Tag Archives: digital rights

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New DMCA Exemptions from the Librarian of Congress including some Video Games

1024px-Copyright.svgThe Librarian of Congress has adopted new exemptions for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA has prohibitions against circumvention of technology measures.

The decision was part of a public process and evaluated from feedback through that. There was nearly 40,000 written comments and heard testimony from sixty-three witnesses over seven days of public hearings.

Based on all of that, the Register of Copyrights suggested exemptions for twenty-two types of uses and the Librarian adopted them in full. Yeah read the full exemptions (and some of the rejected ones) online.

The rule is effective October 28, 2015.

The decisions affect everyone and some are interesting particularly for us geeks.

One of the exemptions has to do with works distributed electronically for use with “assistive technologies for person who are blind, visually impaired or have print disabilities.” There’s some folks working on comic readers for the blind, and this absolutely impacts that cottage industry.

Also mentioned are video games whose server support has been discontinued, and issue that affects more and more video game fans out there. It’s specifically mentioned this is for “individual play by gamers” and as for preservation of the games by libraries, archives, and museums. It also extends to the console code to help in that preservation.

Overall, a victory for consumers from the draconian and abused DMCA.

Image Expo 2013: Image Drops the Mic & Gives the Middle Finger Part 3 Other Digital Services

In the first part of this three-part story, we examined terms of service and the claim that Image was “first” when it comes to offering DRM free comics. The second part delved a bit deeper into the concept of ownership. This third part looks into the possible fallout from this decision by Image Comics.

IMAGE VS. COMIXOLOGY

Image has been releasing comics through comiXology, the leading service in digital comics, having joined the comiXology digital service in August 2010. They also release digital comics through iVerse, iBooks and some of their imprints such as Top Cow and Shadowline have DRM Free deals with other services like DriveThru Comics and My Digital Comics.

And while Image comic books will still be offered for sale on ComiXology, iBooks, and every other platform where it was previously available, Image’s Director of Business Development Ron Richards says that offering the direct-to-consumer downloads is important. “There’s something to be said for the ownership factor. If readers purchase a book on ComiXology, that may be their library [on the service] but from what I understand that could be revoked. And God forbid, if ComiXology goes under or their data center has an earthquake all their hard drives go away — then you’ve got nothing.”

Ron Richards has a history in the digital realm. He was the founder of iFanboy which was later acquired by Graphic.ly which is the highest profile digital comic service to fail. His comment about comiXology “going under” is from his own experience in that previous venture. ComiXology CEO David Steinberger has addressed this previously during conventions stating the company is doing great and if it were in trouble it’s a high target for acquisition, something I’d believe. But with their current growth any issues are far down the line.

But Richards’ logic completely fails the smell test. His quote is filled with hyperbole and logical conclusions that apply for Image’s own business as it does comiXology.

And God forbid, if ComiXology goes under or their data center has an earthquake all their hard drives go away — then you’ve got nothing.

The act of God scenario. ComiXology has had issues in the past, most famously when the service crashed due to high traffic load during their promotion to give away the first issues of over 700 Marvel comics. Weposted on why it happened, a massive influx of interest which resulted in a denial of service. However that interest is a good thing as it caused many people who have never known about the service to traffic the site and as you can see by our graphics below, the service has retained a lot of that traffic. There wasn’t a “database” issue and a tech company like comiXology will have multiple copies of databases. Data centers are built for those types of scenarios and redundant features are built in by major technology providers. But these issues arise on occasion as services move to the cloud, Netflix, Amazon and many others have suffered the same fate.

But, this also applies to Image. When you purchase a comic, the comic is saved in my profile. Does Image have multiple data centers and back-ups of these purchase in case of failures on their end. I do have the downloaded file, but a similar issue arises for them, that of data storage. So, best the publisher has everything set on their end. The first time their site goes down, he’ll have to eat his own words.

The publisher has also taken numerous opportunities to criticize the digital publisher in the past. But, using Ron’s logic, is Image opening up it’s own physical distribution as well? Currently the comic industry is serviced by Diamond Distribution, a company that has an almost near monopoly on the business and that has had serious financial issues in the past. Going by this same logic, there needs to be another “just in case” (a belief I actually have, but that’s a discussion for another time). There has been some communication issues in the past, many of the issues attributed to comiXology are also due to Apple’s terms of service. Richards’ comments sound like sour grapes the more you factor in his previous work history.

