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Old 04-09-2010, 05:55 PM   #61
Worldwalker
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Which, if publishers believe, would explain why they think ebook sales are lost hardback sales. I'd love to know where that information comes from; the people I know who have ebook devices weren't buyers of mainstream hardcovers before they got them.
I wasn't, for several reasons. One was the expense. I read a lot of books. I couldn't afford to buy them in hardcover. (and besides, waiting for the paperback gives me some time to hear whether or not the book is worth reading anyway; I've been saved from a couple of real turkeys that way). Another was the sheer cubic footage. One hardcover equals about three mass market paperbacks. That was actually the deciding factor in us both getting ebook readers: we don't have a lot of space, and we already have a lot of books. With a few very rare exceptions, we couldn't buy HC because we had no blessed shelf space for them (or any space for more shelves -- we even have a bookshelf in the bathroom, conveniently located for ... long visits). On very rare occasions, maybe once a year, we'd buy a HC we'd been very, very much anticipating, as a special treat -- and sell it off (for pennies on the dollar, of course) to the used bookstore as soon as the paperback came out.

The most avid readers have space problems. Individually, a book is small; collectively, thousands of them will drive you out of your living space.

I'm sure we're not the only people whose primary reason for buying an ebook reader was just to be able to read without having to find a place to put all those books! (even with that, you stil have to move a stack of books to find anywhere to sit down here)
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Old 04-09-2010, 07:54 PM   #62
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I'd love to know where that information comes from; the people I know who have ebook devices weren't buyers of mainstream hardcovers before they got them.
I agree. I almost never bought hardcovers, especially not fiction hardcovers. In fact, I had mostly been buying used books for the last decade or so.. I'm certain I've bought more new eBooks in the last 18 months than I bought new pBooks in the last 15 years.

The hardcover sale the publishers are worried about never existed in my case. The eBook sale that did exist, however, is being jeopardized. I'm not going to pay more than $10 just to get a book a few months sooner. And if they delay publication of the eBook, I might get it from the library instead in which case the lost the sale altogether.
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Old 04-12-2010, 09:43 PM   #63
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It doesn't matter what the ethics of the matter happen to be. There is case law that allows a copyright holder or his representative to sue the owner of a hard copy of a work, if he/she also downloads a digital copy of the same work from a pirate site.
One of the most basic tenets of ethics is that there is not necessarily any relationship between what is morally or ethically correct and what is legal. Morals and ethics deal with what is right or wrong, or if you prefer, good or evil.

Laws are made to control or regulate the behavior of persons within a society. It should be clear to any serious observer that there exist laws which are not morally right. The existence of such laws then leads to the subject of relativistic and/or utilitarian ethics which are devoid of any relationship to natural law-based morality which is, arguably, the only source of objective morality.

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Old 04-12-2010, 10:30 PM   #64
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One aspect that I haven't seen mentioned here is that many consider current copywrite laws around the world to be absurd.

There are probably many people who would consider it unethical to violate copyright, but who aren't so sure when the period lasts fifty or seventy years beyond the author's death.
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Old 04-13-2010, 12:11 AM   #65
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A common example of right/wrong versus legal/illegal: A society in which it is legal to own slaves, and illegal to help a slave escape. Laws are about expedience, about order, and about the protection and increase of the power of those with the power to make laws. Some of the most tyrannical governments on Earth, past and present, have been amply provided with laws that legalize their abuses (the word Ermächtigungsgesetz should have some meaning in this context).

On a forum which required users to not violate any law, anywhere, I used to have a sig that said something like "Liberty ... Democracy ... Human Rights ... this post is illegal in China."

Or here's one to really throw some gasoline on the fire: If abortion is illegal, does that make it wrong? If it is legal, does that make it right? Does your opinion about it change if you walk across a state or national border to a jurisdiction with the opposite law?

No government, no matter how well-meaning, is immune to errors of judgment and the creation of unjust laws. The less well-meaning, the more likely it is that it's no error. Free people cannot allow their morality and their ethics to be dictated by the rules laid down by any government. No matter what you find the most praiseworthy, some government somewhere, somewhen, has banned it; no matter what you find most appalling, some government has likewise legalized, even mandated, it. A government can choose what to make legal or illegal, but it cannot choose what to make right or wrong. And we, as individuals, must not -- by adopting their laws as our morality -- allow them to do so.
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:14 AM   #66
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No, it's not ethical. Here I completely agree with GA Russell. But, unfortunately, too many people don't think so and to avoid piracy almost impossible. We can only look at the iquestion from another side: piracy is not bad publicity for the book.
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Old 04-13-2010, 12:52 PM   #67
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You say it's not ethical, but don't tell us why you think so. That makes a discussion kind of difficult.

