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Legality and Ethics in downloading e-books
April 7, 2010 9:37 AM   Subscribe

On the ethics of illegally downloading e-books; a Teleread essay full of interesting links about these modern e-reading times. Inspired in part by this New York Times Ethicist column, and brought to my attention by this ask.metafilter question.
posted by Greg Nog (159 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can go to my public library and borrow a copy of a book for several weeks, so I can torrent it, right?
posted by phrontist at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A better question would be the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of knowledge.
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2010 [21 favorites]


Ethical, no. But if people are willing to pirate 10 gigabyte blue ray movies, they are going to pirate your text file.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:51 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we don't make information scarce, information will be scarce!
posted by mullingitover at 9:51 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll play the Devil's advocate. The New York Times ethicist makes an interesting jump here: "Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform." That is tantamount to ignoring the idea that an e-book provides different functionality, additional functionality, that a hardback does not, such as portability (which would be covered by space-shifting), ease of backup, updates* and such, all of which may provide value. Value that the publisher has made for you and, in the traditional scheme we've had since we traded shiny rocks, something (money) may be expected in return.

By all means, do what you like, go nuts with poorly-OCRd copies of New Moon, but let's not abuse reason in the process because you're a little unsettled with your actions.

* updates may also include your copy of 1984 vanishing and getting a refund in its place
posted by adipocere at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


An ethicist at the New York Times, Randy Cohen, has opened a can of worms and dumped them all over e-books with a column in which he suggests it is ethically fine to download an electronic copy of a book (in this case, a book that was not yet commercially available as an e-book) when you’ve purchased the printed copy.

So it'd be okay for me to try to hack the NY Times firewall after they put it up -- if I've bought a copy of their dead tree edition some day that week?
posted by blucevalo at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


No real "debate" here - Downloading an eBook of a book you already own in dead-tree form, while not necessarily legal, absolutely counts as "ethical".

The biggest issue FTA seems to involve the time it takes to scan a book vs rip a CD - That right there strikes me as intellectually dishonest, for two reasons.

First, it requires rose-tinted hindsight, because apparently the author doesn't remember the days when you ripped at 1x, and encoded slower than that, meaning ripping a full CD could take 3+ hours.

And second, as someone who stores all my personal/financial info (bills, statements, taxes, etc) digitally and shreds the originals, let me just say that with a good scanner you can blow through 300 double-sided pages in under half an hour.

So the "time" argument basically amounts to "I don't have a proper frame of reference for these things, either historically or currently".
posted by pla at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can go to my public library and borrow a copy of a book for several weeks, so I can torrent it, right?

This relates to the interesting issue of Public Lending Rights which compensate authors when their book is borrowed at a library. Such a program exists in Canada and the UK but not in the US.

As piracy inevitably increases perhaps we will end up with a similar and more lucrative compensation system for all easily-transmittable works of art.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Shit, part of the fun of owning pirated ebooks (maybe the only fun part) is that they are illegal.
posted by mattbucher at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


blucevalo: "So it'd be okay for me to try to hack the NY Times firewall after they put it up -- if I've bought a copy of their dead tree edition some day that week?"

Space shifting. It's more like printing a copy of the day's NYT from the web site after you paid for a subscription.
posted by mullingitover at 9:57 AM on April 7, 2010


Funny. I just assumed the story was about downloading books illegally. But downloading a copy of a book that you bought? I say it's ethical.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:00 AM on April 7, 2010


Yeah, I saw a torrent the other day with pretty much every sci-fi book in history. It was around 350MB. That DVD-quality version of Killer Klowns from Outer Space? 1.4GB.........
posted by lattiboy at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


mrgrimm: "But downloading a copy of a book that you bought? I say it's ethical."

It's telling that people would even pause to question the ethics of this, without questioning the ethics of trying to double-charge readers.
posted by mullingitover at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2010


more on the subject from SFWA members Nicole Peeler and Cherie Priest:

http://www.nicolepeeler.com/2010/01/on-piracy/
http://www.sfwa.org/2010/04/authorial-control/
posted by 256 at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2010


A more practical case is that of audiobooks. Is it ethical to torrent an audiobook if you already own the printed one, and want to listen to it in your car? If not, why is it any less ethical than going down to the library and borrowing it?*

But even assuming you go the library route, is it ethical to put it on your iPod? If copying is always wrong, wrong, wrong, how do you account for the latest books-on-CD (which my library seems to be getting everything in now), which you can't listen to any other way — they're just MP3 or AAC files on a data disc, not an actual audio CD. The vast majority of users can't listen to them without making a pretty deliberate copy.

* At the risk of seeming a douche for answering my own question, I think the answer is "it's not, it's just less legal, and law and morality are very loosely coupled." The only reason libraries get a free pass and aren't considered just as much dens of copyright iniquity as The Pirate Bay is historical — libraries have been around for a long time and the publishers have built their business models around their existence; the Internet is new and disruptive, and therefore to be crushed or contained if at all possible. If libraries hadn't existed since antiquity and we suddenly tried to invent them today, I fully expect that the publishers would have their cronies in Congress make them illegal faster than you can say "DMCA." Nobody likes change, especially change that costs them money, even if it's a net good.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, so I didn't need to pay 5 bucks for every Metafilter page I printed out?

Hey cortex... we need to talk.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:04 AM on April 7, 2010


My kingdom for searchable text.

Someone said something like that... but I can't quite find the page right now.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:05 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The thing I wonder about using RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia as a justification for space shifting is in that case you were talking about taking something already digital and then changing the file format. In the case of scanning a book, you are converting something physical into something digital. It's not converting the file format so it can be used on another device, it's dimensional shifting. You're going from physical to digital. Does the RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia case even apply here? It seems it's more akin to recording a live performance to keep for personal use, rather than ripping a CD. Granted, bootlegs have been with us for a long time, but are they covered by RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia?
posted by Toekneesan at 10:12 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


pla, it does take a wee bit longer to scan a book than it does to stack loose paper in an ADF and blow through them. Maybe 150 pages an hour or so in book form with a dedicated scanner (as in person, not equipment): lift the book off the glass, turn the page, set it back down, make sure it's square, push the cover down to block as much light as possible but gently, gently because of the glass, press scan, then do it again. --Speaking as someone who works with paper scanning and OCR in a production-type capacity from time-to-time.

Best thing about Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End was his near-future book-shredding scanner: you toss old paper books into a woodchipper that spits the shreds into a long plastic tube filled with little optical laser-scanning whosits that photograph every scrap from a variety of angles and use the computing power available in teh future to logically reassemble an image of each page from all the jigsawed shreds, then OCR it. That's the fast way to do it! --Still gives me the heebies, just thinking about it.
posted by kipmanley at 10:13 AM on April 7, 2010


For an interesting, if not exactly parallel, comparison see Dickens vs America for Charlie's issues with black-market publishing in the States in the 19th Century.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2010


"For decades, futurists have dreamed of the 'universal book': a handheld reading device that would give you instant access to every book in the Library of Congress. In the tablet era, it’s no longer technology holding us back from realizing that vision; it’s the copyright holders."—Steven Johnson
posted by mattbucher at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


DU : A better question would be the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of knowledge.

This.


adipocere : That is tantamount to ignoring the idea that an e-book provides different functionality, additional functionality, that a hardback does not

I would disagree with that. The eBook has significantly less functionality than a physical copy. I can't read it without power; I can't use it to hold down a stack of papers in a breeze; I can't (safely) read it in the tub or before bed; I can't scribble notes in the margins (no, existing markup tools do not come anywhere near the power of a pencil); and though more subjective (and probably generational), it lacks all of the aesthetic qualities that I personally value in books (feel, smell, heft, etc).

All of the features it does have that I value (zero-ish weight and size, searchability) don't exist as a quality of the eBook itself, but rather, result from the viewing platform. Why should I pay the publisher for a feature/service they don't even produce, but that my PC/Kindle/whatever provides?
posted by pla at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I posted a screed about this on my blog recently. Boiled down:

I used The Pirate Bay to find a guitar instruction book that didn't suck. Having found one, I wanted to buy the rights to it. But, the printed version comes only in perfect-bound, which is stupid for musical instrument instruction. I want a lay-flat version, which is not sold by anyone. So I printed one myself from the ripped-off PDF, and comb-bound it. So I go to the publisher site to buy the PDF so I can balance my karma, and while they do offer the PDF, they don't offer an MP3 version of the audio CD that comes with the paper version. Ultimately, then, to get all the data I want in the format I want it, with everyone getting paid appropriately, I have ordered the printed book/CD from Amazon (at a big discount from the publisher's PDF cost, I might add). ... and it is on a one month backorder. It's okay, I can wait. I'm on chapter 7 of my home-printed version, and I don't really need the audio until the second half of the book.

Personally I think that whole process was fucking stupid. JUST SELL ME THE DATA and let me decide how I want to experience it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2010 [17 favorites]


Kadin2048 : A more practical case is that of audiobooks. Is it ethical to torrent an audiobook if you already own the printed one, and want to listen to it in your car?

Excellent point - And on this one, I would say "no, not ethical", because it exists as a form of "performance" of the work, separate from the work itself. It actually does have value above and beyond the original work.

That said, I would not apply that same reasoning to the issue Amazon had with the automated text-to-speech functionality of the Kindle, for the same reason as I mentioned at the end of my previous post - If the "added value" comes from my own hardware, not the content itself, then I feel zero obligation to pay the publisher for something they didn't provide (and in many cases, don't even want to provide).


If not, why is it any less ethical than going down to the library and borrowing it?

I don't recall the source (Vonnegut, possibly?), but I once read an essay by a well-known author on that very issue. And basically, he took the stance that if every library in the US bought a copy of his books, it would make them overnight best-sellers, and make him quite a nice bit of money.
posted by pla at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, pla. If the e-book publisher provided straight images, your Kindle could not search them. If they provide text, your Kindle could search them. That feature could not exist without the publisher. Your platform preforms the action, but the searchability is all in the file.

That it is made into a file, which is copyable? I don't think you can aim a Kindle at a paperback and make that paperback into a file. That gives you the ability to back up that file and make it ultralow in weight and volume. Both of those things would not exist without the publisher.

The publisher has provided different functionality and, for some people, that difference is a bonus.

I have no love for e-books and own none of them. I won't even buy MP3s. However, I am not going to pretend that e-books would not have some advantages that might be of value to some people.
posted by adipocere at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2010


I love when people pretend to have good manners about this stuff.. like, "Oh, I downloaded it but then tried to find a way to buy it.. oh, I tried to do the right thing and pay etc etc.. " I would like to call BULLSHIT on that!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2010


It's not converting the file format so it can be used on another device, it's dimensional shifting. You're going from physical to digital.

So? It's still just a series of characters. One's in the form of some magnetically significant bits of metal; one's encoded as ink on paper. One happens to be more human-readable than the other, but so what?
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2010


All these "is it ethical to do this" or "ethical to do that" questions really scare me. Is it ethical to kill the man who killed my brother? Maybe, by some folks perspective. But last I checked, we lived in capitalist society with a centralized government and maker of laws. Our LAWS say it is unethical. It is not for us to decide. whether we "ought" to be able to use a product a certain way; it is for the maker of that product to decide. If the product is substandard, the "ethical" thing to do is not to buy it and let that producer of that product suffer the financial consequences.

We have no right to make these rules. We do not live in a warlord run tribal society in which we do what we think is right at the time on our own set of ethical judgments.
posted by The3rdMan at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I downloaded the Complete Works of Freud from a site that specializes in scans of works of cultural theory/philosophy. As a zip file, it was a little over 4MB; his entire corpus fit within the same amount of digital space as a three minute pop song. That still kind of amazes me, actually. As far as ethics goes, Freud no longer needs a royalty cheque, and most of them must be in public domain at this point. Living authors, well, erm, sometimes you just really need a book, and it's really expensive, and hard to find, and you'd have pay shipping and just, yeah, well.
posted by jokeefe at 10:26 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


>> No real "debate" here - Downloading an eBook of a book you already own in dead-tree form, while not necessarily legal, absolutely counts as "ethical".

As adipocere noted, Different formats= different functionalities.

By getting something in a format you didn't pay for, one for which the producer/creator/publisher demands a specific price, you're getting something conveniently... but not ethically.

>> A better question would be the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of knowledge.

Like your Social Security Number and DOB? Just for the record, even after I and two dozen other people use this info to get loans and whatnot, you can still use it, so it's not like you've lost anything.

Also, having your bank PIN, account number, and certain supporting information would be nice. Not that I'd want to do anything with it-- just out of curiosity, really.

