Is a Digital Comic Really Yours to Own?

Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco's Ultimate Thor #2 was released on the Marvel App this past Tuesday night. An event which, at first glance, was not particularly noteworthy. For the past few months, new digital releases from comic book publishers that utilize ComiXology's framework have been showing up late on Tuesday nights, which means for West Coast readers in the United States, you may get your day & date digital comics (in this case, Ultimate Thor) twelve hours before your comic shop even opens. For me, it is a nice bonus, as I was able to read the comic in bed before I went to sleep.

Except it turns out Ultimate Thor #2 is not meant to be released until next Wednesday, November 10th. I did not discover the glitch until Wednesday morning when I went to look at the issue again, and found it had disappeared from "My Comics" in the app. Later that same day, I received this (unprompted) email from Marvel:

Thank you for your recent purchase of Ultimate Comics Thor #2 on the Marvel Comics App.

We regret to inform that your copy of this comic is currently unavailable. Due to a glitch, it had been prematurely placed on sale. 

Unfortunately, we've had to temporarily lock your copy until next week's scheduled release date.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused.

Thanks for making YOURS Marvel … Digital!



I certainly appreciate them attempting to be proactive, but there are still a number of unanswered questions. First, and most importantly, What Am I Actually Buying; The comic book itself (albeit in digital form), or simply a license to VIEW the comic book? I thought I was buying the comics full stop, similarly to when I purchase a song on iTunes. It's mine, I see the file on my hard drive. I can burn it to a CD, save it on an external hard drive, or use it in another program. With the Marvel App, I can't manage the files, and can only access them through the App's interface, but looking at the Storage Management, I see Ultimate Comics Thor #2, 18 Megabytes. It still exists on my device, except Marvel has gone ahead and locked the file that I've already paid $3.99 for.


I realize the ridiculousness, but this is akin to someone from Marvel breaking into my house to put a comic book sold early to me by my retailer in a lock box, with the promise that they would come back and open the box next Wednesday. No mention of a refund, in fact, after looking around, there's no mention of Terms and Conditions in the Marvel App or on their website.

The email I received later that night from ComiXology's Developer Team read, "This is normally a server error. Try deleting the comic in question and re-downloading (for free, of course)." Their lack of awareness of the problem points the finger at Marvel as the one dropping the ball here.

I understand mistakes happen, and in the new age of digital releases, this may be just the start of mistakes and quirks. But how Marvel responded to the situation is telling of their stance on the product we thought we were buying. Even though I paid for it, I have not actually "bought" anything, it is Marvel's content and I'm just paying a fee to access it at their discretion. At the moment, they are locking down content I have already purchased because they released it early by mistake. But if they have the power to do that, what is to stop them for changing contents after they have been released? Or locking down content because they no longer have the rights to a property. Will I have to buy it again from someone else? Without any kind of Terms and Conditions made clearly available, it is now hard to feel comfortable spending $4 to buy a comic book that may literally disappear overnight. It is also perplexing when Marvel understands the importance of the ownership issue through their relationship with Graphicly, selling Marvel Comics that can be on the Graphicly desktop app and mobile apps. But it still falls short. DRM is overly restrictive, and I am tethered to ComiXology or Graphicly's applications to read the books I have purchased. [Disclaimer: iFanboy is owned and operated by, a digital comics platform that also carries Marvel Comics.]


I am as big a proponent of digital distribution as they come, but actions like this by a company get me nervous. The tethered approach to buying content has its upside, but not if it comes at the cost of the company continuing to access/control said content after it has been purchased. Instances like this certainly do not help a case against piracy. I do not advocate illegal downloads (an event which not only runs rampant with comic books, but it also something creators and publishers are all too aware of), but I also do not particularly care for waking up to find that a company has repossesed my comic books because of their own mistake. A big part of iTunes' success is that it was easier and better than piracy. Comics have it have it half right at the moment, but there is still a lot of ground to cover before digital distribution becomes the widespread norm.


  1. And right here is the problem with digital media.

  2. No matter what bullshit publishers try to feed us, we are not paying for a liscense to view things.  We are paying for things, and crap like this is so "Big Brother" that if flabbergasts me that companies think its acceptable on any level whatsoever.  I think digital comics are too expensive in general, but they’re DAMN sure too expensive if the publishers retain control over whether or not you can read things that you already paid for.

  3. See, this is exactly why I’m 90% against digital comics. I want my comics in physical form, right in my hand! Not some digital copy; I mean, it’s fine for when I’m bored, I guess just for a quick read but other than that, I don’t think so.

  4. Certainly a problem. In general, I’m not cool with a comic file that can only be read by a certain app, which can lock your access as noted in here.

    The only digital comics I’ve bought are 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazines which come in both cbz archives of the jpg files, and pdf format. I go for the cbz’s which I read in ACDSee.

  5. If you use Comixology (like I do), you should write them an email expressing a desire to read / know the terms and conditions on the "purchase" of comics.  If enough people do it, I am sure they will respond by creating / publishing them.  I am going to write them right now.  

  6. RE: terms and conditions … I’m sure they are in the service contract which every user agrees to (but never reads) when they register for the service.

