Friday, April 09, 2010

Illegal and Unethical?

Remember years ago when music lovers created huge websites where they traded music files. People downloaded thousands and thousands of songs for free and the music industry suffered a blow it’s not even today completely recovered from.

The same thing is happening to the book industry today. There are sites, a lot of them based overseas, where e-books are posted by folks who offer them for free to others to download. Some are e-books they bought then uploaded; some are print books they’ve scanned.

The Ethicist for the NY Times, Randy Cohen, addressed the issue as to whether this is illegal when a reader wrote in to say s/he bought Stephen King’s new book in hardcover form since the publisher held the e-book so that there would be higher hardcover sales. Then when the e-book came out s/he downloaded it from a pirate site. S/he wanted to know if that was okay since s/he had paid for the hardcover.

Cohen’s answer?
An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.
You might not be surprised to hear that publishing exec’s don’t necessarily agree with Cohen. According to The Consumerist, here’s what one exec said:
"Anyone who downloads a pirated e-book has, in effect, stolen the intellectual property of an author and publisher. To condone this is to condone theft."
The Consumerist also noted that a reader commented over on TechDirt, where this was under discussion, and said:
 …you have to pay to watch a movie at the theater or attend a concert, and then again to own that movie/concert on DVD or CD, so you should pay for both print and digital versions.
Others disagreed.

What about you? If you bought the book in paperback or hardcover, is it then okay to pirate an e-copy?
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39 comments:

  1. Interesting and important discussion. Everybody wants and deserves to be paid for work they do. I try to teach my kids that downloading music, software, games and books from Pirate Bay and sites like that is not OK, but there are cases of doubt. I have always thought that I pay for content and not for format. In some cases I have downloaded music that I bought on vinyl records many years ago, and considered that to be OK.

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  2. Maybe I'm thinking about this the wrong way, but doesn't this put second hand book stores in a grey area? Or trading books with friends? Where is the line drawn? Is it only with electronic copies?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the author/artist getting paid for their work, but it is a little fuzzy, especially when it comes to books.

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  3. The Napster debate...

    It seems like a grey area until you consider this - with a used bookstore, the first owner of the book has departed with the book completely. They no longer own the original. With a site like that, the person has copied the book and given it to others. That makes it illegal in my eyes.

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  4. I would say that it is illegal and that is pretty clear. What I would also say is that there must be a different way for writers, film-makers, artists, photographers, etc...to be compensated because it is ridiculous to think that this isn't going to keep happening. It simply is. And it is, in my humble opinion, the wrong end of the stick to argue about the ethics of it. Intellectual property developed and nurtured in the digital age is a completely new paradigm and needs a radically different approach to protecting the rights of the creators.

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  5. I vote no, it's not okay to pirate an e-copy. It opens too many other doors if it's accepted. If I bought a hardcover, then wanted the paperback to tuck along in my handbag, can I just pirate it since I already paid $$ for the hardcover?

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  6. I wouldn't do it. I'd say that would definitely be wrong. But I do share my books with my best friend, so would that be the same? Something to think about.

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  7. Joanne said it for me. If I bought a hard cover and had the means to make 1,000 copies and then distributed them, even for free, that would be cheating the publisher and the author, correct?

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  8. It is a big debate. So far, it's not getting the attention that music did in the Napster days. One problem is that those debating it are not the ones creating the sites for the pirates who put up the books. It's difficult to keep up with technology and impossible to get ahead of those who want to circumvent technology. The publishing industry needs to look at what the music industry was finally able to do. They didn't stop pirating completely, but they did survive, which some doubted would happen.

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  9. Good points from Laurita ...I have no guilt about having pirate films & music but with ebooks ... not so sure...

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  10. I wouldn't do it. But I can see there are points on both sides...how many times should a person be paid for content? At LEAST once. After that...is it their book to share with friends? I certainly have let friends borrow my books before. Is it different because it's digital? But it HAS to be bought at least once...

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  11. The question is why would you want to if you've already bought (I'm assuming the book is bought and not a stripped covered version) the book. But then I'm not into e-books, so I wouldn't do that anyway.

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  12. Nope, pirating is never right.

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  13. What bothers me about pirating isn't that someone is sharing a book (or ebook) that they bought. It bothers me that there are sites that allow people to upload a book and give it to millions of others for free. Or that someone would go to these sites and download a book, knowing they're doing something, if not illegal, then unethical.

    It not only hurts writers, it says a lot about our society.