But with regard to it being good publicity for the book, how? Remember, we're talking about a situation where the person already owns the book on dead trees. If they're going to tell all their friends to read it (which probably sells more books than the fanciest marketing campaign), wouldn't they have already told them to read the paper version? Who says "I wasn't going to tell you how great this thing called 'Harry Potter' is when I first bought it, but now that I have it as a badly-scanned electronic copy, I can't wait to talk about it"?
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Old 04-13-2010, 07:09 PM   #68
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This is an interesting conversation, as the concept of ownership and copyright and eithics are hard to describe.

So, I'm going to think out loud for a second.

* When purchasing a physical or electronic book, you are not buying the content, as this is clearly owned by the original copyright holder.

* When purchasing a physical book, you are buying a copy of said book. This copy is, most notably, the physical copy you hold in your hands.

* When purchasing an electronic book, you are also buying a copy of the book. This copy, is a little harder to define, but I'll try. You are buying a file, which you have limited rights to.

So if all of the above are true, and you have agreed to it, then it seems like acquiring something you don't have rights to... namely an electronic copy of a book you own a physical copy of... is no more ethical than stealing a hard back book because "you bought the electronic version."

I'm not sure I agree with the above, but if the moral principle at stake is "keeping your word" or "living up to your end of an agreement," then I find it hard to argue with.

I tend to usually take the moral stance of "pay an author when you read the book," but that moral stance is very difficult to convert to practical application (what about free ebooks, library books, web pages, etc.).


Suggestion to Publishers: For new hardbacks, grant the right to download an ebook version of the file. Make it so the only way to get an ebook of a new release (in some cases) is to buy the hardback. This solves several problems for you.
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Old 04-13-2010, 07:54 PM   #69
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This is an interesting conversation, as the concept of ownership and copyright and eithics are hard to describe.

So, I'm going to think out loud for a second.

* When purchasing a physical or electronic book, you are not buying the content, as this is clearly owned by the original copyright holder.
Nope. You are buying the content. The copyright holder controls the *rights to some uses* of that content. You have the rights to other uses of it--you may memorize it, critique it, compare real people to its protagonists, learn its facts & use them to further your career, write poetry inspired by it, cross your eyes to look at the stereogram pictures therein, uncross them to see them inverted, recite it to your children, or turn it upside down to better study the typography.

If it's physical, you may also use it as a doorstop, tear its pages for kindling or paper mache, or make a safe out of it. If it's electronic, you may search it to discover how many times it uses the letter "q," or change its title to "SUPERKILLERVIRUS.exe" and leave it on your desktop to scare your spouse.

The author's (or company's) monopoly on some usage rights doesn't mean they own the book you bought.

Quote:
So if all of the above are true, and you have agreed to it, then it seems like acquiring something you don't have rights to... namely an electronic copy of a book you own a physical copy of... is no more ethical than stealing a hard back book because "you bought the electronic version."
Except that the right to format-shift has already been legally approved in several venues. The right to access in one setting includes the right to make it accessible (for yourself) in another setting--if you can watch the show on TV legally, you may tape it to watch it later; if you can listen to the song on the radio, you can record that too. You can even touchup your recordings--change the sound levels, remove the commercials.

By the same principle, if you can flip the pages physically, you can record them on a camera, and play them back very slowly on a PDF.

This doesn't give you the right to someone else's ebook, any more than having a TV gives you the right to a free set of VCR tapes of your favorite series. But you can hire someone to come to your house and tape your favorite shows without commercials; theoretically, you can just as legally hire someone to scan & convert your book for you.

The issue is whether you can hire someone who's *already* taped a show to give you that tape. And whether he can make multiple copies, or if he has to wait for another rerun of the episode to make another tape for someone else. Which starts to fail the common-sense test, regardless of what the law believes.
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Old 04-13-2010, 08:35 PM   #70
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So if all of the above are true, and you have agreed to it, then it seems like acquiring something you don't have rights to... namely an electronic copy of a book you own a physical copy of... is no more ethical than stealing a hard back book because "you bought the electronic version."
Ah but in some countries, like here in Australia you are permitted by copyright legislation to, for personal use, digitise a book for viewing on an electronic device, provided you own both the device and original book.