***

It's really odd that, deep in the "Information Age," many people still aren't accepting that information is valuable.

Information's value is in its novelty and scarcity, and the edge knowing Datum X gives you over not-knowing Datum X; this advantage is reduced through distribution--if you had an advantage by knowing X, yet I now know X also, the value of knowing X is now diminished--, so information is a commodity just as prone to loss or depletion as gold or oil.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


A better question would be the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of knowledge.

Well, I guess it sounds better than "gimme free shit!!!!11!!!1111" but only if you don't think about it too hard. I'm not sure why this should be particularly more troublesome than the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of food when a supermarket prevents shoplifting.

Also, it's true that a novel is "knowledge" but only in the same way that virtually anything is information. A copy of Bioshock 2 or Lady Gaga's latest album "knowledge" in that sense.

But, like I said, it does sound a little better than "gimme free shit!!!!!11!!!!1!1!!11eleven!".
posted by Justinian at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


We're going around again about how infinite goods should be treated like the scarce good that they only resemble in metaphors?

OK then, you all work that out amongst yourselves. Let me know what you come up with. Serious bonus points if you manage to do it without treading on free speech.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Isn't this already pretty much how the law works for game roms?
posted by oraknabo at 10:28 AM on April 7, 2010


We have no right to make these rules. We do not live in a warlord run tribal society in which we do what we think is right at the time on our own set of ethical judgments.

You can't be serious. Go read some Nietzsche or Sartre or something.
posted by phrontist at 10:29 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


How many people actually make a living wage just by writing books? I'm guessing it's a pretty minuscule amount of people, so I don't think our current market based system is going well for the authors anyway.

Especially in the case of things like College textbooks, it seems like it would be a great place for some good old fashioned socialism. Authors get paid on the government dime and everybody gets free books.
posted by afu at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ethics aside, I would pay for the ability to take a boxful of books I already own and get a high-quality, non-DRM, ebook version in exchange. Not sure how much I'd pay, but $1 a book for sure, and I'd reclaim a lot of space in my house.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:32 AM on April 7, 2010


It's not converting the file format so it can be used on another device, it's dimensional shifting. You're going from physical to digital.

How the content is encoded does not matter. That it happens to be saved in the .ppr format instead of .doc or .rtf means nothing, since an all-text (picture-less) book can be OCR'd with a higher fidelity than converting a CD or record to MP3.

The physical to digital argument is sort of a red herring anyway. Remember, computer formats aren't just stuffed into the ether. They too are physical, whether as stored charges in memory, magnetized areas of a hard disk, or pits on an optical disk.
posted by explosion at 10:34 AM on April 7, 2010


Don't miss this, linked in the first article linked in the FPP, in which a caption identifies the NY Times Ethicist as E-Book Enemy #1.
We’re sure this advice will warm the hearts of authors and book publishers desperately fighting to protect their literary properties from pirates and the ethical pygmies stealing e-books under the information-wants-to-be-free banner. (See I Want My E-Book and I Want It Now – Or Else!)

These dirtbags now have a champion in Randy Cohen. Go on, help yourself. The author and publisher have been paid once and don’t need to be paid for another edition of the same book. While you’re at it, rip off the book club and the mass market paperback editions.
That's Richard Curtis, a prominent agent.

I'm a little ambivalent about the propriety of downloading a pirated copy of something you own in a different medium. The medium shifts aren't necessarily transparent -- that's more obvious in things other than books. LPs, cassettes, CDs, DVD audio all have different quality issues, and were probably mastered differently. If the Blu-ray was remastered from film, it's different from the DVD. Is the scanned book the same edition as the print book, or does the text differ?

I've been trying to psyche myself up to finally transfer the cassettes I want to keep to electronic files. Downloading pirated CDs would be a lot easier, and end with a higher-quality result. And so would re-buying them on CD.

What I lean toward is doing the transformation myself. But of all the world's problems, people downloading electronic versions of things they've already paid for isn't one I can get worked up about.
posted by Zed at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2010


The cool thing about books, for pirateers, is that books are much more fun to collect than music or film. For one thing, there are more books in the world than films, or even individual songs. I think the number of songs out there is somewhere around 5 million? The number of books is estimated in the 50 million plus range (most yet to be pirated of course). The number of films is probably less than a million.

Each book is much more interesting than a song - one can justify having books on hand for reference etc.. whereas songs tend to be more emotional outlets that come and go. Books contain knowledge, the kind of stuff you can use to make money, get girls and find god. Books are deep entertainment, bottomless souls. Books you collect and keep for a lifetime.

Books are the ultimate pirate medium. Indeed, they are the original pirate medium, the Gutenberg Bible was a copied book (God's copyright hasn't expired, death of author +70).

There is a long history of pirating books as part of the western intellectual tradition. I forecast book pirating will eventually eclipse film and music pirating in terms of sheer amount and controversy.
posted by stbalbach at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]




Isn't this already pretty much how the law works for game roms?

No.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2010


There is a long history of pirating books as part of the western intellectual tradition.

The long history of piracy includes the long history of calling it "piracy" -- the OED includes this citation:
1603 T. DEKKER Wonderfull Yeare sig. A4, Banish these Word-pirates (you sacred mistresses of learning) into the gulfe of Barbarisme.
The publishing industry's language on the subject goes back four centuries. Tradition!
posted by Zed at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dinosaurs attempt to eat pesky mammals who seem to be springing up everywhere, news at 11.

Dinosaurs, unable to cope with mammals' sheer fecundity, issue proclamations condemning the lack of morality in mammals, news at 11.

Dinosaurs don fur coats, news at 11.

Mammals buy really bitchin' cars and fuel them on rotting dinosaur carcasses, news at 11.
posted by burnfirewalls at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was tempted to try and torrent a book for the first time today. The latest book in the Dresden Files series came out this week and I had hoped to read it on my Kindle. I preordered it and everything. Except that over the past week, Amazon canceled that order due to some hissyfit they're having with Penguin.

I'm not sure what's going on here, as apparently the book is available on the iPad through Apple's ebook reader and in ePub format for Sony (but not on B&N's Nook...) for twelve bucks.

Hell, the physical book itself is for sale on Amazon for 10!

I fiddled around a bit in calibre this morning, but decided that, in the end, I didn't want the hassle of hunting down files. I just want to read the book, preferably on the Kindle. Since it doesn't look like that will happen soon and I don't want to give Penguin my money, I've gone and requested a copy from my local library. It should be available for me in a week or two.

So yay libraries, the original pirates' cove.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Why should I pay the publisher for a feature/service they don't even produce, but that my PC/Kindle/whatever provides?

How about, because you wouldn't have access to the information at all, but for the fact that some author is furnishing it for you, in the format he/she chooses, and at a price he/she demands?

You're buying something on the understanding that you know how to use it and know what using it requires-- in this case, a PC/Kindle/whatever.

If you buy a doorknob, you shouldn't later object that you shouldn't have had to pay for the doorknob, since you don't own a door.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:48 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I got my first kindle, I spent a few hours combing thru my physical library for whom to re-purchase in e-form. I decided to start with Terry Pratchett, and spent a hundred bucks on 10 e-books, and then took the corresponding physical books to the used book store. And came home with less than $5 in exchange.

What I really love are the ebooks that retail for $15.99, when there's a link to a dozen used paperbacks for $0.01 + S&H, right next to the buy-it-now button.
posted by nomisxid at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


adipocere : No, pla. If the e-book publisher provided straight images, your Kindle could not search them.

True, but why would they do that except to make it less useful? The publisher doesn't start from a printout, they start from a text file. They would need to deliberately go out of their way to provide scans rather than typeset text.

And, although not perfect, OCR on a clean printed page works pretty damned well. My snail-mailed bills don't come with searchable text version either, but I can reliably search through my scans of them for things like dates and dollar amounts.


The3rdMan : We have no right to make these rules. We do not live in a warlord run tribal society in which we do what we think is right at the time on our own set of ethical judgments.

Wow. I consider that the single scariest thing I've read this week, and sincerely hope you mean it as a troll.

Of course we have a right - no, an obligation, to decide the ethics of both situations such as these, and of our laws in general. And we futher have an obligation to do our best to make the two coincide as much as possible; On the long term, by legislative action, but on the short term, by simple civil disobedience.
posted by pla at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm curious how folks feel about a slightly different use case -- borrowing ebooks from the library to read on my iPad. My library offers ebooks in a few flavors of DRM, most notably Adobe's DRM'd epub. There seems to be effectively no legal way to get that onto an iPad -- Adobe's reader software isn't available for the iPad.

So, in theory, I could try to sorta-play-by-the-rules and rip the borrowed books, transfer them to my iPad, and then scrupulously delete the files after my 21-day borrowing period was up.

Legal? Ethical? Just too much trouble? Would particularly love to hear from librarians ...
posted by feckless at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]



You can't be serious. Go read some Nietzsche or Sartre or something.

After which, I'd realize how many things are wrong with our society, and then - rather then work to change or improve that society - I would just do what *I* thought was right.
posted by The3rdMan at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2010


All these "is it ethical to do this" or "ethical to do that" questions really scare me. Is it ethical to kill the man who killed my brother? Maybe, by some folks perspective. But last I checked, we lived in capitalist society with a centralized government and maker of laws. Our LAWS say it is unethical. It is not for us to decide.
...
We have no right to make these rules. We do not live in a warlord run tribal society in which we do what we think is right at the time on our own set of ethical judgments.


Yikes, on what rationale are you basing these perniciously irresponsible notions?
posted by Greg Nog at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't be serious. Go read some Nietzsche or Sartre or something.

If you think telling someone to read Nietzsche or Sartre is an argument, you can't be serious.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A basic difference is also that the physical form of books hold some property of utility that CDs and DVDs don't. When I ripped all my CDs and put them in a box or got rid of them, I didn't feel attached to their plastic cases and pro forma paper inserts, those plastic tab-hinges that always broke. Converting all my books to PDFs and sticking them in boxes or giving them to Goodwill would cause pangs of terror at losing signed books, books gifted to me, books filled with my college annotations, rare foreign edition covers, books still holding sand from my honeymoon in Mexico, etc.
posted by mattbucher at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


darth_tedious : How about, because you wouldn't have access to the information at all

Absolutely false. Not talking about pirating something out of the blue here - Rather, downloading something we already have in another format. And as I mentioned, I can (legally!) convert that dead-tree version into a searchable PDF in under an hour.

Given that, to what part of that information do I not already have access?
posted by pla at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2010


pla Of course we have a right - no, an obligation, to decide the ethics of both situations such as these, and of our laws in general. And we futher have an obligation to do our best to make the two coincide as much as possible; On the long term, by legislative action, but on the short term, by simple civil disobedience.

I certainly did not mean it as a troll. But point taken, the word "right" was the wrong choice of words. We have a right to break any law we want, I suppose, if you look at it that way. But saying that my unemployed, perpetually stoned house mate is exercising "civil disobedience" when he decides he wants to bit torrent all of the Bond movies is a little outrageous. It's not civil disobedience. It's irresponsibly.

The recent posting of a video depicting the slaying of civilians in Baghdad, though, I would certainly call an act of civil disobedience. And certainly Comcast could just as easily block these sites as they could torrent sites.

There is a very large grey area, indeed. Does not follow that Comcast can't block anything. Big I agree that, on the long term, we desperately need legislation (which we got a bit of with this recent ruling). Ugly, conflicting, red tape ridden legislation, to make sure what goes down is fair and free.
posted by The3rdMan at 11:04 AM on April 7, 2010


Dinosaurs attempt to eat pesky mammals who seem to be springing up everywhere, news at 11.

Dinosaurs, unable to cope with mammals' sheer fecundity, issue proclamations condemning the lack of morality in mammals, news at 11.

Dinosaurs don fur coats, news at 11.

Mammals buy really bitchin' cars and fuel them on rotting dinosaur carcasses, news at 11.


Mammals wonder what the hell happened, as rotting dinosaur carcasses get used up and shortages ensue.

Mammals look around for new dinosaurs, find only a few underfed ones.

Etc.
posted by jokeefe at 11:04 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you buy a doorknob, you shouldn't later object that you shouldn't have had to pay for the doorknob, since you don't own a door.

No, no, no. It is I buy a doorknob and then they say I can only use it on my interior doors and I can't use it on my front door. If I use it on my front door it will cost an additional $15.

Oh and if you decide to put a new door in, and you want to take that door knob out and put it in a new door, sorry but you'll have to buy a new door knob.

Also when you sell your house, you have to transfer your house account, which does not include a license to use the doorknob.

