Think You Own Your Digital Games? Beware The JManga Incident

jmangaOne of the arguments against digital distribution has been that you don’t really “own” your games; you simply rent them, and the ownership – including the ability to take away legally “purchased” games – still resides with the company doing the selling. It’s an interesting carrot and stick dichotomy; if they give the stick, consumers lose the carrots. However, it’s never been taken seriously as an argument because, hey, it’s not like a company’s just going to remove all access to your games, right? That’d be terrible PR!

What just happened to JManga should reignite the question.

JManga, launched in 2011 as a way to legally read manga and support publishers – many of whom were getting destroyed by scanlations and other forms of piracy – announced yesterday that they were shutting down their service on May 30th. Sites close all the time, but the notable thing is that all manga is unviewable after that date, including manga purchased.

2. What will happen to the manga on My Page? – Digital manga content will be viewable until May 30th 2013 at 11:59pm. You will not be able to view digital manga content beyond this time.

7. Is there a way to download the manga I have purchased? – It is not possible to download manga from My Page. All digital manga content will no longer be viewable after May 30th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time)

So basically, long story short, if you purchased manga to read at JManga, legally, without resorting to piracy, you just got slapped in the face. Everything you spent money for is gone, or disappearing. You have no recourse. You have no rights. You only have anger, indignation, and regrets.

Meanwhile, anyone downloading or reading at one of the many manga reading and downloading sites on the Internet that don’t charge money are doing just fine. Once again, piracy wins.

At least for manga, it’s possible to get manga from other sources, even if they’re not legal1. Video gamers – and here, I’m speaking for console gamers – don’t really have that option. That’s been to the larger benefit of the industry, with PC gaming and the sales that brings driving down the cost of mid-tier game. But XBox Live and the PlayStation Network – for the good things those services have brought – are both closed down services. If you’re not playing by their rules, on their systems, you cannot play their games. If something were to happen, and either XBox Live or the PlayStation Network were to close – either to playing, or to downloading – all of the money people have spent on those games – in my case, thousands of dollars – would go to waste. This is in addition to people being kicked from the service for whatever reason – something an Origin rep clearly told a customer they would do to their PC games – or other assorted reasons for blocking an account or access from said account.

There is precedent for all of this outside of the video game industry, and Amazon – historically seen as a good option for everything from buying video games to buying tablets – shows us some of the most extreme among them. Back in 2009, they angered customers by deleting purchased books from customers Kindle devices overnight and refunding them the purchase price, a move that goes from upsetting to laughable once it’s remembered that the books were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four2. Last year, the case of Linn Nygaard was brought to the forefront, as Amazon deleted her account – and with it, access to her purchased books – without any explanation. Attempts to gain insight as to what happened were fruitless; they simply sent her and her money down the memory hole.

It’s important to remember that technically, every single company that sells us digital video games has the same rights. If Microsoft wants to disable access to your games on the Live Arcade, they can, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it except hope the story goes viral. If Steam wants to disable all of your games, poof; they’re gone. Furthermore, the industry is going more and more digital, so the carrots are guarded by more and more sticks. With few exceptions, the companies holding the sticks have shown they’re willing to use them whenever it’s convenient to them. Regardless of the circumstances, the fact is that every single games service out there has the same control of our product that JManga did.

This is a future that’s becoming increasingly relevant. We are no longer able to purchase our product; we’re merely renting it, for the same price of course. Unless gamers, as consumers, band together and let it be known – with our money, because executives don’t care about bitchy website and forum posts – that this is unacceptable, instances like this will become more common. These companies do not deserve our blind trust. Manga readers who wanted to stay on the right side of the law gave that to them, and look where it got them.

1 – There are many arguments to be made that the ease the Internet gives in both downloading and “scanlating” – basically, Photoshopping the Japanese out and the English in – manga and anime have led to a lot of hardships in that industry. But increasingly anti-consumer practices are not the answer. The horse has left the barn; no sense closing the door now.

2 – Doubly ironic: while the copyright to Nineteen Eighty-Four doesn’t expire in the United States until 2044, it’s public domain in Canada and Australia.

Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.