So, the question is, ethically do you feel it ok to download a copy of an ebook of which you already own a paperback copy? Does this count as digitising your book to electronic format (given the legislations don't specify how to digitise)? I raised the question some time ago and people felt that it is wrong and violates copyright law. Then I posed the question "Legally a person is able to record a free-to-air TV program for timeshifting purposes (ie: view at a later time) provided once they watch it they delete/destroy the copy and do not share or distribute. One day you forget to record a TV show however your neighbour did. Do you borrow the recorded copy to watch?"

If you borrow the copy you are illegally acquiring a copyrighted material, secondly your neighbour is distributing without authorisation copyright material. Given that the copy will be viewed at least twice (once by your neighbour and once by you) that is in breach of personal use, you can timeshift to view at a later time, NOT view any number of times you like. Most people would borrow the copy without even thinking twice, but with downloading a copy of an ebook of which you already own the paperback to (and despite fair use specifying you can digitise a paperback for personal use), people feel it unethical and wrong. I actually find it quite interesting the differences in what is deemed socially allowable and what isn't despite deep down there is in fact little difference.
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Old 04-13-2010, 08:55 PM   #71
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What they keep telling us, though, is that we're buying a) the physical medium, if any, that the content is delivered on (paper, CD, whatever), and b) a license to read that content. The question is whether we only have the right to read the content from that specific medium, or whether we can format-shift it. It is exactly analogous to ripping your CD collection so you can listen to them on your MP3 player, or burning your MP3 collection to CD so you can listen to it in your car.

My take on it is that I've bought the right to use (read, listen to, watch, whatever) that content for my personal use. That includes whatever is necessary to use it in any particular way, such as format conversion so that it will play in whatever device I happen to be using. The best description of what "content" means goes something like this: "What is a song? If you destroy every recording of it, if you burn every piece of sheet music, if you wipe every computer file, then what's left is the song."

That's also why the straw man of "if you buy a hardcover, should you be able to steal a paperback?" is just that: a straw man. We're dealing with two separate items: One, the content (the words in the book), and two, the carrier (the ink on the paper). You paid for the content, which is an abstract concept, and you paid for the carrier, which is a single instance of physical ink and paper in your hand. If you need more carriers, you need to buy those separately, either with content included (a paperback), or without it (a blank CD). And, of course, you need to take care that you're only using a single instance of the content at a time. It wouldn't be right to give away the content+carrier package (aka the pbook) while keeping a copy of it.

Mind you, this is just my take on it, an IANAL. I consider myself an honorable and ethical individual, and I've given it a lot of thought. Your mileage may vary; certainly, that of the people who want to keep selling me the same content over and over (without even any carriers to put it in) does.

Although it's actually only a question in the abstract. My only overlap between physical and electronic forms of my books is either the Baen Free Library, public domain books, or a handful that I've bought in multiple formats. I'm not actually scanning my books, and feel no particular need to. I've just thought through the ethics of the question as more of an academic exercise.
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:06 PM   #72
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It is interesting how these conversations always seem to get around to what is legal, as opposed to ethics.

Elfwreck, I had a long rant about how the right to format shift demonstrates flaws in my argument, but I removed it as it seemed to be getting too legalistic, and I was making an ethical argument, essentially, that by buying a book you were entering into an agreement with the author, publisher, etc. It was a pretty weak argument, essentially assuming that it was ethically wrong to violate a contract.

In the end, however, all attempts to avoid legal arguments will always fail, because Copyright is a legal construction, not an ethical one. The only way to make this into an ethics discussion is to make an argument that author's deserve to get paid when you read their work, but this argument leads to all sorts of problems as well, as we have discussed in detail when I tried to make this argument previously on another thread...

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Old 04-13-2010, 11:21 PM   #73
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I'm paying for the content, not the medium. One of my favorite authors came to me through a book I never paid for.

