Downloading Pirated Ebooks: Questionable Ethics?

In the Ethicist column last week in the New York Times, Randy Cohen addressed the following question:

I bought an e-reader for travel and was eager to begin “Under the Dome,” the new Stephen King novel. Unfortunately, the electronic version was not yet available. The publisher apparently withheld it to encourage people to buy the more expensive hardcover. So I did, all 1,074 pages, more than three and a half pounds. Then I found a pirated version online, downloaded it to my e-reader and took it on my trip. I generally disapprove of illegal downloads, but wasn’t this O.K.?

Cohen’s response: “An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical.” Although the questioner violated copyright law, s/he is in the moral clear because s/he paid for the book, and “[b]uying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform.”

Oh, really? Says who? Aren’t we a little closer to ideology than to ethics here? Indeed, Cohen makes it fairly clear that his conclusion is not bias-free:

Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology…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.

With a little stretching, Cohen’s you-bought-it-you-can-steal-it argument can cover anyone. A friend of mine who rips copies of the CDs he gets out of the library and borrows from friends uses the same rationalization: No, he didn’t buy the CDs himself, but someone did. And what about the people who download illegal copies of books without buying them first or intending to later? Couldn’t they argue the same–that to post the book online, someone had to buy it (well, probably), so where’s the harm?

Cohen acknowledges that illegal downloads aren’t morally pristine. “Downloading a bootleg copy [of a book] could be said to encourage piracy, although only in the abstract: no potential pirate will actually realize you’ve done it.” Say what? Because a potential pirate won’t turn piratical because you, personally, illegally downloaded a book, your action is “only” bad in abstract, and therefore, by implication, not actually so bad after all? What about all the other yous out there, busily acquiring bootleg books? How abstract are they? What about the pirate whose site you used? How abstract is he?

The impact of piracy on the book business is not yet clear. Plenty of people are offering data showing that it harms, but others are arguing that it can help. Help or harm, however, there is nothing “abstract” about downloading a bootleg book, whether or not you bought it first–and I have to say I’m pretty amazed at Cohen’s finessing of this issue.

For a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a book pirate (who acknowledges that “morally, the act of pirating a product is, in fact, the moral equivalent of stealing”), see this post from Richard Curtis’s E-Reads blog.


  1. Go to and read up on Eric Flint's take on "piracy" and have your eyes opened people. Just to make a point he did..library books, books from friends, yardsales, etc. are all also pirated by the definition of most people complaining about online piracy.

  2. Wyman,

    I do see that some writers want to work at a purely amateur level. I guess I can't blame them, but that has never been where I'm coming from and it does not affect where I'm coming from. I believe in doing the best work I can: And I also believe in being appropriately and consistently paid for it. Almost all my time is spent on my work–just to produce approximately one book every two years.

    Talk about binding the soul: I find it insulting and demeaning to hear people natter about how all writers (and by extension, me) will slave for them even if those writers are not getting paid. Are you kidding?

    I find it insulting to hear pirates assert that writers are already paid so little, they won't miss the income they do make. Writers should be making more money, not less, and they should not assent to copyright "reforms" designed to evade paying them. Nor should they accept cultural devaluation of their work.

    I find the endless pirate "slippery slope" arguments insulting. The arguments like, publishers and writers don't miss the income from photocopy piracy (actually they do), therefore they won't miss the income from e-book piracy in addition. And, that pirating a book is just like borrowing from a library and publishers think it's fine to sell to libraries so it must be fine to pirate books. And, that publishers sometimes give away e-books so it must be acceptable to pirate any book. And so on.

    Ethics is respecting the legal and moral rights of others. It is not asserting, for your own convenience and financial gain (and stealing what you'd otherwise pay for is financial gain for you), that those others somehow don't deserve what the law entitles them to. Ethics is not a matter of what you feel good about. The law does not entitle you to steal your neighbor's lawnmower just because they are not using it, or stay in their house without permission just because they are away on vacation. It does not entitle you to steal their intellectual property either.

    If you yourself, as a writer, don't want to get paid, give away your work. That is your decision. But it is not the right of others to steal or give away your work, or anyone else's, without the permission of the copyright holder. Many writers do not work or want to work at an amateur level.

    If pirates really believed a copyright holder would allow them to copy a book (because the publisher and author were willing and would suffer no harm, etc.) they'd ask the publisher or author (whoever legally controlled the e-rights at that point) for explicit permission. And if the answer was no, not to copy it. But, you'll notice that pirates don't, because the answer usually would be no. So they try to make it an issue of their feelings rather than others' rights.

    Luckily, their feelings make little difference if they can still be sued. I believe more aggressive enforcement of copyright laws would be a very good thing. All pirates do is assert that they will steal books whether anyone sues them or not, and then whine about "Draconian laws" and how about no one ought to prosecute them. Or they assert that publishers should court them with giveaways and prices so low that the publisher and author are not getting paid–just to save them the trouble of piracy.

    These people are thieves and parasites. They will never be paying readers, so they need to be made into paying examples.

  3. Wyman,

    I will add that marketing your book is not something that just happens. In the vast majority of cases, writers can't just post material on a website and assume a publisher will run across it and make an offer. If you want to sell your manuscript or book proposal, read several of the books on doing just that.

    Likewise, a writer or a publisher cannot just give away books–or allow them to be pirated–and assume sales will magically result. On self-publishing lists I discover that most self-publishers do not have a clue which of their marketing techniques–if any–are working for them. They don't track which publications review their books most effectively, they don't track the results of their giveaways, they don't track anything. They just say, "Oh, I give away e-books/tweet/blog/whatever and of course it results in sales." I ask exactly which technique is working, and how many sales, and they almost always say they have no idea.

    It's hard work to analyze your marketing techniques and continually try to improve them to be just right for your and your book. There are some results that can't be traced. But I see no excuse for not even trying.

    By the way, for an enormous, incredible smorgasbord of marketing techniques and ideas (for published books) useful to authors and publishers, read John Kremer's 10001 Ways to Market Your Books.

  4. Wyman,

    I've worked in publishing for over 25 years. I've worked for larger book and magazine publishers as an editor. I've worked as a freelance editor and occasionally, provided indexing services. I've worked in Silicon Valley as a technical writer/editor/graphic designer/layout artist. (When an engineer hires you, you may discover that "writer" means "someone who does everything needed to create a computer manual.")

    I now self-publish books. It makes more money for me than if I used a larger publisher, and more recently, because I retain legal control of my e-rights. I also enjoy working on every stage of the process, visual as well as verbal. I'm aware that many writers don't and I don't blame them. It's very hard work, and I have all the work and overhead costs of running a business in addition.

    But: All my working life, I've been paid. Oh sure, I sold my first magazine article (to a now defunct science fiction magazine) for $25–all rights. However, I very soon discovered that was seriously dumb. The thrill of just seeing my work in print evaporated fast, under the pressures of having to pay for my groceries, rent, etc.

    I can reach just as many readers if they actually pay for my work, and they will benefit from my work just as much. And they will compliment me just as much–though what I really want is reviews that will help my marketing. If a reader emails me and says they loved my book, I thank them–and then I ask if they'd mind posting a review on Amazon, or their blog, or a newsgroup, or allow me to quote their email on my website.

