies to comics?

  7. Good riddance.

  8. Some people like to share.

    The only rationalization that I will accept from someone who illegally downloads music/movies/games/comics or whatever is the statement: "I want free stuff."

    It all boils down to that anyway.

    And as long as society doesn’t have the means to control illegal downloading, I say, "go get that free stuff."

    But I got no sympathy for those who get "caught."

     

  9. Lots of the scanners claim to be doing it to "preserve" the comics forever.  I’m sure a couple actually believe they’re doing something good.

  10. Lesson #1, never defend yourself until someone attacks you.  Like Jimski wrote, putting up a manifesto of why you are doing this and how ‘right’ it is only tells people that you are doing something wrong.

    Lesson #2, add your own content to the pages.  At least then you have a Fair Use argument in your back pocket.

  11. Why do people sneak into train yards and paint their names at the risk of getting arrested and some serious fines? Because they want to make an anonymous name for themselves. They also believe in some sort of ideal, art is not meant for the rich and art galleries, its for everyone and anywhere. A lot of scanners believe that if you like it you should buy it. Also there are a lot of people out there who do not have access to buy comics, maybe not in America but around the world.  Sharing is a good thing and scanners can’t take responsibility for greedy people. Don’t believe the Hype comics are for anyone anywhere. I will continue to support the projects i love weekly and there is so much I can’t afford but thankfully I live in America and can go to the libraries graphic novel section, but if i got deported to Guatemala i would be a proud pirate.

  12. ElFurioso, I’m sure the concept could be applied to the comics industry.

    Let’s be perfectly honest- regardless of the specter of online piracy, sales numbers for comics are low.  Period.  They were low before the age of Napster and they’re still low now.  I’m all for any kind of digital initiative that could increase sales and increase interest in the medium, and I do believe that this rather renegade attempt is probably a precursor to such a thing.

    I’ll admit to having visited the site when I initially heard about it, and I actually didn’t go back.  The pages loaded very slow, too slow for me to have the patience to read even a whole book.  What book did I look up?  Action #1.  Because I’ll never see or read that book in my life and it’s probably the most talked about comic in the history of comics.  I missed the reprint and obviously any copy left on Earth is going for at least half a mil.

    I do find it pretty silly that many here have dismissed this out of hand.  I buy my books, I believe in supporting good material.  But like it or not, music, movies, comics, books.. they are free.  You just choose to pay for them.  Technology and time moves inexorably forward and there have been and will be more casualties in business as those in charge fail to adapt.  So the publishers shut this down today and are getting lawyered up- They are wasting their time and money.  It doesn’t make an inch of difference, as these existing comics are still out there, FREE for anyone who dares to download or filetrade.  The publishers, labels, studios, etc. really ought to move forward and find their way to monetize the behavior that is already going on.  As it’s been more than a decade since the dawn of Napster, my personal patience is growing thin with these businesses trying to maintain a status quo where sales are poor ANYWAY.  Make no mistake, content creators and providers should be paid.  But building the better business model is also up to them.

    For the customer?  We’re on the path to really exciting options for consumers.  I’d really like to see the day when we get there.  I believe it could be soon if we can all change our thinking about these issues a bit.

  13. As a fan, reader, creator and publisher (all be it an online publisher), I have really mixed feelings about this. Back issues have become virtually non-existant and finding a single issue or two to fill you in on the story is just often not possible. I do believe that there should be some ongoing record or ongoing format that archives comics online. Even if its a DC/Marvel/Dark Horse/IDW/whatever specifc site where you can buy digital backissues for a niminal fee each. Not for the collector, for the reader. Not to make precious the paper and ink, but just to make available the story and art. The legacies of the great creators should be preserved in some way. It’s a shame that these companies don’t recognize that.

    Clifford VanMeter (http://arctoscomics.com)

  14. You can get 0 day comics on Pirate Bay, this guy’s site was probably useless anyway, as those who know where to look can get them day and date of the store release date.

  15. its kinda weird that they are spending time and money going after this guy. He’s just the easiest target and its a nice sounding victory for the corporate people. The real damage are all those scanning cartels that distribute every current title via torrents. 

  16. God bless bit-torrents and their immoral-ness.

  17. @vadamowens: here here.

    Jim, sites like htmlcomics aren’t rare at all man. It just so happens that his server is on U.S. soil. I’d like to see them do that to oh say about the 1,000,000+ manga/comic hybrid websites that are supported from the very pockets of hardcore fans that support their industry. Alot of the servers are based in oh, Korea. I can name one that has extensive back issues of runs dating back to the late 70’s in both U.S. comics and manga and it’s set in servers in Singapore and supposedly N. Korea.

  18. if to download your free comics you had to say wait throught some ads a go to a speical site then yes i can see them making money on this. doesn’t google make money on some clicking-on-the-ads program?

