You May Not Own that Digital Comic, Son

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. This is merely information conveyed that is apparent from reading publicly available contracts.

I did a practice run at this topic a while back as I prepared for a paper. This is a more reader-friendly version of that content.

Can't really sit on the fence with this issue.
Can't really sit on the fence with this issue.

We have all heard the debates on physical comics versus digital comics. Some, like myself, are nostalgic and wish to keep the books to pass on to future generations. Some, like my brother, are modern and love having a good issue to read on the go and on almost any device.

Turning the page or swiping the screen?

The smell of print or the joy of built-in soundtracks?

Paper cuts or strained eyes?

We’ve heard the debates – we’ve even had them within our own brains – but now it is time to look at the issue from a different light: Legal.

I am a soon-to-graduate law student at the University of Wyoming. My interest in the law came about because I wanted to learn to protect the rights of artists, I having been a recovering bass player. As you might imagine, any university based in Wyoming is not going to have a strong intellectual property program. Why would they? Sheep don’t make art. But I was lucky enough to have a professor that was interested in IP law and he let me do an Independent Study in which I wrote on digital ownership rights. It was a long, boring paper (only unsexy lawyers find long, boring law papers sexy) but it pretty much amounted to this: Under current practice, the majority of you don’t own your digital comics.

Taylor Swift is totally photo-bombing my Marvel example. It's not always about you, sweetheart.
Taylor Swift is totally photo-bombing my Marvel example. It's not always about you, sweetheart.

Let me repeat that: Under current practice, the majority of you don’t own your digital comics. Like, at all. (I hope you used your best Taylor Swift voice for that last line.)

I’ll make Marvel an example. I am enjoying the newest run of Uncanny X-Force. It’s different and in a very good way. Let’s pretend I can’t make it to my local comic shop (Heroes Only in Cheyenne) and I decide that I can’t wait any longer. I jump on to download the last issue. Perhaps I don’t notice it, but there is a link on the bottom of the page that says “Use of this website signifies your agreement to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.” Using the site (like downloading sweet Uncanny X-Force comics) shows that I agree to the Terms and Conditions of the site automatically. does not have to require a signature for this type of contract; simply using the site shows my acquiescence to the rules of the site.

So what does this mean as I purchase the new Uncanny X-Force? The very first term in your objectively agreed-to contract is that retains all rights to the property that the consumer is accessing/downloading.

“Your use of the Web Site does not grant to you ownership of any content, code, data or materials you may access on the Web Site.” (Term 1, emphasis added.)

Then what do I get, the loyal Uncanny X-Force downloader? A “limited license.” I may use the content for my own “personal, internal use” only.

“The Web Site and the services offered on or through the Web Site, including any content and materials thereon, are only for your personal, non-commercial use.” (Term 2.)

By “purchasing” a digital comic you are actually contracting to only have a limited license to use the content. My Uncanny X-Force is only to be used by me. I can never legally sell the right to that digital issue.

It's a great deal, unless you don't think so...
It's a great deal, unless you don't think so...

This opens up many issues for debate:

  • Why does the site say I’m purchasing issues? Isn’t that misleading?
  • Why can they charge the same amount for a digital issue as a physical one when no limitations are placed on physical copies (as in, you own that book)?
  • Does this actually help or hinder anti-piracy policies?
  • What is the legality of simply giving your device’s password to a friend or relative?

The sad thing is that this is pretty standard right now across all forms of media. Music, books, games, and so on, are typically limited when bought digitally. Does this detract from your desire to “purchase” digital comics? Some say there is no price for convenience. (Actually, I just made that up.) Digital comics ownership is nothing to some because flexibility is worth any price. Some, like me, hate that my money goes to nothing more than a glorified private viewing of the comic. Give me my physical books. Give me actual ownership.

A look at other contracts for digital content will show similar things to the Marvel example, like Comixology. Very few contracts actually allow digital ownership. Check your digital contract out to see the status of ownership on what is in your digital queue.



Don't Use the Door When Fabian is Writing

The 1990s was a grand time for Fabian Nicieza. Do you know how many effing books he had his hands on? X-Men, X-Force, the New Warriors, Nomad, and a few more. Rereading some of these classic (and some incredibly not-so-classic) stories shows an odd trend: doors are dangerous.

