FBI Shuts Down HTML Comics

The HTML Comics site, a huge repository of online comics both current and older, has been shut down by the FBI, according to a press release from law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman.

Comic book pirating website www.htmlcomics.com has been shut down and all of its servers confiscated, following an FBI search based on a warrant alleging criminal copyright infringement. The FBI investigation was performed in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice, a consortium of comic publishers, and their legal counsel, a team of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP attorneys specializing in the areas of intellectual property, publishing, and comics, as well as local counsel in Miami.

Prior to the combined efforts of the consortium and the authorities, Htmlcomics was believed to have been the largest, best-known, and most easily accessible website of its kind, producing rampant copyright infringement on a daily basis and depriving artists and publishers of hard-earned and much-needed revenue. By April 2010, the website claimed to have an average of 1.6 million visits per day and more than 6,630,021 pages of comic books offered for unrestricted viewing. Ridding the Internet of such a large source of pirated content is a major victory for the comic industry and the publishing industry in general.

The consortium of publishers cooperating with law enforcement include Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Bongo Comics, Archie Comics, Conan Properties Int’l LLC, Mirage Studios Inc., and United Media [because Dilbert was included].

This is what happens when you run around loudly claiming you can put whatever you want online because you’re just like a library. According to one post in that thread on Bleeding Cool, the shutdown actually happened April 22. Rich first posted about the site April 12.

Even more interesting, Blog@Newsarama (link no longer available) pointed out this site in January 2009, in a thread where the site creator showed up to respond. Does this mean that big publishers read Rich but not that blog? Or did it take over a year to coordinate efforts among all these forces?

I found this phrase from the PR — “depriving artists and publishers of hard-earned and much-needed revenue” — particularly pointed. Is the phrase “much-needed” an indication of how bad off Time Warner and Disney are, since they run the two biggest U.S. comic publishers?

Anyone who has read copied comics from that site or others: are you now going to increase your comic buying because that one free source is gone? Enjoy that victory, comic industry! I look forward to seeing sales figures jump next month, since shutting down copyright violators obviously forces readers to shell out more money, instead of creating competing products that better satisfy customer wants.

At Robot 6, commenters say they’ll miss the site, mainly due to the older, out-of-print material that was available.

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72 Responses to “FBI Shuts Down HTML Comics”

  1. david brothers Says:

    On the Blog@Newsarama front… I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that publishers pay more attention to Johnston. He’s carved out a niche as a gadfly, for lack of a better term, while the big comics news sites tend to be positioned as tools to be used by PR. I’m not trying to insult them or anything by saying this, just that Marvel and DC can expect a certain level of service/cooperation from CBR or Newsarama in exchange for access, which makes them less likely to scour the site looking for trouble, or even things to pay attention to. Johnston, on the other hand, will definitely go at their necks.

    Another good example is when DC fired Dwayne McDuffie for posting comments about his troubles on JLA on the DC Comics forums themselves. When Johnston posted about it on LitG, poof, there went McDuffie’s run on JLA.

  2. James Schee Says:

    Like some of the readers at Robot 6 I’ll miss the site for its older back issues. I tried to stay away from the more current stuff, due to both lack of interest and that I wouldn’t have felt right taking away from books I could buy.

    Its kind of a shame that the publishers can’t do a site like it legally though. After all if some shmoe can do it, and apparently to Colleen Doran’s blog he was a douchy shmoe, certainly huge media conglomerates can too. There certainly seems a lot of demand for it.

    Of course I still don’t understand why the companies that do have digital comics put a long wait before you can buy digital copies anyway.

  3. Johanna Says:

    They’re afraid of annoying comic retailers. Retailers don’t think they can compete with day-and-date releases — which suggests to me a certain lack of faith in their product and service, but change is often scary.

  4. James Schee Says:

    Its like they think they are selling to the same customer then, which isn’t the way I think it would be at all.

    Especially since so many of the customers that attend comic shops these days are the ones who say they’d never read a digital comic.

    I like many of the basic concepts that both companies have, and would probably read more then I do if I could buy them online. I have no interest at all though, in going to a comic shop every week. Not only because I’d have to preorder months ahead of times what I think I might like.

    Its just too much of a hassle to make the trip, in the same way I dislike going to the grocery store. Tho at least there is a grocery store in easy access to me.

