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What Do You Own With Digital Comics?

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Batman and Robin on a Digital StandardAt the tech company I spend my day at there’s quite a few geeks, many of whom like their comic books, what a shock.  While walking through the office to grab a drink I was pulled aside by a developer to talk digital comics and specifically Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited as well as comiXology.  I don’t use digital services a whole lot other than to read preview books sent to me and sometimes download freebies.  In the discussion I was told if you have a subscription to the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service, you’re walled off and unable to view those same comics in comiXology.  The issue arose due to Marvel’s service needing to run Adobe Flash and the iPad’s inability to do so.

It makes sense the two wouldn’t be compatible and just because you’re signed up for one, doesn’t mean you can read the issues in another.  The business models are completely different.  Marvel charges a flat fee for unlimited reading of the available comics while comiXology sells individual issues, much like a store.  But that got me thinking, what do you “own” when you make a digital purchase?  The answer is, nothing.  Unlike a physical book that you take home, read and do with as you please, you actually license the materials from these companies.

From the Marvel End User Licensing Agreement/Terms and Conditions:

LIMITED LICENSE: Marvel grants to you a limited personal, non-exclusive and non-transferable right and license to access the Service. Unless otherwise specified in writing, the Service is for your personal and non-commercial use. You acknowledge that you may not sublicense, transfer, sell, or assign this license or the Service. Any attempts to sublicense, transfer, sell, or assign the license are void.

And comiXology:

The Service enables you to download, display and use comic books and other digitized electronic content as made available by comiXology from time to time (individually and collectively, “Digital Content”). Upon your payment of the applicable fees (if any) and subject to any further restrictions in the EULA, if applicable, comiXology grants you the non-exclusive right to view, use and display the Digital Content as part of your use of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by comiXology.

None of those terms and conditions were easy to get to and I had to dig to find them.

That word license in both is key and you’ll find it in the other terms and conditions I read.  If the service or company goes under, you’re screwed.  All that money spent goes out the window.  Want to use another service?  Too bad, you can’t transfer the materials.  There are exceptions to this rule like Drive Thru Comics which allows you to purchase watermarked PDFs.

I also found this nugget in comiXology to be entertaining:

You retain all your ownership rights in original aspects of your User Postings. By submitting User Postings to comiXology, you hereby grant comiXology and its affiliates, sublicensees, partners, designees, and assignees of the Service (collectively, the “comiXology Licensees”) a worldwide, non-exclusive, fully paid-up, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicensable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, and otherwise exploit your User Postings, including your trademarks and logos included therein, in connection with the Service and comiXology’s (and its successors’) business, including, without limitation, for marketing, promoting, and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof), in any media formats and through any media channels now known or hereafter discovered or developed. You also agree to irrevocably waive (and cause to be waived) any claims and assertions of so-called “moral rights” or attribution with respect to your User Postings.

While you may “own” your posts, you also give comiXology and it’s partners the right to use them as they see fit, including any trademarks and logos that might be yours, and there’d be nothing you can do about it.  It’s understandable that they need this to have rights to your posts, it’s the use of logos and images I cringe at.

As a whole though, this shows the distance digital comics need to go to really get me comfortable to transfer over to them.  I own the comic I get from the store.  I don’t own the digital comic I get from the digital store.  They may cost the same, but the product isn’t equal.

As consumers we need to demand a consumers rights including, but not limited to:

  1. Ownership of materials or drastically reduced prices to reflect the licensing of materials
  2. Ability to transfer purchases to different services
  3. Standardization of the digital format (this makes that second point easier)
  4. What we’re purchasing made clearer

Until those four points are addressed, buyer beware.

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  • This isn’t a business practice existing in a vacuum though. Amazon Kindle is the model it’s based on, a wildly successful one at that.

    • It goes much further back than the Kindle. It’s not at all uncommon, but that doesn’t make it right and doesn’t mean folks understand it. Hopefully this article educates people about the reality of it all.

  • That looks remarkably like Nintendo’s EULA for their 3DS system:

    “By accepting this Agreement or using a Nintendo 3DS System or the Nintendo 3DS Service, you also grant to Nintendo a worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display your User Content in whole or in part and to incorporate your User Content in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed, including for promotional or marketing purposes.”

    It then refers you to their Privacy Policy, which is just as broad.

    • It’s standard on websites and it’s needed. What raised an eyebrow for me is this part:

      “including your trademarks and logos included therein”

      If I were to post reviews there under the Graphic Policy name or use the logo, that particular service could use our name and logo in their promotions. Handing over our name and logo gives me pause, not matter the reason.