  1. In an issue of Cable, Sinsear approaches Tolliver's estate and requests Mr. Tolliver's company. The butler, just behind the door, informs Sinsear that Tolliver is dead. Sinsear kills the butler.
  2. In Deadpool: the Circle Chase, Sluggo knocks on the door of Copycat's mother. He gets lassoed around the neck and pulled to the roof.
  3. In an issue of X-Force, Black Tom returns to Cassidy Keep to find that the family lawyer has taken up residence. Black Tom blasts the lawyer as soon as he opens the door.

Doors are bad in this stretch of time. Don't open them if Fabian is writing your story and you are in the 90s.

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The Artist's Mind

This scene from Nomad #20 makes me laugh.


The first panel clearly shows Six Pack on the beach. The water is distant (despite Domino saying that she is in the water). A fire is blazing. The next panel, however, shows the tide is definitely coming in. Poor Grizzly, that fire looks nice.

So what was the artist thinking? I often think this with puzzling panel sequences. This one, however, seems pretty easy. Domino has her shirt off. I guess the artist simply got distracted by things that could make her even hotter (because a strapless bra isn't enough?). What if she were reading a martial arts book? I guess that's a start. Ooh, and how about she's tip-toeing in the water? I guess that's sexy. Sadly, putting her in the water makes Grizzly in the water, too. And the Winnebago. And the bags of McDonald's food the colorist tried to turn into the beach.

The two panels are just absurd.

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I Don't Give Up - Musings on DP #4

Writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn have stated that they are going to take Deadpool a little deeper and darker than he's gone in the recent past. The issue is supposed to be #7 but issue #4 held a poignant gem in it that may be a bit of foreshadowing. To this point, Deadpool has been his old, quirky self: quips left and right, awesome fights, and dressing in drag as hot historical celebrities. (What?) The first two issues in the newest series were fantastic but the third was a misstep. Deadpool, it seemed, was already growing stale. The authors remedied this, however, by appealing to a deeper Deadpool in the latest issue (#4).

In the first issue of the series, Abraham Lincoln shoots Deadpool in the head. (Brilliant irony!) He gets to repeat this in the fourth issue. (Sad consistency, DP!) Despite these ignominious defeats, Deadpool (the guy who can say that Ol' Honest Abe got him twice in the exact same way) keeps showing up and fighting back. It doesn't matter Lincoln's location, Deadpool doesn't shy away from the fight. This irks Lincoln and, as the men fight, he asks what is so special about Deadpool.

I quote: "You're a vapid, unfunny, pale shade of a hero. You're unintelligent, uncreative, and unremarkable in every way. You don't seem to do anything well except heal yourself, and appear everywhere! I don't understand your appeal!"

Take this out of context and consider it for a moment: Isn't this how many people truthfully feel about Deadpool? He's annoying! He's not a real hero! He's effing (Elfring) everywhere! Why in all the world would the writers put this honest sentiment of a host of people in Deadpool's own book? Lincoln continues: "I hate you. These people hate you. Tell me, what is it that you're good at? What do you do?" Deadpool gets a great, vindictive look in his eye (nice work, Tony Moore) before he shouts "I don't give up!" while chopping off Lincoln's head. (At least is stays in one piece this time.)

If I had to guess, it seems that the writers are going to try and make Deadpool more humanized. We know Dr. Strange saw something off in Deadpool. I wonder if this truth will help Deadpool see what it is he is truly made of. Perhaps we'll be given a reason why so many people do legitimately love Deadpool. Maybe one day Deadpool will have an answer for the Abraham Lincoln's of the world who want to shoot him in the head as they ask about his humanity. Regardless, Duggan and Posehn are killing this series and I can't wait to see what is next.

(I'll try and get some scans for this later.)


Why I Loved TDKR's Bane

Can anyone else enjoy the thought of Bane using that voice of his and saying: "I see your Schwartz is as big as mine"? Seriously, in that fight scene where Batman gets owned by Bane, can't you see him saying that as he lords over his prey? I loved his voice.

Too much time off from school. I gotta start thinking like a real person again.