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  14. I see an ebook as an off-shoot of a print book. If you can steal an ebook then why not steal a Harry Potter lunch box since you bought the book. No, the Ethicist has not thought this through. It is wrong.

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  15. Joanne makes a great point I can't refute. You wouldn't steal a paperback because you have the same thing in hard copy format.

    So: no. It's not OK!

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  16. Should you then not accept a book from a friend who has read it and is now passing it on to you and others?

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  17. It's the same argument some people seem to have with copying movies - and selling them, or giving them away. You do go to jail for it.

    Buying a book (or ebook) does not give someone the right to make hundreds of copies and give them away, or sell them, which is what those free sites are doing.

    Why does everyone feel they are entitled to something for nothing, or not paying for X amount of copies beyond the first, initial purchase? Isn't that claiming a tyype of 'ownership' of what isn't theirs to own (creation, intellectual property rights?)

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  18. It's illegal and unethical, I believe but there are many many people doing it...

    Really Angelic

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  19. I guess my thoughts on the ETHICS is it isn't about the 'having different formats' so much as the distribution. You could buy a book and scan every page (what a hassle) and have it on your computer as your back up copy (because you abuse your book by reading it in the bathtub and while you walk in the rain *cough*), and I'm not sure I see getting the e-copy as a lot different FOR THAT PERSON. The people in the WRONG are the ones DISTRIBUTING to people who didn't pay (other than the 'here, borrow it and then give it back' lending).

    I get the majority of my books at the library because I just can't afford to buy as many books as I like to READ (some day I will have money, then I swear I will help support my fellow writers). For not though, that's FREE, but there is a distribution control--sometimes I have to wait in line (a really LONG line for anything new)--no author gets anything there, but I think widely read books stay on library shelves which DOES get books read--and theoretically there is a way to track how many people are READING your book (sure wish there was a top 100 list for THAT)...
    (and I borrow movies, and COULD borrow CDs that way--could even put CDs on my iPod, if I wanted)

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  20. I think it is wrong to download a pirated version of anything. I wish there was a way to shut down the sites and prosecute the owners.

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  21. I would also add that I feel it's unethical for people to go to the sites they know are illegally making books available and download the illegal copies. Libraries make it legal for you to read without paying. A lot of libraries have legal e-books for you to download. There are ways to read books for free that are legal. Downloading books you know are illegal is unethical and wrong.

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  22. Come on, people. Loaning a book, album, or picture to a friend is a lot different than uploading a digital copy to a pirate site where it can be downloaded by many.

    For one thing, when loaning a hard-copy, as one commenter said, the physical medium limits the handoff to ONE person at a time. This is not wrong. It may result in a lost sale, but I doubt it, since if the person really loved the book, they'd go buy it so they could read it again.

    Saying that loaning a hardcopy book to a friend is like stealing a pirated digital copy essentially calls the librarians of this country pirate BBSes and those who GO to a library pirates of hardcopy books.

    With digital information, it is QUITE different, because one copy can be distributed to a million people. Are those lost sales? Probably. At least SOME of those thugs, if NOT given the chance, would part with some hard-earned cash to go buy a copy.

    But they'd be MORE likely to get on a waiting list to snag the book from the pirates at the library.

    C'mon, Jack Sparrow, I have a library card!

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  23. I agree with MisterChris. It's not the same as loaning a friend the book. This is giving it away to millions. Movie studios don't allow pirated copies - and the difference lies between loaning a friend your DVD or copying your DVD and giving/selling it to them. The second is wrong AND illegal.

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  24. I really, REALLY don't agree with the publishing house holding the e-version so they can drive hardcover sales. I think that's insidious. King isn't happy with the publisher for Under the Dome and now I understand one more reason why.

    That being said... I'm still riding the fence on "illegal" downloading. Shouldn't art be free? I mean, I know we want to get paid for all our hard work, but is that all we're doing it for?

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  25. Pirate a copy? No. Go on a site you know has pirated material, music or print, no.

    Trading CD or Print things after you've bought it. I don't have a problem with that. If I want to make it available to a friend or family and I bought it? Not a problem for me.

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  26. Oh dear. I rarely double-post a blog entry, but I feel I need to comment on the whole idea of 'shouldn't art be free' mentality.

    I've gone round and round with people concerning music along that same vein.

    The bottom line answer is that if YOU wish to give YOUR work away for free, that is fine (in fact, 80% of the music I've written is free for download).

    But who am *I* to say that *YOU* should give your music away for free?

    Granted, the people paying $1m or more for Rembrandt paintings may need their heads examined. But if they are willing to pay that much, that's their own issue.

