Are Marvel bootlegs an inside job? [Updated]

It's a well-known fact that you can get bootleg scans of every Marvel and DC Comics title by the afternoon of their release, but where do they come from? David Brothers and David Uzumeri did some sleuthing and speculating, and came up with a surprising answer: The Marvel scans are coming from an inside source, either someone who works for the House of Ideas or who works closely with the publisher.

While DC comics start popping up on bootleg sites one at a time on Wednesday afternoons, Marvel scans appear all at once before the digital release time of 2 p.m. ET. This suggests that while the DC titles may be from hackers who have figured out how to crack comiXology's copy protection, the Marvel scans are from another source. Brothers goes over a number of other clues — the uniform size and quality of the Marvel scans, the placement of titles and credits, information that would only appear on a print comic, and some very telling errors — and concludes that "Someone’s got Marvel’s print-ready files before they’re finalized, and they’re slapping them up online as digital scans. Clever girl."

Left unanswered is the question of why anyone would risk their job and harm their employer's business to do this. Money springs to mind, but there doesn't seem to be much profit in pirated comics. On the other hand, comics is that rare field where people's passions run strong enough to take that sort of chance. It could be a serious scanner who cares deeply about being first, or it could be a disgruntled Marvel fan getting a digital revenge. Or something else entirely -- who knows with comics.

The whole post makes fascinating reading if you're interested in the technical side of digital comics, but the conclusion is ominous: The piracy is coming from inside the house.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m. PT): Brothers has updated his original post, writing, "Thanks to Uzumeri’s dogged determination, we figured out what the hack is this morning. It isn’t a person, it’s a security leak, and we emailed Marvel about it."

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