    A writer just does not have to choose between getting paid and other rewards: You can have it all. There's really no conflict.

    And, a reader who genuinely loves your work will not steal it, or encourage others to steal it. They will pay for it and often in addition to paying, will help to promote it to others who will pay. You also do not have to choose between getting paid and word-of-mouth marketing. The two go hand in hand. Readers with only a casual interest in your book–let alone those who don't bother to actually read it–will not help to promote it.

    Since I've always approached my work as a profession and a business, that means that I understand the necessity of obeying all laws, no matter how silly some may seem. I don't think copyright laws are silly by a long shot. They are the only foundation for writers getting paid–and not only writers, but all others who work to produce books–editors, graphic artists, illustrators, photographers, indexers, translators, and others.

    For example, I sell hardly any books direct to consumers. I sell almost all of them to wholesalers. But I have to regularly fill out sales tax forms for my state accounting for my direct-to-consumer sales. I pay the state about $5 in sales tax every time. My city also levies sales tax on me and they get about $1.50. It must cost my state and city more than I pay them just to process my sales tax forms.

    But, it's their regulations and by taking out a business license, I agreed to obey those regulations. I don't give excuses about how it's more ethical not to pay my sales taxes because my state and city actually lose money by it. I just pay them.

  5. I don't have the eloquence of the many who have posted here. I wish to share my thoughts, for what it's worth.

    I write, first for myself; for my own pleasure. Having accomplished that, I then wish to have readers, in the form of the largest audience possible. You could say, I write to be read.

    To write takes time and energy and knowing others have been compensated for their writing efforts, I too, wish to make a living writing. I look around to see how this is done. The current fashion is to be published in newspapers, magazines, and through books. I hear the majority of writers never earn enough to make a living at writing. I have even been told, in order to get published in newspapers and magazines, I may have to give away what I have toiled hard at, with the hope this may lead to future sales or a later sale of what I have given away. Therefore, I must accept that others may make money off my writing, while I make nothing. I can buy into this system or find my own way around it, but it appears few have found a way around it.

    Hopefully someday, my works will sell. I may even have a book published. I may even make money from the book. Even so, some may make digital copies or gain access to digital copies they can give away for free to anyone who wishes to download the original work. Certainly, this may have a negative impact on my earnings. Still, I must expect this to happen.

    Time passes: A poor Filipino or some other poor soul in my land or anywhere in the world gains access to the digital copy of my work. Perhaps this person downloaded it for free or found it, as many things get found by chance. The person reads my work, enjoys my work, searches for more of my work. Maybe they buy the works or download it for free. To that person, it may seem like manna from heaven, although goodness knows, I am not one of the great writers.

    Perhaps, a thousand years from now, this same digital download is found by an archeologist and is fully restored, republished, and becomes popular in this new time.

    Although by today's definition, I may have been robbed, deprived of what was rightfully mine, one of my original goals has been achieved. I have been read by the widest audience possible, but it was not my age, it was a future age. Does it matter then that my work was illegally uploaded, then downloaded freely by a Filipino, and somehow preserved for a thousand years? Preserved by a happy reader, who could not afford the price of my work, but repaid me many times over, through the chance preservation of my work.

    You see, the law binds people's souls. Ethics is a set of social rules or social constructs, which may change with the times. Morality comes from the heart and soul of a person. We are in transition. Writers have sold themselves to one model, publishers, and most writers have been left poor as a result. So poor, they have "real jobs" as opposed to their writing jobs, which are more real to writers. Writers will likely remain in a similar state once we transition to the new age.

    The real question in all this is how do writers find and get read by their audience? Followed by how do we feed ourselves and write too? That is always the writer's questions. The rest is a case of defending systems that don't have our best interest at heart.

    I invite you to my humble blog, which I write in fits and starts, full of doubt, and sometimes filled with great joy. I am trying to join the club. Trying to find my way to becoming a published writer. Thank you.

  6. I wonder how many realise that the eBook is separate from the print book? It has a separate ISBN altogether. It is considered an entity outwith the print form. As a publisher, I have been required to register separate the separate ISBNs as separate titles with Bowker in Print and also the Library of Congress.

    This is not the case with the the music industry, to the best of my knowledge.

  7. This post was perhaps less of an interesting look into the mind of a book pirate and more an interesting look into the mind of the author.

    Note if you will that in building a straw man out of Cohens arguement the first action in each case was to transfer ownership of the work from the pirater to a mysterious other. Perhaps you could make a stronger case about the ethics of piracy by addressing the points you ostensibly base the post on.

  8. Chris,

    Sanuelson, by the way, did say you could be sued for such scanning–check her wording. If it were clearly legal, you could not sue.

  9. I'm actually familiar with Samuelson's position on the Google Settlement–she has filed briefs in opposition to it. One of the definitions of "fair use" is whether it harms the market for the work, and transferring scanned copies does. We all know that most scanned books produced with any device end up being passed around.

    Copyright holders have a full legal right to sue those who scan books with claims of "personal use," using this $20 junk setup, or any other device. A right to sue that I and many others fully intend to assert whenever necessary.

    If you want to risk being sued, well, it is what the court will decide in your own, personal case that will count for you. If you incur substantial penalties, that is your problem. If you lose the penalties will certainly cost you far more than a legitimately produced copy of that book, likely several tens of thousands of dollars more.

    All this justification won't keep you out of court. Think about it.

    And, by the way, e-book advocates love to talk about how they will "force" publishers to offer them extra value, freebies, whatever. The reality is, publishers will not offer anything that does not ultimately make them a profit. It doesn't pay them to nurture a readership of parasites.

  10. Two more things: I also believe that if you leave your book on a bus, you are not entitled to a new version, whether an e-book or a print book. All you bought was the object. If you left your e-reader hardware on the bus, the manufacturer wouldn't send you a new e-reader, would they?

    As for software: Aside from the fact that the software industry works significantly differently from the book industry, and the products are priced differently, you don't necessarily get an infinite number of copies of software either. You get what the software manufacturer's license allows you.

    For example, my husband's laptop disk crashed spectacularly late in 2009. The laptop was otherwise in bad shape, and he replaced the laptop. My PC was dying and I bought a new one at the same time.

    We had all the legitimate, manufacturer's disks for the Microsoft Office software that was loaded onto our original machines, and we had the registration numbers. We thought, oh, we can just load the software onto the new machine and then upgrade it. We believed this to be how our software license worked.

    However, the software refused to load correctly. We called Microsoft's customer support, who informed us that the licenses we had bought only applied to the machines the software was originally loaded on.

    We could have whined on the net about "greedy software manufacturers." We could have gone on about how much better the publishing industry works and how much better the music industry works, so why does Microsoft only apply licenses on a per-machine basis? We could have looked for pirated versions and asserted that our "personal" piracy would do no harm, and everyone does it because it's easy do it must be fine with Microsoft too. We could have talked about how much we need the software for work reasons and assert we should get it free or pay only an upgrade price. We could have asserted that we felt ethically OK about piracy because after all, Microsoft can afford it.

