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Nathan Bransford wrote
an excellent post the other day, in which he takes New York Times’ columnist, Randy Cohen (aka The Ethicist), to task for trying to justify downloading a pirated copy of an e-book (This morning I saw that reneesweet also covered it on her blog ). 
 
The logic Mr. Cohen uses is that, if you’ve bought a copy of the book in one version, downloading a pirated e-copy of the same book in digital form isn’t really illegal (at least it shouldn’t be), after all, you’ve bought the hardcover, the author gets paid. Who cares if you then get an e-book version from some git who thinks it’s okay to steal other folks' stuff and give it away online [at this point, you’ve probably got a good idea about where I stand on this issue]?
 
I was surprised how many folks seemed to disagree with Nathan’s objection. It seems that some people really believe that if you’ve bought something in one format, there’s either nothing wrong with, or there’s some justification in, helping yourself to it in another format without paying.
 
When it comes to pirated copies of anything, I’ve heard a lot of daft logic about why ‘It’s okay because…’ from people over the years, usually about music. My personal favorite excuse is the ‘Well, if I had to pay for it I wouldn’t buy it, ‘cause I don’t like it enough, but this way, there’s a chance I might buy something else by them in the future.’ I’ve heard that often from folks who make or download illegal copies of CDs.
 
Regardless of the particular reason, the one thing which never gets acknowledged is the theft. If you ask me, excuses like: ‘Everybody else does it’; ‘It’s their fault for charging so much’; ‘It’s their fault for making it so easy to copy’; ‘I wouldn’t buy it, so they’re not really losing money’ are all irrelevant. If you take something which doesn’t belong to you, you’re stealing.  
 
In a weird way, the thing that disturbs me most about all this is the attempt to justify the theft. If you’re going to steal something, at least be honest enough to admit that’s what you’re doing.
 
Then again, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe if you’ve paid for a print copy of a book you deserve to get the digital copy for free, even if you have to take it yourself. 
 
How about you?
 
Is it okay to obtain a pirated e-book if you’ve already bought the print version?  
   
   
 




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Comments

( 140 comments — Leave a comment )
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peadarog
Apr. 7th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
I don't advocate pirating ebooks, but I do think that the ebook should be at least 25% cheaper and that it should be given away for free to anybody who buys a physical copy.
jimhines
Apr. 7th, 2010 12:50 pm (UTC)
But 25% cheaper than what? The hardcover or the mass market paperback? The U.S. edition or the more expensive Canadian price for the same book?
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(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - txtriffidranch - Apr. 7th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
bogwitch64
Apr. 7th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
Yaaaaar!
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - txtriffidranch - Apr. 7th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
'...something not quite right with paying twice the full price for what is essentially the same product'

Would that same logic apply to paperback copies?
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(no subject) - paulwoodlin - Apr. 7th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
ex_naomi_ja
Apr. 7th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
No! Not at all! It's like buying one version of a mobile phone then stealing the upgraded version. Nobody would say that was okay.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Good point, Naomi.

Thanks for sharing :)
bogwitch64
Apr. 7th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
NO! I think you have it spot on, Jon--if you're going to steal it, at least admit you're doing so. Don't equivocate!!

jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
I'm not qualified to talk about the psychology of it, but I'm sure there's some reason why folks who download pirated copies feel the need to justify their actions.
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Apr. 7th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Apr. 7th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
coneycat
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
That variation on the argument ("I bought it in this one format, so I should be able to help myself to another") is a new one on me. There is not enough WTF o_O in the world to express my face right now.

I've known authors to get all pissy about readers buying used copies of their books, or borrowing them from the library. THAT I think is understandable yet ridiculous--of course, ideally, everyone who ever read your stuff would pay full price for it, but welcome to reality! This idea, though, that unlimited theft of discrete products is justified by paying for it once is pretty damned stupid. And the hardcover-to-paperback, or VHS-to-DVD is a good illustration of the holes in the argument.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
'There is not enough WTF o_O in the world to express my face right now.'