    For common people to be blithely stealing music that costs thousands to produce, (and yes, it can cost that much) or books that cost thousands to produce, market, print, and sell, shelve, store, and ship, how dare those people try to justify their actions with the bland statement that it should 'just be free'?

    I could say the same of medicine. Tell my doctor that, since his work is for the good of all men, shouldn't he be giving his assistance for free? Pro Bono?

    I could say the same for the hospital too - shouldn't their services be free? They are saving lives. Sounds like a 'for the good of people' thing. Or the pharmaceuticals. How dare they charge for insulin when diabetics need it to live?

    Sorry for the rant, but as an artist (musician, author, poet, painter, etc.) it flies in the face of logic to state that my work should 'just be free' unless I deem to give it away.

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  27. Fascinating discussion here, Helen. No, it's not okay to pirate anything. But clearly, there are blurry lines in this debate. I don't think anything about lending a book I loved to a friend. Now, if I sold it, that's a different story.
    Karen

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  28. I respect the intellectual property even if I bought the paperback or hard cover. There's too much piracy going on, compromising the hard, creative work of artists.

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  29. The piracy will continue until there's some way to prevent e-books from being put up on piracy sites and downloaded. The movie industry has done a pretty good job of preventing piracy, but it's not perfect by any means.

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  30. I'm still amazed at all of this. I mean, how much does it cost to download an e-book? Not much. Its not that people are hurting for money, they're simply unethical people who don't respect other people. What comes around goes around.

    Stephen Tremp

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  31. I'm a rule-follower so I would have to buy an e-copy even if I owned the 'real' book!

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  32. Interesting discussion. I know the bands my sons love most are the ones they can get legal downloads from - then they go out and buy the CDs. I suspect maybe they'll pick their favorite authors the same way one day.

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  33. I was brought up that if you did something wrong, you got caught. It's stuck with me all these years.

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  35. Nobody really mentioned the library except for Watery Tart and MisterChris. I think that is a big difference in this music vs ebook comparison.

    Why do we have a library? Because, collectively, we WANT people to have free, temporary access to our work.

    Temporary is a tricky word, though, because I can't keep a copy of a book if I borrow it from the library, but a permanent impression has been made.

    Is access only temporary at a library because of printing costs, or because we also want to make a living?

    At the same time, I completely agree with MisterChris, who wrote: "But who am *I* to say that *YOU* should give your music away for free?"

    It is not up to some dirt bag to scan my book and make it available for free.

    Personally, I want both. I want to make a living while making sure everyone - even those who can't affordbooks, or those who don't yet want to spend money on books - has access to my writing.

    Here's my solution (feel free to pass it along): Let's get together as authors, make a high profile, one-stop-shop e-book library site. FUBU (for us, by us.)

    Like all e-books I've borrowed from an e-library, the file would expire in 2 - 3 weeks.

    Unlike all e-library books, there should always be a copy available.

    With respect to making money: we still make money when our books are available at the library, so why wouldn't it work the same way?

    If you're still worried, I suggest a one or two e-book offering on the site, with links to other e-books for sale.

    What do you say?

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  36. I vote no, it's not ethical, if for no other reason than the vast majority of people who put up pirated copies don't care if you've bought the book or not.

    Not to mention that at least half, if not most illegal downloaders didn't buy anything in the first place.

    I'm going to make an extreme example: Getting an illegal download because you own the book is like buying medicinal marijuana from the drug dealer outside the high school. YOU might be able to justify it, but the fact is, you're supporting something that's going to hurt a lot of other people.

    I don't know if breaking the law for purely selfish reasons can ever be considered "ethical".

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  37. Interesting idea, Jenn. I like it.

    I also agree with you, Miriam. If I decide to give away my ebook, that's my right. If someone else does it without my permission, it's against the law.

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  38. It is illegal and as a citizen I should abide the laws of my country as long as they don't compel me to do something unethical. I don't think the law is correct though (even though I would still obey it) I agree with the original person. If you paid for it, you should be able to use it in another format without having to jump through hoops. Excessively charging for ebooks hurts authors and consumers.

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  39. Interesting post, Helen. I don't condone the idea of copy. It is not good for the economy. Here in Cyprus the island was swimming with copy DVD's. The police have now swept the island clean as best they can. In Greece a man selling counterfiet cards for TV progs, has been arrested. They are now tracking all of his links via his pc.
    The book issue is no different, in my mind. If I am going to hand over cash, I would rather save and have the real thing.

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