    Instead, we did the mature thing. Instead of whining about entitlement, we bought two full sets of Office software, installed it on the machines, and moved on with life.

    Maturity, as well as ethics, means you don't always get what you want. Your desires and your needs do not trump other people's legal rights.

  11. Quoting from an article about the $300 DIY scanner, URL at end:

    So are Reetz and the builders of the DIY scanner pirates? That would depend on who you talk to, says Pamela Samuelson, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, who specializes in digital-copyright law. Trade publishers are almost certain to cry copyright infringement, she says, though it may not necessarily be the case.

    Google was recently forced to pay $125 million to settle with angry book publishers and authors who claimed copyright infringement as a result of the search giant’s book-scanning project.

    But not so individual users who already own the book, says Samuelson. If you scan a book that you have already purchased, it is “fine, and fair use,” she says. “Personal-use copying should be deemed to be fair, unless there is a demonstrable showing of harm to the market for the copyright at work,” says Samuelson.

    For publishers, though, the growth of the DIY scanning community could hurt. Publishers today sell digital versions to customers who already own hardcover or paperback versions of the same book.

    “You cannot look at this idea from the perspective of whether the publisher can make extra money,” says Samuelson. “Publishers would love it if you can’t resell books either, but that’s not going to happen.”

    Instead, communities such as these are likely to force publishers to offer more value to customers, she says.

    “There have to be things that you get with an e-book that you don’t get by making your own copies,” says Samuelson. “It’s not such as stark challenge for copyright owners, because not many people are going to take the trouble to make their own scanner system. Most of us want the convenience of buying digital books for the Kindle, Nook or Sony Reader.”

    And unless, it becomes a hotbed of pirated content, the DIY scanner is unlikely to have a Napster-like end, says Samuelson.

    Read More

    Between you and a law professor specializing in digital law, I know who I'm going to choose to believe.

  12. Chris,

    As for "movements," one blog post is not a "movement." I am sure anything and everything has been advocated on some blog at some time or other. What counts is the law.

    Converting print books into e-format without permission is against the law. I have often heard people assert that any piracy they personally feel good about is ethically acceptable, but what counts is the law. People often convince themselves to feel good about anything they want to do.

    If you don't want to read a book, don't "hoard" a pirated version. If you don't think a book is worth paying for, don't download a pirated version. Either borrow the book from a library and return it, or buy a book you think is more worthwhile. If you hate print books, buy legitimate e-books–and boycott print book publishers, if you wish. If you find books heavy to carry around, do some planning. Millions of students have managed to get through college with a numerous print books assigned to them every semester; why does needing textbooks suddenly mean it's OK to pirate?

    In other words, if you want an e-book and you can't buy a legitimate version, DO WITHOUT. You are not entitled to pirate one just because you want it and it is not available. You are not entitled to get publications in e-format.

    Shuffling around and saying, oh, pirated books are not lost sales because they are not actually read, and people will pirate anyway when it technically becomes cheap and easy so copyright holders should just accept it, and the music and movie industries have so far survived piracy so publishers can too, and saying it's OK because you think copyright laws will change, and on and on and on and on. . .

    is just justifying piracy.

    And pirating is exactly what you are doing when you produce an e-book from a print book when that is illegal, and yes it is illegal in the publishing industry. What is legal in the music or movie industries is just not relevant.

  13. Chris,

    People do NOT have the right to copy books into e-form for personal use unless that is legally granted. Which it has not been. And why, may I ask, is it OK to pirate books just because you never get around to reading them?

    I scan pre-1923, public-domain art on a regular basis for book production. I have a bottom-end scanner for such a purpose–it cost me $2,000. I can't afford the very high cost of an automated page turner device even for daily professional use, and I very seriously doubt anyone would buy such a device just for occasional personal use. Have you, by any chance, priced them?

    Note there is a difference between any scan of a book page and a good scan. Most of the public-domain scans posted by the Google project, for example, are awful.

    I do not want to destroy the original publications "with a bandsaw" or by any other method. Sorry, but I do not view print publications as merely "dead trees." Also, my low-priced but fairly high-quality scanner does not batch-feed pages. So, I hand place every page and this takes many hours of my time.

    In other words, even though I am legitimately scanning public-domain publications, I have an excellent idea how much work it is to pirate a book. I wouldn't dream of doing it for personal use. I've already got a huge stack of print books to read that I legitimately paid for. All I had to do to get them was to place an Internet order, and all I have to do before reading one is pick it up off the stack. Why waste my limited free time scanning it first?

    And, the book industry just does not work like the music industry, or the television industry, or the movie industry, in many ways. Just a few examples: Musicians can make money from concerts. Writers and publishers can't. TV can sell ads, but that is already a dying model for print publications. Readers don't pay to visit a book in a movie theater or watch it on cable TV and then need a "home version." The printed book is already a "home version."

    Again, it is offensive to hear people who know nothing about the industry assert that piracy is OK because there must be some other way writers and publishers can earn a good living and run a profitable business. If there were, believe me, they'd already be doing it regardless of whether book piracy existed.

  14. But even that is irrelevant to the matter at hand. I'm not defending people pirating e-books without paying for them. That's bad. People should pay for a work in at least one form. What I am defending is people pirating e-books when they already have paid for them. (And even then only ethically—it's still against the law, though I feel that since it results in the same outcome as a behavior that is within the law, it is ethically forgiveable.)

    People have the right to copy media that they own for their personal use.

    Do you think that record labels didn't make the exact same arguments as to why consumers shouldn't be allowed to rip CDs into MP3s? Do you think they wouldn't have preferred people be forced to buy their music twice (or three or four or five times, in the case of people who upgraded from reel-to-reel, 8-track, phonograph, cassette tape)?

    Do you think the MPAA didn't make those arguments against the proliferation of the VCR, which the MPAA's Jack Valenti famously compared to the Boston Strangler? (For that matter, I recall that Disney famously objected to an early version of video rental VHS, which could only be rewound at the rental store, on the grounds that more than one person might watch the movie at once.)

    Yet the courts found that consumers do have the right to videotape shows off of TV and skip the commercials (even though they recognized the VCR could also be used for infringing purposes, such as renting and copying movies), and they do have the right to rip their CDs and copy them to MP3 players (even though MP3s could also be shared illicitly through Napster).

    And guess what? The sky hasn't fallen. The VCR created the entire home movie industry, which is now considered an integral part of Hollywood's collective income. The MP3 led to iTunes and iPods, and whole new ways for people to enjoy music (and new ways for people to buy songs they might not otherwise have bought, since they can get just the ones they want without having to buy the entire rest of the album).

    I would bet real money that if and when the matter comes up in court (probably when those riffle-scanners I mentioned start becoming available to the public), the courts will find the exact same thing: consumers have the right to copy for personal use (even though the copies can be uploaded illicitly to peer-to-peer).

