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Old 04-06-2010, 01:54 PM   #1
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Is pirating a book that you already own ethical? Yes says NY Times Columnist.

Randy Cohen who writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York times answers a readers question if it is ok to download a book that you have already bought a hard copy version. He basically states that it is ok. He compares it to buying a CD and transfering it to your iPod. He states that:

Quote:
Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform.
I found the following quote amusing:

Quote:
Your action is not pristine. Downloading a bootleg copy could be said to encourage piracy, although only in the abstract: no potential pirate will actually realize you’ve done it. It’s true that you might have thwarted the publisher’s intent — perhaps he or she has a violent antipathy to trees, maybe a wish to slaughter acres of them and grind them into Stephen King novels. Or to clog the highways with trucks crammed with Stephen King novels. Or perhaps King himself wishes to improve America’s physique by having readers lug massive volumes. So be it. Your paying for the hardcover put you in the clear as a matter of ethics, forestry and fitness training.

Read it here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/ma...thicist-t.html
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Old 04-06-2010, 02:37 PM   #2
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When I lived in Georgia the Atlanta Journal and Constitution used to carry his column. I always wondered what his credentials were. That is to say, why does anyone think that this fellow is any more ethical than anyone else?

And whose ethics are we talking about? For example, if a Catholic priest wrote a column on ethics, you could assume that he was basing his views on papal encyclicals. If a Baptist minister wrote the column, you could assume that he is basing his views on The New Testament.

But where is this guy Randy Cohen coming from? Are his ethics based upon anything other than his own ideas about what makes him comfortable? He never says.

I would not object to a proposal that we agree that one need purchase a book only once. But Cohen acts like his opinions are based upon some view already arrived at, and I don't think that we are there yet.
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:21 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by GA Russell View Post
But where is this guy Randy Cohen coming from? Are his ethics based upon anything other than his own ideas about what makes him comfortable? He never says.
To be fair, this is where most people get their ethics. The three main sources for ethics are (1) Tradition, (2) Reason, and (3) Doctrine. After attending Jesuit schools, my approach is (2) Reason. In light of this, I'll listen to anyone's argument as long as it appeals to reason.

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I would not object to a proposal that we agree that one need purchase a book only once. But Cohen acts like his opinions are based upon some view already arrived at, and I don't think that we are there yet.
You hit the nail on the head here! Cohen fails to provided a reasoned argument for this, and while I agree with the concept of the "permanent license" to a book, we need to carefully consider where this takes us.

Copyright law is not about ethics, sadly. The idea behind copyright is to give writers an incentive to write. Copyright law grants creators control over the copying and distribution of their work. Downloading an eBook is an act of distribution and copying, thus the copyright holder, legally, has the right to decide what type of payment is required for this.

So now on to ethics. I see two approaches to the ethics of buying a book:

1) If your position is that the ethical reason you buy a book (as opposed to steal) is to pay the author, then "format shifting," even with the help of a third party, is ethical.

2) If on the other hand, your position is that the reason you buy a book is that this is the terms the creator has set forth for acquiring his/her work. Essentially, you are entering into a contractual arrangement with the author (publisher really, but let's not complicate things) in which you agree to pay them money, they agree to give you an item, and you agree not to copy said item. In this case, downloading an eBook would constitute violating this agreement, which is unethical.

Cohen fails to give a reason to go with (1) rather than (2).

I personally feel that as a society we need to reconcile in law, practice, and ethics, versions 1 and 2. In other words, book sellers should SELL YOU a license giving you permanent rights to a work, rather than a copy of said work.
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:35 PM   #4
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Angry Ethics vs. the Law

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.

http://www.eff.org/wp/riaa-v-people-years-later

"... consider the case of the defendant who faced the $22,500 judgment discussed above, Cecilia Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a mother of five, was hit with the judgment just two weeks after she was laid off from her job as a secretary—a job where she made not much more than that amount in an entire year. Ironically, Gonzalez primarily downloaded songs she already owned on CD—the downloads were meant to help her avoid the labor of manually loading the 250 CDs she owns onto her computer."

On appeal, Gonzalez lost the case:

http://www.afterdawn.com/news/articl...m_loses_appeal
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:51 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fat Abe View Post
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.
Except that the querant was not asking what the case law happens to be, he was asking what the ethics happen to be. From that point of view, it does matter, since the ethicist answered the question he was asked.

I’ve taken a look at this issue on the TeleRead blog:

http://www.teleread.org/2010/04/06/p...y-of-scanning/

In short, courts have found that consumers do have the legal right to “space-shift” media they own into other forms for reading elsewhere (except if it’s protected by DRM, thanks to the DMCA).

As you point out, they do draw a legal distinction between consumers doing the work of space-shifting themselves (i.e. putting a CD into the computer to rip; running a book through a scanner, OCR’ing, and proofing it) and letting someone else do it for them (downloading the music or e-book from peer-to-peer).

What Cohen was addressing was whether there should be an ethical distinction between the two acts as well.

I think that publishers have gotten used to there being an “analog barrier” between printed books and e-books—they get to sell the same book twice, in paper and electronically, because the time it would take to scan and OCR is worth more to the consumer than the money that the e-book costs.

But as scanning and OCRing technology improves, there may come a time when that is no longer true, and the publishing industry may find itself in the same place the music industry did after space-shifting legalized CD ripping.

