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."


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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:18pm

    BS

    I've downloaded all of the Harry Potter books. I'm a filthy thief.

    Of course, I also bought them (which entailed some effort the last couple of times.) I like to read the paper, and search the digital. (especially after JKR got distracted by the movies and let things lapse, and I was trying to remember why such-and-such was important.)

    So go ahead and sue me for a bajillion dollars. Good luck with that.

     

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      DH's love child, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:27pm

      Re: BS

      Me too. I actually have 2 COMPLETE sets of the dead tree version as well as, ahem, digital versions. I've also shelled out a pretty penny to get the entire series on Audio CD's. Yep, they lost a lot of money from me getting something that they don't even provide...

       

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    GuyFawkes, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:25pm

    If I was a book publisher I should post here:

    "You should pay for every page you turn or read. Reading anything without paying is STEALING"

    If I was a studio executive I should post here:

    "Every minute you watch of a copyrighted contend has to be paid. Watching films at your neighbor TV is STEALING"


    "...this internets is full of EVIL pirates who download content. oh my god, this is the end of the world. INTERNET IS KILLING MANKIND, TURN THAT TUBES OFF."

    Remember folks: downloading copyright content is a crime just like sex for pleasure was a crime in middle age.

    Middle age church = Content industry nowadays.

     

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      kryptonianjorel (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      "Every minute you watch of a copyrighted contend has to be paid. Watching films at your neighbor TV is STEALING"


      Don't they claim that watching 'the big fight' on PPV at your neighbors and everyone chipping in $10 to pay for it is illegal too?

       

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      Yo, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

      Re:

      I think you are missing the point that the gentleman had already purchased the item. Donwloading without ever purhcasing is wrong and unethical.

       

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    ComputerAddict (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

    "But, of course, that's ridiculous. It is not theft at all. Nothing is missing." See there you go thinking like a sane person again... Remember most of the publishing exec's think of every digital copy like physical item. In their mind its like someone buying a cassette tape and feeling entitled to steak a CD off the shelfs because they've already paid for it once.

    Remember it took over 2 million years of evolution before humans could understand the concept of "infinite." I'm not surprised these exec's have a hard time grasping such a hard concept.

     

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    spencermatthewp, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

    Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

    I agree with the editor, but his analogy is incorrect.
    "Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod" Buying a CD and copying it to an iPod would be analogous to buying a book and scanning it with OCR to create a digital document. His correct analogy would be Buying a CD (or DVD) and finding the Bit torrent to get a digital version.

    Even though his analogy is wrong his sentiment it correct. It's never made sense to me movies and TV shows on iTunes, Amazon, or what ever cost so much. Often they are more than the DVD. Makes no sense to me. I like to have the ability to watch on more than one platform. It's nice loading my iPod full of movies for a trip with the kids rather than hassling with a stack of DVDs.

    But, one has to wonder if he would advocate the removal of the paywall for the NYT? Just a thought.

     

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      Yakko Warner, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 3:16pm

      Re: Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

      Right sentiment, although I think it might be closer to downloading the MP3 of an album or cassette tape you already own. First, you have purchased the content in some physical, non-digital format, and then, you obtain the content in a digital format.

      I can see how it's legally wrong right away, but I'd put it on very shaky ground ethically as well. First off, these are two very different products -- one is a bound, paper edition that can be read in nearly any environment with no special hardware, software, electricity, or power (other than a light source). The other requires a computer and software to read, is searchable, printable, takes up much less storage space, and can optionally be processed by other programs (e.g., text-to-speech).

      Second, purchase of a product in one format does not automatically entitle the consumer to ownership in all formats. I would never make the argument that, having bought an LP, I should be free to get a CD; or, having bought a DVD, the Blu-ray version is mine for the taking/copying.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 3:26pm

        Re: Re: Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

        Unfortunately all of your examples would correspond with a loss of the other format.

        If you buy an LP then take the CD version from somewhere without paying, you are stealing a physical good.

        If you buy a DVD then take the Blu-ray version from somewhere without paying, you are stealing a physical good.

        If you buy a book then download an infinite electronic copy of it, nothing is missing.

         

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          DJ, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 4:28pm

          Re: Re: Re: Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

          "If you buy an LP then take the CD version from somewhere without paying, you are stealing a physical good.
          If you buy a DVD then take the Blu-ray version from somewhere without paying, you are stealing a physical good."

          Yeah....that's what Yakko said. Way to disagree by way of total agreement! You must be a politician.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:38pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

            And Yakko was comparing those things to buying a book and then downloading an electronic copy. AC was pointing out that they're not equivalent.

             

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      Steve, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 5:25pm

      Re: Wrong Analogy. Correct thinking.

      "Even though his analogy is wrong his sentiment it correct. It's never made sense to me movies and TV shows on iTunes, Amazon, or what ever cost so much. Often they are more than the DVD. Makes no sense to me."

      I know! This one really bothers me, and I wish it got a bit more focus / criticism.