  15. Frances: That's a bit of a false dichotomy.

    For one thing, systems are coming about that make scanning a much less onerous chore. In addition to the one I linked above (which simplify the matter to "turn page, press button, turn page, press button"), there's the Tokyo researchers who've developed a riffle-scanning system that they're talking about miniaturizing for inclusion on smartphones. Scan an entire book in seconds just by riffling through the pages. (There's a video of it in action. It's really impressive.) That would eliminate one of the biggest chores of scanning right there.

    There are people who do find it worth their time to scan their books for their own personal use and no one else's—the aforementioned college student who wanted to have his textbooks in a form that wasn't so heavy to carry around, for instance.

    And as I have said, two strong legal precedents in US law do assert that consumers have the right to copy media they own to other forms, for time-shifting, space-shifting, or other personal and noncommercial use.

    If you copy the paper book that you own to an e-book for your own use, you are under no obligation, moral or otherwise, to buy the e-book version. You have already paid for the work. You have the legal right to copy it for your own personal use as you see fit, provided you do not pass those copies on to other people, and destroy them should the original work leave your hands.

    I'm certainly not making the argument that writers write for fun. I think they should get paid. But in the example that kicked off this discussion, they were paid. The fellow bought the hardcover, then downloaded the e-book. If he'd scanned the hardcover into an e-book himself, he'd have been legally within his rights (as per those two precedents I mentioned). Even though downloading it instead of scanning it was technically illegal, I feel that, ethically speaking, a difference that makes no difference is, in the end, no actual difference.

    As to whether publishers oppose used bookstores or libraries, that isn't really germane to the discussion either. I will say there's a movement about to try to require used bookstores to pay royalties, which is in direct contravention of the Doctrine of First Sale and would probably result in a lot of used bookstores having to close as they would be incapable of implementing the kind of inventory tracking royalty payments would require—but that's neither here nor there.

    I would also point out that piracy doesn't necessarily equate to lost sales on a one to one basis. Just because someone downloaded a book doesn't necessarily mean he would have paid full price for it if he hadn't been able to download it. Hell, I suspect that only a very tiny percentage of the books that are downloaded illicitly are actually even read in the first place—it's just hoarding instincts, to want to have something on your hard drive just in case you might ever want to.

  16. Part 2

    The fact that many publishers and authors have financially survived the reading of such books does not mean they can survive e-book piracy _in addition_. Amateur piracy does count. If everyone makes just one copy for one friend, that's 50% of the book sales lost. It's all an issue of quantity/unit sales; so it's false to assert that everyone survived photocopy piracy so they can now survive e-book piracy.

    I do believe in effective DRM, but none is available yet for e-book readers. Yes, anyone can copy a book with a ream of paper and a pencil, but the easier it is to pirate, the more people do it–and the more acceptible they think it is, because the publisher did not try to prevent it. Even more, however, I believe in not publishing e-books at all in the current climate of piracy.

    Pirates often assert that publishers "insult their customers," by using DRM and by court prosecution of piracy. However, someone who steals or passes on stolen goods is not a customer. Furthermore, I can tell you from experience that it is not "fun" for a writer to have readers assert that books–even though they're worth reading and copying page by page–are not worth paying for. Or to see them issue threats on Internet groups that if they don't like the price or format they'll just steal the book by one means or another. It's not fun to hear them assert that publishing is just a "failed business model," and that writers and publishers should just go do something else, who cares what.

    It's not fun to hear people who know nothing about the business assert that it unnecessary to print books and that that is the only cost. It's not fun to hear them assert that "publishers can always sell ads." Supporting publications with advertising is now a failed business model. Look how badly most newspapers and magazines are doing, because people are not buying enough ads to support publication–even on the publications' websites.

    To me, as a writer and publisher, readers who denigrate the very books they simultaneously demand as some kind of right, and who either assert the right to steal them or who make all kinds of thin, roundabout excuses for stealing, are not customers I want. They are not readers I want. People who really value books cherish them and pay for them. They do not insult them and steal them.

  17. PART 1


    It's a lot easier to just sit down and read a paper book page by page, than to scan it page by page and then go through it page by page again on an e-reader. I just don't believe that many people would want to read a book in e-form so very much that they will scan a paper book they paid for, without also transferring that scan to other people. Pirates often do so for praise by their social groups, by the way.

    It is also a false assumption that every book will be released as an e-book, or should be released as an e-book. Therefore, it is false to comfortably soothe your morals and other people's by _claiming_ you'll buy the e-book "when it comes out" and that you are merely "time-shifting." Books sell in different quantities in different formats–hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, e-book, audio book. The publisher needs to produce the format(s) and quantity(ies) suitable for that particular book's contents, and that will make back the costs and overhead, and that will pay the author, and that will generate enough profit to keep the business going. There are many books that simply cannot work as mass-market paperbacks, and there are also many books that simply cannot work as e-books. Furthermore, the publisher often does not even decide/plan whether to issue a book in a given format until another format has been on the market for awhile.

    Most cheap e-book advocates conveniently assert that writers work for fun, not money. Not true. Writing at a professional level is very hard, very time-consuming, often money-consuming work. Even if it's enjoyable much of the time, so are most other professions for the people who pursue them. Writers need and deserve to make a living just like members of other professions.

    Publishing is very expensive. Everything-ought-to-be-an-e-book advocates conveniently sweep away the costs of editing, proofreading, indexing, photography, illustration, graphic design, page layout, cover design, publicity, marketing, accounting, legal services, computer equipment, office overhead, travel, and other expenses. It's not all the print run by a long shot.

    E-book advocates also pass around this meme that publishers have "always opposed" the borrowing of books, or the sale of used books, or something. Actually, I've never seen any data to back this up. In any case, what we are talking about is now, not what somebody might have said when Andrew Carnegie was opening his first library. The issue is one of quantity/degree. Publishers do lose sales when books are lent and they do lose sales of new books when used ones are sold. And they do lose sales of books when readers photocopy library copies.

  18. Frances, I would remind you that the legal precedents from MPAA vs. Sony and RIAA vs. Diamond hold that consumers do have the fair-use right to make copies of media they own for their own personal, non-commercial use.

    Not everyone who uses such a system—or the more intricate $300 2-camera system developed by a college student who wanted to digitize his textbooks for easier access and portability—is going to release books on the Internet.

    Of course, some are. But some are also going to illegally upload MP3s of CDs they perfectly legally rip. That doesn't mean that CD-ROM drives are bad.

  19. Check out this article in, telling pirates how to fix up a home book-scanning system for $20:

    And also check out the comments, many of which illustrate the attitudes that foster piracy. The ones like:

    "The solution is easy, just write something worth buying."


    "If you want to make money, either write for hire, take a career where your creations aren’t freely reproducible, package your work in valuable containers, or release your work with paid advertisements. Your failed business model is not my problem."


    "Do me a favor folks …. don’t write books anymore ….. don’t compose any music or write any songs ….. the world will go on …. and those that truly enjoy creating written works will still continue to do so and be satisfied in the fact that others will enjoy what they produce."

    One of the best things writers and publishers can do for themselves in this climate is to constantly promote the value of books. It is a serious mistake to cater to readers by allowing them to pirate, and even by giveaways. Like the last commenter I quoted from said, what they want and are coming to expect is everything free, and writers and publishers simply cannot afford to meet that desire or expectation.