And you have to buy 10 door knobs at a time because I the DOOR KNOB MAKER intended you to appreciate my door knobs 10 AT A TIME. And you don't actually own the screws (microDoorKnob Screw (tm)) you own the license to use them in my door knob, and if you want to buy new microDoorKnob Screw you have to buy it from me, even though the kid across the street is giving them away for free.

And I also own the patent on "knobs that open things" so I'm going to put this robot in your house to make sure you're not using knobs to open things that you didn't pay me for.
posted by geoff. at 11:10 AM on April 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


How many people actually make a living wage just by writing books? I'm guessing it's a pretty minuscule amount of people, so I don't think our current market based system is going well for the authors anyway.

Especially in the case of things like College textbooks, it seems like it would be a great place for some good old fashioned socialism. Authors get paid on the government dime and everybody gets free books.
posted by afu at 12:31 PM on April 7


As an author, I would love this. I expect the first half would get implented, and the second wouldn't.

I'm Canadian, and I do get a cheque from the Public Lending Right to compensate me for my books being in libraries. I make more from the Public Lending Right annually - about $500 - than I do from the sale of my work (although this is largely because I almost only write for magazines). American authors should be agitating for a public lending right commission, but they'd have to fight with librarians (whose budget can be affected depending on how it's implemented) and I think librarians are better at collective negotiations.

I'm all for protecting copyright and being thoughtful in how we implement new technologies, but I think arguing about the ethics of downloading a book you already paid for, new, in hardcover is kind of ridiculous.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Minnesota mother of two must pay $222,000 to several record publishers after a jury Thursday here found her guilty of illegally sharing 24 songs.

Ethics?

Stanley Kowalski: And do you know what I say? Ha ha! Do you hear me? Ha ha ha!
posted by digsrus at 11:16 AM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The3rdMan: “Our LAWS say it is unethical.

No, the laws say that it's illegal; they say nothing about ethics.

Some people believe that it is unethical to disobey laws, i.e. that you have a moral or ethical duty to obey the law regardless of your disagreements with it, but despite being one of the longest-running disputes in moral philosophy, it's still fairly controversial.

I will leave coming up with some examples where obeying the law would be unethical as an exercise for the reader.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've written this at length elsewhere, so forgive some cutting and pasting, but: the question of whether or not it’s "ethical" to do these things comes up, I always wonder what sort of arguments went back and forth in the dark ages about the clothyard arrow. Only a knight in armor should be able to do battle with another, right? Noblemen fight nobly with other noblemen and peasants are chattel, to be seized and abused from inside our impermeable iron shells. That’s the way it’s always been! But suddenly along comes some guy who’s figured out the longbow, and he had the temerity and poor upbringing to tell somebody else the trick of it. And now any peasant with a steady hand who can figure out how to steam a good strip of yew can punch a bloody little hole through the young Lord Mucksabout from a hundred yards away.

And, whoops, the old way of doing business suddenly might not work anymore. And then gunpowder comes along and forget it; now the horse and metal shirt are liabilities.

It’s not right or wrong that a clothyard arrow can pierce mail but once it could, people who decided to be belligerent about not changing their strategies were easy pickings for those that did, often without ever touching or even seeing the person who cut them down. True to the nature of the time, there was a big battle where this stuff was decided outright - the Battle of Agincourt - and it was won decisively by the side that picked the new way of waging war over the old.

The fact of the matter is that in 2010 anything made of ones and zeros can be copied an infinite number of times and distributed globally for approximately zero cost. That’s not good or bad or right or wrong, it’s an irrevocable fact of globally networked computing, which is in turn a fundamental element of the world we live in. It is a physical law of the 21st century. It’s a new thing, for sure, but whether or not your business models are prepared to deal with it has a lot less to do with ethics or morals than it does with selection pressure.

We're not going to actually see both sides of this debate field armies, sadly - though that would be purest comedy gold - we're just going to see the same decisive move away from the old, unrealistic way of doing things and over to the one that's smarter, faster and travelling lighter. Whether people think it's ethical or not is almost entirely irrelevant. How artists or authors are going to get paid is an unanswered question, sure (though there are some hints to be found out there ) but that doesn't matter much either.

People who think they're in the shipping-dead-trees business are clearly, obviously in a dying business, and they can fight the tide as long as they like but their two choices are never going to be anything other than adapt or die.
posted by mhoye at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2010 [14 favorites]


The3rdMan : But saying that my unemployed, perpetually stoned house mate is exercising "civil disobedience" when he decides he wants to bit torrent all of the Bond movies is a little outrageous. It's not civil disobedience. It's irresponsibly.

Okay, on that we agree completely. :)

I don't think we can view most instances of this situation under such black-and-white conditions, though. Most people don't want a free local copy of the entire Library of Congress (well, perhaps many MeFis would - I certainly would - but most people in general do not). They just want a small collection of their favorite books/CDs/movies, of which they likely already own the vast majority of it in at least some format (Zed mentioned Cassettes, and I've personally helped friends rip from totally irreplaceable vinyl).

Another angle of this, which we can't simply gloss over, ChurchHatesTucker sarcastically pointed out - Artificial scarcity of goods with zero cost to manufacture (yes, they cost to create originally, not the same issue). If someone can't afford a CD, would never buy a CD rather than their next meal, why do we consider it "wrong" for them to enrich their lives by some small amount at no cost to the original creator?

Though of course, that forms the "white" side to the "black" you gave regarding your roomate, and more realistically we need to consider the typical case, which I would present myself as - I started pirating media in late highschool when I had no money. Since then, I have worked diligently to legally purchase as much of my collection as possible, and have spent (at a rough low-ball estimate) well over $20k on music alone. The first phase of that hurt no one, because I couldn't have afforded to buy the same music; It directly led to the second phase, however, which has profitted both artists and local stores (and, unfortunately, the RIAA to some unavoidable degree, though I do my best to bypass them entirely nowadays).

I suppose you (and many others, not singling you out here) would call my behavior unethical, just a symptom of "gimme gimme gimme now and for free". And 20 years ago, that may have held true, to the extent that I saw no harm in my actions and reason to deprive myself of such content. But you don't get the second half of that without the first.
posted by pla at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2010


I love when people pretend to have good manners about this stuff.. like, "Oh, I downloaded it but then tried to find a way to buy it.. oh, I tried to do the right thing and pay etc etc.. " I would like to call BULLSHIT on that!

After it was published, I waited for months for the second book in a certain YA sci-fi series to be made available for Kindle (so I could read it on my iPhone). When I finally gave up, it took me 90 seconds to BitTorrent a package that included versions in ePub, PDF, HTML, and RTF, perfectly proofread, with scans of the covers.

Then I Googled up the author's home address and sent her the $10 I had intended to pay Amazon.

Would you like to "call BULLSHIT" on that?
posted by nicwolff at 11:46 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm among the many who try-before-they-buy, but I can't help but suspect that we're in the vast minority there. (on the buying end)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:49 AM on April 7, 2010


Anything that some organization and those it works with, who sell some item, expects to be paid for using or buying that item. A free library buys books and then makes them available to citizens who pay taxes to maintain that library.

If you take an item that is to be sold, and you do not have permission to take (use) it, then what you are doing is illegal...it is not very complicated, and in general, that which is considered illegal is also associated with an unethical act if the law is broken.

I don't see much of a philolsop[ical issue in this, but a good way to get at it might be:
suppse you wrote a book or a song or made a film, had it bought to be produced for a price, and were to get royalties for your effort with the sales of your item, would you think someone taking it without paying was not culpable?
posted by Postroad at 11:49 AM on April 7, 2010


"If someone can't afford a CD, would never buy a CD rather than their next meal, why do we consider it 'wrong' for them to enrich their lives by some small amount at no cost to the original creator?"

One perspective on that would be that, should this occur en masse, the original creator might be forced into the very same situation and would cease to produce content. I'm not a huge fan of the categorical imperative as an inflexible rule but as a general idea to see how things might work out, it isn't bad.

Some of the new business models promoted include giving albums away. Or, better yet, "the first album is free." The problem with that is, well, go look at cdbaby.com. There's a lot of little bands with that first album out there. I call them The Near Infinite Pool of Suckers, because many of them are out there, many more are coming, and it's a sucker bet. I could listen to first free albums for the whole of my life and never have to pay a dime. Many might do the same and disappointed bands shuffle back to the void without a sophomore album appearing.

I am clearly making divisions between what is easy for people to do (copying), what some people want to do (copying), what some other people want (a dime to appear in their bank account every time you listen to a song), and what some people would like to excuse ("no guys we are so doing you a huge favor with this word of mouth thing by 'sharing' all of your albums, we know best"). Oh, and let's throw in some oppositional defiant "I'm sticking it to The Man!" stuff. What may or may not be ethical within a given framework has little bearing on what will occur. I am down with that.

Here's what I suspect: a future of music with a lot of e-busking and five grand to shake Trent Reznor's hand. A society that can't figure out a way to get content creators paid, so we're mostly looking at a world of 99.998% crap content, up from maybe 95% crap now. Occasionally, giant patrons will lift someone up from the mud and sculpt them into a corporate mouthpiece. Some talent will shine selflessly through. But mostly we'll just see, well, go look at random videos on YouTube. Now imagine more of that. With more "remixing," only it'll be remixing of remixing. With hand puppets.

We already know what happens when we try to move towards zero production cost: reality TV. Yum. Either we figure out how to get money to content creators for making content or we end up rewarding people for things that are not content creation, like printing up band T-shirts.
posted by adipocere at 12:01 PM on April 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


Minor technical note: if you torrent something you automatically start distributing it; at the very least for the length of time you're downloading it, and longer if you continue seeding afterwards.

That's why they can nail you for torrenting a movie - you become the distributor.
posted by exhilaration at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2010


> Not talking about pirating something out of the blue here -Rather, downloading something we already have in another format. And as I mentioned, I can (legally!) convert that dead-tree version into a searchable PDF in under an hour.

Pirating vs. duplicating a paid-for property is an important distinction.

Still, downloading an illegal copy, in a different medium, of a properly paid-for item is also different from converting your paid-for item into another medium. If the author had wished you to have the item in the second medium also, perhaps she would have charged a higher price for your initial purchase.

The time element for the conversion, as someone suggested above, isn't really an issue; perhaps you'll eventually be able to do it in one second. The questions are, Who did this copy come from?, and Did this person have the right to distribute it?
posted by darth_tedious at 12:24 PM on April 7, 2010


Postroad : suppse you wrote a book or a song or made a film, had it bought to be produced for a price, and were to get royalties for your effort with the sales of your item, would you think someone taking it without paying was not culpable?

First, what the author thinks about it really doesn't matter. I would "like" to get paid every time I spend my time writing a MeFi post, including separate payments for viewing the FP, the RSS, the PDA version, etc. ;)

That said, in the situation you give, I would realistically hope to be paid once per end-user of my actual work. Not per use, not per form-factor, but simply once per user. You buy my book, I really don't care how you prefer to read it.

If it doesn't take any more effort on my part to give you the book itself plus a PDF/lit/whatever plus a plaintext file, along with any other easily-autogenerated forms... Why would I expect more money for that?

Now, you can say that I don't write for a living, but that actually doesn't hold 100% true. I write code for a living, and not only do I not get paid once per user, I get paid once, period. And I don't have a problem with that; I get paid for my actual work, not for your enjoyment thereof.


adipocere : Either we figure out how to get money to content creators for making content or we end up rewarding people for things that are not content creation, like printing up band T-shirts.

I couldn't agree more. We desperately do need to find a good way to get money to the artists in the digital world, and quite honestly, I don't know how to do so. As you point out, the best approach for now amounts to buying their swag, but I see that as a far from optimal solution (in part, because I don't personally like the whole "walking billboard" thing, even for products I like).

I suppose, ideally, I'd like to see individual bands listing their albums on something like Amazon without all the middle-men involved. "Producers" might still exist, but as providers of a value-added service rather than the core of the entire industry - For a fee (possibly royalties, but reasonable royalties, not 99.7% off net), they'll tighten up your album and make it sound like what we expect from a professional recording rather than a garage band. That, unfortunately, leaves the whole first-album bootstrapping process up in the air as you describe it.
posted by pla at 12:26 PM on April 7, 2010


toekneesan: In the case of scanning a book, you are converting something physical into something digital. It's not converting the file format so it can be used on another device, it's dimensional shifting. You're going from physical to digital. If the book was written on a computer (as most books these days are), one could argue that digitizing it is restoring it to its original format, and that the paper artifact is just an awkward intermediate format.

adipocere: tantamount to ignoring the idea that an e-book provides different functionality, additional functionality, that a hardback does not, such as portability (which would be covered by space-shifting), ease of backup, updates* and such, all of which may provide value. Value that the publisher has made for you and, in the traditional scheme we've had since we traded shiny rocks, something (money) may be expected in return. By this logic, we should buy both MP3s and CDs, since MP3s have the virtue of taking less computer and physical storage space. I realize you're playing devil's advocate, but still. It's fair to ask how much money a publisher can chisel out of customers in order to sell them the same thing many different ways. The courts have already answered that personal placeshifting is legal, which means we don't need to put up with it.

