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.

Amazon

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:

Marvel

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

How about comiXology?

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:

DC

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!

2 Comments
2 Comments
Posted by geoff2005

those are pretty interesting finds

Posted by RazzaTazz

Thanks for doing something on my behalf :)  Still this is very interesting, really this information should be known to everyone.  Its nice that you bring your expertise to CV and share it in this way.  

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