  5. Paploo Says:

    Well, Dark Horse and Bongo certainly aren’t corporate giants, though larger then most smaller comics pubs. I imagine smaller companies weren’t involved due to the costs involved, but it probably saved people like Oni, Image, IDW and SLG lots of time/money to let the bigger guys handle it.

  6. Paploo Says:

    James— isn’t Marvel doing it?

    So are webcomics for that matter. It’s not like there isn’t tons of free comics online legally, or large archives of content for a fee in a legit fashion like Marvel’s and assorted startups that are popping up [Longbox? Not sure on the names].

    All that sites like htmlcomics do is compete unfairly by not having to pay for anything, ripping off both creators of the comics they steal, and people trying to do business in a legit fashion by making their legal product seem less of a value, or making it look like they offer less content. If legit, authorized digital comics market is going to grow meaningfully, it would be best for it to do so without competition that doesn’t have to bother with thigns like paying artists or respecting publishers business practices

  7. Johanna Says:

    I think acknowledging different audiences would mean retailers realizing that there’s a bunch of potential customers they’re not serving and perhaps can’t serve.

    Paploo, Marvel’s online choices are not particularly satisfying: they don’t complete storylines, they don’t have some series available that readers want, and so on. iTunes has shown that you can compete successfully with free by providing an easier, reasonably priced, legal alternative. What we have now doesn’t approach that.

  8. comicsatemybrain Says:

    The big publishers knew about HTMLcomics before Johnston posted about it. If you read the Newsarama posts, the guy who ran HTMLcomics stated that he contacted DC and Marvel offering to pay them for each downloaded page but that he “got a very rude response.” It may be that it took more than a year to get all of the legals in place to shut him down, but it may also have been that the process was accelerated once Johnston made his post.

  9. James Schee Says:

    Yeah I have the Marvel and Comixology aps on my Ipod and they leave quite a bit to be desired in terms of offerings. I also tried Marvel’s online subscription thing, and it was not quite right either.

    Does Marvel and DC still do mail subscriptions?

  10. Paploo Says:

    Joanna- but would it make business sense to offer your entire catalogue when the market for digital comics is still immature? Just saying it’s probably easier to offer a limited selection, and see how it does, then build on it if it’s successful, while concentrating on markets that do make you money [comic shops/bookstores/libraries/onlinesales/licensing etc]

    VIZ is doing the same thing with Rinne and SigIkki. Generally, subscription based webcomics have never taken off for that matter. I imagine it’s hard to tell if the market is viable, so getting rid of the unfair competition will probably give them a better idea of what works.

  11. Paploo Says:

    James— I know Marvel still does mailorder subscriptions, they’re hyped a lot on their website [I heard X-men Forever gets a lot of sales via that route], and I’m guessing DC does as well.

    https://www.cambeywest.com/dcc/dccuniv.asp Yup they do.

  12. Herb Finn Says:

    The point is htmlcomics proved you can create a non-downloadable comic reader site with condent and eazy to read material.

    It’s up to the publishers to use that technology to create comic’s version of HULU – advertiser supported, not a pay-per-view model.

    Older comics,like the older films and classic tv shows with maybe original content – that way you don’t alinate the retailers.

    Comics in print really have only two outlets – the comic shops (and the few book stores still carring comics), and the collected TPB for the book-trade.

    Why must it be a pay model like Marvel?

    Someoene will come along and buy the rights,domain and software to htmlcomics and make it legal like NAPSTER did.

  13. Paploo Says:

    Joanna— I imagine Marvel will expand their digital offerings, it probably just takes a lot of time and manpower to do so considering their large archives. I know that’s how academic journals work, and they’ve been doing the whole “electronic access to archives” thing for over a decade now.

  14. Paploo Says:

    Herb—- http://www.onlinecomics.net Hey look, there’s alreayd been comics on the internet supported by ads you don’t have to download for the past 15 odd years. I really get tired of the business models people promote, which are EXACTLY what’s being done with webcomics, only people don’t want to bother with all the cool free webcomics they could be reading, they just want to steal the more popular print comics so they can keep up with all the cool people. It’s not about reading content online- it’s about getting something for free you’d be paying for otherwise.