About 30 years ago, a friend told me about this great new fantasy book he just read and lent me his copy to read. I was hooked on the story and have purchased every book this author has written. Many of them I have purchased multiple times in multiple formats. I started purchasing the paperbacks because I was a kid. I'll read favorite stories over and over again, so as the paperbacks wore out, I'd replace them. Then I started purchasing the new releases in hard cover and if possible, I'd replace paperbacks with hard cover. Then I started listening to audiobooks and I've bought audible copies of almost all the books that I have physical copies of. Then I started reading on my various pda's. I will purchase future books as e-books, but I've downloaded all existing versions from various p2p sites.

I've downloaded the illegal copies and I'm donating my existing paperbacks and hard covers to the library with all my other books.

The author has gotten plenty of royalties from me and will continue to get royalties from future ebooks and future audiobooks. My hope is that someone will give their kid, who just finished Harry Potter, one of the books I donated and that kid will start buying the books too.

If the author wants to sue me for the pirated versions, he can have at it.
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Old 04-13-2010, 11:48 PM   #74
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Suggestion to Publishers: For new hardbacks, grant the right to download an ebook version of the file. Make it so the only way to get an ebook of a new release (in some cases) is to buy the hardback. This solves several problems for you.
I've never understood why anyone wants an HC/ebook bundle, but hey, go for it. The section I've highlighted above though makes absolutely no sense in this scenario though. All you're doing with that concept is alienating the majority of ebook readers, who want nothing to do with a hardcover book and rarely purchased them prior to shifting to the ebook format.

Personally, if a publisher tries that with a series I'm following, that will be a clear sign to me that I need to spend my money on another author's work, similar to the earlier poster that was discussing trying to get Steven Saylor's latest in MMPB rather than in trade PB form. If it's only going to be released as an exclusive HC/ebook set, I won't be purchasing it. And that's a net loss of one customer for the publisher. If you don't bundle the two, you have two customers: Sell the HC to one buyer and the ebook to another. Bundle them, and at best, you've created ONE customer. Worse yet, the HC can be sold as a used book, which nets the publisher nothing, and takes a possible new book sale away from them. All around, that's just a bad idea from a business perspective, even if it's appealing to a given set of customers.

As far as the original topic goes, I'm still not certain where I stand on it. I suppose in general I'd consider it ethical if it's done with the author's permission. But though I'd love more free books, I put this in the same category as shifting from cassettes to CDs and from VHS to DVD. No one gave me copies of what I already owned in the new shiny format, and I don't expect them to do so now. Which is why I don't troll the darknet.

J.K. Rowling and her ilk are the flaw in that whole idea though. I've not gone to the darknet for the HP books, but if she continues her attitude on the ebook subject, I'll probably do it eventually. Ethical? Probably not, certainly not by the guideline I just outlined. But if she and her publisher won't take my money to buy the complete set in my new preferred format, then yes, the temptation is there regardless of legalities or ethics.
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Old 04-14-2010, 07:46 AM   #75
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@edward, if you'll note the topic of this thread, it is about ethics, not legality.

I'm the one who had the hard time getting Steven Saylor's latest in a shelf-fitting format.

Yep, if the only way I can get an ebook would be to buy a hardcover, that won't sell me a hardcover -- that'll sell me nothing. The whole reason I want ebooks in the first place is I've got no freaking room left for books! Or, if I get any more books, I won't have any room left for me.

@riemann42: Authors don't deserve to get paid when I read their work any more than woodworkers deserve to get paid when I sit at their tables, or sewing machine operators deserve to get paid when I wear their clothes.

Authors deserve to get paid when they sell their product, just like people who make tables and T-shirts. I don't have to put money in a meter when I sit down to breakfast. I don't have to pay some kind of royalty to whoever made this T-shirt when I put it on. And if I sell that table, or that T-shirt -- or that book -- at a yard sale, nobody but me gets the money. If I want to saw the legs off of the table and make it into a bench, or sew up the bottom of the T-shirt and use it as a strange pillowcase, I can do that too. I bought them, and I can use them, sell them, or make them into something else (that is, format-shift them) without paying anyone a second or third or tenth time.

I've always thought that Richard Stallman's rant about the right to read was a ways out in left field, but it's starting to sound more and more like reality every day. And it's not what's changing.

So it isn't enough that not only has copyright stretched "for a limited time" to mean "long after the author, and his children, and his grandchildren, have died of old age," but now you think he and his distant descendants have some special privilege that the makers of tables and T-shirts don't, to get paid every time their product is used?