      The fact that I can pay $2/episode for a show from the 1970s/80s on a pay-service like Amazon or iTunes, versus owning the box set for cheaper than the combined season doesn't make any sense .... then throw in that a lot of these old shows are getting added to Hulu as well, and it just doesn't add up.

      Ah well.

       

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    AdamBv1 (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Something has to give.

    The way publishers think about ebooks and books really needs to change and should be thought of in a tiered sales model.

    The ebook should be either free or dirt cheap, IE not more than $1-2. Paperback and hardcover books should at the same price they are now but should come with a free ebook copy (making the ebook free in the first place makes this REALLY easy to do).

    The customer should not have to double paym(or more because ebooks are sometimes more than a paperback) for the same book just to get it in the format they want. Paperback and hardcover books are not going to go away for a long time for exactly the same reason old records have not gone away and thats because some people just like to collect physical copies of items.

    Hardcover books(and maybe even paperback in the future) are almost like buying collectors edition of a game or movie. You're happy to pay more to have the fancy copy, support the author, just love the look of a them on your shelf, etc.

     

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    Will, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    Just a thought

    The analogy: CD is to Mp3 as Hardback is to Digital is flawed.

    In one you are drastically changing format—in the other, you are not. Until there is software to easily convert a Hardback into a usable digital format, the more appropriate analogy is: CD is to Mp3 as Hardback is to Paperback. No doubt you are expected to purchase the paperback.

     

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      romeosidvicious (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

      Re: Just a thought

      In one you are drastically changing format—in the other, you are not. Until there is software to easily convert a Hardback into a usable digital format, the more appropriate analogy is: CD is to Mp3 as Hardback is to Paperback. No doubt you are expected to purchase the paperback.
      You are dead wrong about this one. For the home user it might be harder to convert a hardcover to digital format but for the publisher it is not. They already have the thing in digital format and to convert it to any number of e-book formats takes seconds. You present a false dilemma by presenting the conversion from hardback to paperback as valid. To put it bluntly: unless you are Rick Moranis you can't convert a hardback to a paperback and even then it's not close to the same. The original analogy was correct as both examples are: physical product to digital product. The publisher is artificially creating the lack of a digital copy by simply not offering it to the public. If there is one out there and you have purchased the hardback, as showin by the OP and many posters in this thread, then the OP is saying it is not unethical to download it. The very fact that there are digital copies out there shows the analogy you present (physical copy to physical copy) is incorrect. If the publisher won't make them available them the consumers will and it's being proved out over and over. The publishers need to step up and start giving the public what we want.

       

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      CrushU, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:44pm

      Re: Just a thought

      CD is to Mp3 as Hardback is to Paperback. No doubt you are expected to purchase the paperback.


      The CD is a container for an MP3. A hardback is not a container for a paperback.

      CD is to MP3 as Hardback is to Pages Arranged In Specific Order. When you've bought a CD, you listen to the MP3 that's on the CD. (Or whatever format is on the CD) When you've bought a hardback, you read the pages.

      You pay for the container in both cases, even though the publisher will insist you're paying for content. Which is why they price MP3's and eBooks so highly.

       

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    Steve R. (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:37pm

    Sanity at the New York Times?

    Every once in a while, a lonely rationale voice surfaces at the Times. Maybe there is hope after all.

     

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    David Johnson (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:39pm

    Bad analogy

    Mr. Cohen I think used a poor analogy. His statement "Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod" simply is not true. You purchase a CD, rip it, and put it on your iPod. You have now made the original media format more valuable (making copies to placeshift the content). You paid for the software (directly or otherwise) to give you that ability. However, when you download the digital version of a book, you did not do that work yourself. Someone took the time to reformat it digitally, regardless of how minimal it may be (which is a good addon and reason to buy the physical media). If you took your book, scanned it, ran each image through some OCR software, then put them together end to end you would have the same thing as Mr. Cohen's analogy. To make his statement correct, it would be more like "buy the physical CD, then download the MP3s." I believe that publishers should be giving away the digital copy of the text along-side the physical. Sure, people will obtain the media illegally and not play by the rules, but the reason to buy just has to adapt to stay up with an evolving consumer (we don't consume media any more, we interact with it). They can't stop the tide with laws on how not to make copies of works, so adapt or die. Great works will still be made, and they will be even greater as people interact in new ways and connect better with the creators. It's not better or worse, really, just different.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 5:25am

      Re: Bad analogy

      Christ, how many people are making this stupid distinction?

      Cohen's article is about the ETHICAL aspects of this activity. Whether you do the format shifting yourself or download a format shifted copy that someone else has already prepared is utterly irrelevant to the ethics involved.

      People, please stop making stupid and irrelevant distinctions, especially when it takes the form of a wall of text that says precisely nothing, as per the above.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:41pm

    buying a movie ticket doesnt entitle you to a free dvd. watching a dvd doesnt entitle you to a movie ticket. a cd doesnt entitle you to a concert ticket and a concert ticket doesnt entitle you to download all the music. a hardcover book and a digital book are not the same product. they have the same content but the valuable delivery is different which is part of what you pay for. another misleading attempt to slam.