Anyhow, the essay in the FPP makes the key point that in 5 years, it may well be trivially easy for anyone to scan and OCR a book by riffling through the pages while holding the book in front of their phone's camera. At that point, the issue of downloading will be all-but moot for the discussion of placeshifting paper books, and the book industry is going to need to figure out how to respond to that, an interesting question that nobody here has taken up yet.

The essay ends with this Heinlein quote:
There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
Paper currency in the USA, EU, and other countries has a subtle pattern printed on it that copiers and scanning software are legally obliged to recognize, and to reject the scan if found. I can imagine publishers trying to embed something similar in their books as a rearguard action.
posted by adamrice at 12:31 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


>> No, no, no. It is I buy a doorknob and then they say I can only use it on my interior doors

The key condition here is "then"; you're implying that the terms have changed.

They haven't.

You paid $X for a particular physical object, a book.

If they make the book into a movie, you're not getting into the movie free.

Likewise, you aren't buying the right to make the book into a movie.

Finally, if someone illegally makes a movie out of that book, your purchase of one copy of the original book doesn't mean that, through your purchase, you also purchased the right to settle in and watch the subsequent illegal movie.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:35 PM on April 7, 2010


Oh yeah, and on a vaguely related subject: NPR had a story a couple mornings ago about Americans importing UK copies of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, since it hasn't been issued in the US yet and they want to read it now. A representative from the (soon-to-be) US publisher explained that this is Very Very Bad, and exclaimed "it's illegal!". This went unchallenged by the reporter.

Now, I know that US and UK publishers have carved up the world into their own separate fiefdoms, but seriously, does US copyright law enshrine this absurd arrangement? If it's not, then the publisher does itself no favors by trying to scare us with falsehoods. If it is, the publisher is still doing itself no favors in terms of public respect. I can imagine similar attitudes coming into play with E- vs P-books.
posted by adamrice at 12:40 PM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


As a self-publisher whose work is now unwillingly offered on file sharing sites, I've already been on this hamster wheel of a discussion on MetaTalk. On one extreme, you have "any unauthorized downloading is stealing" and on the other is "all information should be free". Both positions are unrealistic.

My question about this particular ethical quandary is whether it's really necessary to convert all your old books to eBooks. Is it really that much harder to carry around an old paperback than your Kindle? And if you don't like what the publishers are charging, wouldn't it send a signal to them if people refused to buy their over-priced products?

I'm not advocating for the entertainment conglomerates (or how they enforce their ownership rights) but I worry that in the new digital age, they will be the last ones standing. The American Idol / New Moon / Reality show pap appeals to the largest demographics and can be churned out en masse. Is it illegally downloaded? No problem, there's another waiting to be spit out.

At a time when independent artists have new resources to distribute their work, the value of the work is decreasing. My hope is that a solution lies somewhere in between the 2 extremes and gives independent artists what they need to survive.

Ok… sorry for the disjointed ramblings… back to working on the taxes.
posted by jabo at 12:41 PM on April 7, 2010


The physical to digital argument is sort of a red herring anyway. Remember, computer formats aren't just stuffed into the ether. They too are physical, whether as stored charges in memory, magnetized areas of a hard disk, or pits on an optical disk.

It's not the shift from physical to digital that is important, it's the shift from one format to another. If you purchase a mass market paperback copy of a book do you feel that you should be able to exchange it for a first edition hardcover copy? Of course not. Similarly, just because you bought a MMPB copy does not mean you are entitled to download the e-book edition.

You may well be entitled to digitally convert your own paperback copy; there is a bunch of precedent for such a thing and it's ethically perfectly okay. But that's completely different than pirating the e-book edition.
posted by Justinian at 12:51 PM on April 7, 2010


does US copyright law enshrine this absurd arrangement?

I'd love it if someone with more clue than I have weighed in, but, so far as I know, probably, yeah. What the UK publisher bought was probably first UK & Commonwealth publishing rights. The US publisher probably bought first North American publishing rights. The US publisher is, I presume, saying sales to US bookstores constitute publishing in the US, thus a right they've contracted for that the UK publisher doesn't have. What I wish we knew was where the booksellers were getting the book -- a UK distributor? A US distributor? A steamer trunk someone checked as luggage?

Suggesting the law's being broken when someone in the US orders from amazon.co.uk -- that claim seems much weirder to me, and I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to whether there's any justification there.
posted by Zed at 12:58 PM on April 7, 2010


>> I write code for a living, and not only do I not get paid once per user, I get paid once, period. And I don't have a problem with that; I get paid for my actual work, not for your enjoyment thereof.

Imagine for a moment that your employers decide not to pay you-- not because your work is anything short of excellent, just that, well, it's really convenient for them not to pay you.

But maybe they will next time!

Also, they have some colleagues who'd like you to do some work for them-- hey, they've even subcontracted you out to these colleagues, without you having to think about it-- although these colleagues may not pay you either.

But regardless of whether you get paid, you'll get more experience! And more people will know about you, including the fact that you sometimes work without pay!

It's good all around. Well, for everyone else, anyway.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:00 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm an editor at a New York publishing house. I don't speak for my house, just for me. I'd like to point out a couple pieces of information (and please note that I'm not taking a stance on the ethics of anything):

1. It costs publishers money to produce e-books, separately and on top of our production costs for physical books. These costs cover things including: converting files for print to files for e-books, proofreading (because that conversion often introduces errors into the text), DAM/DAD (digital asset management/digital asset distribution), and employing staff to handle ebooks.

2. Regarding the NPR piece from a few days ago: yes, it's illegal, but it is not so much because it's illegal for a U.S. reader to buy it as it is because it's illegal for the U.K. publisher to sell it in the U.S. That publisher has contracted for the rights to sell the book in a particular territory, as has the U.S. publisher. Selling things on Amazon complicates this issue all the time;
posted by ocherdraco at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


darth_tedious -- you just described internning.
posted by garlic at 1:13 PM on April 7, 2010


The long history of piracy includes the long history of calling it "piracy" -- the OED...

The long history of pirates includes making up words as you go and killing those who quoth from the OED.
posted by stbalbach at 1:19 PM on April 7, 2010


"If copying is always wrong, wrong, wrong, how do you account for the latest books-on-CD (which my library seems to be getting everything in now), which you can't listen to any other way — they're just MP3 or AAC files on a data disc, not an actual audio CD. The vast majority of users can't listen to them without making a pretty deliberate copy."

The vast majority of CD players if not all that are currently on the market support MP3 playback. It's been like that for years.

"pla, it does take a wee bit longer to scan a book than it does to stack loose paper in an ADF and blow through them. Maybe 150 pages an hour or so in book form with a dedicated scanner (as in person, not equipment): lift the book off the glass, turn the page, set it back down, make sure it's square, push the cover down to block as much light as possible but gently, gently because of the glass, press scan, then do it again. --Speaking as someone who works with paper scanning and OCR in a production-type capacity from time-to-time."

Most of the slow down is only because you are preserving the book. If one doesn't mind sawing the binding off then things can proceed much quicker and essentially entirely by machine automation.
posted by Mitheral at 1:20 PM on April 7, 2010


As an author who writes books on a somewhat niche-y topic, I'm both irritated and incredibly moved when I find someone has scanned in my entire book from the print copy (umm, hi? I can see the edge of your scanner, buddy) and uploaded it as a zipfile.

I mean, come on, time is money and that book retails for like, $14 on Amazon. How many HOURS did it take you to scan its 100+ pages?

joannemerriam: American authors should be agitating for a public lending right commission, but they'd have to fight with librarians (whose budget can be affected depending on how it's implemented) and I think librarians are better at collective negotiations.

Hell yes. But I don't wanna fight with the librarians. I love librarians! They're more on my side than my own publishers are, I swear to you.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:24 PM on April 7, 2010


>>
darth_tedious -- you just described internning.

The one nice thing about being an intern is that presumably you are still young and attractive-- and a diet of ramen just makes you look even hotter.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:26 PM on April 7, 2010


"more on the subject from SFWA members Nicole Peeler and Cherie Priest:

"http://www.nicolepeeler.com/2010/01/on-piracy/


You'd think that people who write for a living would be able to keep straight the difference between after tax income and salary.
posted by Mitheral at 1:34 PM on April 7, 2010


Having moved several (36) times in my life, often with a large book collection, yeah, I've come to the conclusion that yes, it is a pain in the neck to carry around paperbacks. I'd love to move to some other, more portable format. I'd love to buy books in some unencumbered portable format too.

Publishers and authors, how about this: I'll mail you (or some service you designate, which I may even pay for) my old paperbacks (at my expense), you pulp them and I'll download DRM-free ePubs of all of them (again, on my own nickle for the bandwith fees). Sound fair? We can have UN inspectors and third-party verification, if you like.
posted by bonehead at 1:39 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll mail you (or some service you designate, which I may even pay for) my old paperbacks (at my expense), you pulp them and I'll download DRM-free ePubs of all of them (again, on my own nickle for the bandwith fees). Sound fair? (bonehead)

This assumes that we have e-book files for these books, and that we still have the rights to them, which, after a certain length of time, we only do if the book is still in print. Most books go out of print just a few years after their initial publication. So, then, dealing only with the previously published books a particular publisher does still have the rights to (what is called a publisher's backlist, as opposed to their new books, or frontlist), for any books published before the advent of PageMaker, Quark, and InDesign, those books will have to be entirely retyped. Then, all of those books will have to have e-book files made (with the exception of the most popular backlist titles, which have probably already been converted). We would have to pay for all of that.

And then, after that, we'd have to pay to pulp your books? Thank you, but despite the goodwill such an undertaking might engender between publishers and readers, as I'd like my company to stay in business, I think I'll decline.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:51 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


And to be clear, I noticed "which I may even pay for," but I suspect that the price for you would be too high. It would no doubt be cheaper just to buy the ebooks that are available, and chuck the paperbacks yourself.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:52 PM on April 7, 2010


A couple of folks have commented on my comment where I note: It's not converting the file format so it can be used on another device, it's dimensional shifting. You're going from physical to digital.

My point there is more of a legal one. A lot of the assumption that this is just fine seems to be coming from the case RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia where the courts ruled that folks have a right to move their digital music from their computer to their iPod (although technically it was a Rio mp3 player). The court there did not rule on your right to take a physical thing and turn it into a digital thing, at least not in that case. So if your argument is that you have this right legally thanks to RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, I think you're mistaken. Space shifting refers to your ability to use something you own digitally anywhere. I'm not forced to listen to my digital music only where my CD player is installed, I can also listen to it while I go running. In the case of books, where can you take an ebook that you can't take a physical book? In fact, as some have pointed out, it seems there are more places where you can't read an ebook but you can read a physical book. And I would argue that the courts in that case were specifically ruling on the movement of digital objects. Not on the transformation of a physical object into a digital object. There hasn't been a major case ruling on that yet. Not in the case of whole books, anyway.

It's interesting that Randy Cohen (The Ethicist) thinks that obtaining a digital copy this way is okay, but for Google to digitize physical books isn't, at least not without permission. I was on the NPR segment with Cohen a couple of years ago and I asked about the Google Book project and if it was ethical for Google to be scanning those libraries without permission from the publishers, even though a huge benefit to humanity could be the result. To my surprise he sided with publishers. You can listen to that, or read the transcript, here.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2010


This assumes that we have e-book files for these books... we would have to pay for all of that.

We could skip that whole process too, and I'll just download what I have from the pirate sites. They've already done the hard work for free after all. I am, of course, entirely serious in these suggestions.

we still have the rights to them

That gets to the heart of the issue that I'm sure gives the authors and publishers the most heart-burn, the rights issues. These are also, by happy coincidence, the issue the readers care and know least about, believing instead in fantasies like the right of first sale and format-shifting rights.
posted by bonehead at 2:04 PM on April 7, 2010


darth_tedious : Imagine for a moment that your employers decide not to pay you

Although my normal 9-to-5 work usually pays salary (thus the analogy doesn't fit very well), I have had that exact situation come up in my contracting work. Simple solution - You don't work for that client again (and spread the word to your friends); And if he later pays up (and you need the work badly enough), you go to a pre-payment basis for any future work.

