Popular Comics Tracker Threatened with Legal Action

Fri, November 23rd, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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The war against the illegal scanning and trading of comic books seems to be heating up.

For years, illegal scans of popular comics have been making their way online via Usenet newsgroups and popular BitTorrent peer-to-peer tracking sites with little to no response from any industry publishers. That appears to be changing.

The popular comics tracking site Z-Cult FM has received legal letters demanding the immediate cessation of all illegal activities on the site from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, according to a report at TorrentFreak, a blog that tracks activities related to BitTorrent file sharing.

According to the report, Z-Cult immediately took their tracker offline to assess the situation and to double-check the authenticity of the threats. At press time, they were able to verify the threat from DC Comics was legitimate.

The report goes on to say that a prolific scanner of comics named "Oroboros," who posts his releases on Usenet newsgroups, has received a DMCA notice from his newsgroup service and will no longer be offering his illegal scans on the newsgroup.

This legal action comes at a time following the first forays both DC Comics and Marvel Comics have made into digital distribution. In late October, DC Comics launched Zuda Comics, a Web comics imprint producing all new material with a community/contest component. And just two weeks ago, Marvel Comics launched Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, a new subscription based service with over 2500 titles from their back catalog offered online. In an interview with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley on CBR this past Tuesday about MDCU, when asked if Marvel would be pursuing legal action against sites facilitating the illegal transfer of scanned comics, Buckley said, "We will be reviewing and evaluating 'illegal' downloading activities on a case by case basis."

Until recently, online comics trading was primarily limited to product from DC & Marvel, with a handful of the more popular independent comics also finding their way online. Over the last two years, though, that's changed dramatically as increased product from publishers like Image, Dark Horse, Avatar Press, Devil's Due, Dynamite and others have seen their product offered up illegally.

There are no current estimates of how much the illegal trading of comics online costs , or if it may actually benefit, the industry annually. Indeed, the webmaster for Z-Cult is on record as saying they they will be announcing a deal next week that will allow Z-Cult users to download comics from a specific publisher who had previously requested that their work not be shared on the site.

Updated 5:00 PM PST - Late in the day, Z-Cult admin Serj posted a response to the letters sent by DC and Marvel in this thread. In the letter Serj states that the trackers have been put back online due to popular demand and because Z-Cult is "based outside of the US and are not therefore subject to US legislation that was present on the legal documents sent to us."

In addition, it seems one publisher sees some benefit from illegal comics downloading. In a surprise move, SLG Publishing, who previously asked the Z-Cult administrators to ban the distribution of SLG titles on their tracker -- which the Z-Cult admins agreed to -- has reversed it's decision and has given permission to Z-Cult and its users to distribute their titles on their tracker.

In a statement posted on the site, SLG said, "SLG publishing would like to thank the moderators and forumers of Z-Cult for the respect they have shown in regards to our ban request. Obviously, our preference is to have each comic legally paid for, and the efforts undertaken to honor this desire have clearly shown that Z-Cult is not a forum overrun by those expecting a free ride. In return, we have decided to lift the ban from our independently published titles being distributed on Z-Cult. Of course, this is not an entirely selfless act - we hope that exposure to our large library of titles will help encourage support of our legal download site, www.eyemelt.com. It is our belief that there is a market for legally downloadable comic books, and we hope that we can prove this to the comics industry by showing success through our our digital distribution system.

"Unfortunately we cannot lift the ban on any SLG/Disney titles, for reasons that should be obvious. These titles are limited to: The Haunted Mansion, Tron, Gargoyles and Wonderland. Our apologies for being unable to allow sharing on these particular titles."

Updated 11/26 12:30 PM PST - It turns out the letter from SLG Publishing was not an official response. In posts made to the Z-Cult forum, Serj states the letter was written by a writer who has been employed by SLG in the past, but that he was not authorized to speak for SLG, nor was the letter vetted by SLG Publishing's owner Dan Vado, who responded to the letter on the Z-Cult forum itself. Attempts were made by CBR News to contact SLG by e-mail on Friday, but the e-mail never arrived at its destination. CBR regrets posting the above letter and apologizes to Dan Vado and SLG Publishing for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Updated 11/26 - 8:30 PM PST - On his blog, Dan Vado offers a further explanation of what transpired, including an explanation of wrote the initial e-mail to Z-Cult and why.

Looks like I owe a couple of people some apologies on this. Let me break this down for everyone.

1) In regards to the statement on Zcult attributed to SLG. I did not write it. However...

2) Someone whom I have done a lot of business with over the years DID write it. This person had asked me some time back if I would be willing to do allow some torrenting of our material in exchange for ad banners on those same sites. This was a few months back and something I thought had already been done. In my mind this was supposed to be a low key promotional opportunity to see if people using those torrent sites could be persuaded to buy legal downloads and not a grand statement on the overall rightness or wrongness of torrent sites.

3) The fact that this took a long time to get done wound up being bad timing as I was now being painted as being pro-torrent, anti DC and Marvel. Those companies have the right to do whatever they like with their property, including threatening legal action. That I might find some promotional use for these download sites doesn't change that. The timing of the statement was very poor and caught me off guard while I was on vacation and made it look like our decision was a reaction to the Marvel/DC thing and not an initiative we took on our own.

4) I made some pretty harsh comments about the quality of comics journalism. While nobody covering comics is ever going to win a pulitzer, in this case I have to take responsibility for being out of line.

So, with a load of egg on my face I would like to sincerely apologize to Serj at Zcult, to Landry Walker who has been nothing but a tireless and hard-working friend and colleague, and to everyone whom I may have offended in general.

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