Going through the purchasing process of Image’s digital comics, there seems to be no age restriction, an issue that’s just begging for trouble down the road. Comics such as Black Kiss II which are very mature are available for anyone to purchase without ratings present. That’s a poor choice in this digital age.

No matter, I can’t see the relationship between Image and comiXology being the same going forward, this is a clear kick in the nuts to the digital platform.

IS IMAGE GOING THIS ROUTE THE SMARTEST THING?

One can only sum up Image’s move as burning bridge between themselves and comiXology. Ron Richards himself admits they are now competing with other digital services. The growth of digital sales Image cites can really be attributed to these platforms, especially comiXology which has been a leader. They have shown it’s a viable business and people want to consumer their comics this way. But, to have sales you need eyes on the product.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come to paraphrase Field of Dreams. That’s partially what comiXology brings with millions of users and millions of page views a month on their website alone, plus recommendations. People might come to comiXology to purchase one item, but then discover others, something you don’t get with an “Image only” store.

I took a look at traffic between the two companies and you can see comiXology dwarfs Image in the United States (and we’d imagine globally as well).

comixology_vs_image_traffic

To make up the ill-will, Image needs to make sure that they will have enough traffic to their site to make up for possibly less views on comiXology. The gap though is enormous. One just needs to look at anemic traffic for Image and you better believe we’ll keep an eye on this.

2013-07-02_2130(This graphic compares the terms “Image Comics” to “comiXology”)

Further while Image might seem to have all of the buzz with their numerous comic sell-outs, the buzz online isn’t there. Looking at Google Trends, we see that Image has had a downward slide since the early 2000’s while comiXology has only seen massive growth in interest regularly dwarfing online buzz since mid-2011. Image needs a shot in the arm, maybe this is it.

IMAGE’S IMPRINTS

The other question is how this decision affects Image imprints like Top Cow, Joe’s Comics, Skybound and Shadowline. Can they opt-out of this? Top Cow and Shadowline currently offer DRM free comics through other services.

IMAGE SAVES ON FEES

By selling through their website, Image cuts out fees they’d have to pay to Apple, comiXology which are a decent chunk. Image saves on those fees, minus whatever new costs are associated with this venture. Will they be paying better rates to creators then?

From CBR:

Aside from a promotional edge for Image with readers wary of digital comics apps, the publisher is also anticipating more benefits for its creators. “I can’t get into specific contracts, but basically there is no middle man,” Richards said. “There’s no cut for comiXology or Apple or any other piece getting taken out. Ideally for a creator, sales through the Image website gets them the most money per sale.”

It sounds like that hasn’t been determined. That’s a pretty big deal since contracts tend to need to be settled before large ventures like this. This backs up my thought that this concept was rushed and not totally thought and planned out. A lack of Terms of Service is another thing, something no lawyer would allow them to launch without. If I were a creator, I’d be digging through any contracts I had right now, especially if one of my comics was a launch title.

IMAGE VS. BRICK-AND-MORTAR

The final question is the impact on brick-and-mortar stores. They made Image Comics and by offering this service Image will absolutely hurt them, though by how much is to be seen. We’ve seen the digital and print market can grow together, there’s no opportunity so far for stores to profit from these digital sales like they can with comiXology. I haven’t seen the normal outcry concerning digital comics and their dooming print sales, but this is a slap in a face to them.

CONCLUSION

Digital Rights has been a topic of much buzz, especially since Microsoft’s launch of the Xbox One and their failed decision involving DRM. While Image has been deservingly winning praise for releasing some great new series and revitalizing their brand over the last few years, the praise lavished upon this announcement is a bit premature. Hard hitting questions, like the many we’ve covered, haven’t been asked (or answered) and whether this is truly a good deal for creators hasn’t been established. Until we get some of these answers, lets cool it with the adoration. While this sounds like a step in the right direction, the devil is in the details.

