In November 2007, the TorrentFreak website reported that the Z-Cult FM comic tracker was under legal pressure by Marvel and DC comics. Another tracker, ComicSearch, came out with an open letter to Marvel and found themselves facing the same threats. Here is ComicSearch's open letter which we found enlightening on the issue of fans and the modern equivalent of fan clubs - the online fansite.

Open Letter to Marvel from ComicSearch

This letter comes in the wake of several important developments in comics on the internet and, in particular, Marvel's recent launch of its online comics service.

Up until recently, The 'big two' in comics (Marvel and DC) have turned a blind eye to the rampant pirating [Editor: Sharing is more appropriate as no profit is gained] of their comics and their distribution online via usenet and bittorrent. I'd make the argument that the recent upsurge in the popularity of comics, and the growth of the industry as a whole is due to, not in spite of this policy. A policy that Marvel has thrown out in recent days with its cease and desist letter to popular comics website Zcultfm.

Marvel seems to be operating under the impression that stamping out piracy is the way forward, that people downloading scans of comics aren't buying the print versions and the way round this problem is to clamp down on illegal distribution and point people at their online service instead.

I (and the many other people who use this site) can already see this isn't going to work. Not only that, but it's a completely misguided idea to begin with. You only have to look at the example of the RIAA and its persecution of music downloaders to see that attacking fans who want to see / listen to your product is not only misguided, it's downright stupid.

As things stand at the moment, Marvel and DC are in an enviable position. Their fans love them. People download comics not because they don't want to buy them, but because they want an electronic version they can read, and organise more easily without damaging their precious print versions. Look at any one of the users of Zcult or this site and you'll find they have vast libraries of print comics neatly catalogued and safely put away, and they keep the scans on their computer where they are easily accessible.

Marvel's recent online service, while a nice first tentative step into the online world isn't what people want from electronic comics. You can't download the comics to your machine (only read them online) and the selection of comics available is sparse at best. The other enviable aspect of Marvel / DC's position is this: Their product has a value above and beyond its content. People don't download comics instead of buying them, they download comics as well as buy them. And then there's the vast sums of money in the industry that don't even come from the comics… movies, merchandise, etc. That money isn't going to shrink because a few people download comics, it's going to vastly increase as more and more people get into comics after checking them out online.

Marvel (in my opinion) has the chance, now, to show the way forward for intellectual property holders in the digital age. Don't try and stop the pirates, embrace them as the true fans they are and let them do the work of spreading the word about your product. Yes, it's a gamble… but it's one that, when it pays off will do your reputation and more importantly your product the world of good.

People download comics not because they don't want to buy them, but because they want an electronic version they can read, and organise more easily without damaging their precious print versions.

Far from having the desired effect, Marvel got in touch with ComicSearch with this message (names removed, replaced with 'Marvel / ComicSearch):

I am going to ask nicely first, and request that you please remove all Marvel comics from the tracker and ask that your members refrain from putting up new torrents containing Marvel comics. You are on notice that if you continue, it will be at your own risk.

Thank you,

[exchange of emails to confirm it is indeed Marvel, and not an imposter, are removed]

I've already posted notice in the forums that Marvel comics are no longer allowed on the tracker. If you can give me a list of torrents currently on the tracker that contain Marvel comics I will remove them post-haste.


I trust that you will comply and I will check back in a week to confirm that they are removed. That should give you ample opportunity to remove them in a reasonable amount of time.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Don't try and stop the pirates, embrace them as the true fans they are and let them do the work of spreading the word about your product.

I understand you're merely an employee of a large corporation and likely have little authority with regard to Marvel's policies, however having said that I have some time to kill so I'd like to get this off my chest: I believe Marvel's recent change in stance with regard to online comics distribution is shortsighted and ultimately will lead to dissatisfied fans and a loss of sales.

Your online service doesn't meet the needs of the people it's aimed at. The comics are lower quality than available 'pirate' scans, you don't offer a downloadable option and the selection of titles available is small.