     

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      aguywhoneedstenbucks (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

      Re:

      You're talking about experiences vs. content. Movie theater = experience while DVD = content. Concert = experience whereas CD/digital download = content. Hardcover = content and so does digital download.

      Please compare apples to apples.

       

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      romeosidvicious (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:54pm

      Re:

      Analogy fail. When you buy a movie ticket it is for a single showing. When you buy a concert ticket you are paying for a single performance. Neither of which are analogous to a book. A book you can read over and over and you can't watch a movie or a concert over and over with a single ticket. The rest of your post is predicated on that point and therefore you fail at making any valid point. You try with the statement "a hardcover book and and a digital book are not the same product" but if they both contain the same words in the same order and the only difference is the media on which they are contained then they are the same product. There are no misleading attempts here at all. Physical product to digital product just like CD to mp3 with the only difference being that it is harder to make a digital copy of a book. It's not that hard as there are digital copies of almost every book you can imagine whether the publishers wants there to be or not. It is not unethical to have a digital copy of a physical good that you purchased. Our current laws are wrong and should be changed to reflect this.

       

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        anon, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 8:52am

        Re: Re:

        A performance and a physical good are not relatable like this; apples to oranges.

         

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        anon, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 8:52am

        Re: Re:

        A performance and a physical good are not relatable like this; apples to oranges.

         

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        Greg, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 5:29pm

        Re: Re:

        That one wants the electronic version when one already has the paper version implies that there is some benefit to the electronic one i.e. that they are different.

        If they are equivalent, be happy with the paper version that you have.

        If the electronic version provides some benefit, then you should rightly pay for that benefit.

        Seems simple to me.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:57pm

      Re:

      Hi TAM. Amusing that you think concerts and the movie theater are the same as music and movies.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

      Re:

      But is it unethical to download an exact digital copy of a physical copy that you already own?

      Nope.

       

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      Dementia (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 3:34am

      Re:

      Perhaps you've missed the new business models where some bands do, in fact, allow you to download the music for free when you buy a concert ticket?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Maybe a better analogy would be buying a recording on vinyl and then buying it again on CD vs downloading and burning it to a CD.

    Also, what happens when you lend your print version of the book to a friend or family member while the digital version stays on your Kindle/lolPad/etc.?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:30pm

    I'll play Devil's Advocate here. One could make the ethical stance that an electronic copy could provide additional value not provided by a paper copy, and that by downloading an electronic copy of a book you already own, you obtain additional value without compensation.

    Here's the part where the NY Times ethicist makes a leap ignoring all of that: "Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform."

     

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      SomnoLise, Oct 29th, 2011 @ 12:22pm

      Re:

      I agree that there is the possibility of additional content in an ebook vs. physical book (hardcover or paperback). Children's ebooks already have add-ons that make them worth paying for separate from the physical copy you have at home, i.e. author narration, digital pop-ups, story interaction, etc. However, at this time the majority of ebooks are not delivering on the promise of expanded content from the physical copy. For many books you actually lose some of the content due to the conversion methods and limitations of certain digital formats. Many illustrations, maps, etc. are very difficult to see, if they are available at all, in the digital copy. Also, there are currently limitations involving fonts, formatting, etc. that affect the quality of ebooks. The recent book Just My Type: A Book about Fonts features a large number of fonts (I think 100+) and each one is used to print the section that covers it. To my knowledge, ebooks cannot currently display this text in the same way as the physical book.

      If we give publishers the benefit of the doubt that there is additional value in the digital format than I would be okay with paying a small additional fee for that additional content ($2-$3). If a reader just wanted the ebook & not the physical copy than he/she would pay the regular book price, same as if it was a physical book. The cost savings from eliminating all the physical processes involved with a traditional book would cover the additional content available in the ebook.

       

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    Edmond Woychowsky, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:49pm

    I'm EVIL

    I downloaded a compiled HTML copy of an AJAX book that I wrote. Would I be less evil if I give the author $40? Or, would it just mean that I need professional help?

     

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    Phatnobody (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 3:12pm

    There is theft in this scenario

    Unauthorized downloading is theft. Pure and simple.

    You are stealing away the ability for the big corporations to meet their shareholder commitments by selling us the same content over and over and over again.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 3:25pm

      Re: There is theft in this scenario

      And without the ability for the big corporations to meet their shareholder commitments by selling us the same content over and over and over again no one would create anything ever again!

      I find it funny when the public screws big corporations because it's usually the other way around.

       

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      Sneeje (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 4:29pm

      Re: There is theft in this scenario

      Sigh, I don't know why I'm taking this bait, but...

      It is neither pure, nor simple. Unauthorized downloading is NOT theft. Theft deprives the original owner of the use of an object. This is not the case in unauthorized downloading. Theft also usually results in a negative economic impact to the original owner, whereas the economic impact resulting from unauthorized downloading is at worst unclear and at best positive, depending on the studies you look at. So, saying it is theft confuses the issue.

      Unauthorized downloading is wrong not because it is theft but because it undermines the owner's control and interferes with the exercise of their rights.

