…You Rent Them: The Tale of The ComiXology Backup Script

Earlier this week, some dude posted to the Reddit Comic Book board that he had written a short Bash script (for the technologically challenged, think an old Windows batch file with ambition) that would allow you to download any digital comics you purchased from ComiXology, strip the DRM (again, for the uninitiated, DRM stands for digital rights management, which is nothing but copy protection with an official-sounding acronym to make it sound intimidating, like “FBI,” “CIA” or “DIAF”), and convert them to a format you can store locally and read on anything. Clearly this is a young man with plenty of free time to spend frittering on coding and hanging around in courtrooms.

The script author even posted a copy of the script with detailed instructions on how you could use it to download copies of the books you bought from ComiXology. Isn’t that nice? Oh, don’t go searching for it – ComiXology caught wind of it and asked the kid to delete the script.

Now, before I whip myself into a frenzy, let’s all remember that ComiXology was right to ask the kid to delete the script, at least in a legally-binding sense. Not only is ripping the copy protection and saving your (your) comics to a different format a violation of Comixology’s terms of use (specifically section 5), but technically it is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which contains provisions criminalizing breaking someone else’s DRM, whether breaking it violates anyone’s copyright or not. Which is the analog equivalent of criminalizing Xerox machines if you photocopy your own ass, but that’s not the point right now.

The point is that this throws into stark relief the reality of most digital comics in this year of our Lord 2012: you might have paid full cover price for them, but you do not own them.

Don’t believe me? Take a gander at those ComiXology terms of use again, specifically 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…

You acknowledge and agree that Digital Content may not be available to view, use or display under certain conditions, such as due to restrictions made by licensors of Digital Content or if the publisher of Digital Content no longer retains the rights or other licenses, consents or permissions to that Digital Content. ComiXology reserves the right to modify or discontinue the offering of any Digital Content at any time.

On paper, there is no real news here; some dude found a way to illegally (and again: it was illegal) download copy protected files and got whacked with a takedown request. This kind of thing’s been going on since Lars Ulrich thought Lou Reed was a form of parasitic plant life.

However, this is yet another reminder, as was the Graphic.ly shuttering of their digital comics storefront, of the nature of our relationship with digital comics from the Big Two. And that relationship is that, despite paying full price for day-and-date releases? You own shit.

And make no mistake: that doesn’t make ComiXology a bad company. I actually like their Android app, and have been known to use it to download some indie comics I can’t find locally, or the odd hot book that is sold out at my local comic store, where they know me by name and ask me to stop calling my Android tablet “Rachael” while winking and drooling. Their storefront is easy to use, and the reading experience is decent, or at least as decent as a shrunken comic page on a screen can be.

But what it makes them is a company. And a company exists to maximize profits. And the moment it is more profitable to eliminate access to their comics library than it is to provide it? Your ‘collection” will be in jeopardy. It’s like entrusting your longboxes to a heroin junkie; everything’s fine, so long as the dude has money. But just as soon as he doesn’t…

Look: for convenience in getting comics to read quickly, ComiXology can’t be beat. Just know what you’re spending your money on.

(via Bleeding Cool)