Image Expo 2013: Image Drops the Mic & Gives the Middle Finger Part 2, DRM Free Vs. Ownership

Earlier today we released the first part and a few follow ups debunking the myth perpetuated by other sites that Image Comics is the first publisher to offer DRM free digital comics. They are the largest (we think) so far to do so and if I’m wrong please fact check me on that, but from what I’ve looked at, I’m pretty sure.

Though Image’s Director of Business Development Ron Richards told CBR, “You buy it, you own it,” I remain skeptical because there’s a far difference between being DRM free and owning something.

DRM FREE VS. OWNERSHIP

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a way for copyright holders and technology companies to manage consumers’ uses of products they purchase after they purchase them. The easiest example is purchasing a book and only being able to read it on one reader or having to confirm the purchase of a product by entering a key or connecting with a server over and over. The last one being an issue that’s come up in the video game industry.

We as consumers deal with DRM every day, for instance  being locked down as to what we can watch on television. When iTunes launched, they instituted FairPlay DRM for their entire music library. In April of 2009 though, the company changed their policy increasing the price of tracks and selling music DRM free, though video and apps still employ Fairplay DRM. So, this is not uncommon, but how it’s implemented can become a firestorm, just ask Microsoft.

If you’ve ever bought a digital comic book, your experience probably went something like this: You opened up an app like ComiXology, paid around $1.99 to $3.99 — likely, the same price as a print issue — but never downloaded the file for the comic to your hard drive. That’s because you don’t really own it — you’ve simply licensed the right to look at it in someone else’s library.

…Image Comics announced at its Image Expo convention that it will now sell all of its digital comics as downloadable via its website for both desktop and mobile users, making it the first major U.S. publisher to offer DRM-free digital versions of comics.

Yes, Image is probably the largest publisher to offer DRM free. But that doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly arrived at a point where we own everything that we purchase through them, there is a difference between ownership and DRM free. Mere possession is not ownership. Content creators do have a history of calling something “owned” up until the point it no longer suits them, but without a Terms of Service about digital purchases, it’s unclear as consumers what our rights are. Just because something is DRM free doesn’t mean we own it outright, there can still be fine print which isn’t clear currently. So, to me this announcement comes off more as a public relations stand than something new and ground breaking.

Entertainment Consumers Association founder and President Hal Halpin sums it up nicely in addressing the same debate when it comes to video games:

We know that, to be blunt, consumers consume. We purchase, rent or license what content providers like to call “Intellectual Property.” I believe that, if we legally purchase it, we buy the right to own it, use it, rent it, and sell it as we see fit – again, a doctrine which falls comfortably under First Sale.

If we rent it, it’s with the understanding that the financial principles are fundamentally different: we don’t own the product; we simply have the right to use it for a specified period of time, in an extraordinarily specific way, and for a LOT less money (typically ~$5.00).

If we license the product, we have a reasonable expectation that our rights to the product lay somewhere in between owning and renting. We certainly don’t own it, but the restrictions on use and for how long as Draconian as with a rental. Price is typically about half as much as those who outright own the product (typically ~$30.00).

PIRACY

When it came to the battle on PIPA and SOPA, some Image creators spoke up, while the publisher was silent, we reached out to numerous publishers with a few such as 215 Ink and Fantagraphics siding with consumers and against the draconian legislation.

Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson told Wired:

My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment. There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high. Obviously we don’t want everybody giving a copy to a hundred friends, but this argument has been around since home taping was supposedly killing music back in the ’70s, and that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it’s happening now.

Again and again, numerous studies have showed that pirates purchase more media and entertainment than non-pirates. As a site we believe that DRM actually purchases legal purchasers more-so than pirates and that the more options consumers have, the better. While the publisher might be taking this bold stance, the creators they represent don’t necessarily agree. Numerous creators have a strong stand against piracy, stating it directly takes money and food from them. Will creators be able to opt-out of this new store if they are uncomfortable with DRM free product?

Stephenson continued in the article:

Piracy is not going to stop; everybody’s doing a completely ineffectual job of stopping it now, and I don’t think that this is going to add to it… Now that the technology has caught up to us, then the attitudes and the opinions [in the industry] have to catch up as well. And that takes time, because it’s a shift in the paradigm. There are a lot of people who still don’t quite understand it.