    Respect creator’s choices to put their work online, or keep it in print. Read it for free if it’s presented to you [a lot whack of it is], and pay for it if they ask you to. It’s not up to you or anyonelse whose comics go online but the people who make the comics.

  15. Critch Says:

    I’m just gonna say it: Free, online versions of just about every comic released are available at any torrent site, just like any music, movie, tv, or game is. Unlike those though, comic companies have continually resisted changing their business model or at least providing an alternative.

    The average comic price is $3-$4 dollars. The average page size has dropped into the one to two dozen. Comics are increasingly delayed, and the sales of even the highest selling comic are only in the tens of thousands.

    It’s embarrasingly easy to fix. Release your comics online for a dollar. That’s it. Use the itunes method and sales will go through the roof.

    …Or just keep ignoring the internet while more and more of your fanbase decides that instead of paying $50 a week for an increasingly substandard product they’ll just get their stories for free far easier than going to a store.

  16. Paploo Says:

    http://adistantsoil.com/2010/05/05/pirate-website-raided-by-fbi/

    Just as an update, Colleen Doran’s posted about her own dealings with this jerk, and why pirate sites hurt people trying to make money with their own comics online.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Paploo, I’m not saying offer the entire catalog, but at least make sure what you offer makes sense. Don’t only put up 1-4 of a six-part story. Experiment with older series, especially if they have some connection to current work. And the market will stay “immature” if companies proceed as tentatively as you suggest, since customers will have no reason to explore it or commit to it.

    Here’s a survey writeup that sheds some light on the situation: most users would be willing to pay for content, but what they’re willing to pay is less than content owners are willing to accept. (Content owners tend to overvalue digital work, trying to maintain similar price points to physical objects when customers don’t accept the equivalence.) Of course, content owners have the legal right to charge whatever they wish, but maybe this explains why I think their plans are self-defeating. They’re stuck in an old model of what they think they “deserve”, and the internet has opened up more options for users.

    Publishers may want to wait until they’re the only game in town, getting rid of what you call “unfair competition”, but that’s never going to happen. Encouraging them to build their plans that way is foolhardy. You’re also assuming that people would pay for what they read for free if the latter choice was removed. I’m not sure that’s the case — there are plenty of things I (legally) consume for free that I would simply stop paying attention to if I had to pay. Some things aren’t worth the money.

  18. More Reaction to HTMLComics Shutdown » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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  19. Thad Says:

    I don’t much care for reading comics on a computer screen — I’ve done it now and again, but frankly the switch to a digital format is why I’m not caught up on TMNT. And those are free. Legally.

    (And, like everybody else, I think the iPad has potential to be a real game-changer, but I’m not going to go out and buy one yet, partly due to cost and partly for the various DRM-y reasons I’m always complaining about in your comments section. And because they want to tell developers what languages and kits they’re allowed to use.)

    That said, I’ve been thinking about the importance of illegal archives a good bit lately, since Bisette made it clear that 1963 will never be collected. That’s an excellent series, and I fully support people reading it illegally since the only alternative is hunting down back issues.

    Of course, that’s creator-owned and I don’t see Bisette and Veitch as likely to call the FBI over it. Sites like HTML Comics don’t get shut down for posting niche, out-of-print comics.

  20. Johanna Says:

    I suspect we’re going to get an iPad sooner than I thought, since KC saw his friends with them at C2E2. I’m hoping to hold out for at least a 2nd gen, though.

    I find your 1963 example interesting, since back issues are easily available on ebay at reasonable prices. Usually, that kind of example uses Miracleman or something else where back issues are ridiculously expensive.

  21. Lucas Siegel Says:

    Hey Johanna!
    To answer your question quite simply, when we published our piece on Blog@, we actually pointed it out/sent the links to both Marvel and DC, and heard from both that they’d passed it on to legal (and that Marvel had seen the story before we sent them the link).

    So yeah, it may have actually taken this kind of time.

  22. Johanna Says:

    Thanks, Lucas, for clearing that up.

  23. William George Says:

    …most users would be willing to pay for content, but what they’re willing to pay is less than content owners are willing to accept.

    Exactly right on every point you’ve made so far, Johanna.

    It irritates me when content owners assume that downloader’s money is rightfully theirs when it’s obvious that they never had that sale to begin with.

