When Rich Johnston made a post, not long back, about how HTMLComics was hosting pirated comics the countdown clock in my head went off as to when the site would get taken down. Johnston’s post meant the major comics publishers would suddenly notice the site was there. This week the site was official taken down through a consortium of publishers. The official statement from the lawyers can be found here. It’s entertaining to read their statement as they try their best to spin this as a major victory, when in truth HTMLComics meant little to the actual piracy of comics. The guy that ran the site just happened to have a very poor understanding of copyright law. He believed his site fell under fair use and in his mind he was streaming comics and not letting people download them. It was a easy take down for the publishers as HTMLComics was hosted in the US and the guys name was all over it. He never stood a chance. Even the FBI was involved. Now I don’t have a problem with piracy but this guy was asking for it with his missguided understanding of what he could do. Perhaps part of the misunderstanding is because of the many manga based websites that host translated files the same way that HTMLComics did. The manga sites are no more legal then anything else, they simply fly under the radar as Japanese publishers are primarily worried about what happens directly in the Japanese market.
The part that surprised me was in Rich Johnston’s report on it where he quoted Erik Larson essentially saying he liked how HTMLComics was setup. Larson started a thread about it on the Image Comics forum. It was quite refreshing to read Larson’s views on this. He takes a more sensible stance on how comics should be treated. I think his best point was mentioning the idea of a need for internet version of a public library. I’m all for that, not just for comics but any digitized version of what can be found in a public library. It is completely unrealistic for publishers to expect people to fork over money for older comics in digital form. HTMLComics did have the right idea at heart but it did not have the legal ground to stand on. Sadly none of that is likely to change any time soon as publishers are still trying to wrap their heads around the idea of digital books in general let alone a public library option. This of course will just continue to drive people to pirate the books much like what the music industry has had to deal with.
One last note, both Larson and the guy that ran HTMLComics seemed to be under the impression that having a comic in html format means it is being streamed and thus difference from a direct download. This is a common misunderstanding of streamed formats. Streaming is just being able to view the content as you download it, like on youtube. The files are still being downloaded to your computer. It is just a harder to save them off permanently. In the case of the HTMLComics it was just viewing the scanned images of the comics in a web browser. So if someone wanted their own copy they only needed to save the image like any other typical image file found on the web. Even the html files could be saved so the comics could be read off line in the same format through a web browser. Flash based viewers, like Marvel’s digital service, are not much different either just in that case someone would either need a program that saves off Flash files or in the case of a comic it is just a matter of saving it off with basic screen captures (which would be tedious but it means things can still be saved like a direct download).