  20. [Cont. to Elizabeth]

    it suggests to me that the pirated version was not bought, but probably stolen from within the ranks of the publisher

    Chris explained where electronic copies of paper books come from. I'll add that before scanner technology became so widely available, people would also sit down and hand-type in their favorite books to distribute through bulletin boards and Usenet. If someone's really determined to have an electronic copy of a paper book, they're going to make one however they can.

    But you're right that the publishers often have leaks in their own organizations. Going back to computer games, employees absolutely have stolen pre-DRM versions of games and put them out on the net. Spore is a recent example — it was a highly anticipated game which was released with the strongest, most obnoxious DRM known to humanity, and the DRM in and of itself was one of the reasons the game flopped. And yet there were DRM-free versions available on the internet days before the game was released. Someone at EA swiped a copy and uploaded it, and from that point the battle's over. It only takes a single cracked copy being made available to render the whole DRM scheme pointless, because that one copy can spawn as many more as one would like. Which is one of the reasons DRM is a stupid strategy for media publishers, but they keep whacking themselves on the head with it, and then complaining that the pirates are the ones causing the pain. :/

    I just think in this electronic day and age there must be a way a publisher could protect his product from being pirated the way some websites are capable of preventing you from doing so.

    Actually, no. I've never run into a web site which could prevent copying of whatever might be on it. Some sites try to prevent you from copying photos, for example, but if you really want one, you can go into the HTML code and find the original source for the picture and grab a copy there. As with other DRM schemes, they can make you work for it, but they can't keep you from getting it.

    Putting tighter and tighter technological locks on things isn't the answer, because the lock only has to be broken once, and there are people who find lock-breaking to be an enjoyable recreational activity. DRM is expensive for the publisher, it's onerous to the honest purchasers while leaving the pirates happily unfettered, and it doesn't successfully protect anything.


  21. Elizabeth — in two posts because I'm wordy. 🙂

    before the electronic age, it was common for friends to share books or make "mix tape" music and no one in the industry screamed about it. Did they not know this was occuring? Did they not know people loaned or gave books to each other? What was the turning point where it suddenly became illegal? Why weren't the copyright laws being pressured upon those who shared back then?

    There are a couple of different issues here. On loaning (or giving away, or selling) paper books, the difference is that 1) it's a physical thing rather than a collection of electrons, and 2) no copies are being made. A paper book is a physical thing, like a shirt. If I buy a shirt and wear it for a while, then decide I don't want it anymore, I can give it to a friend, or sell it in a garage sale, or donate it to Good Will, or whatever I want. It's my thing, and I can do what I want with it.

    I've heard that the book industry, back in the day, tried to make the resale of paper books illegal on the argument that it was unfair for more than one person to read a book when there were starving authors in Iowa or whatever. The courts saw the stupidity of this and smacked them down. The first sale doctrine (which says that the owner of a thing has the right to control the first sale of an item, but no more) was determined to apply to physical books. Once you buy a book, you own it and can sell it, loan it or give it away as you please, so long as you don't make and distribute copies.

    The same applies to a record or tape or CD or DVD. You can give or sell or loan a tape or CD or DVD to a friend and it's perfectly legal. The rule applies to game disks too, but the computer game industry is ducking around this doctrine in many cases by requiring the registration of software, with a code keyed to the individually sold set of disks, or by limiting how many times a copy can be installed; once you've used up your installs, that's it, you don't get anymore. If your hard disk dies or you upgrade your computer or replace your graphics card (or maybe all three) you're out of luck and the publisher hopes you enjoyed your game enough to want to buy another copy. With installs so limited, giving away or selling the original set of disks, although lega, is impractical.

    [My point is that it's not only the greedy and entitled users who are circumventing the laws here. Media publishers do it too.]

    But no, it's not illegal to pass books around. The publishers wish it were, or used to, but they've learned to live with the reality of libraries and used bookstores and garage sales, and friends passing books around.

    The mix tape issue is different because in that case, copies are being made and distributed. That was always an illegal violation of copyright, but the music publishers never went after people who did it because it wasn't worth their time. An actual mix tape took time to assemble, and most people didn't bother to make a large number of copies of the resulting tape, even if they had the dual-tape equipment which would let them do it quickly. The scale of the copying just wasn't large enough for the music publishers to take action against it.

    What changed things was the internet. If it's not worth it to get excited because some teenager makes a mix tape for her boyfriend, it is worth getting excited about if she then uploads that collection of music to the internet and gives copies to twenty thousand other people. Making one mix tape is being friendly or romantic. Distributing twenty thousand copies is setting yourself up in competition with the music publisher, whether you're charging for your collection or not. Both are illegal, yes, but it's the mass distribution that makes it worthwhile to get lawyers involved.


  22. Actually, Elizabeth, most illicit e-books of paper books that don't have electronic versions (and probably many that do) come from people with scanners and time on their hands. It's not illegal for them to do it, either, assuming they bought the book themselves. It is illegal for them to distribute the resulting e-copy to other people.

    All it takes is a bandsaw and a sheet-feeding scanner and before you know it you've got the text you need. Every one of the later books in the Harry Potter series made it onto the 'net in illicit e-book form within hours of its print release, even though Rowling remains bound and determined not to release e-books even though thousands of stalwart fans would buy them. This is why the e-book DRM that companies spend so much money on is a joke. Even if it weren't easily crackable (which it is), you can't DRM ink and paper.

    And there are technologies on the horizon that will allow scanning fast nondestructively—in particular, Tokyo researchers have created a system that scans books just by riffling through them, and hope to miniaturize it enough that it can be built into smartphones! (See the aforelinked TeleRead post two or three comments back for more details.)

  23. I think one point has been missed here. If the publisher witheld the electronic version in the first place, and then a pirated copy shows up, it suggests to me that the pirated version was not bought, but probably stolen from within the ranks of the publisher. This appears to me to be illegal and a punishable crime. In a way, the person who bought the illegal copy has been victimized the same way someone who buys a stolen watch from a swap meet vendor. Though clearly, the questioner in Cohen's column knew it was an illegal copy.

    The ambiguity I find in the whole situation is that before the electronic age, it was common for friends to share books or make "mix tape" music and no one in the industry screamed about it. Did they not know this was occuring? Did they not know people loaned or gave books to each other? What was the turning point where it suddenly became illegal? Why weren't the copyright laws being pressured upon those who shared back then? What is the fine line that was crossed? I find that I like to buy music or reading after I've heard or read a friend's copy of something.

    Here we are with the internet crossing all those boundaries. Anyone can "borrow" photos, art, music and writings of others, and often do it without crediting the source. How does one determine that which is copyrighted in the first place when it's being offered across so many websites as easily available even from other countries? Especially with the much younger generation's sharing instincts without ethical legal guidance, it looks like a losing battle.

    Having re-read what I just wrote, I realize it looks like I'm in favor of stealing. I'm not. I just think in this electronic day and age there must be a way a publisher could protect his product from being pirated the way some websites are capable of preventing you from doing so. After all, if there is no lock on the refrigerator, how do you expect the unrestrained hungry to not raid it?