Instead of trying to stamp out the pirates, you should be making use of them. Why not set up some sort of licensing scheme? Many of my users have said since the clampdown that they'd be more than willing to pay a reasonable price for downloadable, high quality scans. Marvel should be tapping into that market, not trying to force their own service on people who, at the end of the day, just want to read comics.

Your current strategy may work in the short term, but in the long term it's doomed to failure. implementing a policy which does little more than annoy your fans will eventually place Marvel in the same bracket as the RIAA, and I don't think that's where Marvel wants to be.

Again, I realise this letter will make little difference, once a corporation the size of Marvel has set a policy, there's little its customers can do about it but at least I'll feel better knowing that at least one person at Marvel has read this.

Thanks for your time.

Your opinion is appreciated and I will let people know the various complaints about our service. I will forward on your suggestions to the person in charge.

Again, I thank you for cooperating to remove the Marvel titles from your tracker and I encourage debate on this topic on your forum. Please do not allow members to link torrents on The Pirate Bay or from direct file sharing sites either, you should know better than that. If you support the industry, buy your own comic books. If you want to preview them, there are dozens of review sites out there that show the first few pages.

Best Regards,

What follows is an exchange of emails picking over some details of the DMCA, even though the admin of ComicSearch is not a US resident. When asked how US law could affect him outside of the country, there was another brief exchange followed by the customary anti-piracy threat:

Continue to push the issue and I will contact the other publishers.

Thank you,

Another custom these days is to respond to threats with a new server location, as explained by admin 'Deicist': "I'm now looking at moving my hosting to Sweden." Another cash loss for the U.S., another gain for Sweden.

Note: The above was posted on TorrentFreak, an excellent site to catch up with all the news about torrent sites.

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Z-Cult FM Shutdown Spotlights Downloading Issues

Until now, Marvel and DC, the two largest publishers in the American comics industry, had turned a blind eye to the thriving online culture of downloading comics.

The nexus of this culture was the BitTorrent site, Z-Cult FM, which hosted trackers to downloadable files of thousands of comics. According to the Heidi MacDonald’s article at PW Comics Week, Z-Cult FM Shutdown Spotlights Downloading Issues, it's estimated that nearly 90 per cent of all Marvel and DC comics have been scanned and are available for download, with virtually every comic from the '80s on available.

On November 21, 2007, "Serj", the administrator of the site, received letters from both Marvel and DC asking Z-Cult FM to stop hosting the trackers.

The situation evolved quickly from there. "Serj", who lives outside the United States and thus would in theory not be subject to US Copyright laws, nonetheless complied. ("Serj"'s reaction to the stoppage can be read in a Newsarama interview.) Initially, all Marvel books were to be removed, but DC comics would be available 30 days after they hit the stands. However, after further communication from DC, Z-Cult FM has agreed to remove all DC trackers as well.

Z-Cult FM always had a policy in place whereby any request from a publisher to remove their comics would be honored. In short order, Top Cow also contacted the site to remove their comics; in addition SLG has asked for their Disney comics not to be uploaded.

"Deicide," admin at another another comics tracking site ComicSearch, wrote to Marvel to protest the Z-Cult FM actions; Marvel responded by asking them to remove their Marvel trackers.

As MacDonald reported, the issue of downloading comics won't go away soon - comics trackers are readily available at surviving BitTorrent sites - and seems poised to bedevil the comics industry as much as it has the music industry.

Observers point out that comics will likely have as little success stamping out comics piracy as the music industry has. Todd Allen, author of The Economics of Webcomics, and a columnist on digital issues for Comic Book Rources comments, "The biggest difference between music and comics, in terms of the torrent economic sphere, is that comics are still collectables, first and foremost."

It's an irony that many have pointed out that even as torrent sites have thrived, comics sales have gone up - not down. "If torrents were going to kill off print sales, print sales wouldn't be up," said Allen. "There is a very real possibility that torrents, effectively advertising in this case, have been a factor in sales spikes. People will want a physical copy of an inherent physical product."

Note: Visit PW Comics Week for the complete article by Heidi MacDonald.

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December 7, 2007