      Most folks on this site disagree with the scope and validity of those government granted rights, not whether or not unauthorized downloading is wrong.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 4:44pm

        Re: Re: There is theft in this scenario

        Uhh, you might want to try reading the entire comment you're responding to.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 1:36pm

        Re: Re: There is theft in this scenario

        Though it is popular, The "there must be a physical item" part of determining theft is not as strong an argument as people think.

        Supreme Court Justice Breyer: "...deliberate unlawful copying is no less an unlawful taking of property than garden-variety theft."

        While you might feel differently, his opinion holds more weight, legally speaking.

         

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    DJ (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 4:36pm

    Why??!?!

    Why is everyone so focused on the analogy and whether or not it's "correct"???

    WHO CARES???

    I'm honestly surprised the debate has gone this way. How's about we get back on track:

    Regardless of his analogy, is Mr. Cohen's statement correct?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:14pm

      Re: Why??!?!

      Some people just need to complain about something, even if they're isn't anything legitimate to complain about

       

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    Nate, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    All the argument about the analogy aside, there was a moment this weekend when I realized that I did not have a digital archive of the self-titled Alice in Chains album on my hard drive. I knew that I had the physical disc somewhere, as I had purchased it many years ago. I managed to find the disc, created an archival backup, have a copy on my computer, and a copy on my phone. The disc? Gave it to a friend.

    The industry would have had me purchase at least 3 extra copies for all that.

     

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    Alex Bowles, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 1:18am

    According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

    Apparently Cohen never considered that publishers use their perfectly legal monopoly to make money in two ways. The first is by selling copies of the work they commission (or buy outright after the fact). The second is by controlling the supply of those copies so it never quite meets demand, resulting in an attractive price (for the publisher).

    People (like Cohen) are missing the point when the say "how is copying like theft? It didn't cost the publisher anything, and anyway, once I've bought one copy in one format, I should never have to buy another."

    In reality, it did cost the publisher something, in that every additional copy (regardless of who makes it) creates an incremental reduction in value of all other copies. Dilution 101.

    The publisher's main concern is in maintaining enough control over the supply to keep it just below demand, allowing him to hit that sweet spot between units sold and cash extracted. If your copying didn't change the overall supply, he wouldn't care. But obviously it does, and so he cares. Deeply.

    Consider his aims: it's better for him to sell 500,000 units at $5 than it is to sell 100,000 units at $10, or 1,000,000 units at $1. He doesn't want to be too restrictive, since prices will top out eventually. And he doesn't want to be too liberal, since he'll have to slash his price below profitability if supply outpaces demand. Somewhere between gouging and giving, there's an optimal point of exchange. That's tricky to find with confidence, but it's much easier if you can maintain absolute control over the supply (an advantage not open to guys selling dishwashers or chewing gum).

    However, when the publisher loses control over supply (which is what happens when people start making copies on their own, even "just for non-commercial personal use"), then his ability to play (and profit from) his advantage in the price optimization game goes out the window. If his business has evolved so that possession of this advantage has become essential to his survival, then a loss of control on the supply side can be fatal.

    Accordingly, downloading a movie is 'just like' stealing in the same way that sudden inflation is 'just like' suffering a bank robbery. Obviously, inflation doesn't change the amount of money in your account. But it can demolish the value. So in terms of effect, yes, it is 'just like' robbery.

    Likewise, it's not the copy you're 'stealing' when you make a duplicate, it's the incremental (but real) sliver of market power that the publisher looses every-time someone (aside from him) increases the supply. The more tightly controlled the market, the more damaging each act of infringement becomes.

    Interestingly, if Cohen's ethical scale is based on relative harm, it becomes increasingly acceptable to copy as the supply of copies expands. In other words, the ethics of duplication (in his view) are tied directly to the number of copies that already exist, which each new act of unauthorized duplication being slightly less serious than the ones that proceeded it.

    Accordingly, leaking an unreleased but eagerly anticipated manuscript is far worse that downloading and old novel by Stephen King, copies of which are already found everywhere. In other words, if you're an especially sensitive soul who wants to copy without guilt, rip the stuff that everyone else already has.

    Conversely, be willing to pay more for stuff where fewer copies exist, and every new copy is likley to represent a greater dilution of value. And if you're a publisher, recognize that it's total lunacy to think that you can effectively control the supply of anything for 120 years.

    With some things, you can't keep the lid on for 120 minutes.

     

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      Dementia (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 3:38am

      Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

      Is it my imagination or did you just run that argument in a circle?

       

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        Alex Bowles, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 9:37am

        Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

        The weird thing about Cohen's argument was that he was, on one hand, completely ignoring the value of intangible goods. But elsewhere, he was referencing this value to support his position.

        He ignored intangible value when saying that copying 'costs the publisher nothing' because it consumes none of the publisher's labor or materials, and leaves his supply of copies intact. Accordingly, (says Cohen) it's ridiculous for the publisher to say that copying is 'just like' theft, since theft would have deprived him of tangible stock.