  24. I've been looking for intelligent commentary (as opposed to stupid-publishers-you-suck commentary) on Cohen's column that takes a different view on the matter than I and others I've linked to above do, and I've found two:

    Ars Technica, which wonders if Cohen has a point but worries that ebooks are being devalued by people's expectation that they ought to be free.

    Teleread, which takes a close look at the underlying issues, and warns that "the era of the personal scanner" is approaching.

  25. IMHO the problem lies with an archaic publishing field run by accountants who only look at the 'books', literally, and can't visualize the future…

  26. I absolutely agree with you, Victoria. There is a huge difference between converting your own property into another form and getting a "bootlegged" copy from someone who has made it available to the masses for free. It's amazing how people can justify unethical behaviour.

    Does owning a paperback copy make it okay for you to accept a hardback copy from someone who has stolen a truckload & is handing them out in a dark alley to anyone who happens by & wants one? This is no different. You didn't pay for the product in this form. You didn't take your paperback & copy it & create a hardcover for it. You didn't change it into a more user friendly form for your own personal use.

    The law says that possession of stolen goods is a crime. It doesn't matter if you were the one who stole it or just some rube who unwittingly accepted it because it was such an amazing buy.

    I can't walk into a book store & pocket any hardback version of paperbacks that I already own or any paperback versions of hardbacks I already own. I didn't pay for the other version. I CAN scan & print off larger print versions of the books I own if I'm having trouble reading the smaller print [SO LONG AS I'M ONLY USING THE LARGER PRINT VERSION FOR MY OWN USE & NOT GIVING IT AWAY TO THE MASSES OR SELLING IT FOR PROFIT].

    Transforming something into an electronic signal or form doesn't suddenly change the rules of law or code of ethics.

    And, I entirely agree with whoever stated in a prior reply that no one forced the guy to buy the hardback. He could have chosen a book that WAS available in e-form. He COULD have waited for the King novel to come out in e-form later. He CHOSE to steal a pirated copy & JUSTIFIED his theft because he WANTED to.

  27. I've said several times already, I believe that knowingly obtaining illegally copied material is ethically indistinguishable from doing the stealing yourself.

    Hogwash. There's a darn good reason why legality and ethics are two different fields, and you've aptly demonstrated why right here.

    If I've paid the author and I am only using one copy of the content, zie has no business telling me that I should have OCR-scanned the book myself instead of downloading a copy from someone who has already taken the time to do so.

    To argue otherwise is to alienate the customer base.

  28. Yes, it would be unethical. As I've said several times already, I believe that knowingly obtaining illegally copied material is ethically indistinguishable from doing the stealing yourself. To argue otherwise is to have tunnel vision–to look at your actions only as they affect you (I bought it, I have the right to have a copy for myself, and now I do), and ignoring their wider implications (the copy I copied was stolen, and by copying it I am participating in an act of theft).

    People are really polarized on both sides of this issue, as some of the posts that link to this post show.

  29. So if you bought a CD, but your CD-ROM drive was broken so you couldn't rip it: it would be illegal to download the music on that CD from peer to peer, but would it also be unethical? No money is changing hands, and either way you end up with the same outcome: the music you bought and paid for, on your hard drive.

  30. In RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, the court held that consumers do have the right, upon purchasing a work in one medium, to convert it into other media for their own personal, noncommercial use.

    But that's not what was at issue here. The questioner didn't buy a work and then convert it himself, he bought a work and then downloaded a copy illegally created by someone else. That's a whole different ball of wax.

  31. though he seems to come pretty close to making a declaration about the law–a very wrong declaration–when he says that buying a product "should be regarded as a license" to own that product on any platform

    In RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, the court held that consumers do have the right, upon purchasing a work in one medium, to convert it into other media for their own personal, noncommercial use. This is the case that legalized CD ripping and mp3 players.

  32. I understand that Cohen was addressing the ethical, rather than the legal, issue (though he seems to come pretty close to making a declaration about the law–a very wrong declaration–when he says that buying a product "should be regarded as a license" to own that product on any platform). I disagree with him–I think that knowingly consuming stolen merchandise is on the same ethical level as stealing it in the first place.

    Publishers were selling the same book twice (or even more times) long before the advent of ebooks, because they issued books in multiple editions and formats. Consumers never had a problem with this–if they couldn't afford the hardcover, they waited for the cheaper paperback. But now many consumers seem to be treating ebooks not as another book format, but almost as a right–something publishers OUGHT to produce, something consumers OUGHT to have.

    At the very heart of all these issues, I think, lies the fundamental question of what an ebook actually is–an alternate book format? Or an entirely new species of thing? People can prognosticate till they turn blue, but there is absolutely no way to know the answer at this point–it's something that only time and experience can make clear.

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

    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).

    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…

  34. When CDs were first released, could you go to a record shop and trade in your old vinyl or cassette for a CD?

  35. Anne — maybe. For myself, it'd depend how much more they charged. If it were $26.95 for the hardcover, and the e-book alone was, say, $15.99 (which is absolutely ludicrous, but that's a different issue), and the bundled version was $38.99, I imagine people would only laugh. For just a few dollars more, though, it could possibly work, although I wouldn't swear to it.

    On the other end of the scale, I've bought hardcovers from Baen where they included CDs with the e-books for free. In fact, with David Weber's Honor Harrington books, for a number of years (I can't swear they're still doing it now, but it was quite a while) the hardcover of each book came with a CD containing e-book versions of all the books in the series published up to that point. Last time we bought a hardcover Harrington book, that was like a dozen e-books free with a single hardcover purchase, which is more than I'd have expected but certainly a welcome bonus.


  36. {thoughtful look}

    I wonder how this arguement would change if publishers began to offer hardcovers bundled with a CD that held a e-book of the same book for more than the hardcover alone, but less than if you bought the two separately. Would folks still claim that free downloads were okay in that case? Or would they feel that the two versions should each be paid for? {considering look}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  37. Katharine — the problem with that argument (which is all over the place) is that the non-physical costs — payment to the author, the editors, the proofreader, the cover artist, the art director, etc. — are one-time, fixed costs. Sure, maybe printing a paperback only costs a dollar. Let's be generous and assume that shipment and warehousing is included in that dollar. If the $9/copy left over pays for all the non-physical costs, then that's it, they're paid, and the 10,001st book has $9 of profit in it. Well, maybe a bit less — 10K copies might earn out the author's advance, so let's say there's a bit of royalty in there too, but it's usually around $.75 or so. So fine, let's round up and say $2 of real costs, with the rest being profit.

    Also, I never said that a digital book should be free, period. I know very well that there are non-physical costs involved — I'm one of those authors making a royalty. 🙂 I don't think anyone and everyone should just grab free e-books wherever they can find them, just because they feel like it, because yes, there are costs involved in producing that e-book and people who deserve to be paid.