Extending that idea to content creation - If you really can't make enough writing/recording, and you don't do it just for the love of doing it - You need a new job. I say that very much as a lover of the arts, and loathe the idea of a favored artist wasting their talents working a desk job at some faceless megacorp, but so it stands. I absolutely support finding a way to compensate artists for their work, but if you can't make a living doing X - Don't do X for a living.


But regardless of whether you get paid, you'll get more experience! And more people will know about you, including the fact that you sometimes work without pay!

And, as I truly love my work, I actually do something very much like that. I've worked on open source projects, I've donated time to help get my town office at least into the 20th century, I've worked with college professors helping them with data analysis of their research findings - All for the love of doing it (and as you point out indirectly, it looks a hell of a lot better on a resume than a year of unemployment).

That said, I still expect to return to a 9-to-5 plying my trade for an actual income. If that became impossible, I'd move on to something that does pay.
posted by pla at 2:05 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right now I'm having a wee battle with one of my publishers to get the rights back to one of my books that they printed WAY too many of, remaindered, and now have sitting in stacks in their warehouse. I've told them hey, do whatever you want with the printed ones, pulp 'em, I don't care, but it's been over a year since you remaindered the damn thing and I want the digital rights back so I can publish it as an ebook.

Considering I managed to sell more print copies in a month than they did in 6 after they remaindered the book and sold me copies for the actual cost of printing the damn things, I think I'm positioned to do better with it once I get the rights back than they ever did...

The business is changing so fast, there's no one solution for anything. I want people like ocherdraco to stay in business! I want me to stay in business and be able to keep writing! I want all of you to be able to read my work in whatever format you want to read it in...

The next book I have coming out is being published by my own company and is available as print, PDF, ePub AND Kindle format...if you buy the print book, you can also have a copy of the PDF, too, if you want. Why not? It's no skin off my nose to produce a PDF from the original InDesign files. But making ePub and Kindle files that are done the RIGHT way (not halfassed) does take time -- and money, if you're paying someone else to do it.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:05 PM on April 7, 2010


I love when people pretend to have good manners about this stuff.. like, "Oh, I downloaded it but then tried to find a way to buy it.. oh, I tried to do the right thing and pay etc etc.. " I would like to call BULLSHIT on that!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:25 AM on April 7


The fact that you can't believe people really do this says rather more about you than it does about them. There are people who make an effort to be ethical even when no one is watching. If you assume someone who says such a thing is lying, I feel rather sorry for you.

Another example, in addition to those people have given above: I have bought e-products I didn't want simply as a way of compensating rightsholder for having pirated some other work which wasn't available in digital form.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:06 PM on April 7, 2010


ocherdraco, you wouldn't retype, you'd scan. But yeah, your rights agreements would never let you do it. Which is why you won't, but someone else will, for themselves or others, eventually.

The cold hard truth is, only a few things will stop the juggernaut of Copying Content for Free unleashed by our technologies: massive societal collapse turning our devices into dead objects in the rubble; draconian laws for spying on and arresting people who infringe by governments/content licenseholders; or permitting corporate conglomerates to seize and choke off the gates of the internet for their own profits/in favor of their own artists.

I'm married to a musician struggling to deal with this strange period of history; believe me, I understand the artist's point of view. But instituting massive surveillance and gatekeeping of the internet is too big a price to pay to keep them going under the current system.

Possibly this means that nobody gets paid, or hardly anyone; that sucks. But the alternatives suck harder.

And even if we allowed our overlords to gatekeep the internet in the name of Letting Artists Get Paid, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that most artists, in the long run, would get just as shafted as they're getting now, plus some. A few more would make/continue to make money. The rest would be just as screwed.
posted by emjaybee at 2:14 PM on April 7, 2010


How many people actually make a living wage just by writing books? I'm guessing it's a pretty minuscule amount of people, so I don't think our current market based system is going well for the authors anyway.

Especially in the case of things like College textbooks, it seems like it would be a great place for some good old fashioned socialism. Authors get paid on the government dime and everybody gets free books.


As someone who aspires to live off my writing, my feeling has been always pretty much this. Our current system for paying writers and musicians doesn't work to the maximum benefit of them--or their audiences. Instead, it financially rewards middlemen. The only problem with creating, say, government grant programs to more fully fund artists is that then you'd likely have to have some sort of approval/vetting process wherein the government would inevitably influence the creative output. I suspect we'd have more propaganda written--for the public's benefit, of course.

Agent Nathan Bransford had a blog post about this, too. So far, it seems that agents are having the most GRARish reaction.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:14 PM on April 7, 2010


I was tempted to try and torrent a book for the first time today. The latest book in the Dresden Files series came out this week and I had hoped to read it on my Kindle. I preordered it and everything. Except that over the past week, Amazon canceled that order due to some hissyfit they're having with Penguin.

The thing that keeps me away from ebook readers is wanting to read books that are not available legally in any ebook format for any price. The ebook business model hasn't dealt with the fact that most of us bibliophiles got hooked on family collections, public libraries, and nickle bargains at fundraisers, flea markets, yard sales, and used bookstores.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:17 PM on April 7, 2010


even assuming you go the library route, is it ethical to put it on your iPod? If copying is always wrong, wrong, wrong, how do you account for the latest books-on-CD (which my library seems to be getting everything in now), which you can't listen to any other way — they're just MP3 or AAC files on a data disc, not an actual audio CD. The vast majority of users can't listen to them without making a pretty deliberate copy.

Incidentally, something like this happened with a DVD I legally rented a few years ago--it had some sort of software on it that wouldn't let me play it on my computer (my only DVD player), because I don't use Windows. In order to even watch it, I had to figure out how to circumvent the software--which ultimately involved copying it to my computer. Exceedingly frustrating. Even though I was likely violating copyright in doing so, I felt no ethical qualms about it, especially as the motion picture industry is already compensated for my rental. Hell, I even considered torrenting it instead, but making an additional copy was faster.

I just wanted to watch King of Kong, dammit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The ebook business model hasn't dealt with the fact that most of us bibliophiles got hooked on family collections, public libraries, and nickle bargains at fundraisers, flea markets, yard sales, and used bookstores.

This is one of the biggest issues I have with the seeming one reader, one licence rules the content creators (music, movies and books) and distributors (Disney, Sony, Apple and Amazon) all seem to be working towards. So many of the social things we take for granted now with books aren't going to be possible. Used book sales aren't going to be possible, lending books isn't going to be possible, heck even keeping books in the long term doesn't look likely (what happens when Amazon decides to turn off their bookstore? Remember Microsoft's Plays-for-sure?).

How meany readers does the average book have now, two, three, maybe five pre paid copy? It's not like there's one hard-core book buyer and a bunch of freeloaders, if they're anything like my friends and family, all of the readers buy books and loan them to each other. How much advertising of new authors happens this way? Cutting this off if most probably shrink readership (through isolation and lack of exposure) rather than sell licences to each of the book-buying circles.

Publishers do seem to be in a deperate rush to find even more ways to sell fewer books every year.
posted by bonehead at 2:37 PM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


It costs publishers money to produce e-books, separately and on top of our production costs for physical books. These costs cover things including: converting files for print to files for e-books, proofreading (because that conversion often introduces errors into the text), DAM/DAD (digital asset management/digital asset distribution), and employing staff to handle ebooks.

That's why I can't justify downloading unauthorized copies of paper books I own, at least when the publisher's made them available for sale. If they're not legitimately available and it's a case of downloading somebody's OCRed copy, I guess it's less wrong. I usually just feel too guilty about it and throw more fanfiction on my reader or suck up the annoyance of hauling around a paper book instead.

Is it really that much harder to carry around an old paperback than your Kindle? And if you don't like what the publishers are charging, wouldn't it send a signal to them if people refused to buy their over-priced products?

Yes and yes.
posted by asperity at 2:38 PM on April 7, 2010


"A lot of the assumption that this is just fine seems to be coming from the case RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia where the courts ruled that folks have a right to move their digital music from their computer to their iPod (although technically it was a Rio mp3 player). The court there did not rule on your right to take a physical thing and turn it into a digital thing, at least not in that case. So if your argument is that you have this right legally thanks to RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, I think you're mistaken. "

All that is true but the Betamax case already established that one can take an electronic, transitory thing and turn it into a physical, permanent thing. Doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to assume the reverse is also true.

"In the case of books, where can you take an ebook that you can't take a physical book? "

Personally I'd rather take an e-book hiking than pretty well any hard cover book. And once you make it more than a single book or two the ebook reader wins hands down. I mean who want to take the dead tree versions of the complete works of Arthur C. Clarke, Margret Atwood, Farley Mowart or the New York Times camping rather than a single e-book. And that is the case even without considering the impossibility of grepping a dead tree. For example I take my laptop + pdfs (actually I just need a WiFi connection because the company that makes the game I play also makes all reference materials available online and searchable for a small subscriber fee) to my weekly role playing game instead of several feet of oversized hard cover reference books and magazines. Don't get me wrong, I miss the work out of carrying a hundred pounds of reference material. But that is out weighed by actually being able to find what I'm looking for a in timely manner.
posted by Mitheral at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2010


"And once you make it more than a single book or two the ebook reader wins hands down."

You are not talking about access to a book, you're talking about access to a library. I don't think the purchase of any individual book entitles you to access to a library. If it did, that would be built into the price of the book.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2010


"All that is true but the Betamax case already established that one can take an electronic, transitory thing and turn it into a physical, permanent thing. Doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to assume the reverse is also true."

Betamax was a case about time shifting, the other is about space shifting. I don't assume they're interchangeable. Time and space don't seem to be.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2010


You are not talking about access to a book, you're talking about access to a library.

It is possible to own more than one book, possibly even thousands.

Shocking, I know.
posted by bonehead at 3:25 PM on April 7, 2010


I just wanted to watch King of Kong, dammit.

And it was worth it, wasn't it?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:33 PM on April 7, 2010


And it was worth it, wasn't it?

It really, really was.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:39 PM on April 7, 2010


Toekneesan : You are not talking about access to a book, you're talking about access to a library. I don't think the purchase of any individual book entitles you to access to a library.

True - Simply living now entitles you to that library - Every word, note, and image ever created by humans, at least up to the 1920s, you have a "right" to possess by virtue of your cultural heritage as a human living in 2010.

A big part of the problem with early eBook readers involved exactly that point, and conveniently enough, also echos the main theme of this thread - Instead of letting you load the entirety of Project Gutenberg onto them, they did their damnedest to make you re-buy books 150 years out of copyright.

And extending that the present issue, I think ocherdraco and bitter-girl.com both made excellent contributions to the discussion, in that digital-format-X may well take additional effort to create, while digital-format-Y doesn't. And I can appreciate that - A properly laid out eBook looks a hell of a lot nicer than plaintext.

Perhaps I just don't think about this the same as most people, but (at least for duplicates of books I already own) I just want format-Y. I don't want to "steal" more time and effort from the author, I just want the quick-n-dirty PDF or even plain ol' TXT file. For the most part, I'd rather read the dead tree edition when possible; I want the electronic version only for A) reference/searching, and B) waiting rooms (etc). That said, in the absence of format-Y, format-X suits my needs just as well, and I find it difficult to justify paying again when I just want the basic "words on a page" aspect of it.
posted by pla at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2010


I love Heinlein's quote at the end of the first article, seriously, the book industry needs to change with time..

Heinlein on Commercial Entitlement

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
posted by VickyR at 4:34 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's possible to own more than one book, but to have access to all of them at once, any time, any place, isn't a right imparted with the purchase of the physical book. You didn't buy that right. You only get to do that when you're actually with them. Buying the physical book didn't come with the right to your personal library in your pocket. That's coming, but Google is going to charge you for it.

And yes, we absolutely need to have libraries, that should be a basic human right. But publishers build the effects of libraries, and sneaker nets into their pub plans. Did you know that publishers work by the 80 20 rule. 80% of the books published lose money and 20% make up the difference. But don't we want that? If we're culturally going to gamble on such unsustainable odds, shouldn't it be in the service of making books? Are publishers really milking the public with their outrageous prices? Sure, there are abuses, textbooks immediately come to mind, not to mention science journals, but generally publishing is much more about the process than profit. Most of us imagine we make the world a better place, in spite of the odds. Do we really want fewer books?

