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After seeing that a lot of manga reader websites are making advertisement money out of other people's copyrighted works, I was wondering how would it be to make a similar site, but where the advertisement income would be sent back to its appropriate owner. The transactions would be stated in a transparent way to show that I am not the one making money off those works.

Since I would not be able to get the permission to publish their work, it would be clearly a purposeful copyright infringement. However, if people were to ask for a take down since they are being published elsewhere, I would willingly take them down and leave a link to their site. Now, I have two questions:

  1. Would they ask for a take down for any other reason, when various other manga reader websites are making money off them?

  2. Considering that myself is not going to be making any money off their work, does this still fall into the category of criminal act? If so, are there more than take down notices that can happen? (C&D? financial punishment? imprisoning?)

  • Copyright infringement is not a criminal act, it's a civil matter. – Scott May 11 '16 at 3:58
  • @scott In the US, there is criminal copyright infringement. – user3851 May 11 '16 at 13:54
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  1. Would they ask for a take down for any other reason, when various other manga reader websites are making money off them?

Merely looking at the fact that the other sites have not been taken down is not a good metric to decide if you will face an infringement suit for your own site. Consider the following possibilities:

  • The manga on those sites may be published by a different publisher than the manga you want to host, and that publisher of your desired manga is more litigious.

  • The manga publisher may not have been actively pursuing infringement for the last several years, but they may suddenly decide this fiscal year it's a financially good idea to start aggressively pursuing infringement. They will go after the other sites and your site at the same time.

  • Because you plan to give them money, you are actively drawing attention to your infringing site. While they may not find it worth their while to seek out whatever new infringing sites pop up every week, in this case, they don't have to come looking for you. You show up to them, actively telling them that you're infringing their copyright.

Of course, they might not care. They might love your idea. Regardless, the legally sound way to do this is to ask for permission before you do it, rather than forgiveness afterward. If you don't, you are certainly vulnerable to a lawsuit (whether or not the publisher will pursue the opportunity to sue you is a question left to the discretion of the publisher).

  1. Considering that myself is not going to be making any money off their work, does this still fall into the category of criminal act? If so, are there more than take down notices that can happen? (C&D? financial punishment? imprisoning?)

Having your infringing site taken down is the minimum that could happen. If you commit copyright infringement, the copyright holder is fully entitled to file a lawsuit against you at once. It's possible that they could just file a DMCA takedown notice to your ISP to have the content taken down, but they are entitled to sue you for damages as well.

Maybe they won't sue you because it's not worth their while. If not: lucky you! So, ask yourself: do you feel lucky?

Copyright infringement is typically a civil offense and only punished with fines. It can only qualify as a criminal offense under 17 U.S.C. §506 when the infringement is "willful" and meets one of the following criteria:

(A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

(B) by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000; or

(C) by the distribution of a work being prepared for commercial distribution, by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if such person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution.

As long as you don't violate any of those conditions, your infringement is not criminal. Condition B seems most likely, if I am reading it correctly: if your site serves a $10 book one hundred times, then you've met the $1000 threshold. The threshold of what makes an infringement "willful" versus "ordinary" is somewhat nebulous; see Wikipedia's article on Criminal Copyright Law in the United States.

  • I see, thank you very much for your answer, that pretty much clarifies almost everything that I was wondering. I have one question though, what if I was to only host mangas that are not published in US? Would the condition B not apply anymore in that case since the work doesn't have any retail value in US? If so, it would only be considered a civil offense? – Kyangi May 14 '16 at 14:19
  • @Kyangi I have a very feeble grasp of international law. I assume the jurisdiction where the offense would be handled would be either (1) the jurisdiction of the copyright holder or (2) the jurisdiction of the infringer. I'm not sure. (This might make a good separate question.) The fact that the manga was never published in the U.S. probably has no bearing on valuating the work -- it's probably worth whatever it's worth in whatever countries it is published. (I admit valuation seems unclear to me in many cases; e.g., works that are decades out of print: it sold for $5 fifty years ago, so..?) – apsillers May 16 '16 at 1:34

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