    Someone who's bought a hardcover has already paid for those fixed costs, though, and then some. That being the case, I personally have no problem with this person, who's already paid a share of the money that went to the writer, the editor, the proofer, the sales rep, the truck driver, etc., and then some, also acquiring a collection of electrons (the production of which added nothing to the costs born by the publisher) so that reader can read the book they bought on their laptop as well as in paper format.

    And no, there's no reason why the publisher should be expected to sell me an extra paperback for a dollar just because I dropped the first one in the tub. It would cost them considerably more than the real-cost chunk of the price of that paperback to set up a system to sell the same product for two prices, to keep track of who's already bought a copy, etc. And they'd be opening themselves up to a ton of abuse because there are people who'd buy a copy, give it to a friend, then claim it'd been destroyed and get themselves another one for a dollar. If a book was actually destroyed, I'm all for the purchaser acquiring a new copy on their own time and by their own efforts; I don't expect the publisher to take the time and trouble to replace it for them.

    I see a distinct moral difference in grabbing that set of electrons when you've already paid a share of the production costs by buying a paper copy, and a hardcover in particular, and someone else who's never paid into that pool grabbing a copy of those same electrons when they've never contributed to its original production. The second case still doesn't cost the publisher or author anything (I've never been one of those authors who claim that every instance of piracy is a LOST SALE, which is clearly untrue) but the moral and ethical situation is completely different IMO.


  38. Angie, the problem with your assumption — that the electronic copy doesn't cost anything — is that it isn't true.

    First of all, printing a book costs a lot less than you'd think. I just did a quick search on Google, and came up with a couple of pages that all said about the same thing. According to this printer, for instance, a paperback in a run of 10,000 costs $1.00 each. So if you are replacing a paperback you dropped in the tub, do you have a right to buy it for just the $1 it took to print it, since you already bought the *words* once? Nope.

    The price of a book has to account for a lot more than the cost of printing. You have marketing costs, the bookstore's profit, the cost of maintaining the web system that allows you to buy and download the file, and what they pay the author. They have to figure all of those costs into the price they set for the book, whether it be the hardback edition, paperback, or ebook. So no, a digital file shouldn't be free just because there are no printing costs involved. It needs to be purchased just as if you were buying yourself a second hardcopy edition of the book.

  39. Victoria — I see where Mr. Marshall is coming from, but I still disagree. (And he's indulging in a pretty blatant slippery slope fallacy in the middle there — if it's okay to download a book you already bought, then it's okay to fire all the gay teachers. Umm, right.) I guess what it comes down to is, would anyone complain if the person who bought the hardcover actually scanned it for his own use, or typed it in for his own use? I think a lot of people would say that doing the work earned him the electronic copy. (I don't know whether you're one of them.)

    Software law allows you to make copies of electronic media for your own use. (The software industry's "You may install this once and use it on a single machine with the disk in the drive and the system connected to our server through the internet, on alternate Thursdays during a leap year, and if you make a copy you agree that we're allowed to defenestrate your cat" licensing restrictions are the industry's own attempts to get around a law which dismays them mightily.) I don't think it's unreasonable to extend that level of allowable copying to paper media, so long as the "for your own use" part is observed. Most people don't back up their paper books because, even with modern copier technology, it'd take more time and effort than your average person wants to go to. But I don't know anyone who'd actually complain or point fingers if someone did make a photocopy of a book for their own use, or scan it, or hand-type the text into a Word file. And if that's all right, then I don't see acquiring an electronic copy from someone else who's already done that work to be significantly different.

    Of course, if you would object to someone typing in their own electronic copy of a paper book they've bought, then we'll just have to agree to disagree. That's cool; I'll argue my side as long as folks want to discuss the issue, but when we've all had our say, I don't require the whole world to agree with me.

    And no, owning the hardcover doesn't entitle me to the paperback. As I said to Katharine in response to her bathtub question, a paper book (whether hardcover or paperback) is a physical object, each of which costs the publisher money to produce. If I want a new stack of paper and ink and tagboard, I should pay for it, whether I'm replacing one I dropped in the tub or looking for a slightly lighter version of the hardcover stack I already own.


  40. I always roll my eyes at the fallacy of "I bought the hardback, therefore I should get the ebook FREE–since I paid for the words." No, you paid for the physical object. If you were merely paying for words, you would be paying the same price for, say, mass market, trade paperback, and hardback. And yet…huh, they don't cost the same.

    The idiot in the original column had an obvious legal, ethical solution available–wait till the ebook was available. No one forced him/her to buy the hardback; and certainly there was no understanding (explicit or implicit) that the he/she was buying the words and should therefore get the ebook–or any/all other formats–for free.

    (sigh) A bunch of ethically and morally bankrupt people out there….

  41. For that particular act, the results are ethically identical to the book buyer scanning that book in themself

    I don't agree. IMO, people who knowingly consume stolen merchandise are ethically identical to the thieves.

    If owning the hardcover entitles me to the electronic version (as distinct from entitling me to make my own personal electronic copy), does it also entitle me to the paperback version? I don't think so. They are distinct products. There's a lot of changing to be done in attitudes toward ebooks, both on the part of the public and the part of the publishers–but one thing that people absolutely have to get over is this notion that e-ownership is somehow bundled with p-ownership.

    Here's the best dissection of Cohen's column that I've seen–written by another ethicist.

  42. Victoria — I don't see the difference between making a copy myself and getting a copy someone else made, so long as I've paid for a copy. This person bought a hardcopy book, and then downloaded an electronic copy. I can't get upset about that, even as a writer myself.

    I'll absolutely grant you that the person who uploaded the copy to the torrents (or wherever) in the first place is a pirate, and that what they did was unethical as well as illegal. But I don't have an issue with the person who owned the hardcover acquiring an electronic edition. For that particular act, the results are ethically identical to the book buyer scanning that book in themself, or typing it in, or getting a copy from a friend who bought the book and then scanned or typed it in to produce an electronic file.

    If you own a hardcopy, I agree with Cohen that you're entitled to an electronic copy if you want one. And at the same time I agree that the person who uploaded an electronic copy to the torrents needs a good smack for piracy, along with anyone who downloaded it who didn't first buy a legal copy.


  43. Angie (and others), I agree that if you buy something–a book, music, whatever–it's OK to make a copy for your own personal use. But that's not what Cohen's questioner did. He or she downloaded a copy that someone else made, and uploaded for anyone to use. So the "if you bought it, you can copy it" argument doesn't apply here.

    What Cohen is actually saying is "if you bought it, you can illegally download a copy someone else made illegally." He claims that's not unethical; I disagree. He claims it "could be said" to encourage piracy; I say it absolutely does encourage, aid, and abet piracy.

    As I said in my post, there's disagreement about how much harm book piracy does, and even whether it harms at all. But in his comment above, Ed Greaves makes an excellent point about the false dichotomy set up by pirates and consumers of the products of piracy: Oh noes, teh evil mean greedy technology-averse publishers haz forced me to consume illegal downloads! Here is a great example of that rationale.

  44. Katharine — no, because a paper book is a physical thing; if I want a replacement for the paper and ink and cardstock, which cost the publisher money, I should have to re-buy that. It costs the publisher nothing for me to acquire another set of electrons, identical to the set I lost.