    People pirate because they don’t think the product is good enough to pay for at the price being asked. The quality of the work doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s a result of failing to make something that will sell to interested parties. Nothing more nefarious than that.

    So the content creator should either adjust their pricing to match, or put in the effort to find out what people want and then make it. Since the entertainment industry is willing to do neither of these, piracy will continue to be a problem for them.

    Businesses that don’t adapt to the customer’s needs, die out. Simple as that.

  24. Dana Says:

    I spend a lot of money on comics every week. I think the FBI should go after websites that are showing movies that haven’t even been released yet.

  25. KC Says:

    “I suspect we’re going to get an iPad sooner than I thought, since KC saw his friends with them at C2E2. I’m hoping to hold out for at least a 2nd gen, though.”

    There’s a couple of reasons for that, and at least one fits in well with this particular topic:

    1. The iPad has similar proportions to a standard comic book page. Most computer screens do not. That alone is going to get more people interested in digital comics.

    2. The iPad is a non-floating, non-holographic (for now, anyway) Omnicom. Why would I NOT want one?

    I am willing to wait for a 2nd gen model, however. (I want one that floats.)

  26. Thom Says:

    I want an iPad that can fly.

  27. Johanna Says:

    That would certainly solve the problem of reading in the tub – just set it to hover!

  28. Daniel Says:

    Actually…
    Html Comics was what got me buying comics. I mainly read the older stuff for nostalgia’s sake, but I read some of the newer batman and green lantern stuff and decided it was worth starting to buy stuff again, blackest night was good, RIP not so much. But without this site around to guide me to what’s good and what’s not I’m pretty much stopping buying. (actually still getting GL, and may try return of Bruce Wayne, but definetly not getting any more of the more selective stuff the site was tellng me to buy).

  29. Comic Book Pirates and Online Libraries « Media Ethics and Internet Says:

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  30. Jay Says:

    If DC (the publisher I read the most of on htmlcomics) wants to gain the business they potentially lost by me using htmlcomics they need to make older comics (pre-90s) available online.

    Being able to purchase cheap digital copies piecemeal would be good. A monthly subscription for unlimited viewing of older material would be ideal.

  31. david Says:

    where else are you even going to find stories like the new gods and secret wars, I know I haven’t found them in any local stores yet.

  32. Suzene Says:

    David:

    Secret Wars (and Secret Wars II) was released in omnibus form not that long ago. It’s $99 off the shelf, but you can get it for almost half off at Amazon. Some of the Kirby New Gods and Fourth World stuff has also been reprinted.

  33. jstew Says:

    Its really too bad. I know that some(ahem coleen duran) may disagree but this site is the SOLE reason I walked back into a comic book shop in 5 years or more. I would love to buy some of the older stuff and share with my children but i refuse to pay for a substandard version of hardcover collection that is over priced. I refuse to pay for a product that has a sweet looking cover only to get a book drawn by some guy that sucks and a book filled with more ads than story. html allowed me to screen the garbage without leaving my home and go with a shopping list to the store. Besides if u doubt that most people preview than buy i got news for you just cause i go into the store doesnt mean im buying. Ill spend hours “viewing” the latest issues to determine if its worth my money. If he owned the books and posted his collection online i hope he wins his case but if he was indeed just downloading illegally then hell get what is coming to him. either way i’ll miss the site and so will three other burgeoning comic book readers and buyers(my boys)

  34. Astaldo711 Says:

    I visited the site a couple of times to read some comics from the 80′s that I enjoyed. I read their statement on how they were like a library, you could read them but not download them. I just don’t understand the paranoia of it all. If I go to a convention and buy some old comics from the 70′s and 80′s, how much of that goes to the artists/writers? Pretty sure my local library has titles that aren’t PD. I’m not buying comics at all anymore they all make me sick.

  35. Mr.Hyde Says:

    I liked Html comics for it’s accessibility and easy to use reading. Some people like me can’t get comics anywhere but online. The closest comic shop to me is a 4 hour drive or 1 hour expensive train ride away. Now that Html is gone I, like so many others, will probably just use torrents now. What I think Marvel or DC should have done is just regulate the content rather then shut down the site.

