The Ethicist Takes on E-Book Piracy

Yesterday I was skimming The Millions, an online magazine about books, arts and culture, and came across an interesting post referencing a recent New York Times article.

To be exact, the snippet was talking about a column by Randy Cohen, better known as “The Ethicist” to New York Times readers. My mom was always a big fan of The Ethicist though I’m not sure how many ethical dilemmas my mom really found herself in. That’s what you get for being a goody goody (a trait she has passed down to me of course). Still, she liked to read what he had to say on ethical matters especially since he usually handles them with a clever touch.

Well, this particular column was about e-book piracy so even I was interested. A person had written in to ask if it was unethical to illegally download an e-book if you’ve already bought the hardcover. I was a little surprised by Cohen’s answer:

An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology…”

(To read his entire response, click here.)

When it comes to an ethicist, I figured the law would be the law. (That’s certainly how my mom felt most of the time… particularly about driving curfews and drinking before turning 21. Oh, Mom… good thing I was a goody goody).

But apparently the law is not always the only ethical solution. What do you think? Is buying the more expensive version a right to then get a bootleg of the e-book? Is it the publisher’s fault in the first place for delaying the e-book version? Or is illegal just plain illegal? I’m still torn…

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2 responses to “The Ethicist Takes on E-Book Piracy

  1. should be legal if you ask me!

  2. On a semi-relevant note, Robert Darnton’s “The Case For Books Past, Present, and Future” might be of interest…. “Is the printed book resilient enough to survive the digital revolution, or will it become obsolete? In this lasting collection of essays, Robert Darnton—an intellectual pioneer in the field of this history of the book—lends unique authority to the life, role, and legacy of the book in society.”

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