Efficient Ado

I love grammar. Do I always flawlessly use it? No, but I try. It drives me crazy when I see postings online with little-to-no punctuation, capitalization, or coherent thought. I am especially frustrated with the all-too-common approach of trusting auto-correct. Case in point, the Walking Dead page on Facebook asked people to submit questions for tonight's Talking Dead episode with guest stars CM Punk and Yvette Nicole Brown. Here was one response:


Sorry Sean, but the term is "aficionado." I probably shouldn't expect much from someone who watches wrestling, but I do have hope for a brighter society. I understand that people have different levels of education and blah, blah, blah, but I went to terrible public schools in east Mesa, Arizona and still came out with a modicum of intelligence regarding sentence structure and the proper usage of a dictionary.

And I think this post proves I'm getting old. I'm sitting here complaining about the youth today. What an a-hole.


The Law and Your Comics

I am prepping to write a law review article on the rights people have with their digital media and I figured I'd use this space to get some of my mental juices flowing. One of the appeals of art for me is in the collecting. I always enjoyed buying CDs for the album art. I still buy comic books for the aesthetic joy of paper and ink. It's the same with novels, although I will branch into free classics for my Kindle. Reading user terms for digital content, however, has given me a more practical reason for collecting physical copies: transferability.

Right now I can hand my son my copy of Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" without any legal repercussions (unless I rip a copy). This is part of fair use. It's the same with my New Mutants #98 or illustrated copy of "The Silmarillion." I can sell each of these things for any price I choose. This is first sale doctrine. I can gift or pass each of these physical things along when I die. This is basic estate planning. I have slowly moved into the digital music sphere. It took me a while but I did finally buy an Ipod. I buy music off Amazon all the time (I get credit there for certain law searches I do). But then I read the user terms for digital content.


Stated simply, the non-exclusive part means that the digital copy is based on one copy many people will have access to. You aren't getting a unique copy, as in one in a released run. The non-transferable right means simply that: no one else is going to legally be able to claim it regardless of the actions you take. You can't gift it; you can't sell it; you can't leave it for your heirs. You are basically leasing this digital copy until you die, at which point the rights to the copy are given back to Amazon. (Granted, you could divvy your physical Ipod and online retailer passwords to your significant others, but this is probably frowned upon despite being difficult to track.)

As for digital comics? Here's what Marvel does:


Yikes, they get more specific, don't they. You don't own your Marvel-bought digital comics.

How about comiXology?


I don't blame you if you didn't read that small print. It's basically the same thing. Of note is the line that says "Digital content is licensed, not sold, to you by comiXology." You don't own your comiXology comics.

Here's the odd thing. I looked up the recent WW comic on comiXology (out of respect to Razzatazz) and was told that I could not own it. DC's digital site, however, says this about the same WW comic:


This bungled, jarbled mess actually looks a lot like rights you have with physical things. It seems like you are actually getting to own that WW issue.

So you own it downloading from DC but not comiXology. And you never own your Marvel books. I don't know why the variance exists. I don't know what independent publishers do. I do know that this finding makes my hesitancy towards digital products that much more paranoid. And would you look at that, my order of physical comics just arrived. How serendipitous, Gary Marshall!


I'm Not Dead

Thanks for the blog title, Joaquin Phoenix.

For the three of you who care, I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth. Law school is hard and I've been focusing my attention there. I still get in my reading and I'm almost caught up on The Walking Dead.

Here's a problem I have: I'm overhauling the character pages but I can't edit as fast as I read. As it is, I'm in the community but I am still editing people from Woodbury. The further ahead in my reading I get then the less interested I am in editing the old people. This is a testament to Kirkman's writing. The characters in the series don't have the option to dwell much on those who have passed on. Likewise, the reader doesn't have much time to dwell on characters that are long gone. Does anyone caught up with the series even remember Dr. Stevens? A little? Well, I've moved on to the point that I don't care about the two or three issues he was in and that makes it hard for me to go back and edit his page. I have moved on. The characters move on. It's tragic, but I appreciate the form meeting function that Kirkman is able to display as the series progresses. It's sad, but also very cool.


A Stroll with the Walking Dead

I am so glad that my adventure in manga didn't work out. I recently began reading the Walking Dead. I know: where the crap have I been? If you follow me then you know I've been stuck in 90's X-Force comics. Regardless, this branching out has been quite the treat. Kirkman writes some compelling stuff. Adlard (and formerly Moore) has been fantastic in depicting everything. I've really learned to pay attention to the drawn details, as they help to hint at events. Here's a "for instance": Why is Thomas the only inmate that doesn't get a full-face shot when he tells what he's doing time for? Many clues and cues are given that I've had to flip back pages and go "What the what? Oh."