Aside from all other issues, it's a Bad Thing for society. The original purpose of copyright was to enable authors to make a living, because the output of those authors was considered to be good for society as a whole. (oddly enough, empowering their great-great-great-grandchildren to collect royalties for a book written by someone who died decades before they were born never entered into it). Its purpose wasn't to benefit authors -- they're no more deserving of special benefits than the makers of tables and T-shirts. It was to benefit society by ensuring that books would be written and good writers could make a living from their books (at least, if people wanted to buy them) so they wouldn't have to give up writing to sell tables or T-shirts to make ends meet. Reading books is good for people. Reading books might be best, in fact, for the poorest people. Books are a path to an education, even if it doesn't involve schooling. So by charging every time someone reads a book (I have to assume this would involve ebooks) you're putting up a barrier to the people who could most benefit from those books. I long ago lost count of how many times I read, say, The Hobbit. But how many times would I have read it if the book was a single-use item, and I had to buy it anew every time I wanted to re-read it? In hard times, when I haven't been able to afford other forms of entertainment, I could always take a favorite book from the shelf and relax with an old friend. You would take those friends away from people who couldn't afford the reading fees? Or make them decide between buying food and re-reading The Hobbit?

"Son, I can't read you bedtime stories anymore. They're charging $5 per use now, and we just don't have the money to spend hundreds of dollars a month on reading fees."

"But Dad, I know my favorite stories by heart. I could tell one to you!"

"No! NO! Don't ever do that! That's book piracy, and you can be hanged at the yardarm."

The world of literature has existed for hundreds of years without the sort of thing you're proposing. The great authors of history wrote classic works despite finding it hard enough to get publishers to pay them, let alone their distant descendants. They sold books to people who could read them over and over again, with no extra fees, and who could do the same things with them they could do with a table or a shirt. Surprisingly, in the time that copyright terms have doubled or tripled, the quality of writing has not followed along. Who is today's Dickens, or Twain, or Dumas? There are 5x as many people on earth now as when Twain was alive, and with copyright terms being at least double what they were in his day, shouldn't there be ten Twains penning great novels? And a dozen Dickenses, and another dozen Dumases, etc. Authors in the 19th century wrote classics while they struggled to pay their bills; shouldn't authors in the 21st century be writing many more books as good or better, since they know that their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will be collecting royalties on those books?

Frankly, it isn't happening. Sturgeon's Law has gone and squared itself, or maybe cubed itself. We don't have ten Twains or Dickenses or Kiplings writing today. We don't even have one. The idea that giving authors' distant descendants (or, more likely, large corporations that some slightly less distant descendants sold the rights to for pennies on the dollar) royalties for decades after the author is dust would produce a social benefit, specifically an increase in the production of great literature, that outweighs the social loss of freeing those books for public use once the author is dead has, in fact, failed. There's no more great literature being written today than there was fifty or a hundred years ago. In fact, there's arguably less. Just more Harlequin romances and celebrity tell-alls. So, given that the "pay their descendants unto the 7th generation" concept has failed, why do you think the "pay them every time someone reads their book" concept will work any better? Whatever the secret is to great literature, how authors are paid (so long as they are paid enough to be able to buy their tables and T-shirts) doesn't seem to be a factor. What might be a factor, on the other hand, is people reading books, reading good books, and demanding good books in the market. And that is exactly what you would choke off with the "re-read, re-pay" model you advocate.

I've seen novels written as fan fiction, by amateurs, that are better than a disturbing percentage of the published novels out there. These are written by people who will never see a penny from their work -- who, in some cases, are even at risk of legal action by some of the more anal-retentive rights owners (though most have realized that suing their most hardcore fans is not, in fact, a good public relations tool). They not only don't have the right to profit from the work for a hundred years or more, they don't have the right to profit from it for a millisecond. And yet they write. Some of them write abominably, most of them write simply poorly, a few write well, and a rare handful write on a professional level. Without royalties. Without reading fees. Without any money at all.

So I would have to say that whatever it is that motivates an author to write well, neither increasing their remuneration (19th century to today) nor decreasing it (fanfic writers who will never see a penny) seems to affect it. Therefore, there is no social benefit to extending copyright beyond a writer's lifetime, and even less to authors getting paid any time someone reads their work.
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