    At least they know what people are reading and how to use that to there advantage. Good luck shutting down all the torrents DC and Marvel.

  36. Mr. H. Says:

    They weren’t charging to read the comics. They could be read for free, and they couldn’t copy any of the pages. I don’t see how any of that is “criminal copyright infringement”.

  37. Johanna Says:

    It doesn’t matter whether or not you make a profit in your copying when determining copyright infringement.

  38. Clubsprint Says:

    I’m going to miss htmlComics and access to all those historical comics that I would never buy. As far as I can see he was making no money from the site. I hear that Google are backing his legal defense and that there all sorts of precedents to be set. I hope he wins, copyright is all about the government and wealthy publishers maintaining control and nothing to do with protecting the author/artist.

  39. Erin Says:

    Personally, I’m really sad to see it go. That site helped me discover a lot of titles/graphic novels that I’d never heard of. Getting to see it BEFORE buying it means that I didn’t get burned, become frustrated and swear off comics (which I have done once before). So the industry got MORE of my money then it would have without htmlcomics. So guess what’s going to happen now that it’s gone.

  40. ghasl1 Says:

    I never heard about this site but the problem now-these days is competition. In my old days there where comic stores everywhere and they also sold them in grocer stores. Now they dont have them around no more and then I only see one comic retail store and thats too far into the city. When I get there I look at the prices their a rip-off, I cant barter with him or go elsewhere because he knows he’s the only store there is. So the price doesnt drop.

    They say its a library but its not a library because I always find the comic vandalized. With the internet they preserve them, no doubt posting new stuff should have a wait time before they show it to the public.

  41. Tony Stark Says:

    darn it’s not victory… What about those people who can’t afford comics?!

  42. Johanna Says:

    I’ve written a whole post about how to get free comics. The most obvious answer: visit your library. Most have graphic novel sections.

  43. James Moar Says:

    And, since you’ve got a Marvel-based username, it’s probably worth adding that if you’ve got $10 a month, you can get access to Marvel’s online comic library (several thousand issues, and 100 new ones a month).

  44. Hsifeng Says:

    ghasl1 Says:

    “…They say its a library but its not a library because I always find the comic vandalized…”

    WTF?! That’s terrible! In my local libraries the books, graphic novels included, can be kinda beat up from being toted in so many people’s bookbags but few if any are vandalized (once I did find a this-book-sucks comment in a library book, but even that was on a post-it note instead of written on the book itself!). Shame on those creeps vandalizing your library’s books.

  45. Reader Says:

    So, what is the difference between a local library carrying, say 50 graphic novels and a site like HTML comics which may offer a lot more? The sheer volume of books available? The fact that only one consumer is theoretically spending to put these comics online vs. each library paying a local comic shop for 50 books worth? Where do you draw the line?

    If it’s illegal to read comics without paying money then the FBI is about to get a lot busier.

  46. Johanna Says:

    There is a simple difference. The library pays for one copy of a book, and one of their patrons can read it at a time. If more people want to read it, more copies must be bought.

    A website buys (maybe – I don’t think that’s so in this case) one copy and a near-infinitive number of people can read it at once. In short, a website makes copies, a library does not, and that’s why the website violates copyright law and the library does not.

  47. James Schee Says:

    I’d think it’d work the same way as movie rentals. I can take it home and my family and friends can come watch it. Yet if I tried to play it in the park with thousands of people watching it, it would be illegal.

  48. Mark Swanson Says:

    …And yet you have “movies under the stars” shown to large audiences for free all around the country

  49. Johanna Says:

    Yes, and those kind of movies shown in public are licensed differently, through specific companies, if people are doing it legally. It’s not the same as running a standard rental cassette.

  50. Andrew Nawrocki Says:

    My little sister turned me on to htmlcomics. I was really happy because I could read thing that I could not find any other way. Back issues of things that are no longer in print or that I couldn’t find any other way. Well, now I guess I will never get to be as up on all my DCU history as I would like. BTW my comic purchasing hasn’t decreased. If anything it has increased.

  51. Russell Easley Says:

    Bottom line is, if you are the type of comic book reader who prefers the physical form of the comic books, then you will buy them even if, or maybe especially if, you have read some online. Most collectors hate having holes in their collections, and many are obsessed with having every single issue of the titles they like, even if it has been cancelled.