By the way, I specialize in books that lose money. I work in non-profit scholarship publishing. Our audiences are small by the nature of what our authors write about. How many people are there who care about 14th Century illuminated manuscripts? When we're on top of our game, the book breaks even between costs and revenue, but frequently the book loses money. Is that a sin? Well, it's a bummer but the bigger problem is when the book sells out and can't be reprinted, for rights issues, usually. I don't lose sleep over the scholarship that sold fewer copies than we had hoped. I lose sleep over the scholarship we didn't publish for economic reasons, and especially the art books that have no digital future and no possibility of reprint because of copyright issues.

One thing futurists need to keep in mind when hailing the age of the electronic text—the savings are really only there if publishers abandons print entirely. That shouldn't happen anytime soon. Please, I beg you, for future generations, let's not do that. But as long as there is any print, the cost of an electronic publishing program will need to pay for the transition. I really don't think books should go vintage, but if you want the majority of the savings that an electronic world should provide, we're asking for an end to print. The alternative is a significant increase in the cost of creating a book for two different worlds. So yes, I don't think cheap ebooks are a good idea. Cheap ebooks begat models like the Kindle's.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2010


"A better question would be the ethics of deliberately preventing the acquiring and sharing of knowledge."

My problem with this kind of nonsense (the old information-wants-to-be-free crap) is that it unilaterally shreds the standard rules of commerce and tries to claim that it's all in higher cause, or at least a neutral cause.

Merchants price things. Take it or leave it. You have a technical right to make a counter offer (granted, so impractical that it scarcely concerns us here), but you do NOT have the right legal or moral to make an anonymous unilateral decision to take the goods and pay nothing.

But if tech has gotten us into this mess, cannot tech get us out of it? Since folks seem unwilling to toss into the buskers' cap voluntarily (so to speak), surely the tech savvy should be able to tag commercial data - books, music, video, whatever - and charge back for every download, either on a pay as you go or a flat fee kind of arrangement? Maybe scale the price of ISPs according to what kind of download plan you want?

Surely I can't be the only person who as thought of this.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Toekneesan : Buying the physical book didn't come with the right to your personal library in your pocket. That's coming, but Google is going to charge you for it.

I honestly don't mean this to sound as snippy as it does, but that has already arrived; We the readers, who do value your services, want to give you a stab at making money off it before Google corners the market; But don't think that people will just play dumb and do without until Company-X finds a way to efficiently market it.
posted by pla at 5:48 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


If ISPs start charging people for downloading tagged content, all that will happen is that piracy will move onto encrypted connections. In the long term the only realistic option I can see is some sort of public financing for art.
posted by Pyry at 5:49 PM on April 7, 2010


A properly laid out eBook looks a hell of a lot nicer than plaintext.

You're not kidding, pla. My major ebook pet peeve is when publishers outsource it, and end up with page layouts preserved but it's treated like an image, and ARGH... and this was a recent book, this was not "well, we didn't have the original files, so..."!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2010


Buying the physical book didn't come with the right to your personal library in your pocket.

Actually, in my part of the world, it probably does, though I don't think our supreme court has given a definitive ruling on the matter yet. My impression of your fair use laws is that that gives you the same right, though I'm much less certain of that.

And, by the by, if it matters, I write (or at least contribute chapters to) scientific books that probably also lose money. The books I've been part of sell for hundreds of dollars a copy and likely make some money for the publishers, but no one else ever gets paid, certainly not the authors. I've long felt that this market would benefit greatly from electronic only and print on demand if necessary.
posted by bonehead at 6:05 PM on April 7, 2010


"You are not talking about access to a book, you're talking about access to a library. I don't think the purchase of any individual book entitles you to access to a library. If it did, that would be built into the price of the book."

My answer wasn't addressing "rights" merely a refutation that one would always rather carry a dead tree instead of a e-book. Let me make a simpler example. Say I want to carry around a large dictionary. Maybe a official dictionary for U.K. Scrabble tournaments. The hard copy is 2.8" thick and masses 4.3 pounds. Luckily there is a Kindle edition. I know without a doubt which I'd prefer to take on an air plane or on a bike tour. *Hint*, it's the light one.

"Yes, it's possible to own more than one book, but to have access to all of them at once, any time, any place, isn't a right imparted with the purchase of the physical book. You didn't buy that right. You only get to do that when you're actually with them. Buying the physical book didn't come with the right to your personal library in your pocket."

The article author is making a case, with which I agree, that ethically one doesn't have to "buy the right" to media shift purchased books. The argument that one is ethically bound to buy electronic copies of works (especially public domain works of which I have several metres of shelf space in my personal library) is one that seems, um, illogical.

Let's take this text and replace book with vinyl record: "Yes, it's possible to own more than one bookvinyl record, but to have access to all of them at once, any time, any place, isn't a right imparted with the purchase of the physical bookvinyl record. You didn't buy that right. You only get to do that when you're actually with them. Buying the physical bookvinyl recorddidn't come with the right to your personal music library in your pocket." Now maybe you were meaning to talk about the sharing of copyrighted works where the end user hasn't actually bought the dead tree/vinyl version of a work. That of course would be a different situation.

"Merchants price things. Take it or leave it. You have a technical right to make a counter offer (granted, so impractical that it scarcely concerns us here), but you do NOT have the right legal or moral to make an anonymous unilateral decision to take the goods and pay nothing. "

This point would be more convincing if merchants hadn't already made a "unilateral decision to take the goods and pay nothing" by retroactively extending copyrights and thereby devalued the public domain.
posted by Mitheral at 6:19 PM on April 7, 2010


The post is about the ethics and legality of irating an ebook if you own a physical book. It's about rights not what we'd prefer. My response to your comment was about the topic at hand. Yes, I'd prefer something lighter, but is the right to something lighter something I can take? Can I just take your Kindle from you because it's lighter than my book? No, that would be both wrong and legal.

As for the vinyl record, again the RIAA case didn't make it legal to record the vinyl record and then digitize it. It made it legal to move a digital version from one device to another. A phonograph is not a digital file. An ACC file isn't a vinyl analog recording.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2010


Pirating... ilegal

Now I could have fixed that before it went public if it were really published.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2010


Yeah, Toekneesan, you're making a strong claim that to the ignorant layperson appears incorrect.

If I buy CDs I can convert them to mp3s "legally" (in some sense of the word, at least) to carry around with me in my pocket, and before that I could convert vinyl to cassette tapes "legally", also for purpose of carrying around with me (walkman, car stereo, etc.).

This has been common knowledge since the early days of the cassette tape (what, 25 years on now?), and even if there's some technical sense in which it's "not legal" the understanding is so widespread (as is the practice) that like it or not it's defacto legal.

If there's some specific statute or precedent positively establishing a different regime for the printed word you're not pointing it out; at best you're pointing out that the precedents people use to claim certain actions are not-illegal don't apply to the specific usage they have in mind, which is a much weaker claim.

EG: in the RIAA vs. Diamond case, it may be a narrow decision, but the judges understandably may have wanted to set a narrow precedent, too; do you really believe that had it been RIAA vs. Sony (over, say, the fancier Walkman models' line in and "record" button), that the judges would have ruled such a more-radical format shift was verboten?

I mean, maybe Hammacher (or its suppliers) are due to get served with a lawsuit for one of these:

http://www.hammacher.com/Product/76747
http://www.hammacher.com/Product/76797
http://www.hammacher.com/Product/78427

...but I've seen those in the catalog for 3-4 years now I think (or similar devices if not those exact devices), so presumably they're selling and and aren't causing any legal issues.

If similar activities haven't hit publishing yet it seems more due to quirks of technology: there's not previously been the right convergence of affordable, adequately-capable, and easy-enough-to-use digitization technology and affordable, adequately-capable, and easy-enough-to-use portable e-readers.

The latter seems due to change real soon now, and it's unclear if the former will really change much.
posted by hoople at 6:42 PM on April 7, 2010


Oh crap, and I meant AAC file, not ACC. Without publishers, all text would read like my comments.

Devices aren't the problem, or the focus of copyright law and precedent, and rightfully so. Devices can be used for legal purposes, almost always. Actions are usually what is illegal or unethical. That's also the topic of the post. Not the hosts or network, but those taking the files. Do they have a legal or ethical right?
posted by Toekneesan at 6:50 PM on April 7, 2010


Merchants price things. Take it or leave it. You have a technical right to make a counter offer (granted, so impractical that it scarcely concerns us here), but you do NOT have the right legal or moral to make an anonymous unilateral decision to take the goods and pay nothing.


There's infinite amounts of fruit lying all over the place. Sorry if that impacts your fruit stand. Don't worry, you still have all your fruit, for which you can charge whatever you want. You might want to look into getting into, say, the pie business instead. Just a tip. No skin off my back if you don't.

What DOES concern me is when you entangle the government into policing the current state of fruit distribution, because you wish fruit was as hard to come by as it used to be.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:51 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Toekneesan : The post is about the ethics and legality of irating an ebook if you own a physical book.

And ethically, although a number of good exceptions have come up in this thread, I can sleep just fine with the thought of downloading a PDF of a book I already own.

Legally, no question, we don't have the right to download them. "What color are your bits", as absurd as it seems to most rational entities, really does make a difference in court.

As for doing the space/time/format shifting ourselves... I consider the absence of well-defined case law on that issue alone a positive sign, in that no rights-holder considered their position sufficiently strong to pursue an infringement case on that basis alone.


hoople : there's not previously been the right convergence of affordable, adequately-capable, and easy-enough-to-use digitization technology and affordable, adequately-capable, and easy-enough-to-use portable e-readers. The latter seems due to change real soon now, and it's unclear if the former will really change much.

You have multi-megapixel cameras in phones now, with the CPU power to do (near) realtime geometry correction and OCR. The point at which you can walk into a Borders and "rip" a book to a fairly clean (and searchable) PDF in a matter of minutes fast approaches - I'd go so far as to say you could already do it, and only the software support lags the reality.
posted by pla at 7:19 PM on April 7, 2010


Toekneesan: well, RIAA vs. Diamond was about a device. The digital aspect is important for technical aspects of the verdict, but the verdict cites the Betamax scenario as analogous enough to be informative, which is not the same as a specific precedent but gives insight into what the deciding judges were thinking when they decided.

In terms of the vinyl->digital audio aspect: if the analog->digital aspect is problematic from a legal or ethical standpoint it's hard to see what the legitimate use of a vinyl->cd converter box is...it's not like there's some great amount of family audio recordings on vinyl collecting dust in people's attics, vinyl was entirely a commercial affair so far as I can remember it.

Your other point: step aside from the specific scenario. To show the specific scenario is unethical you could do a couple things:

(1) You could show it's flat out unethical to get an ebook of a book except through the publisher's authorized channels. If you show this the "but i own the hardback already" aspect is a red herring and irrelevant.

You're doing a good job establishing that for books you think (1) is the case, but you're not doing a good job of convincing at least me of the same.

Here's what you've been able to point to:

- there's no specific statutory right to perform a format-shift of this nature (true so far as I know)

- the cases establishing precedent for analogous rights for, eg, audio recordings are very specific, and can't be assumed to automatically grant similar rights with respect to books

...which is true, too, but is a far cry from showing that "if a case were to come up the likely outcome is a precedent establishing that book owners have no comparable right to convert the book into an ebook."

So for strategy (1) you've not yet convinced me.

If (1) is out it means there are presumably ethically-fine ways for someone to obtain an ebook other than only through the publisher's authorized channels, and (for sake of argument) we'll assume that someone self-converting their own physical copy into an ebook is pretty much the paradigmatic example of a "legit" way to do this (b/c that's the legit way -- other than via the publishers -- to get digital editions of other types of media).

If a book owner doing the conversion herself is ethical but downloading from a third party isn't ethical, we need to find a basis for the ethical distinction.

It can be based on a kind of strict legalism: downloading is illegal whereas self-converting is illegal. For some people that's enough for their ethics, but it's not the greatest line of ethical reasoning in the world, and finding an alternative line of reasoning would be helpful here.

It can't be based on pure outcome analysis: in both cases the end result is the same (self-converting and downloading result in exactly 1 more ebook in the possession of someone with a legitimate right to have such an ebook, and for sake of argument there's no measurable difference in the # of copies in the hands of people without a legitimate right to have such copies).

