I was on vacation for a few days over the weekend and had a chance to do some comic reading of the digital variety on my iPad2.  I didn’t go for any guided panel reading, just one comic page displayed at a time.  It was great: I had the chance to read a lot of books in bright vibrant colour without having to lug any paper around.  Yes the iPad’s screen is smaller than the standard comic page but this was about portability and convenience; plus I can zoom into any page or panel I desire.

Along with books from the major publishers purchased through their Apple Apps I also read a bunch of digital comics in the CBR and CBZ format, uploaded to my iPad.  Basically these files are either a ZIP (cbZ) or RAR (cbR) archive files that contain a JPG of each page from a comic book.  To make your own digital comics scan every page, naming them consecutively according to page number, ZIP all images into one file and rename it *.ZIP to *.CBZ and you have it.  This sounds like a lot of work and it is but you get a digital copy of your comics, and according to U.S. copyright law you are entitled to create a personal backup.

Now we enter the grey area: if you already own the comic what about downloading a copy of it?  Do a Google search for any comic book and add CBZ CBR to the search and you’ll most likely find it on a file sharing site.  For years comics have been available online, usually the same day they’re released in print.  Downloading a copy without owning the original is clearly a case of piracy, but what if you own the original print comic?

Several online music sites have tried to do this kind of thing: insert a CD into your PC and the program reads that you own it and gives you access online to the contents of that CD without you having to upload it.  Unfortunately that’s not too hard to spoof and I couldn’t come up with a good way of doing this with comics.  You could scan the barcode but what’s to prevent you from using your friend’s comic books or even use a smart phone in a bookstore to scan items.

What about comics in the public domain?  They should be free and clear to download and use as you see fit.  Golden Age Comics features comics you can read online or download, and they state all books have been researched and verified public domain.  The material quality varies wildly, based on how good the original comics were scanned.  Comics from publishers no longer in business but still under copyright fall into “abandonware” or material abandoned by the copyright holders, another grey area.

My journey into CBZ comics began because I have all issues of Epic Illustrated but wanted a quick way to search the contents, which digital files and my iPad2 provided.  Epic Illustrated was a magazine published by Epic that contained creator owned work, and it seems like none of those creators are interested in packaging and re-releasing that material.  I easily located the files online and downloaded all thirty-four issues.  Copying them to my iPad through ComicBookLover, a CBZ/CBR reader, I was working through the magazines and gathering the material I needed.

Should you be able to download digital copies of comics you already own for free?  Add your thoughts to the comments below.