        However, it's not ridiculous to say that something which decreases value by diluting scarcity is 'just like' theft. It is just like theft in that both dilution and theft reduce the commercial utility of whatever you once had. For this reason, we have strong laws against counterfeiting currency and back-dating stock options, as both strip value from the shells that contained them, even when they leave the shells intact.

        So basing an argument (as Cohen initially does) by looking only at the publisher's cost and possession of tangible materials is wrong when you're talking about the value of intangible goods.

        But then Cohen turns around and acknowledges the intangible value of scarcity, by reckoning that making an additional unauthorized copy was probably a drop in a a bucket, and was therefore relatively harmless. Suddenly, he is admitting that there's more to this that the cost of materials, and who who possesses them, and that overall supply is a determinant of value.

        And he's conceding that making additional copies does diminish the commercial value of every other copy (including those still held by the publisher). He goes on to justifies the copying (and the harm) by saying that the dilution is so small that it probably doesn't matter - even if the publisher being harmed by this tells him otherwise.

        Given that Cohen does, in fact, recognize the nature of value in intangible goods, the correct response would be to agree with the publisher, and say "yes, unauthorized duplication is just like theft (at least in terms of effect) and yes, I am condoning it since the effect (in this case) is totally inconsequential."

        It would be up to the publisher to demonstrate otherwise.

         

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      SomeGuy (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:45am

      Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

      So, essentially, it's ethically wrong because the publisher set up a stupid model? It's ethically wrong because he's made an artificial piece of the game essential to his survivability?

      Further, to say pirating is "just like" theft in the same way that inflation is "just like" a bank robbery and to then claim that pirates should be held responsible for theft strongly implies that those responsible for inflation (the government, banks?) should be charged for bank robbery. By the same logic, eating at Wendy's is "just like" stealing from Burger King, isn't it? Or would it be that competing with Burger King is "just like" theft?

      Finally, how is my downloading a digital copy of content I already own increase anything? So long as I don't then give that copy to someone else (who doesn't already have it) then I've changed absolutely nothing -- unless you think I would (not simply should) pay for a second copy of what I already own. I submit that most people would not pay twice for the same thing.

       

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        Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:27am

        Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

        But by this logic you could argue that it is ethical to steal a Rolls Royce because it's artificially expensive and you see no reason to support Rolls Royce's business model.

        However, I will repeat that I think it's the internet that is the problem. A few copies of a copyright work circulating freely is no problem. A copy of something made for your own use is not a problem. I don't think publishers are bothered by either of thise situations, which are akin to loans, something they've faced since the nineteenth century. The problem is the means by which you obtain the copy - websites which give you free illegal copies of books are a Bad Thing, even if your own personal ownership of that copy is not a bad thing.

        You could view it a bit like refusing to do business with someone whose activities you disapprove of in another sphere. You like his goods (the digital books), but you won't shop there since you are helping and encouraging him to continue those activities (ie supplying huge quantities of pirated ebooks to people who have not bought a legitimate copy already, and have no intention of doing so). Now, that would be ethical. N

        ot that I expect you (or anyone else) to take that line, but it's hypocritical to blame publishers when faced with own greed and sense of entitlement. If publishers can find a way to stop us ripping them off (which I doubt) I think they have every right to do so.

         

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:05pm

          Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

          But by this logic you could argue that it is ethical to steal a Rolls Royce because it's artificially expensive and you see no reason to support Rolls Royce's business model.

          Not at all. Because if you steal a Rolls Royce, whoever owned it before has now lost it. That is a net loss.

          If you *copy* (not "steal") a digital work, you have actually increased the pie. That is a net gain.

          Two totally different scenarios.

          but it's hypocritical to blame publishers when faced with own greed and sense of entitlement. If publishers can find a way to stop us ripping them off (which I doubt) I think they have every right to do so.

          The only sense of entitlement comes from companies believing that the old way of business must be retained in the fact of technological progress -- even to the point that they would seek to hold back what the technology allows.

           

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            Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:22pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

            I wasn't arguing that stealing a Rolls Royce was the same as stealing a book. I was making the point that disliking someone's business model creates fair grounds for stealing their intellectual property.

            Entitlement: publishers actions regarding ebooks have nothing to do with entitlement. They have everything to do with protecting their business. Publishers can do business any legal way they choose. That may not be the way you would like them to do it, but that's tough. Readers can call publishers morons for doing things the way they do, but we can't argue that they have no right. That's what I mean by entitlement - the sense that we are owed something here. We are not.

             

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              Harrison Ainsworth, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

              You seem to be forgetting that all these businesses are almost entirely conditional on the fundamental bargain of copyright -- that it grants limited monopolies in return for overall public benefit.

              Businesses based on copyright can only exist because government law enables them to. Since government-made law is to serve the public as a whole, the public has every right to demand that the law, and what follows from it, suits them.

              So to say we are not 'owed' anything (as far as that makes any sense) is utterly wrong.

               

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                Alex Bowles, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 2:33pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

                @Harrison,

                Not sure if (or where) I implied that copyright privilege was granted with no quid pro quo.