     

    personally this is nothing, write in direct comic scans and see what you find. 

     

    manga that are not liscened in the USA are all over and people make money translating the comics so i am sure th same happens in reverse. 

  19. @Jack239: EXACTLY! It’s just a waste of time better spent on providing better comics for the fan who buys them on hand. I understand that this hurts the "new online comic market" but you know what? That’s the same argument as that of the "defending online movie market" and the "online music market". It’s really one of those things that’s out of the hands of an industry. Kind of like growth of bootleg Nikes in the 90’s, you just can’t stop it, better to let it blow over.

  20. I spend about $150/mo. on comics.  They are definitely getting my money.  So I feel no guilt…

  21. You’re right. Steal as much of the rest as you want.

  22. So, if I make $350 Volkswagen payments, it’s cool to just drive around a stolen Audi for a while, since I’m already paying the company something?

  23. Absolutely

  24. It also depends on what type of Audi.

  25. Let’s be serious.

    Illegal downloading is not the equivalent of stealing (which by the way I also don’t have much of a problem with depending on what company is being stolen from–just don’t cry foul if you get caught).

    This shit is like the Wild West.

    There doesn’t seem to be any enforceable laws or real consequences.

    And because of that you have a perception (perhaps a misperception) that illegal downloading is all well and good.

    Until enforcement of the law changes, you can argue all you want, but people will take stuff for free and suffer no real consequences.

  26. Miracleman

  27. When I was a kid, the guy who had the next desk to me in school regularly paid his 12 cents for a comic book (I forget which it was), and when he had finished reading it he gave it to me. I gave it to the kid who sat in front of me when I was finished with it, who passed it on in turn. We had a large class, and just about every kid in it read that comic. Others bought different comics, and they got passed around too. That’s just the way it was. We were ten, maybe tweleve, years old: and nobody thought twice about it. The comics industry has always lived with the fact that they are basically selling to schoolkids, and that kids in school behave like this. And the industry has always survived. It’s always been like that. And of course none of us kids made any money out of it. As I understand it, the guy at htlmcomics.com was not making any money either, just doing what kids do, even if they were in part current comics.

    But so far as old comics go, I don’t see how sharing a 30-year-old reprint of Action Comics #1 (if that’s what you say he did) is depriving DC of any revenue in any way at all. Didn’t I read somewhere that publisher’s copyright expires after 25 years? Comic books published prior to 1985 will therefore have fallen out of copyright.

  28. @NickFury Copyright is a lot longer than 25 years now.  You can figure Copyright lasts however many years as it’s been since Mickey Mouse was invented.  Disney keeps changing the rules.

  29. It was the same thing with music when you dubbed a tape for someone else. Did you just steal?

    Problem is the technology to share and copy music has changed so drastically that sharing now kills industries.

    Accessibility and frequency came with the tech.

    My point is this.

    When someone steals from a store, they often get caught and punished.

    Now, you have a store with the law and consequences posted all over. You have half the people waiting in line paying for their products and another half of the people walking into the store grabbing the product and casually walking out. Those people who are "stealing" get a frown from some of the people who are responsible citizens who pay for the things they get. Once in a while they get a lecture from one of these responsbile citizens, but in general, nothing happens.

    The irresponsible citizens wonder what the fuck is wrong with the responsible citizens and often think it is financial irresponsibility to pay for something that you can get for free with no legal consequences.

    Some days I think the thieves may be right.

  30. how bout people who spend hours in a shop reading the comics, manga or articles in a magazine instead of buying. Is that stealing?

  31. That’s up to the shopowner. He’s paid for the material, so if he wants to let people read it, more power to him.

  32. @ScorpionMasada – well, hang on now… the technology "kills industries?" That’s a bit of hyperbole that comes up a LOT in these discussions, but it’s really not true (as far as I know).

    Coincidentally, I had a great discussion with one of my co-workers a week or two ago, and he made some really compelling arguments that really made me step back and think. We started by talking about DVD sales, but that’s a bit different, so just a few points about music, which is probably the closest comparable scenario:

    – Historically, they DID try to squelch the release of blank cassette tapes as an "industry killer." Clearly, that didn’t happen. 😉

    – iTunes is doing very well. Music is selling. File sharing did not kill any industry. Much of the excess may have gone away, but it seems to me that once the music industry embraced the technology, the "death of the industry" screams have largely fallen by the wayside. 

    – People seem to be willing to pay for legal music for a number of reasons. Better quality, extra features, easier access/searchability, no worries about viruses, a desire to pay the artist.

    Now, I’m not gonna say this guy was doing a good thing. But I think the comics industry would be best served by focusing on solidifying its own iTunes/digital model. I think if you create digital comics with best tech, best added features, and easiest distribution, you’ll find the industry is in no danger of dying… at least by piracy.