  7. It shouldn’t matter what the terms and conditions are.  If the terms and conditions state that the publisher retains the right to prevent you from reading what you’ve already paid for, then the terms and conditions are utter bullshit.  What if, at some point in the future, people decide that "Scarlett" is offensive because it glorifies cop killers, Marvel turns chicken shit and "recalls" all of the issues and blocks you from reading them on comixology?  Would anybody care that Marvel’s lawyers technically covered their asses?  This is a crock, pure and simple.  The cat was out of the bag, they don’t get to reach into people’s computers and call a mulligan.

  8. Amazon did this with the Kindle last year. It was a big news item when they deleted copies of Orwell’s "1984" and "Animal Farm" from people’s kindles because the copy that was for sale had a licensing issue. The idea that a company can remotely access your digital media reader that is your private property and delete files that you have legally purchased is really scary.

  9. that’s a big reason why I just can’t switch to digital comics, if I could download it as a pdf or some "tangible" format that’s one thing, but just pay to have it reserved for my viewing until the company decides to change my privelege to view it, no, not buying that.

    course this works both ways with piracy, digital needs to be considered real, by everyone

  10. @JonSamuelson – I wasn’t clear.  My thought was that if had a copy of the terms and conditions, then we could at least make an educated choice about whether we wanted to spend our money on their service / product.  Further, we could push to make them change their terms.  But, you need a starting point to begin the process.

  11. Not thinking in a slippery slope/big brother/conspiracy theory sorta way…. well….

    They locked it until its proper release date?

    Ok…. darn? Too bad? Tough luck? Poor you?  It’s not like they locked/deleted something you bought a couple months back, because of a decision they decided to retroactively apply or anything like that. If something like that happens, I dont think this is too big a deal :/ 

  12. I think what’s most frightening about this situation–and, indeed, the situation a year or so ago when Amazon ripped an Orwell novel off a high school student’s Kindle–is the content provider’s ability to infiltrate someone’s personally owned hardware to lock or retrieve licensed content.  A minor mistake was made, an e-issue was released a week early, just let it be.  It happens.  Copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were accidentally sold early, but the publisher didn’t seek to reclaim the books from the people who purchased them.  Was it really necessary to lock up Ultmate Thor #2 for an additional week?

    No, it wasn’t. Instead, Marvel now looks bad: such an act generates bad PR, and could potentially drive consumers away from purchasing licensed, electronic content.  

  13. if it would have been accompanied by an option for a refund then this is a lot less of a big deal, but to just yank something you’ve already paid for away because of a mistake on their part. . .  not cool

  14. Sorry ctrosejr, I didn’t mean for that to sound like I was berating you directly.  It’s just that Orwellian stuff like this is by far the thing I find most frightening about modern society.  Sure, this is just  comic book, but people becoming comfortable with stuff on this level can only lead to petrifying eventualities.

  15. Yet another of the many reasons I’m not down with digital. DRM is absurd. Not just with comics, either. You’re selling people something. If not, you shouldn’t be charging full price.

  16. i agree , should 3.99 be the price for the content as much as materials.  But i am not for digital, so i am fine if they muck up.  In my opinion comics should be read in hand.  the feel of an important page turn is so much more refreshing than a new screen opening.

  17. But one of the things he bought with that price was day and date release. He should, at the very least, be offered a refund. I personally have bought each day and date release over the last month and a half because it is a prduct that I want, and Im voting with my dollar. Last months Ultimate Thor was day and date I believe.

  18. We’re only a small publisher. We have titles on which is great, but we hate DRM. So we are starting to offer our comics as CBZ downloads direct from our website for .99 cent. No DRM, no restrictions. If it proves popular we’ll release all our titles in the same way. Even the graphic novel length collections. What do you think if this approach? Here’s the link to our download store, have a look and let me know what you think: 

  19. That is why I will never buy a digital comic.  If I buy I own it.  That is pure Marvel Bullshit.



  20. I sense panties being rolled in a bunch. Lots of them! Looks like 21st century tech is giving a lot of people rashes. Oh well. Time doesn’t stop so, get on or… Now I know why Kang keeps coming back, he prefers cd’s.

    Seriously, glitches will happen.

  21. Hmm, I wonder Benjamin, what if you stopped payment/disputed (asked for a credit) that $3.99 charge that you paid Marvel, if they would be so understanding? Personally, if I pay for a digital comic, I want the RIGHT to share that with friends, across various devices& programs. I want to be able to back it up on a separate hard drive, and finally, if I want to waste ink and paper, print it for my own use.Until I can do most of this I’m not diving in, because as you illustrated you really don’t "own" it.

  22. If you can’t duplicate it and store it offline, you don’t own it.


  23. One of the many questions and subjects to be ironed out with the digital model, I would hope that if you asked for a refund one would be granted or as you pointed out you can read the digital copy when it is unlocked on the real release date, though for the very small amount of digital users right now I wonder why Marvel took it upon themselves to fix the problem this way and generate the bad publicity – just look at what happend to Amazon.

  24. If that’s how they want do it, fine. But then they should have the option to pay a flat monthly fee for all access. Make it like cable where you have one app like comixology, and you can add publishers like you would channels.