One exciting aspect of this new series to read is that I get to seriously overhaul the character pages. They sorely need it. I've only been focusing on the people that have died since they are easier to edit - their lives are already mapped out for me. The ongoing characters (at least for me, I'm still in the prison) have just too much potential for me to go in and edit as I won't know how one event affects another. Only editing deaths is a little morbid, but I think it goes with the territory. Sadly, some pages have one-liners for some really compelling characters. Fixing that. Some pages are fleshed out a bit more but need to meet our relatively new style guide. So, to those that have paved the way before (of note, and especially ) thanks, but I'm going to enhance your stuff.

(As an aside, I've seen some truly hilarious aliases attached to some character pages by people looking for quick, lame points. Allen had an alias of "Donna's Husband." Really? Martinez was "Martinez from Woodbury." As if the characters of the comic needed to differentiate between multiple Martinezes.)

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When the Wiki Points Just Aren't Worth It: An Adventure in Manga

I very lately took on a very rash project: read a manga and put its universe in our database. I picked one at random. I have never read a manga before and so I took a recommendation. Eiken was the series and it sounded interesting: a boy is chosen to join a club of attractive ladies; he likes one of them; no one knows what the club does. That sounds like a lot to build an interesting story around. I noticed our Eiken pages were basically blank and I looked forward to being the one to add the character pages and flesh them out. The synopses on the issues pages would be long, as each volume contained between six and eight chapters. This was to be a big project that I anticipated would get me over 50,000 points easily. (In all honesty, it probably would have been closer to 75k.)

I first added all the plot summaries. Tasty, easy points there. Then I busted open the first volume. This was my first problem since I had never read a manga before. The right to left - even with the speech bubbles - was at first confusing. I got the hang of it and proceeded to write out a synopsis of the first chapter. It was long (and length is the same as massive points). After seven chapters I had just over 1,500 points on one volume alone. If each volume had the potential for a similar synopsis then I was already looking at close to 27,000 points. Healthy.

Another problem cropped up, however, and that was the content of Eiken. I'll begin with the structure and move on to the themes. I recognize that first issues/volumes need a bit of leeway to allow the author to introduce the characters and establish some sort of direction for the series. I understand that each chapter in the first volume was dedicated to getting the main character (and, by extension, the reader) introduced to each club member. I accepted that the main story of the club's purpose was put on the back-burner for all this. The thing that got me was that the second volume continued putting off the story for cutesy anecdotes about the members. Oddly enough, the characters that are specially and specifically introduced are pushed to the background, only appearing when a line or plot devise can't be effected by the main three characters.

Themes: There is so much wasted potential here. First off, the main guy Densuke has a crush on school hottie Chiharu. This is obvious because he has sexual thoughts of her constantly. He gets waylaid, however, by a host of other girls that would have a legitimate shot with him. Kirika has an episode in which she shows that she can be the perfect girl. This gets swept aside when her actions were based on a fever. A teacher suffers from the same type of no-namedness as Densuke, a seemingly match made in heaven. This is explored little. All this opposition to Densuke's love for Chiharu would be fascinating if there were any indication that Chiharu had feelings for Densuke. As it is, the reader can't help but wonder what Densuke sees in the girl that is hardly ever in the book and has very few lines.

And here's the straw that breaks the camel's back. I hate the exploitation of the women in this book. Densuke has a propensity for accidentally grabbing the various sets of massive boobs or having his face land in someone's butt. It's meant to be funny, but how many times in one chapter can this happen and the reader still be expected to laugh at the same gaffe in the next? (I just looked in a chapter in a volume far into the series and the same shenanigans are still being played.) Not only is the joke old by the second volume, but Densuke doesn't keep his accidents to the older women but he also stumbles into girls far, far younger. He grabs their butts and ogles a sixth grader's very, very large breasts. And the book does its very best to make sure that sexual situations are frequent. A trip to a spa, a girls' locker room, barging in on someone changing, girls falling over and having their skirts flipped up, and on, and on, and on.

All-in-all, I can't bring myself to continue reading this book. I don't care about the characters enough to make their pages (scans already deleted). The points just aren't enough to get me to finish the series. And they would be easy points. I just hate that I have the first volume as one of my top edits.