Friday, March 22, 2013

Take the Money and Run

Until January of this year, I was a regular customer of Comixology. As I've never been one to collect comic books as an investment, I quite liked the idea of a digital comic collection. I wouldn't have to buy bags and longboxes to prevent my comics from deteriorating, and I could carry my entire collection (or at least a significant portion of it) on my iPad.

It wasn't long before I noticed something else that was different with digital comics: there was no way for me to share them with my friends. If I was telling my friend about a particularly good issue of The Tick, I could lend that issue to my friend so that he could share in my joy. If, however, I was telling my friend about a good issue of The Amory Wars, I had no such option.

It's clear that this is a DRM issue. Fears surrounding digital piracy had prompted Comixology to "lock down" their comics. "My" digital comics could only be accessed by logging into Comixology's website or via their iOS/Android apps (which hide the downloaded comics where you can't get at them). Surely, this would prevent those nefarious ne'er-do-wells from pirating digital comics. (spoiler alert: it didn't)

Over time, this came to bother me more and more. A particularly troubling thought was "What would happen to my digital comics if Comixology folded? If I'm completely dependent on Comixology for access to my digital comics, would I lose that access?"

This led me to try to read through Comixology's Terms of Use. After wading through several paragraphs of legalese, I found what I was looking for in section 6:

Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by comiXology. ComiXology reserves the right to revoke your license to Digital Content at any time for any reason.

Translated into English, this states that Comixology never sold me any digital comics. What they sold me were rights to read said comics though their service - rights that could be revoked at any time and for any reason. If Comixology were to shut down, there's no reason to believe that I would retain any of these rights - my digital comics would simply vanish in a puff of illogic.

My response was immediate:

It didn't take long for my concerns to be proven correct.

JManga, a digital comic service focused on Japanese comics, is shutting down. Their sales services are in mid-termination, and they plan to shut down entirely on May 30. All of the details can be found here.

Two statements in this announcement are of particular relevance:

As of May 30th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) users will no longer be able to view digital manga content on At this time all purchased and free digital manga content will be erased from all JManga Member’s accounts.
It is not possible to download manga from My Page. All digital manga content will no longer be viewable after May 30th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time)

In other words, if you bought digital comics from JManga, they're bring taken away from you at the end of May. There will be no refunds, your money is simply gone. There is no legal way to retain or re-acquire the comics that these folks paid for.

XKCD said it best:

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