The closing of HTML Comics was a huge deal for many internet savvy comic fans. My article on it has gotten more hits than any other on the blog over the past week, and the two most searched terms are both HTML comics (one with quotation marks). In reading articles about the incident, like this one from Robot 6 (from where I got this awesome image), I’ve gotten a little bit of background on the site and its owner Gregory Hart (seen left, being innocent of any wrongdoing). My inital accusation of douche-baggery admittedly came without knowing much about the guy and was mainly assumption on my part. Now that I have learned more, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the guy indeed is a douche bag.
But you have to give the guy a little bit of credit for his determination in sticking with the site despite overwhelming foreshadowing that exactly what happened was going to happen. Numerous creators/publishers gave him requests to cease and desist, but he was sure he was in the right. He even went seeking legal advice on the matter at the best possible place for it: Findlaw.com. Here is the string of messages that we will be playing with today.
I have created a public resource for reading material, hence I would like to believe that it would be interpreted as a “Library”.
This is his most widely used argument as well as the most widely used argument from fans who insist that he did no wrong. Hart believed that since he did not charge and did not have an option for downloading comics, he was basically just the comics equivalent of a public library. Except that libraries loan out physical copies of the books rather than making copies of them and passing those out. But whatever.
Since the creation of my library, I have been bombarded by the vendors and publishers of the comic books (i.e. … DC Comics, Marvel Comics, …) which make claim that my Library is an infringement of copyright laws, and must be taken down.
So despite claims elsewhere that he was legit and fine with other companies as long as he kept his stuff ‘six months behind’, they did actually contact him to have him shut his site down. But book publishers don’t go after public libraries – so what the hell, guys?
In an effort to reach fair and reasonable agreement, I have sent to their legal departments a letter which offers for me to make charge of a penny per page, and a maximum of 25 cents per total comic book, of which I also offered to share with them any profit they felt might be duly theirs. To this extent, I offered that, even if they felt they are entitled to 100% of the profit, that I would agree to such a relationship.
I absolutely love this ‘offer’ he’s making. The scanned property that has been copied from the original source is, by right, the property of the publishers. That’s what ‘copyright’ means. He is making the companies who own the property an offer to sell their material for substantially less than the original price…and offering to SHARE profits with them. ‘Even if’ they felt they are entitled to 100% profit? It’s THEIR PROPERTY! This guy has absolutely no claim to any of what he has, yet he’s offering to SHARE sales from it.
At the end of the story for my objective, I foresee that the website would gain great popularity, and would be possible to sell for a respectable price. Until such time as the sale of the website as a whole, I am not concerned with profit, and am completely amenable to continuing to maintain my Library with 100% free access to the public, or; to give 100% of any profits through any method that is agreed upon by the publishers of the comic books to collect money for the viewing of them.
In this part, Hart is flat-out admitting that he’s interested in making profit in this by eventually selling the site at a later date. Selling property that he does not have any right to. We come back to the ‘offer’ of profit-sharing with the publishers. I particularly enjoy the term ‘collect money for the viewing of them’. Publishers already have a system for that – it’s SELLING THE TITLES THEMSELVES!
I believe that the law supports my position and my interpretation of a “Library”, and; because I don’t even require membership nor does my Library incur fees for late returns of rented literature, my Library is more of a pure form of non-profit than is a community Public Library, or even the Library of Congress.
See how noble he is? His Library (always capitalized) is even better than the Library of Congress! Hart is mistaking the purpose of memberships in libraries. Library cards are more of a form of insurance that the library will get their material back in decent condition and can take proper action if something does happen. Of course, HTML comics was not lending out actual comics and thus there was no such need.
Additionally, the Library does not contain any material that would be interpreted as advertisement (i.e. … there does not exist links to other wrb sites nor any other medium to promote profit or any form of revenue for anyone, either directly or indirectly). Hence, there is no gain by its existence that would or could be appreciated by anyone or organization or corporation or community.
He is forgetting the obvious gain of readers being able to access free copies of copyrighted material without the permission of the holders of said copyrights. No gain at all, since there aren’t ads.
I am looking for specific laws and also any precedent cases which may support my position.
Thanks in advance to anyone who is willing to dedicate the time and effort to respond to this post, which may result in a clear interpretation of a Library, and also may provide me with a “bullet proof” support based on laws and precedence to enable my Library’s continued existence.
Obviously, considering the fate of HTML Comics, there weren’t any specific laws or cases to support blatant copyright infringement. The “bullet proof” support didn’t come, and now Hart is in a whole heap of trouble. But it’s not like the people who answered his post to offer legal advice didn’t try to warn him.
If you didn’t see a lawyer familiar with copyright and trademark law prior to starting this venture, I strongly urge you to see one now for a review of what you are doing. If you are infringing, the longer you wait to address the problem and remove the offending material, the worse your exposure could become.
You’d best get to an attorney ASAP. As far as I can see you are the verge of being sued and you have no legal defense.
The copyright holders did NOT give you permission and have made it very clear you DON’T have permission. If you continue, you can be sure you will be sued.
If you get involved with court litigation with these guys, win or lose, the litigation costs can get very expensive.
Given the scope of what you want to do, before you invest further time and money into this see an intellectual property lawyer now. Believe me, the money you pay in fees now to make sure you get this right will more than pay for itself down the road.
The problem is, you misunderstand the fundamentals of Copyright law (and how they apply in the digital age) and therefore the difference between what you are doing and what a library does.
Bottom line, you can try and define library in any way you want, and it isn’t likely to help you in the least. Just calling yourself a “library” doesn’t shield you from the reach of copyright law. You need to speak with a local IP attorney immediately. You have gotten yourself in deep and need expert help to try and dig you out.
The key here is that someone bought THAT PARTICULAR PRINT and they can lend it to others, give it to someone else (including a libarary), sell it to a used book store, etc. The problem for the library, or any one else, would be if it made COPIES of that print.
The issue is not physical media (paper) versus digital file, but, oversimplifying a bit, rather whether you are copying/duplicating the work.
If you scanned a paper comic and converted that to a digital file, for example, you’ve copied the work and that’s a problem.
You are, I think, putting too much emphasis on whether you make the work available for free. But even copies made to give away for free can violate the copyright law.
But legal advice really wasn’t what he was looking for. He was looking for someone to tell him that he was right. After each person commented, Hart responded with hypothetical situations to try to skirt copyright, even if it had no relation to his site. After a while, he quit responding to the site, apparently still convinced that he was absolutely fine, even though not a single poster agreed with him.
And thus, when the hammer finally fell, he took the brunt of it and HTML Comics became a thing of the past, leaving fans to carry on his Library argument and generally whine about having to join the rest of us in paying for their comics. No, not really – they still have Torrent sites to use.