  25. I want to be a digital comic reader… but DRM and propriatary platforms scare me.  Between glitches like the one described, and the concept of what happens to the media that you purchased if the platform provider goes away, gives a certain amount of risk to spending a lot of money in this manner.

    It’s early enough to learn lessons from the music industry, and not repeat them. 

  26. Seems to be a bit of consumer fraud. Don’t tell a customer they are buying something when in fact they are leasing it. 

  27. I guess DRM has its place, when you’re renting stuff for a limited time or so, but for things you mean to keep indefinitely? Not so much.

    Good to know that the Marvel App is not for me.



  28. do people actually read single issues multiple times months after they buy them?

  29. I’m astounded that anyone is paying $4 for a 22 page DRMed digital comic more than anything.

  30. If someone can steal it or take it from you, it can be owned (and stolen). If it can be replaced by an exact same copy at a later date, say, in a week, then you can (sort of) own it. Guys, where did you get your awesome tin foil hats? I want one. What? Traces of mercury? So what, I still want it! This just in: Life will never be as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Never, ever, ever. That is the truth. Complaint and whine as much as you want, you know you have it better than before.

  31. I guess I still have a problem with digital comics being the same price as printed ones. I understand that there is a cost in making them digital, but at the same time, there is much more cost in the printing, binding, and shipping of a physical comic. I would like to see a cost breakdown. 

  32. You know, this is an interesting topic that I had never thought of in regards to digital comics.  It is a bit disturbing that they were able to do that, but I think it just comes with the territory of a company having their proprietary stuff available digitally.  If people weren’t so apt to steal digital content, companies wouldn’t have such restrictive DRM.  I think this is just another thing that will slowly be ironed out in the coming digital age.

  33. @incredibledave My thoughts exactly. Once I came to this realization I let go of my need to have copies to store whether in paper or electronic form. The amount of comics I will ever actuall go back and re-read is miniscule. Just so much out there coming out and so much I missed. So once I relaized the only form of entertainment I really consume again is music, I easily made the jump to digital only on, books, tv, movies, comics. As long as I get a chance to consume it before they take it away, I don’t care. I get that we as a people have a, what seems like a DNA encoded, need to possess stuff. But as long as I got my worth out of it, then I’m golden. I pay you my .99, 1.99, 2.99 for a book, and I read it. Feel free to take it away tomorrow. Theres a 99% chance I will never even know its gone. And the great thing about our time here is that both kinds of mindsets can find the products they want to satisfy their needs. If you want somethign they can pry from your cold dead hands, by the paper copies, if you just want to consume and move on to the next thing, you got digital.

  34. Reminds me I should download a pirated copy of everything I own physical copies of…just because.


  35. Really, people need to read EULAs and Terms of Use before clicking the ok-button.  If you think they’re "bullshit," then don’t agree to them. Unless said otherwise, you typically *are* buying a license to view instead of an actual "product." Not to say such terms make sense half of the time, but the fine print usually spells out what you’re getting into if you take the time to read it. 

  36. This is what bothers me about 95% of the digital comic models out there.  It’s nice to see a few companies actually giving you files that you can do with as you please, but it’s certainly the exception, not the rule.  The question that makes me think twice about buying digital content is simply: What happens when/if ComiXology/ goes out of business?  Right now if Marvel goes out of business, that box of books in closet remains perfectly readable.  In fact, I’m sure there’s more than a couple of books from publishers that already have closed up shop.  But if your digital distributor goes under, and the books are tied to their service, the best you can hope for is to still be able to read your books on the last device they supported.

    @Neb said, "If people weren’t so apt to steal digital content, companies wouldn’t have such restrictive DRM.  I think this is just another thing that will slowly be ironed out in the coming digital age."

    I disagree.  1)  Pirated digital comics is the competition. If they want to be competitive, then they need to be at least as easy to use the open formats you can currently find. 2) I’m pretty sure digital, pirated copies of comics pre-dated the availability of legitimate digital comics, at least from the Big Two.  Pirated copies are based on the print, not the digital.  I agree that if they removed the DRM, we’d see pirated copies based on the legitimate digital copies, but that would be no worse than it is now.  I could be wrong, but I get the impression that many, most, or maybe even all print comics are available illegally shortly after the print comes out.  Making legitimate copies easier to use would make piracy easier, but it wouldn’t increase piracy if everything is already being uploaded. Which makes it seem like the only reason to add onerous DRM to files is to reserve the right to sell them to  you again later in another format.  I don’t really think that’s the case, because that would imply that they’re thinking ahead, and by using sales strategies that music industry has already abandoned as impractical, I think they’re really thinking behind.

  37. My own two cents is that people who download pirate comics are gonna try and get most media the same way, whether music, programs, movies, tv etc. No matter how smart people think they are someone will find away around it. the people who pay for things have a completely different way of thinking and their loyalty should be rewarded. i kinda get why companies take this line of thinking, to safeguard their products or interests or whatever but i don’t support it.

  38. @dandoody The Harry potter publishers actually convinced the Canadian supreme court yo ban people from reading copies of HP 6 that were sold early by mistake