For the same reason it can't be based on the categorical imperative: if every book owner has the right to self-produce an ebook edition for their own personal use, the effect on the world "if everybody did it" (meaning: everybody self-converted their books to ebooks) is pretty much the same as the effect on the world as if every book owner downloaded an unauthorized ebook edition of the book they already owned in other formats: either way is brutal for the publisher's shot at a profitable line of authorized ebooks. So categorial imperative-style arguments are also at, as you're back to having to reject the book owner's right to self-convert (which seems ethically sound even if legally suspect) which gets you back to proving (1), which you've been having trouble with.

So it's tough going, I think, and I'd suspect this is about how far the ethicist got before deciding it was ethically fine to download in lieu of doing the conversion oneself. It's certainly how far I'm going before I go to sleep tonight.
posted by hoople at 7:29 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


pla: well now you've piqued my interest. Is the resolution and frame rate and available cpu power enough that the punky kids of the 2020s will be able to essentially "film" someone flipping the pages in a book and then stitch it all back together into a proper pdf?

Or are you still talking about the take a picture, turn the page, take a picture, turn the page, etc., dynamic I currently envision a "book pirate" currently using?
posted by hoople at 7:31 PM on April 7, 2010


What I really love are the ebooks that retail for $15.99, when there's a link to a dozen used paperbacks for $0.01 + S&H, right next to the buy-it-now button.

Here's a business idea for anyone interested: get a guillotine and a self-feeding scanner and offer to make a scanned PDF out of any book offered on Amazon. They pay you, say, $15.98 plus the cost of the book; you order the book; guillotine the edges; run it through your scanner; dispose of the now-loose pages; and email a PDF of the result to the customer.

It's probably technically illegal in most jurisdictions but I suspect you'd be flying under the publishers' radar.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:39 PM on April 7, 2010


I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding of the similarity of both the RIo case (so much better than RIAA, or "the space shifting case") and the Betamax case is that while both were about devices, in both cases the devices won.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:39 PM on April 7, 2010


Is the resolution and frame rate and available cpu power enough that the punky kids of the 2020s will be able to essentially "film" someone flipping the pages in a book

An interesting question.

I have in front of me, Vernor Vinge's True Names (it's the most irony I could deliver on short notice; I don't have Rainbows End handy). It's 5.5"x8", or about ~11"x8" when open if you pressed the binding flat. To really get a good OCR you need about 200dpi or so, preferably 300. So for a single-camera setup, that would necessitate 300*11*8*300 or about 8 megapixels total resolution.

That implies, at minimum, "4k" resolution video — 4096 pixels across by 3072, perhaps better referred to as "3072p" — which is currently the province of Hollywood. But by 2020 I could easily see it being standard consumer-grade gear, if the current pace keeps up.

If you used a two camera setup, with one camera pointed at each page, then you need something around 1650x2400; more than 1080p but less than 1920p; only about 4MP. I think you'll start to see that on prosumer gear within the next year or two, if not before.

So it's possible or at least conceivable, although I think you'd still have to be careful how you flipped through the pages. You'd need to at least have one frame (possibly more) with the pages lying nice and flat and still, in the plane of focus, well lit by whatever source you were using. And you'd have to be using some sort of compression that wouldn't toss the crucial detail for the OCRing. And then you'd have to have some algorithm that would go through the video and pull out these stills from the rest of the video, to feed into OCR, which would be non-trivial. Certainly possible, but it'll be quite a bit more involved than simply fluttering the pages in front of your iPhone's camera lens for quite some time.

My guess is that using arrangements of still cameras will remain the standard method of scanning bound books for the immediate future. Flip the page, tap a switch with your foot and grab the images, flip the page... it's boring work but anybody could do it, and the Internet is if anything a giant engine for tapping into armies of people with lots of spare time on their hands. The actual scanning procedure only needs to be done once for each book, after all; proofreading the OCR almost certainly takes more time and effort.

Also, keep in mind that sheet-fed scanners are getting better and cheaper all the time, although they aren't the sexiest devices around. Anyone with a few hundred bucks can buy a Fuji or a Kodak that will chew through unbound paperback pages at the rate of one or two a second, practically unattended, which is a much more practical solution for everything except rare books. I know that if I were going to make a bootleg ebook of True Names, that's certainly how I would do it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:50 PM on April 7, 2010


hoople : Is the resolution and frame rate and available cpu power enough that the punky kids of the 2020s will be able to essentially "film" someone flipping the pages in a book and then stitch it all back together into a proper pdf?

I think that would likely have the same limitations as conventional photography does now - If you made a film-movie of someone rapidly flipping through the pages of a book, your biggest problem doesn't come from resolution, but light. In order to get anything but a useless blur, you'd probably need a light strong enough to mildly damage the book. :)

The light limits the frame rate, which you want as high as possible for both the speed you can rifle through the book, as well as for redundancy (which you can use to improve about a billion other aspects of the process). Resolution limits your ability to correct geometry (and for non-macro/non-zoom setups, your maximum distance from the camera, which helps with the focal range). CPU really just limits whether you can do it in realtime or after-the-fact.

That said, I have little doubt that I could, with 4+MP frames reasonably on-square, low-jitter, and in-focus, in software (though this would definitely require postprocessing at the moment, I wouldn't rule out realtime in another decade), take a movie of someone slowly (but not "page... click; page... click", more like "page, page, page") flipping through a book, and convert it to a passable PDF.

Of course, a lot of this would depend on the book, too, and I'd consider including a few "profiles" for the user to pick from; For example, for mostly-text, I would probably want to use a quick-n-dirty OCR as an internal quality measure, but if you had something like an illuminated manuscript, that would give complete garbage.


On preview, I see that Kadin2048 already gave an answer to this. I largely agree with it, if you want to make a high-quality result that would rival a "real" eBook (if not necessarily rivaling the best of them, which you simply can't do starting from just a dead-tree version). I define "passable" as I used it more in the sense of something you could certainly stand to read while riding the train in to work, but could never really pass off as a "real" marketable eBook.
posted by pla at 9:10 PM on April 7, 2010


Metafilter rules. I have so enjoyed reading this thread. I've learned so much.

I'm an author who makes a living from books.

As a creator of a thing, I think it's reasonable I get some say in how what I make gets consumed.

However, I totally get how technology might make it impossible for me to protect this right. No doubt. But what technology makes possible, or popular, it doesn't necessarily make ethical. Or legal. Or anything.

If I spend a year writing a book, or painting a painting, or filming a film, I may have some artistic or personal reason why I don't want it distributed in some form or another. Say, for argument sake, I wrote a book about aliens have told me reading on screens causes instant tuberculosis and makes all puppies within 5000 feet implode. Even if I'm insane for believing it, it makes sense I should have some say in respecting my ideas, whatever they are (and a book like this should clearly not be distributed electronically). Even if its a stupid, self-serving reason, I get the right to be stupid if I'm the one making the thing.

More apt for this particular discussion, I have the right to let my publisher be stupid on my behalf. I can't control my publisher. if they're slow with the kindle edition, or never release a digital version at all, authors have surprisingly little control over this. End running the system, even if in the long run might benefit authors in some "destroy the old guard" way, it definitely hurts them in the short term.

Overall, I totally see why, as a consumer, people want control over the things they consume. Helll, I'm a consumer too. I want things in the way, and in the form, I want. No question. But just because I want it, or thousands of others want it, doesn't make it right, fair, legal or anything else, if the person making the thing doesn't agree. I can hate the maker for not respecting my wishes, but when that hate translates into justifying anything, there's something very wrong. The recent amazon bombing of Michael Lewis' new book, where dozens of 1 star reviews were written by people who hadn't read the book, but were complaining about the lack of a kindle edition, seems like fishing with an atomic bomb. The outrage destroys more than its target.

I know my books are pirated. Almost all major published books are. And I know its impossible to stop. I understand why it happens. I just know it's not a complete answer for anyone who thinks about the things they themselves make.

I've thought much about Radiohead. I think most authors should really put up some kind of tip jar, or "donate what you think is fair" thingamajig on their sites. If you read a book from the library for free, and love it, why not leave the author a few bucks as a tip? Seems reasonable to me.

I'm never expecting to get rich on books alone, but I'd like to keep making a living from them. I don't think it's much to ask for readers, who enjoy what they read, regardless of how they read it or what they paid, to help make it possible for the people who make stuff they enjoy to make more.
posted by Berkun at 9:11 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I was on irc downloading Berkun's books. What'd I miss?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:45 AM on April 8, 2010


You can't be serious. Go read some Nietzsche or Sartre or something.

You want to know something funny? The whole ethical/lawful quandary ran through my head for a moment before I decided that "yeah, I don't think Sarte will mind if I download a PDF of La Nausée."
posted by P.o.B. at 4:52 AM on April 8, 2010


No seriously. That happened. Like four days ago.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:56 AM on April 8, 2010


Isn't this already pretty much how the law works for game roms?

No.


How so?
posted by oraknabo at 5:37 AM on April 8, 2010


If you think telling someone to read Nietzsche or Sartre is an argument, you can't be serious.

No, you're right, it's not an argument - I'm just too lazy to summarize the last 2000 some odd years of thought on ethics in western civilization for a stranger on the internet.

As a creator of a thing, I think it's reasonable I get some say in how what I make gets consumed.

What did you create?
posted by phrontist at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2010


But just because I want it, or thousands of others want it, doesn't make it right, fair, legal or anything else, if the person making the thing doesn't agree.

So if I write some slash-fiction based on your novel, I get to dictate how it's distributed, and am entitled to some compensation, right?
posted by phrontist at 6:17 AM on April 8, 2010


As a creator of a thing, I think it's reasonable I get some say in how what I make gets consumed.

I don't understand that position at all. If you milled flour, as an example, would you expect a say in how bread is made? Or if you painted a portrait, would that give you a say in the design of the room it's hanging in? You might be able to argue, and rightly I think, that you should have a say in how it is sold. But how it is consumed? That's a very different issue, given how far removed that is from the financial transaction.
posted by mhoye at 7:08 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a creator of a thing, I think it's reasonable I get some say in how what I make gets consumed.

Some say, yes. Copyright law was originally intended parallel to patent law to protect you as the creator from the printer next door rolling off an edition of 1,000, or the theater owner from selling 400 tickets from your work.

It was never intended to protect against students painfully copying texts into notebooks, parents reading to children, ministers quoting from the pulpit, senators reading the work in a filibuster, or just throwing the damn thing on the shelf for guests to read or coo over.

What drives the publishing market is a social culture of literacy in which works are not just consumed, they are shared, discussed, performed, quoted, read out-loud, taught, critiqued, and debated.

But the current trend towards trying to lock-down and monetize every aspect of the written word strikes me as biting the hand that feeds you. The fact that readership > print runs is something that was taken for granted by other forms of publishing. During my brief stint in journalism in the early 90s, it was assumed that, on average, there were 2-3 readers for every copy that came off the press. I don't think that long-form fiction and non-fiction will thrive if publishers keep pushing for a 1:1 buyer:reader ratio.

It's free advertising. Most of my book purchases are driven by having initially encountered an author or a series through a swap, share, or thrift. And on top of that, there is a massive class issue involved in killing that culture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:38 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


As much as the creator may want them, they don't have infinite rights regarding how their product is used. As a software developer, I may only want someone to view my applications standing on one foot and covering one eye with a pirate patch, but I have absolutely no right to try and mandate that. I, as the creator, have two options. One, sell my application and deal with the fact that people will consume it in ways I do not approve of, or two, not sell my application. Authors/musicians face the same issue. Either they can sell their creations under the rules governed by law, which include the rights of first sale and shifting, or they can choose not to sell it. That's it.

I suspect no one reads the Terms Of Use I put in each version, but I know they click the ok button. If I add a few lines saying they agree to wear a pirate patch, I will still have no legal rights to enforce it, even though they technically agreed to do so.

As for the format shifting argument, this has already been settled. If it wasn't, the following would all be illegal:

Playing music for your personal enjoyment using sheet music legally purchased.
Recording digital transmissions on a magnetic tape
Converting digital transmissions for display on old analog television sets
Converting cassette tapes or vinyl to mp3
Recording anything transmitted by radio waves into an analog or digital signal
Print any web page or copyrighted document from a computer

Those are just a few examples of things that require a format change. If you think converting a paper copy of a book to a digital copy (or hand-written) is different, please explain, I honestly don't see any difference.
posted by Crash at 8:03 AM on April 8, 2010


oraknabo : Isn't this already pretty much how the law works for game roms?
No.
How so?


Because it just doesn't work like that.

You have some rights rip your own games (subject to satisfying one of the various exceptions to the DMCA, most likely "interoperability" or "research"), but you have zero legal right to download the roms from online.

The "delete this within 24 hours" BS disclaimer at most ROM sites has absolutely no basis in law either. Just pure fiction made up by the emulation community to make themselves feel better.