Of course, out of that court decision came the iPod and the entire digital music economy…
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:54 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fat Abe View Post
It doesn't matter what the ethics of the matter happen to be.
But the question was, is it ethical - you seem to be suggesting that ethics don't matter in the face of "the law" - law trumps ethics.
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Old 04-06-2010, 04:01 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Fat Abe View Post
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.
I'm pretty sure you'll find that the case was really about sharing, not downloading. Sharing/uploading is obviously infringement, and has nothing to do with whether you own an original copy or not.
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Old 04-06-2010, 04:03 PM   #8
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Downloading compared to shoplifting

Taken from http://www.onlinelawyersource.com/cr...oplifting.html

"Shoplifting laws are governed by individual states and can vary depending on the location of the crime. Shoplifting penalties typically depend on the amount and value of the goods that were stolen, and whether or not the offender has shoplifted before. Each state sets their specific limit on the value of stolen goods which constitutes a misdemeanor charge and that which qualifies as a felony crime.

In most states, shoplifting goods with a value less than $300 to $500 constitutes a petty theft misdemeanor charge. Shoplifting goods with a greater value may constitute a grand theft or larceny felony charge. The charges for shoplifting also depend on whether a person has a criminal history of shoplifting and other specific factors.

The penalties for shoplifting vary by circumstance and location but can include fines up to two times the amount of the value that was stolen, prison or jail time, and community service. In some cases compensatory fines may also be assessed in shoplifting cases in order to compensate a store owner for his or her losses.

In some shoplifting cases when the value of the goods is minor and it is a first time offense, perhaps committed by a minor, the criminal justice system will issue a warning to the shoplifting offender rather than prosecute the case. This depends wholly on the circumstances, and does not mitigate the unlawfulness of shoplifting. "


She downloaded 30 tracks, say .99 cents per track. It's a first time, so it's either a warning or like a $60 fine.

Why is downloading 350x worse than shoplifting?
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Old 04-06-2010, 04:18 PM   #9
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She downloaded 30 tracks, say .99 cents per track. It's a first time, so it's either a warning or like a $60 fine.

Why is downloading 350x worse than shoplifting?
That's a common analogy, but a really bad one. This is about uploading, not downloading. The higher penalty is for distributing copies to lots of other people, not just the one copy that they downloaded.

Copyright infringement is primarily about uploading, which many people do not seem to understand.

It's not equivalent to shoplifting, it's equivalent to running your own black market store and selling things that you don't own.
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Old 04-06-2010, 04:33 PM   #10
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I suppose everyone has to decide for themselves but to me, ethics trumps law. If I do what's ethically right I can look in the mirror. That matters more to me than the law though I can't think of an American felony that clashes with my ethics, just a few infractions...
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Old 04-06-2010, 07:10 PM   #11
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For me, the ethics depend on the intent of the transaction. If the intent was to allow you to read the book, then using an alternative means to read the book is not unethical, as you have certainly paid fair market value for the content.

If you believe, however, that the intent of the transaction was to give me a physical book, then getting another copy illegally is also unethical.

It all comes down to this: What are you buying? Are you buying the content, or the medium. The Law and Tradition state you are buying the medium. I believe we should change law and tradition to buying the content. Of course if you are buying a right to view the content, then neither the pBook nor the eBook would be resell-able, but that's another thread...
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Old 04-06-2010, 08:15 PM   #12
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It all comes down to this: What are you buying? Are you buying the content, or the medium. The Law and Tradition state you are buying the medium.
Are you sure of that? RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia said that consumers had the right to space-shift works they purchased into other media for their personal, noncommercial use. That's the case that legalized CD ripping and mp3 players.
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Old 04-06-2010, 08:53 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Robotech_Master View Post
Are you sure of that? RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia said that consumers had the right to space-shift works they purchased into other media for their personal, noncommercial use. That's the case that legalized CD ripping and mp3 players.
So if its agreed your rights include scanning and ocr'ing the book yourself is it ethical to let someone do the work for you, if they are willing. The article says yes, the publishers no doubt say no. The authors? Dodgy bunch, might get up in arms about it or might shrug as long as you buy them drinks at cons.
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:00 PM   #14
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You can not legislate morals, no matter how hard you try, it can not be done.

However if everyone behaved in an ethical, moral way we would not need 90% of the laws we have.

Further compounding the issue is the fact that electronic copies, and what is and what isn't ethical regarding them is still in the process of being worked out. This would be a much simpler question 10 or 20 years from now.

As to the argument of medium vs content. If they were truly selling the medium, all paperback books would cost the same. But we are not buying blank sheets bound into a book. What keeps us coming back for more is what is on the page, not the page itself.

If you have already paid for the book once I see no issue with changing it into a more different format. One that offers several unique advantages, including digital storage, space saving on bookshelves, etc. Yes, even if you bought it as a second hand book.

As for all of the other hoop jumping circus acts that people wrap themselves into about loaning an ebook. Consider this, word of mouth is still the most cost effective, and effective means of advertising. So every person you expose to a new author is potentially a new buyer of their books. Indeed, they may go on to tell 5, 10, 20 or more people about this great new author. Some of those people will indeed buy new books from that author. That benefit right there in most cases outweighs all other potential downsides.
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Old 04-07-2010, 02:15 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Madam Broshkina View Post
Randy Cohen who writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York times answers a readers question if it is ok to download a book that you have already bought a hard copy version. He basically states that it is ok. He compares it to buying a CD and transfering it to your iPod. He states that:



I found the following quote amusing:




Read it here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/ma...thicist-t.html
A man who understands ethics. I agree with his opinion.

Derek
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