A few weeks back, we linked to the NY Times' Ethicist, Randy Cohen, explaining why it's not unethical
to download a digital copy of a book, if you'd bought a hard copy of the book -- even though
it probably violates copyright law. That created quite a lot of anger
from folks who felt that it was clearly an ethical violation as well. Mitch Wagner
, apparently missed that kerfuffle, as he's written up a short blog post for Computerworld asking people their thoughts
on the ethics of downloading media that you purchased legally:
I recently got a hankering to re-read some of my favorite books. I already own them, in hardcover and paperback. But I'd like to re-read them as e-books. Do I need to buy the e-book versions, or can I download a pirated copy of the e-book for free?
The argument that says it's wrong is pretty simple, and clear-cut: When I bought the books, I bought individual copies of the books. All I own is that one copy. If I lost the copy, I wouldn't be entitled to a free replacement. It wouldn't be right for me to shoplift the book from the local Barnes & Noble. I'd have an obligation to buy a new copy, or borrow one legitimately, before re-reading the book.
On the other hand: I already paid for these books legitimately. They're my books. The shoplifting analogy is specious, because in that case, I'm depriving the rightful owner -- the owner of the bookstore -- of their copy of the book. If I download a copy of the e-book, nobody else is deprived of their copy.
However, he goes on to make another point that also deserves some scrutiny:
Every couple of years, TiVo hiccups and fails to record a favorite TV show. In that case, I have to decide whether to wait for the show to come out on DVD, or just download the episode from the BitTorrents.
Now there will be people who will claim that, due to the fact that it likely infringes on copyright to do so, it's automatically unethical. But morality isn't determined by the law. In general, I've always argued that if the economics increase the overall market and opportunity, then there's no moral issue
to speak of -- and it's hard to see how someone downloading an episode their TiVo missed would harm the overall economy in any way. But, I'm guessing that some folks here will disagree...