    Reading on htmlcomics made me buy way more comics than I would have ordinarily. So I guess it’s a good thing for me that it was shut down lol. Now Marvel will get less of my money and DC will get none (html made me go on a DC “kick” for awhile) since the comics aren’t there to peak my interest. Funny how corporate America goes around shooting themselves in the foot constantly.

  52. Izzy Trenton Says:

    Well I only heard of this website today, I was interested in seeing if there were any comics that I could online. I heard of this website and nothing came up. I was confused so I used good old google to figure out what was up with this thing, and I found this blog. Wow, there are some pretty interesting comments here. I think it would have been fun to read the good old comics that are extremely hard to find now, or they cost more than my life… -.-’ Anywho, the matter has quite made a great deal of people angry… haha, I don’t know much about it but some of the comments are make me laugh. Hope it all gets worked out though, I do think it would’ve been nice to read some of the older, and more awesome comics. :) Well, have a lovely day or night, everybody.
    ~Izzy

  53. Izzy Trenton Says:

    Oh! And hovering ipads would be freaking sweet!

  54. billy bob joe smith brown kay junior III Says:

    is their a website where you can legally read old comics? because i can’t find older comics at stores.

  55. James Moar Says:

    Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited has a fair amount of their stuff on an all-you-can-read for $10 a month.

  56. billy bob joe smith brown kay junior III Says:

    ok, thanks.

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  58. Jak Says:

    Is rubbish its not really doing anything bad.

  59. Jude Says:

    To be honest I hadn’t read a comic book in my life until one of my friends showed me HTML comics and I went on frequently to read a comic from a series, if I liked it I’d go buy the series cause I hated reading them on the computer, I thought it was great, now I have to either borrow books from a friend or take second hand opinions on what series are worth buying for my tastes, I can understand both sides of the argument but I do think torrents are a much larger problem than HTML comics was.

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  62. Jennifer Says:

    How very sad. I went to that website to read one thing and one thing only: The original Detective Comics from the late ’30s-early ’40s. I wasn’t even born yet, and there’s no way I can afford the millions of dollars those issues go for at auctions. But I love the language and the look of those comics. You can’t get stuff like that anymore. So, what are my options? Library? Don’t think so. Online digital subscription? Don’t think DC would go back that far, probably think there isn’t enough interest. Someone needs to put together a site or a way to get this old stuff out there…for ppl like me, cuz I can’t be the only one who would love to read it.

  63. sakhai Says:

    i knew the site was too good to be true when my friend forwarded me the link— i fig’d it was only a matter of time before they were shutdown

  64. Yoga Says:

    My only contact, ever, with american comics was that site, since its closed its very probably ill never buy neither a book or merchandising related to them in my life.

    Thats correct american culture industry, i would not spend a quarter of my wallet to pay for some fun, it could be like a 1/20 but it seems you only want the fat Fans.

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  66. neetu Says:

    I use to read through this site, and it made life easy. bt guess wat gud things dnt stay for long. It will nw deacrese my book buying for sure coz nw i dnt feel like reading it after all this. M&B have online read for free & i still buy M&B coz i like that they offer me smthng above my book buying. and if archies or other comics cant do it then who cares to read them.
    At one side we talk abt saving paper & other side we ban sites. hippocrates

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  69. Jason Says:

    I visited HTML comics to read the earliest adventures of Captain America. Books that aren’t in print, and aren’t affordable by any stretch of the imagination.

    Oh well. Such is life.

  70. walt kovacs Says:

    jumping on this topic very late…

    i went to the site a couple of times, because i found trying to read a comic on my computer to be an absolute pain

    i do not like today’s piracy laws…sharing should not be considered piracy, if the item shared cannot be copied or downloaded.

    and there are other sites still up that allow full downloading…and lets not forget torrent…where i can download anything to my hearts content

    shutting down this website did not stop piracy, anymore than shutting down a few streaming websites, stopped piracy of movies and tv shows

    its over…the internet is pure anarchy…and i love it

  71. Pirated Comic Brings Greater Sales, New Life for Older Work » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Most creators, when they find their work prominently displayed online, pull guilt trips or threaten or even take legal action. [...]

  72. Mattias F. Täll Says:

    **** FBI…

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