                To the best of my knowledge, public benefit is derived (in theory) from the general advance "of the useful arts and sciences" which (also in theory) can be accelerated at little cost via the grant of exclusive rights "for limited times", etc.

                These theories and assumptions are, of course, what's starting it unravel now.

                 

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                  Harrison Ainsworth, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:24am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

                  > Apr 6th, 2010 @ 2:33pm

                  You most probably didn't, but "Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:22pm" did.

                  -- you have to click the 'Threaded' link at the top of the comments, then the juxtaposition clarifies things.

                   

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              Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:11pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

              I wasn't arguing that stealing a Rolls Royce was the same as stealing a book. I was making the point that disliking someone's business model creates fair grounds for stealing their intellectual property.

              Which would be relevant if something were being stolen. But it is not. There may be infringement, but that's something entirely different. From a purely economic standpoint, the consumer is simply going to a different supplier. If the original supplier can't compete with the aftermarket, that's a business model issue.

              Entitlement: publishers actions regarding ebooks have nothing to do with entitlement. They have everything to do with protecting their business.

              You don't protect a business, you earn it. If you're protecting it, you've already failed.

              Publishers can do business any legal way they choose. That may not be the way you would like them to do it, but that's tough.

              And consumers can choose not to buy and to seek out products from alternative, secondary suppliers. That may not be the way you would like them to do it, but that's tough.

              That's what I mean by entitlement - the sense that we are owed something here. We are not.

              You seem to be claiming that publishers are entitled/owed their old business model, which no longer stands up in the face of modern technological change. That is entitlement.

               

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

          Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

          "But by this logic you could argue that it is ethical to steal a Rolls Royce because it's artificially expensive and you see no reason to support Rolls Royce's business model."

          I disagree entirely. Besides the obvious flaw that Mike points out above, a Rolls Royce may indeed be expensive, but it's difficult to say that it's "artificially" expensive. Such a car takes time, effort, and materials to create, all of which have non-zero marginal costs. On top of this, the Rolls Royce is a finite item; there may be many, but they are countable and discrete. In such a situation, the familiar factors of supply and demand come in to play, and as more people WANT a Rolls Royce than there are actual cars, the price goes up (as the purchacer effectively has to "out-bid" his competition or lose the car to someone who would pay more for it).

          I see no artificial components to the price of a Rolls Royce.

           

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        Alex Bowles, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 1:28pm

        Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

        @Some Guy

        So, essentially, it's ethically wrong because the publisher set up a stupid model? It's ethically wrong because he's made an artificial piece of the game essential to his survivability?


        No, it's ethically wrong because copyright violation is against the law, the establishment of which was clearly based on Constitutional principle which has yet to face serious formal challenge.

        Also, the copyright holder wasn't foolish to bank on monopoly power. The Constitution made the explicit assumption that the grant of (limited) monopoly power was essential to artistic or scientific enterprise. The fact that more that 200 years passed before this assumption was seriously questioned speaks to how foolish it wasn't–at least for pre-internet media firms (i.e. virtually all major, publicly-traded publishers).

        Further, to say pirating is "just like" theft in the same way that inflation is "just like" a bank robbery and to then claim that pirates should be held responsible for theft strongly implies that those responsible for inflation (the government, banks?) should be charged for bank robbery.


        No it does not. It is 'like theft' in terms of effect (i.e. loss of useful power). But it is not actual theft. Which is why you can't charge software infringes with larceny, and nor can you sue the Fed for creating inflation (though lord only knows how many people would if they could).

        By the same logic, eating at Wendy's is "just like" stealing from Burger King, isn't it? Or would it be that competing with Burger King is "just like" theft?


        This is totally absurd, though it wouldn't be if Burger King had a legal monopoly on hamburgers. That is to say, if Burger King had the right to control the supply absolutely, then anyone messing with the supply would produce an effect 'just like' stealing. Only the thing being stolen wouldn't be the burgers themselves, it would be the portion of Burger King's profit margin that could only be maintained due to an absolute–and perfectly enforced–monopoly.

        Finally, how is my downloading a digital copy of content I already own increase anything? So long as I don't then give that copy to someone else (who doesn't already have it) then I've changed absolutely nothing -- unless you think I would (not simply should) pay for a second copy of what I already own. I submit that most people would not pay twice for the same thing.


        Um, are you serious? Do you not see how making a copy increases the supply? What you do with it is irrelevant; once you make a copy, that copy–by definition–exists. And even if you don't redistribute it, can't you see how that additional copy produces an effect?

        After all, if you've got a backup, you don't care as much about the original. You can loose it, or give it away, or do whatever. It doesn't matter anymore. As long as you maintain access to a copy, your entire pattern of conduct changes because you don't depend on others to reproduce copies for you.

        And that's exactly the point of escaping from monopoly control. Your attitudes and behavior change. Instead of treating this object as a singular thing, replaceable only at real expense, you adopt a very casual and uncaring attitude towards copies, and start to think of the work in far more abstract (and hard to monetize) terms.

