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Copyright Infringement:
A Story of Penny Arcade, King of Webcomics


Penny Arcade is consistently known throughout the webcomic community as being the most popular. Launched November 18, 1998 on as a Monday, Wednesday, Friday online three-panel comic strip, it has since become an independent site of it's own. has amassed a fanbase of millions, with most modern webcomics paying tribute to its influence. Centered on video game parodies, the series includes film and social commentaries, written by Jerry Holkins and drawn by Mike Krahulik. The website features a tri-weekly blog written by Holkins - typically centered on the video game community.

(Jerry Holkins, AKA "Tycho" and Mike Krahulik, AKA "Gabe"; 2004)

Penny Arcade vs. "A Modest Destiny"

With the Penny Arcade forums flooded by commentators, it was no surprise that a major conflict would arise between the participants.
In the Fall of 2003, an argument between forum users "Tubesteak Samurai" and "Squidi" had taken over the forums, debating the use of copywritten material- with threats of legal action on the part of owner, Sean Howard.

Howard was the creator of A Modest Destiny - a sprite comic*, centered around a magical kingdom of his own design. According to Squidi - Tubesteak Samurai (real name Tauhid Bondia) had stolen his work to produce a forum avatar** without the owners consent.

*Sprite Comic: a common form of webcomic, incorporating the use of computer sprites (often video game related) in place of character art. Famous sprite comics include 8 Bit Theater and Bob & George - which use characters from the games Final Fantasy and Megaman, respectively.

**Avatar: a user's picture, often in forums, chats and online threads.

What began as a minor dispute soon became a full-scale brawl between both comics, with hundreds of AMD fans spamming the PA forums. Howard went so far as to post images comparing Samurai's avatar and his work, displaying it on his site along with a full commentary - both of which were removed as the argument gained popularity.

On December 10th, 2003 - Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade addressed Squidi's complaints via their main page, stating:

"I was lucky enough to see the offending artwork before he removed it and I can honestly say as someone who has been dealing with this sort of thing for over five years that he is insane."

Krahulik went on to cite how fans had sold T-Shirts using his characters, and even created homoerotic flash cartoons using his work.

Once this response hit Penny-Arcade's main page, was quickly bombarded by millions of PA fans - who heralded Sean Howard as "the grand master of internet assholes."

While Penny Arcade consistently told their fans not to interfere with Howard's work - they couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity. Within two months, was shut down, due to constant attack.

The debate set a prescient amongst the webcomic community. While the argument may have been trivial - its repercussions resulted in an establishment between Creator vs. Fan, in regards to creative content.

In the words of Krahulik:

"That is the cost of doing business on the internet my friend... If someone is using a drawing of yours as an avatar, take it as the compliment it is."

Since then, hosts the former series of "A Modest Destiny", while several users throughout the internet continue to mock his attempts at preventing copyright infringement. The incident spurned an Urban Dictionary Entry based on the event.

(Gabe tears up a calendar featuring an avatar from the AMD series.)

Penny Arcade VS "American Greetings"

On April 14, 2003, Penny Arcade featured a comic parodying the doll/TV series "Strawberry Shortcake", in the form of American McGee's "Alice in Wonderland", a violent third-person shooter known for it's explicit gore and violence.

(The original comic, before removal from the Penny Arcade website.)

American Greetings, owner of the Strawberry Shortcake trademark, threatened legal action against PA for copyright infringement, and while fair use of parody was legally depicted, Penny Arcade removed the strip from its site out of respect for the owner.

These two cases of copyright parody have established a boundary within the internet community and the "real world". While Penny-Arcade may have been able to hold a strong case, they understood the situation and avoided confrontation. In the case of "A Modest Destiny," the situation seemed absurd, due to the fact that 100% of AMD's content was internet-based.

Epic Legends of the Hierachs: The Elmenstor Saga

Recently, Penny Arcade spurned a Wikipedia-esque fantasy series titled "Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elmenstor Saga" (referred to as "ELotH:TES" by it's Fanbase).

(A fictional comic wherein Tycho (Holkins) mentions writing a fantasy series.)

While the idea was originally intended as a joke, the series took hold within the forum community and spurned a universe of it's own.

Created entirely by fans, the ELotH:TES series contains over 2,000 entries, including detailed historical accounts regarding the world of Battal. Characters, Locations, epic battles and real-life counterparts - such as an Anime Series and fictional ghostwriter are explained as a community-formed continuity.

Since it's creation, Penny Arcade has paid fan-service to the series, though indirectly and often as an inside joke:

example #1, example #2, example #3, example #4, example #5, example #6, example #7

As the series continues to grow, plans for an ELotH Guidebook are in discussion- and although none of the books, card games, and anime series exist within the real world, fans are twisting this self-created universe into a faux-reality.

This form of user-created content is a perfect example of how fans can take control of an artists concept and make it their own. When an article is created, it leaves the opportunity for further expansion- and an infinite amount of possibilities grow from a single idea. Within a short amount of time, the ELotH-Wiki can double and triple in size.


WIRED.COM's commentary on ELotH:TES

The Evolution of Gabe & Tycho

WebSnark: Fans vs. Fandom

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