Lol, I can't wait for the day when LJ accounts come with built-in webcam facilities :)
wldhrsjen3
Apr. 7th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
I think stealing is stealing. Claiming that the price is unfair is no justification for theft.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
I agree :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
It might, but I wonder if people would give away some of those multiple formats, thereby losing the publisher (and by default, the author) paying customers.
nathreee
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
I guess to many people it doesn't feel like stealing because the original remains intact. While my book is being pirated, it's still available in all the stores. This kind of stealing doesn't damage the stolen item, even though it damages the sales.

Simultaneously, many precautions to prevent stealing, like DRM, are humongous hassles that do actually damage the product, making it harder to access. It's difficult to defend the position that piracy is bad, but DRM is not the solution. Because what is the solution?

I honestly don't know. I want to get paid for the stories I write. But I also want to lend my books and DVDs to my friends without being accused to piracy.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
Sad to say, the only real solution lies in folks having the moral fortitude to not take what isn't their's, but I can't see that happening anytime soon, can you? :)
mylefteye
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
Hands up. I'd be a hypocrite if I came down on someone copying an ebook considering the source of some of the music on my mp3 player. So far I have no interest in ebooks, but if and when I do, I will resent paying the same or more for a digital version than the paper equivalents. The music industry reacted like a sloth to digital music. I hope the book industry prepares itself better, although the early signs are not good.
a_r_williams
Apr. 7th, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
"The music industry reacted like a sloth to digital music. I hope the book industry prepares itself better, although the early signs are not good."

I agree with you on this point. The publishing industry is acting in a way which shows they think e-Books are the enemy. They want to protect their cash cow (hardcover) and are proceeding in a manner that will continue to stabilize the current publishing model.

They need to wake up and come up with creative solutions to handle the problem. It's not like there is no previous evidence of what does and does not work--music, movies, and tv.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
asakiyume
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
Lawrence Lessig is interesting on when copying things is illegal--I think, if I remember correctly, he says it's illegal when by doing it you're depriving the artist of money they'd otherwise receive (or ... maybe that's someone else's standard).

Part of me thinks that you shouldn't have to pay multiple times for the same thing in different formats, or at least not as much. I think I'd like to see a price that entitles you to the work in the format of your choice, and then maybe you add money onto that to get other formats--but not as much as the whole cost of the work again.

Back in the days of LPs, I had friends who, as soon as they bought an LP, would "back it up" (to use an anachronistic phrase) to cassette tape--heck, I had friends who would back up cassette tapes in the same way. I know we also would sometimes give each other mix tapes, or tape things off the radio, or even put whole LPs on tape and give them to people. It seems to me that especially that last thing is equivalent to the piracy that goes on today, and yet it seems that it wasn't as much of an issue back then, and I wonder why not. Or maybe it was, and as a kid I was just unaware.
temporus
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
It was always illegal. But the way things were done was on such a small scale personal basis that for most individuals it wasn't relevant to the music industry. I mean making a mix tape took generally as long as it took to play the songs, and so it became self limiting. But if you were mass producing bootlegs, you could still catch the attention of the recording industry.

Also, it is legal to make your own backup copies. That's established by court cases. So your friends making copies was no problem. Sharing the copies...that's where you step outside the law.

If anyone wants to go through the process to backup a book, by scanning the whole thing in, that fits within existing law. Once again, the act of sharing that backup copy (either giving or receiving) that becomes illegal.
(no subject) - txtriffidranch - Apr. 7th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Apr. 8th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
temporus
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
NO. IT IS NOT OKAY TO PIRATE THE EBOOK. PERIOD.

Sorry to shout there, but I want to make it clear. This is not ok. This is not ethical. And no the person doesn't have a right to do this. It is clearly a very childish entitlment attitude on both the questioner and Cohen's part that lets them think that this is somehow okay.

The simple test is the reverse. Would it be ethical for me to go into the bookstore and take a print copy of a book just because my Kindle was broken? I just want to read the book. I paid for it. The obvious answer is no. There is no difference.