        From the perspective of the monopolist–who wants you to think of master recordings as almost sacred and impossible to access relics, and to hold that single precious copy in the highest regard possible–this is a terrible development. Control over supply is directly related to control over attitudes, behavior, and perception of value, which are all directly related to the amount of money the publisher can extract from you.

        In short, a well managed monopoly is economically indistinguishable from a license to print money. And the value of owning a mint, in turn, is directly proportional to your power to control the supply of currency.

        The internet ruined publisher's capacity to control the currency supply, which devalued the economic power of their licenses to print money, which (for many) threatened their ability to simply survive.

        Now, the real test is whether "the useful arts and sciences" (however that's defined) will manage to survive this implosion. If so, the basic Constitutional supposition that led to copyright law's creation will have been debunked. This will open the law to increasingly severe legal challenge from the courts, while limiting the ability of Congress to enact new law to replace the ones getting struck down.

         

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: According to Cohen, the ethics of ripping are relative to the title (though this would be news to him)

          No, it's ethically wrong because copyright violation is against the law

          Uh, saying it's ethically wrong because it's against the law is a non-starter. I mean, freeing slaves was once against the law. Morals and the law are two separate things.

          Also, the copyright holder wasn't foolish to bank on monopoly power.

          Yes, it is foolish to bank on an artificial monopoly when those monopolies are unenforceable.

          The Constitution made the explicit assumption that the grant of (limited) monopoly power was essential to artistic or scientific enterprise. The fact that more that 200 years passed before this assumption was seriously questioned speaks to how foolish it wasn't–at least for pre-internet media firms (i.e. virtually all major, publicly-traded publishers).


          I'm afraid this statement is somewhat ignorant of the debate over copyright law that has gone on for nearly 300 years. It is simply wrong to suggest that the law has not been challenged. It has been challenged regularly and repeatedly. In fact, our own founding fathers were quite worried about it, and even considered not including the Constitutional clause for fear that it would cause more harm than good.

          No it does not. It is 'like theft' in terms of effect (i.e. loss of useful power).

          It is not like theft at all. There is no loss of products or of "useful power."

          This is totally absurd, though it wouldn't be if Burger King had a legal monopoly on hamburgers. That is to say, if Burger King had the right to control the supply absolutely, then anyone messing with the supply would produce an effect 'just like' stealing. Only the thing being stolen wouldn't be the burgers themselves, it would be the portion of Burger King's profit margin that could only be maintained due to an absolute–and perfectly enforced–monopoly.

          Ok. So here's the question: would you find it ethically acceptable then to fine people for cooking their own burgers in such a scenario?

          And that's exactly the point of escaping from monopoly control. Your attitudes and behavior change. Instead of treating this object as a singular thing, replaceable only at real expense, you adopt a very casual and uncaring attitude towards copies, and start to think of the work in far more abstract (and hard to monetize) terms.

          And pretty much all of economic history has found this to be a *good* thing with a *positive* effect on society. And, remember, the purpose of copyright law is to promote the progress. If progress is better promoted by ignoring copyright law... well then, don't we have an issue to deal with?

          In short, a well managed monopoly is economically indistinguishable from a license to print money. And the value of owning a mint, in turn, is directly proportional to your power to control the supply of currency.

          And, as we all know from our economics, monopolies are economically inefficient. So breaking up that monopoly would be a good thing.

          The internet ruined publisher's capacity to control the currency supply, which devalued the economic power of their licenses to print money, which (for many) threatened their ability to simply survive.

          It only threatens their ability to survive if they are slow to embrace what the new technology enables -- which is a much larger market.

          Now, the real test is whether "the useful arts and sciences" (however that's defined) will manage to survive this implosion. If so, the basic Constitutional supposition that led to copyright law's creation will have been debunked.

          Well, rather than speculating, why not look at the actual evidence? We recently reported on a study of the music industry that showed music industry output has grown massively over the past decade as copyright has been increasingly ignored. As for the money? The music industry has grown 66% over the last decade as well.

          How much more evidence would you like?

           

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    Joel (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 9:53am

    Passion

    This is better than watching "The Young and the Restless" there is more drama here than in all the years that the 'soap' has going...

    Anyway I don't believe it is unethical, if the content is not provided by the publisher for a fair price. If the publisher included a digital copy of the book then this wouldn't be an issue; which is something they should have started doing a long time ago...I have always thought that books were overpriced, I love reading but I'm not paying 9.99-??.?? for something that I will most likely read once.

    Thanks Library Card!

     

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    Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    Victimless crime?

    Ah, the victimless crime. If no one physically lost anything it's not theft, right? Wrong. Firstly criminal law defines theft as 'the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent.' That includes intellectual property. So that disposes of the legal aspect - it is definitely theft. I am stating this only because some of the comments above seem to call even this fact into question.

