Feds sue 6 websites for offering free comic books

May 28, 2010 By SUZETTE LABOY , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Six websites run by a Florida man violated federal copyright laws by allowing visitors to view Batman and other comic books for free without permission from the publishers or authors, government lawyers charge in a federal lawsuit.

ComicBooksFree.com, HTMLcomics.com, and PlayboyMonthly.com were among the domain names run by Gregory Steven Hart doing business as Database Engineers Inc. located in Tampa, according to the filed Thursday in Tampa federal court.

"We have taken civil action to shut down the websites and take custody of the website domains," said Steve Cole, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

A phone message was left Friday by The Associated Press with the company. An for Hart was not named in the lawsuit, nor was a phone number listed for Hart. His company's websites appeared to be no longer working Friday.

The FBI began investigating Hart in 2009. The site HTMLcomics.com provided a large number of copyrighted comic books and Hart was operating the site without the permission of either the or authors who own the copyrights to those materials, the lawsuit says.

The publishers sent Hart letters demanding that he cease and desist distribution of copyrighted material, but Hart refused. By June 2009, HTMLcomics.com claimed to host over 100,000 issues.

In Nov. 2009, Hart was contacted by the attorneys for Marvel Comics Group, which own Spiderman and X-Men comics. He told them he designed the website, and although he did not personally own the comics being displayed, he received digital image files from people who scanned the comics and posted them on his website, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Hart advised the attorneys that if no company agreed to a revenue-sharing arrangement, he would continue to operate the site without charging users to view the comics.

HTMLcomics.com received between 400,000 and 500,000 hits per day. The monthly cost to subscribe to Marvel's service is $10.

Among the comic books available on the sites were: Astonishing X-Men, The Simpsons, Dilbert, Peanuts, Batman, Superman, Watchmen and Mad Magazine.

Hart established HTMLmagazines.com, which made available for viewing copies of various magazines including Maxim and Playboy. Federal agents searched his home in April 2010, seizing records including a cease and desist letter, hard drives, computers and DVDs with copyright-protected images.

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5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2010
Good to know the government is going after the bad guys. Way to go!
2 / 5 (2) May 29, 2010
They are not going after the bad guys. They are going after some bad guys.
5 / 5 (2) May 29, 2010
They clearly needed to raid and sue Hart because asking him to take the domain down wouldn't have had a high enough tax-dollar/ass-kicking ratio. Good to know that this was so important to Marvel that they sent him countless cease and desist orders before the FBI got involved.

It sounds like he didn't even rip the comics. This isn't a just lawsuit at all. He's certainly involved in hosting the files, but the ones actually ripping the comics are the "thieves", although calling someone who scans a comic book a thief is ridiculous.

Last time I spent a few hours at Barns&Noble reading magazines for free, no one had an issue with it. How is this any different? Advertising revenue? So the FBI is saying that this guy can't bring hits to his site because it allows people to preview comics? Something they've been doing at Newbury Comics since comics have existed?

The FBI shouldn't be enforcing Marvel's heavy handed online strategy. What a waste of money.
5 / 5 (3) May 29, 2010
This is just stupid and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Stupid on Marvel's part, especially.

It would make a lot more business sense for Marvel to either (a) ask for a royalty fee or (b) allow the site to operate, provided the posted material is only than 1 year. Both options are only viable if Marvel doesn't already offer a similar service of allowing users to view old comics.

Option (b) would build a fan-base that would be much more likely to purchase the up-to-date comics. Especially for the epic storylines - who wants to wait a year to find out what happens? Also, it's not like Marvel continues to make money on old-comics. Stores typically only sell the last several months of issues at best.
5 / 5 (4) May 29, 2010
Yet again proof that the concept of the Internet is too modern for our caveman style capitalist society.
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2010
The issue of selective enforcment is raised.

Anyone who lives by intellectual property deserves protection. As important as that may be, it is curious who quick and decisive action is brought in a comic book case whereas those responsible for thousands of deaths per year via the drug trade go Scott free.

Any 10-year old can find the pusher; the Feds can't find him or stop the stuff from coming across the boarder.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
Yet again proof that the concept of the Internet is too modern for our caveman style capitalist society.

It definitively seems like that. The bigger problem for me is that the U.S government seems to be turning into the pimp of corporate interests. It's kind of sickening. I mean if you say that this is Marvel's stuff, I'm not sure why they're suing the website, I mean is it even theirs? They didn't make it, they put some money into it. It's not their material. If someone sues it should be the artists who made the stuff, and for royalties not anything else.
1 / 5 (1) May 31, 2010
Hey you anti capitalist dummies. If nobody is paying for comics because everybody is ripping them off on the internet, there won't be any more good comics produced. Do you think all those talented artists are going to work for free? Goddamn... you are a bunch of f-tards.

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