We’ll be keeping a lookout on DMCA notices and other moves by Image when it comes to piracy going forward and if this move will increase the availability of digital Image Comics and the affect on sales.

CONCLUSION PART 2

This is a great first start by Image, but the devils are in the details, aka Terms of Service. Part 3 will be posted later today.

SLG Has Been Doing it For Years….

Earlier today we began to report on Image Comics‘ decision to go DRM free and the hyperbolic and factually incorrect reporting that went along with it. From the original Wired piece.

It has also essentially prevented the comic book readership (or at least, the legal comic book readership) from truly owning any of the books they buy. At least until this morning, when comic book publisher Image Comics announced at its Image Expo convention that it will now sell all of its digital comics as downloadable via its website for both desktop and mobile users, making it the first major U.S. publisher to offer DRM-free digital versions of comics.

Except that isn’t true and Dan Vado, owner of SLG Publishing spoke out about that on Facebook.

Dan Vado SLG Publishing DRMThat’s on top of DriveThru Comics which is a DRM free digital platform (though they do mark the bottom of PDFs with a unique identifier), 215 Ink, Archaia, Top Cow (an Image imprint) and the numerous other creators who have been doing this exact same thing for years.

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.

Around the Tubes

It’s a new day, did you listen to our awesome episode of Graphic Policy Radio last night? No? Well you missed out!

Around the Tubes

The ComiChron – Flags waving: Justice League of America #1 sets new high marksAmerica!

ICv2 – Warners Loses One in Supes Fight Luther!

Bleeding Cool – French Creator Unions Reach A Deal Over Digital Rights Interesting stuff.

The New York Times – Miles to Go Before He Sings I now have a mission. We will get him to sing.

Bleeding Cool – Nike’s Iron Man Air Force 1 Sneakers Kind of want?

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

CBR – Dial H #10

The Beat – Relish

The Beat – Shadowman #5

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.

DC Universe Online, Purchase at Your Own Risk?


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DC Universe OnlineThe President of the Entertainment Consumers Association, Hal Halpin, in a guest editorial on IGN takes on DC Universe Online which has made news for its licensing of the game, like PC games, rather than ownership, which is usually the case with console games (the game is available on the Playstation 3).

The game’s DRM limits the ability to rent, trade, or sell the video game after purchase.  With each disk comes an activation key, and you must use that key to load the game.  By doing so it connects the key with the Playstation account that the key was activated with.  This “locking” of the activation key prevents the game to be used with any other account other than the original account is was loaded with.

While this is common with PC games, it’s new for console games and the fact is this wasn’t disclosed on the packaging.  The PC game also retails for $10 less than the console game.  As a non-PC gamer and new to MMOs this fact and process was new to me, and even though I don’t sell back my used games the inability to do so makes me less inclined to pay for one in the future and the lack of transparency also makes me feel one has pulled over me.  Also, I contemplated switching to a new Playstation Network ID.  If I do so, I’d no longer be able to play the game I purchased.

As Halpin points out:

Console gamers were almost instantly up in arms about the perceived deception, as there was no disclosure about the required PSN key or license limitations on ownership and use. PC gamers on the other hand, were decidedly less offended and perhaps even feeling a little vindicated, thinking, “Welcome to the party!” The issue at first seemed like a non-issue from their perspective: MMOs have always been single use DRM locked games, so what’s the problem? The problem, of course, is that console games are sold and the ownership conveyed, along with rights. That’s one of the reasons that licensed products have a lower value proposition. In this case, the PC version of DC Universe Online sells for ten dollars less than the PS3 version.

Many were caught off guard by this.  No where on the outward facing packaging informs you it’s not a “traditional” console game.  In fact after reading through the entire terms of service there’s no mention the activation key is locked to one PSN account.  In fact there’s explicit language about the pre-order bonus and that you can only download it to one account.

The ECA is running a poll to see how this might affect people’s decisions about purchasing the game.  You can take the poll here.

Full disclosure: Brett Schenker consults for the Entertainment Consumers Association
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