NYTimes Ethicist: Not Unethical To Download Unauthorized Copy Of Physical Book You Own
from the illegal,-but-not-unethical dept
davebarnes points us to a recent response by the NYTimes’ ethicist, Randy Cohen, to a reader question, over the ethics of downloading an unauthorized ebook of a book where he already owned the physical book. Cohen, in no uncertain terms, points out that while illegal, it should not be seen as unethical, and suggests that the law needs to catch up with technology:
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. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.
He goes on to quote a publishing exec who disagrees, insisting that any unauthorized download is “stealing” and warns Cohen: “to condone this is to condone theft.” But, of course, that’s ridiculous. It is not theft at all. Nothing is missing. No one has lost out on anything. The publisher already got its money from this guy. To have a publisher make a statement that is clearly false makes you wonder what sort of strategic direction that publisher is heading in. If they can’t understand the difference between someone who already paid just downloading a digital copy, and someone “stealing” a book, they’re never going to understand how to compete in a digital world.
Thankfully, Cohen makes this same point, in noting (in response to the publisher): “it is a curious sort of theft that involves actually paying for a book.”