FBI Shuts Down HTMLComics (And Why a True Digital Library Would Be More Effective)
Acting on the urging of a coalition of comic book publishers, the FBI has shut down pirate comic book site Htmlcomics.com. Among internet pirate fans, Htmlcomics was especially notorious; the site offered 6,630,021 pages of more than 5,700 scanned comics, which were available for unrestricted reading. The quality of some of the older books such as "Action Comics" #1 wasn't very good, according to some, but this didn't stop the site from getting an alleged average of 1.6 million visits per day.
The site gained greater attention when Rich Johnston mentioned it on April 12 in a post on Bleeding Cool, pointing out the questionable nature of a site claiming that it was acting merely as an online comics library and wasn't in violation of copyright laws since it did not offer downloads.
Less then two weeks later, people found they could no longer access Htmlcomics. And this week, a press release revealed that a group of publishers pooled their resources to shut down the site through legal action. Those publishers? DC Entertainment, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Archie Comics, Bongo Comics, Conan Properties International LLC, United Media and Mirage Studios. With the help of this real-life Justice League of comics publishing, the FBI shut the place down and confiscated all its servers. So is Htmlcomics the victim? Its creator, Gregory Hart, claims he's just running a library. And another site, Librarylaws.com, completely backs him on the legality of his actions. Oh wait ... Gregory Hart created that site too? Huh.
Here's the thing. Yes, libraries let you borrow and look at materials for free once you pay for your library card (via taxes or otherwise), but they expect you to return it, and libraries also pay fees to publishers for the right to lend out books. Libraries allow you to make photocopies of portions of the books, but they're not going to stand around while you copy every singe page of several volumes. And let's face it, several of us are smart enough that we could have gone to Htmlcomics and saved complete images from the comics we wanted to keep scans of, despite the safeguards they put up.
What this fiasco really tells us is that fans are hungry for a true comic book library. And not just fans, but people like me who sometimes need to research some important bit of trivia or continuity for an article that we don't have on hand.
Marvel.com has taken a step in the right direction with its digital comics library, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. It's still a work in progress, but I'd love to see other publishers follow suit. Give us a real comics library. Many of us would be happy to pay a small monthly fee, trust me. It'd be akin to Netflix. Rather than going to all the trouble of calling in the FBI, you'll win the battle a lot faster by making pirate sites like Htmlcomics redundant (and not worth the risk) by offering fans a way to get what they want -- legally.