  45. Angie,

    If you buy a paperback book and drop it in the bathtub, are you entitled to a free replacement, since you already bought it once?

    Why should ebooks be any different?

  46. Katharine — The answer should be that downloading pirated ebooks is ALWAYS wrong.

    What if I bought an e-book from a vendor who only allows downloading of purchases for a limited time? I realize that's not the industry norm anymore, but there are still some out there. If my hard drive crashes after that time has run out, is it "ALWAYS wrong" for me to get a copy from a friend, or download a copy from a torrent site? After all, I paid for the product, and I don't have it anymore. (We'll address my stupidity in not having my own backups later.)

    Angie, who can't believe she's on this side of the argument [wry smile]

  47. With a little stretching, Cohen's you-bought-it-you-can-steal-it argument can cover anyone. A friend of mine who rips copies of the CDs he gets out of the library and borrows from friends uses the same rationalization: No, he didn't buy the CDs himself, but someone did. And what about the people who download illegal copies of books without buying them first or intending to later? Couldn't they argue the same–that to post the book online, someone had to buy it (well, probably), so where's the harm?

    Honestly, I think you're the one who's stretching here. :/ Cohen is clearly addressing the "I bought it, I can copy it for my own personal use" model, which has been the legal standard for software for decades (no matter how hard the media publishers have worked to obscure that fact). Making a copy of a piece of media someone else bought, and knowing that many other people are also making copies off of that single purchase, is very clearly outside the bounds of what Cohen would consider ethical.

    I'm a writer who's currently published only electronically, so piracy hits me particularly hard. When I eventually get a hardcopy book out there (which might happen within the year), though, I personally will have no problem with someone who pays the higher price for a paperback (since my publisher is sane on this subject) then downloading a copy of the e-book, or even getting a copy from a friend who has the e-book. They already bought the book, and if they want to read it on their e-reader as well as in paper, that's fine with me. My publisher might well complain, but I have no problem with it.


  48. I mentioned this piracy thing in a comment I made about a year ago (either here or on some other forum) but no one took up the thread and I've been waiting a while for someone to touch on it. Everyone has been so concerned about Kindle and Google. At least you get paid on Kindle even though you might prefer paper books and don't yet see e-books as "real books". Now pirated books are becoming more commonplace. It's up to the industry to avoid the debacle that cost the music industry billions and try to embrace digital versions legally before it's too late. While the music labels were bickering over royalties from i-tunes and Napster, the public were digitally swapping for free to the tune of five billion files a year. It's going to be interesting to see how the publishing industry reacts. Anyone with a decent scanner these days can make a digital copy of a book in record time. It's no longer the slow, laborious process it once was.

    I think the public's reaction should be taken into consideration. Bands like Metallica alienated their own fan base by suing the very people who enjoyed their music. The public, no matter how much you may dislike this fact, have little sympathy for a guy who wrote a song in the sixties, made millions off it from airplay and sales and continues to do so while complaining that he is being cheated through file sharing. I'm a teacher. I could argue that what I taught my students ten years ago helps them make money today, so I should be entitled to a percentage of their salary. I don't get paid for classes I gave a decade ago no matter how much my former student might be benefiting from the knowledge I passed on to him. So am I going to lose sleep over Sting bemoaning losses from Every Breath You Take, from which he makes $3000 a day, or Paul McCartney whining about lost royalties from Yesterday, which has already made him a millionaire many times over? The fact is that the public in general don't feel sorry over lost royalties, tending to lump all celebrities into one category: rich and spoiled and perpetually moaning despite their easy, money-spinning lives.

    I think the publishing industry has to get real and make it worth people's while to buy the official copy. It has to woo buyers instead of threatening them. Only time will tell. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.

  49. I agree with Cohen's article and Yoyogood–it's exactly like ripping a CD that you own to MP3 for your own personal use. (Even the recording industry, I believe, eventually, begrudgingly, said this was OK.)

    The two critical points there are "that you own" and "for your own personal use". Without both points–if you don't own a legitimate copy of the book, or if you distribute the digital ebook to others–then IMO you're acting unethically. The example that Victoria offers–someone who checks out CDs from the library and then rips them to MP3–is ethically wrong, because he doesn't own a legitimate copy.

    Personally, I haven't downloaded a pirate ebook, whether I own a paper copy or not, and I have bought ebooks to which I also own paper copies. I don't feel that I was ethically required to do so–but it was convenient and a nice thing to do.

    Legality of course is an entirely different question, and IANAL.

  50. The problem is that you can not extend the definition of copyright by analogy or simile because it represents a compromise position between the rights of authors and the rights of readers. It's not like anything else, and it's not a moral or ethical proposition, it's a law. Admittedly, the law needs tweaking, but the bottom line is that the right of authors to control copying of their works is in the Constitution, and any change in the law has to recognize it.

  51. Wow, what great lack of ethics this supposed ethicist espouses. Here's the problem that a lot of the supposed "piracy is okay in situation X" camp loves to try to get out as a meme. They try to make it a problem where your only choices are to go without or get what you want by getting around the "archaic publishing houses that aren't up to date yet" as if the only problem with this scenarios is that the law hasn't caught up to technology.

    Which is crap. It's a false division of the world into two choices being: keep up with the times, or break the law. And it completely ignores that there are other real choices. Such as: read a different book!

    I know. The horror. Instead of trying to make the false claim that the publisher just isn't up with the times, and that it's okay to steal to get what you want, when you want it, how you want it regardless of the rights of the copyright holder and publishing business choices, perhaps you could actually use your capital purchaing power to show said publishers why it is in their best interest to release the ebooks when the hardcover is out by purchasing other books. There are hunreds of thousands of legally available other options for you to spend your money on and enjoy. Just because this one book you really wanted to read isn't available yet doesn't mean you can act like an child with entitlement issues, and then claim you aren't bad or breaking the law. Sorry Mr. Cohen, and sorry too to the person who wrote in asking the question. You really want to read the ebook version of Under the Dome, then wait. When it's available. Buy it. It's that simple.

  52. I have a question that will end this debate. If King's book was no longer his book, but you looked down to see your book. The book you labored, toiled, and edited for a year. Then waited another 24 months for its release date; then how would you feel? What would you tell others? Oh, and by the way would Cohen still apply…

  53. Personally, I'd view it as analogous to buying a CD, then ripping it so I can listen to it my MP3 player. The only real difference is that there's no real easy way to "rip" a book, so it's easier to download a pirated copy.

    I wouldn't actually do it personally though as I neither have nor want an e-reader.

  54. Stealing is stealing. He bought the hardcover; he didn't buy the ebook. Apples and oranges.

  55. I agree with you, but I can see Cohen's point. By definition this is a violation of the law, whether or not he bought the actual hardback, and is therefore wrong. I can certainly see the argument that he paid for the material, therefore lessening the crime, but that is an analysis developed in a vacuum if you ask me. It's nothing more than a guilty justification for doing something you know you shouldn't. The answer should be that downloading pirated ebooks is ALWAYS wrong.

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