    The ethical side is trickier. I think on the face of it there is a fair case for someone who has paid for a physical object to have an additional digital copy at no extra charge. Possibly all the big publishers will move to this model. However, what makes this eventuality unlikely, in my view, is the same thing that makes ebooks in general a dodgy proposition commercially. It can be summed up in two words: the internet. Once digital copies are out there, pirated versions will be made available free (as per music). And as Alex Bowles so rightly says, that will make it impossible for publishers to control supply and therefore price. The result? Well, look at what happened to the music industry. Only authors who have failed to find an agent or publisher can regard an internet filled with self-published books as any kind of desirable future. The majority of the reading public want and need publishers, and they didn't generally kvetch at paying the prices for the paper books until the internet started to warp our notion of value at the same time as revving up our sense of entitlement.

    The reader who scans his own paper book and uses the resulting digital file himself, or even copies it for his friends on disc or via email attachment, is not hurting the publishing industry any more than home-tapers were killing the music industry, or that lenders of books ever hurt publishing in the past. But the internet makes files available to virtually everyone in the world, simultaneously, and potentially forever. No one can control that, least of all the publishers.

    So unless you are of the opinion that all digital books should be free, regardless of whether paper versions have been bought already, it is unethical to use and tacitly support a service which is designed to provide free copies of other people's intellectual property without permission. That holds even if said service is an inevitability in the age of the internet. Perhaps the real question underlying all this is: are ethics even viable in the age of the internet?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:52am

      Re: Victimless crime?

      Is recieving stolen property theft? Because I seem to recall that that's a completely different offense, and one that's much harder to get to stick. So if someone else "tak[es] of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent" and then they give it away freely, how many instances of theft are there, and how many instances of (potentially unknowingly) recieving stolen property?

      More to the point, if someone steals something and then, using that as a model, begins to produce replicas and gives away those replicas, there's no longer even any instance of "recieving stolen property."

       

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        Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re: Victimless crime?

        Firstly, the crime of receiving stolen property only relates to goods worth in excess of $5000.

        The providers of digital files (the pirates) are arguably not thieves at all. They are merely facilitating the act of theft by anyone who downloads them. This is why so many P2P services still flourish.

        The person who makes an unlawful copy of intellectual property is not a thief either, though he or she is likely to be guilty of a crime, since mechanical reproduction of intellectual property is generally prohibited.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:09pm

          Re: Re: Re: Victimless crime?

          Sir, you contradict yourself.

          My comment was 100% intended to invalidate your claim, in your first paragraph, that "[piracy] is definitely theft."

          Your response seems to completely contradict this "fact" that you stated because other comments had questioned it.

           

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            Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:24pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Victimless crime?

            Not sure how I contradicted myself? How do my comments question this initial statement that downloading a free, pirated ebook is a crime?

             

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              Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 11:20am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Victimless crime?

              "Crime" I'll grant. "Theft" I won't. You contradicted youself when you say "it is definitely theft" and follow it up with "The person who makes an unlawful copy of intellectual property is not a thief".

               

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:10pm

          Re: Re: Re: Victimless crime?

          "he or she is likely to be guilty of a crime, since mechanical reproduction of intellectual property is generally prohibited."

          I'm fairly certain a strong fair use defense exisits in most cases, especially as we're discussing people who already own the physical book (and are apparently obtaining a digital copy for personal use).

           

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:02pm

      Re: Victimless crime?

      Ah, the victimless crime. If no one physically lost anything it's not theft, right? Wrong. Firstly criminal law defines theft as 'the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent.' That includes intellectual property. So that disposes of the legal aspect - it is definitely theft. I am stating this only because some of the comments above seem to call even this fact into question.

      This is wrong. Just because you call it "intellectual property" it does not make it property. It is not. It is a gov't granted monopoly privilege. The Supreme Court is clear on this:

      "interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud." -- US Supreme Court

       

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        Rupert Heath, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 12:32pm

        Re: Re: Victimless crime?

        Well, it's arguable, though that supreme court statement is hardly clear on what is theft or not.

        Are you saying in fact that, because it's not theft, no crime has therefore been committed? Even the author of the original article isn't claiming that.

         

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          Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: Victimless crime?

          Well, it's arguable, though that supreme court statement is hardly clear on what is theft or not.

          Are you saying in fact that, because it's not theft, no crime has therefore been committed? Even the author of the original article isn't claiming that.


          No, a crime has not been committed. There may be infringement, which is a civil dispute, not a criminal one.

          And, yes, the Supreme Court statement is quite clear on it. Infringement is not theft. It may not be legal, but it is entirely separate from theft. They don't even fall anywhere near each other in the legal code.

           

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        Alex Bowles, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 1:40pm

        Re: Re: Victimless crime?

        Wonderful citation - thank you.

         

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    Mark F, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 1:47pm

    Paper copy should come with an e-copy

    I think getting a paper copy should entitle you to an electronic copy. A audio book or an even more elaborate multiple person audio performance is a different item that you should pay for separately as it takes significant effort to make them.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 12:58am

      Re: Paper copy should come with an e-copy

      agreed, but once you buy them on, say Tape, there is nothing ethically wrong with downloading it.

       

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    henry, Oct 17th, 2010 @ 3:11am

    Useful OCR tool

    Here I am providing a link to an online application which is called Good OCR and allows transformation of texts in scanned image, such as JPG, GIF, TIFF and even to plain text in TXT.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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