Beyond the fact that on face value it is not okay, there's many reasons why Cohen's logic is faulty. What if the publisher doesn't own the rights to the ebook? What if the author gets different royalty amounts for ebooks versus paper?

The simple fact is, we don't live in a world where we are stuck with just one choice. Cohen completely ignores the REAL ethical advice which is to tell the person that they can either wait for the book to come out in ebook format, OR go buy ANOTHER BOOK.

Right at this moment, Penguin and Amazon are in a bit of a fight, and I cannot purchase the Kindle edition of the new Jim Butcher book. Am I going to go out, buy the hardcover, then find a pirated copy? No. I will wait until the dispute is resolved, and then buy the book. If I need to read something today, well, I can pick any of the other 400,000+ books available for Kindle instead. Or I can go to the library. Or just buy the hardcover and deal. Those are all ethical choices. But pirating the book isn't.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
There's a real irony in a guy with a column called The Ethicist writing something like he did.
saetter
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
This will probably come back to bite me (since I want to be a published author someday), but right now there are pirated audio books on my iPod.

Why did I break down and download them? The main reason is I'm living overseas and wanted to re-read the Wheel of Time before reading the latest installment (which is on my shelf). I don't justify this theft because I have 11 hardcopies of the series boxed in storage a few thousand miles away, but there was no way I was going to pay again to re-read them. And given I've been reading this series for half my life, I've forgotten most of the minor stuff that's happened over the last 8 books or so. :) So, it was either pirate the books I own to catch up so I can read (purchased copies) of the last three books, or probably not bother reading the last three books.

Likely I'll repeat this senario if GRRM ever finishes Dance with Dragons.
temporus
Apr. 7th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
No friends local who have a copy you could borrow? No library where you could take the book out? Seems to me you are not really trying to find other ways rather than stealing to meet your goal.
(no subject) - saetter - Apr. 7th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - temporus - Apr. 7th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
martyn44
Apr. 7th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
'Stealing' is what the lower orders do, along with keeping dangerous dogs and fornicating with their grandchildren. I have a perfectly valid philosophical reason for everything I do.

Guess where I stand.

I taped a lot of LPs when I was a lot younger (tape? LPs? Yes, I really am that old) I knew it was wrong at the time but went ahead anyway. Now I wish I hadn't.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
Lol, I too miss those old 78s :P
(no subject) - martyn44 - Apr. 7th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
saetter
Apr. 7th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Double Dipping
I'm double posting because this is unrelated to my previous post.

I like Peadar's idea above (or maybe someone else's...) about including an e-book license with a hardback purchase, because in essense they are the same thing, just different formats. One is not an improvement over the other. They offer the same experience.

I could see the reverse being true too, or at least including a printable coupon with the ebook for $5 off the hardback or something. There are times I read a book in paperback and wish I had bought it in hardback instead (The Name of the Wind is a recent example of this).

If publishers expect people to double-dip their titles, they need to give the consumer a reason to do so. Text is text, unless it's an expanded version of the manuscript or something. Ebooks can potentially include a bunch of bells and whistles not possible in a bound book. I think we will see a lot of changes in the future around what is an ebook.

Being a huge movie fan with a large DVD collection, I'm very familiar with the practice of double dipping. And now that I have a Blu-Ray player, the tempation to double or even triple dip looms.

Why have I double-dipped in the past? A special edition or director's cut release of a favorite movie. I've now bought three copies of Kindom of Heaven: the theatrical cut, the vastly improved Director's cut with tons of features, and then I found the Director's cut on Blu-Ray for $10, which blew me away visually.

My book library is extensive too, but my only double dips were to upgrade worn out paper backs to hardbacks, usually found on sale or in second hand shops.
jongibbs
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Double Dipping
The thing is, I don't see an e-book being the same as a print book at all. No more than a video or DVD of a movie is the same as the BlueRay version.
Re: Double Dipping - saetter - Apr. 7th, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Double Dipping - jongibbs - Apr. 7th, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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