Image Expo 2013: Image Drops the Mic & Gives the Middle Finger Part 1

During Image Expo yesterday, Image Comics dropped the mic and raised a middle finger to others when it comes to digital comics. The publisher announced they’d start selling comics directly through the newly revamped Image Comics website. The bombshell was that these comics would be DRM free, snubbing their nose at digital comic industry leader comiXology as well as iBooks and other digital comic platforms. Readers can also choose the file format they prefer: PDFs, EPUBs, CBRs or CBZs. The comic blogosphere was quick to praise without really diving into the details.

The announcement was followed up with a puff piece on Wired.com which I normally expect good tech journalism from. Instead the article begins with an incorrect and misleading title, “For the First Time, You Can Actually Own the Digital Comics You Buy.” The fact is, this isn’t the “first time” this option has been available. The article by Laura Hudson overlooks DriveThru Comics which has been a DRM free platform that has existed for over a decade (comics has been about 7 or 8 years) and offers some Image Comics (Top Cow is often featured). By claiming Image is “the first major U.S. publisher” to offer this is a slap in the face of DriveThru, Top Cow, Archaia and others who offer their comics through that service and clearly haven’t received the attention or praise they deserve.

But, that “exclusive” article is little more than an extended press release that treads more in fear than facts and goes nowhere near actual questions and details. Things we as fans, and most importantly consumers, need to know when weighing how and where to spend our dollars.

Working in the tech sector, I thought it’d be nice to dissect this move by Image weighing the good and bad. We were an early voice in the arena of digital comics having brought up issues when it comes to ownership of digital comics in 2011. And having consistently fought for consumer rights (*cough* SOPA and PIPA *cough*), this only seemed appropriate.

DO YOU REALLY OWN THE DOWNLOAD?

The Supreme Court recently ruled on the First Sale Doctrine which gives us the right to resell legally purchased items. Looking through the Terms and Conditions I found nothing on this or addressing ownership, the digital store was sparse with details. As I “own” these digital comics, just like a print edition, I should be able to resell the digital copy. And when I do that, what then? Do I need to delete my digital copy?

This is a very important question because if the answer is “no” then I don’t really own the digital copy and this announcement and praise is a bit exaggerated. We’ve followed up with Image Comics to clarify this point and will update this article when we receive a response.

The only terms and conditions we found were for the Image website. They’ll need to lay out exactly the digital rights we as purchaser get when we make a digital purchase. Anything short of allowing us to lend, trade, or resell is in fact not “ownership” and is in reality limited digital rights.

TERMS OF SERVICE?

The Image website terms of service covers all items under the Image website, which would most likely include their Digital Comics store which resides at https://www.imagecomics.com/store/comics. The terms of service states:

All information contained within ImageComics.com is protected under U.S. copyright laws. All rights reserved. ImageComics.com’s content may only be reproduced, without alteration, for distribution in print or electronically if permission has been granted by ImageComics.com. This includes all hidden text displayed within our source code.

Since the store falls under the website, then digital comics would count as content. Therefore it flies in the face of the First Sale Doctrine and true ownership. Selling the digital copy could be construed as “distribution.” The claims made in the Wired article are exaggerated and hyperbolic in nature.

CONCLUSION PART 1

We in fact do not “own” these digital copies in the traditional sense that we do physical printed copies. We most likely can’t resell these comics on eBay or lend them to friends or give it away. But, having gone through the purchasing process myself, there is no terms stated at the time of the purchase, so all I can go off of are those of the website which haven’t been updated to reflect this new offering.

We’ve reached out to Image for comment, but so far we’re looking at a lot of hype that’s not backed up by facts.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 later today.