Interestingly, although most people might write it off as "frivolous", ROMs fit into exactly the same category as defines this entire discussion; IMO, they may even make a better example of the problem than talking about books vs eBooks, where an eBook can exist as its own separate product. With ROMs, most people simply have no way to obtain their own dumps; And when they download them, they get a bit-for-bit exact duplicate of what they could get from their own games. But it still violates copyright, in the "what color are your bits" sense.

Personally, I give the same answer here as I did to the eBook issue. Ethically, download away, because that 20 year old NES won't keep working forever. Legally, keep it quiet, because you don't have a leg to stand on.

/ IANAL, but have spent more time researching this issue over the past 20 years than most non-IP-specialists.
posted by pla at 8:04 AM on April 8, 2010


Related Scalzi post.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:11 AM on April 8, 2010


Thanks pla, You definitely know more about this than I do.

On the ethical side of things, there's little difference between downloading a rom of a game you own and ripping one yourself and I'm sure it would be fairly difficult to prove which route you took to get the rom if there was ever any investigation of it legally.

For a book, it's pretty obvious if you have a copy of an official ebook that you didn't scan it yourself from your hard copy.
posted by oraknabo at 9:49 AM on April 8, 2010


I'm among the many who try-before-they-buy, but I can't help but suspect that we're in the vast minority there. (on the buying end)

Then why is there still money in selling bootleg CDs?

In any American city, I bet I can find someone selling bootleg CDs on the street, and people buying them for 1, 2, 5 dollars, whatever. Repeat: there are people paying good money for what they know are illegal CDs.

From what I've heard, it's true for HCM City, Vietnam and other SE asian cities as well.

The RIAA sues against otherwise lawful citizens freely distributing copyrighted music (for $750-150,000 per track), while no one cares about all about the illegal vendors making good money selling physical copies of copyrighted material? Something is fishy there.

These issues of "content," data, commerce, and law are muddy waters, and only getting muddier. We don't even know what the next technologies will allow.

Books may be the ultimate digital file-sharing medium (e.g. the complete works of Spensers, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton on a thumbdrive) and also perhaps the medium most protected from the effects of file-sharing.

A binded book with a cover has a physical value apart from the content in a way that is different than video or audio (especially after the transition away from 12"x12" album covers). I would expect video and audio to create their own physical artifacts of value (which might end up being artistic "books" of some sort), in order to get people to buy them. That and more and more merch.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:49 AM on April 8, 2010


If I had my way about these things, I’d be doing with books what movie companies are now doing with DVDs and blu-rays, which is to bundle a legal electronic copy of the work in with the hardcover release.

Like MP3 (or WAV/Flac/whatever) downloads in CD/LPs/DVDs, this one ^^ is a no brainer.

They'll get there. Any when they do, our grandkids will have a whole new set of ways to fuck things up.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:54 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related Scalzi post.

FTFA "To be very clear, I think the person who puts an unauthorized edition of a work of mine online is ethically and legally wrong to do so; that guy is ripping me off. "

I have to disagree. If jscalzi is getting ripped off, it's because someone has downloaded the work without paying jscalzi. The guy who puts it online has (likely) purchased the work to begin with. If I download a copy of it (having previously purchased it) so that I can search it, the uploader is essentially providing me with a free OCR service. (jscalzi essentially says the same thing later on.)

My point is that the problem, to the extent that it's a problem, is when someone D/Ls the work without previously paying for it. That person is the 'culpable' one.

I qualify 'culpable' because I first encountered jscalzi via a free download. It was a tor.com sponsored thing-a-ma-bob, but from my POV that's moot. It could have as easily been a friend sending me a PDF. I liked it (Old Man's War, FWIW,) and bought a few more of his (dead tree) books. Win for me; win for him; win for his publisher.

If I didn't like it, I'd have deleted it and never given it another thought. No resources beyond electrons and internet connectivity would have been expended. What was the harm? Possibly the ability to convince people to buy a book they'll hate and extract a few bucks that way. Not quite pegging my moral outrage meter. Sorry.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:11 AM on April 8, 2010


Taken from the comments on the John Scalzi link:
"And before someone says that book pirates aren’t like drug dealers, yes they are, because the bulk of these pirates are the same people dealing drugs, doing sex trafficking, running numbers, selling pirate DVD’s, and generally screwing up the world. It’s all profitable to them."

I LOL'ed.
posted by Crash at 10:49 AM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The library system in the county I grew up in has a website. It's just an online catalog, you log in with your library card number and a password and you can view their catalog and place holds and renew books and whatnot, but it's still just an online frontend for going and picking up physical books.

Suppose the library purchased and made available e-book versions of their catalog, through that website. Point your cell phone's browser at the site, load up your book of choice, and read at your leisure. As with the previous model, it's a county organization offering free books for residents of the county with registered accounts, but with the added convenience that e-books provide.

I'm wondering how some of these authors would react to that.

I qualify 'culpable' because I first encountered jscalzi via a free download. It was a tor.com sponsored thing-a-ma-bob, but from my POV that's moot. It could have as easily been a friend sending me a PDF. I liked it (Old Man's War, FWIW,) and bought a few more of his (dead tree) books. Win for me; win for him; win for his publisher.

I did the exact same thing. Except instead of buying his books, I checked them out from the library, read them, and returned them. I guess that's not as much of a win for Scalzi and his publisher, but I'm kind of curious what the difference is from their perspective as compared to if I'd torrent scans of them instead.
posted by kafziel at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2010


Except instead of buying his books, I checked them out from the library, read them, and returned them. I guess that's not as much of a win for Scalzi and his publisher, but I'm kind of curious what the difference is from their perspective as compared to if I'd torrent scans of them instead.

Good question. In either case he (and his publisher) get paid for the first sale. I suppose libraries might purchase additional copies in the case of huge demand (e.g., Harry Potter. (Sorry, John.))

It's interesting, because authors are normally all about libraries, but tend to hate torrents (or whatever tech is functionally equivalent.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:23 AM on April 8, 2010


Given modern rhetoric, I think if we weren't all used to the existence of libraries and the idea that they're a civic good, anyone proposing one would be excoriated (perhaps as Book Enemy #1.)

But even in the context of the real world, here's someone (in 2002) complaining that library availability of his books is costing him money and proprosing that libraries not be allowed to buy books until a year after publication. And this in the UK where he's getting at least some income from Public Lending Rights.

A big thing that makes talking about these issues murky is that the details of how books get into people's hands and how publishers and authors make money from them are actually really weird and convoluted and unintuitive in many ways, not the inevitable result of inexorable forces of nature. So wanting electronic distribution to hew as closely as possible to current physical distribution is not only problematic in that there are fundamental ways in which they're unlike, but because some of the existing physical distribution norms were already weird in their own right. (I won't be sorry to see the extraordinarily wasteful cover-stripping for mass-market paperback returns go the way of the dinosaur.)
posted by Zed at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2010


I'm among the many who try-before-they-buy, but I can't help but suspect that we're in the vast minority there. (on the buying end)

Then why is there still money in selling bootleg CDs?


I'm not sure that follows. The bootleg CD is how they get to access the content. If instead those hawkers had a pile of bootleg CDs and a sign that read "Please take one, and leave what you want to" with a donation box, what goes in the box might be a better representation of your argument than how many CDs are bought (and even then not perfect, because at that moment in time you don't know the quality of what you're getting -- although with bootlegs even this is often not true).

I'm talking about getting a copy 100% free to try, without even having to face another human being who attempts to shame me into putting $ into the industry's pocket, or his. And then coming back another day to say "You know what? I really liked that. I'll buy your $30 DVD" or whatever. Becuase I do that, but again, I suspect there are many who don't.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:17 PM on April 8, 2010


Phrontist: I create books. Or if we're being precise, I compose words and images into formats with a specific design and intent for consumption.

> So if I write some slash-fiction based on your novel, I get to dictate how it's
> distributed, and am entitled to some compensation, right?

Personally, if you wrote a book inspired by one of mine, I doubt I'd care what you did. However, if you wrote your book under the pretense it was endorsed by me, or official in some way, that'd be a different matter. My publisher might feel differently though. And honestly, I'd feel differently too based on whether i thought it was good or not.

mhoye:

> I don't understand that position at all. If you milled flour, as an
> example, would you expect a say in how bread is made? Or if you
> painted a portrait, would that give you a say in the design of the room
> it's hanging in? You might be able to argue, and rightly I think, that you
> should have a say in how it is sold. But how it is consumed? That's a
> very different issue, given how far removed that is from the financial transaction.

I'm saying if I make flour, I can choose, when I sell it, what the person buying it agrees to do with the flour or not to do. I think it's entirely reasonable that as long as I'm making clear my wishes, and the person buying agrees to those wishes, that I can specify anything you describe. I might not sell any flour for being this ridiculous, but I think as the flour maker I have that choice. I think the soup nazi was a jackass, but it's his soup. He can be a jackass if he wishes, to his own peril.

Not sure if I agree that books are a commodity like flour. Technology certain treats it that way (its all bits), but I'm not sure it makes sense for us to treat all bits the same (e.g. privacy).

Certainly in the case of art, there is precedence for this (See Frank Llloyd Wright). Again, I think this is often self-defeating in a way, but it is the creators right.

Crash: I plead ignorance on exactly how far a creator can go in U.S. law in specifying behavior with the work as a condition of sale. But I think it's pretty far, certainly in cases of unique work like paintings. Enforcing those conditions is another matter, I concede that. And the ability to make 'perfect' copies also complicates things, no doubt.

KirkJobSluder:

> But the current trend towards trying to lock-down and monetize
> every aspect of the written word strikes me as biting the hand that feeds you.

Here's the subtlety I'm not getting across well. I agree that this is stupid and likely self-defeating, but it's still within the rights of authors and publishers to be stupid and self-defeating. Namely, when they are being stupid and self-defeating in an attempt to make a living, which is what lots of people and companies do all the time. And I don't think people acting stupid about consumer goods (music/books/etc.) that they make is sufficient reason to subvert their wishes.

kafziel:

> Suppose the library purchased and made available e-book versions of
> their catalog, through that website. Point your cell phone's browser at
> the site, load up your book of choice, and read at your leisure. As with
> the previous model, it's a county organization offering free books for
> residents of the county with registered accounts, but with the added
> convenience that e-books provide. I'm wondering how some of these
> authors would react to that.

I'm pro library. I'm happy to see all books get read anywhere at any time. But if the person reading the book, enjoying the book, getting a good experience from the book, someone who can afford to give the author (e.g. me) a $1 or $5 in post-facto exchange for that value, regardless of what medium they read it in, and they don't - I don't feel good about that. And I doubt, if they thought about it, they'd feel great about it either. I don't expect any sympathy for trying to live by writing books. That's my choice. But if I do something you like, it should be clear the book wasn't 'free' to me. I have to write the fuckers from scratch :)

In my authorial fantasy land, libraries, or author websites, should have completely voluntary tip jars for books. When you're done, if you enjoyed it, regardless of how you got it, push this button to give a $1 or $5 to the author. And if it's through the library, 10% goes to the library.

Thanks for the dialog all - To practice my own preaching, is there a good way to donate to metafilter? I've looked, but failed.
posted by Berkun at 1:42 PM on April 8, 2010


Berkun, IANAL, but at least in the US, consumers have rights that can not be taken away by the seller, even if agreed upon prior to the sale. Sellers can ask for all sorts of things, but if challenged, a court will decide if they're reasonable.

For example, if the soup-nazi sold soup to someone, and they decided to turn around and give it to a person banned by the soup-nazi or transfer the soup to a different container, there's nothing the soup nazi could do beyond choosing not to sell soup to the person in the future. He would have no recourse to reclaim the soup, alter the container it was placed into, etc...

Basically, as a purchaser, I can feel comfortable ignoring Sony's terms of use saying I can't make a personal copy or convert an audio track to an mp3. The court has ruled this is fair use, and I do not forfeit my rights regardless of what Sony thinks.

In the case of a irreplaceable work of art, it's possible the court may rule certain limitations preventing the destruction/alteration of the art are valid. I'm not sure (this doesn't seem to be too common), but I would guess this would only apply if the art was declared a national treasure or a sale to a museum was also involved. Maybe someone has an example of this or not. Either way, I can not see a copy of a dvd, movie, or book would apply here.
posted by Crash at 2:11 PM on April 8, 2010


Crash: thanks for that.

> Basically, as a purchaser, I can feel comfortable ignoring Sony's terms
> of use saying I can't make a personal copy or convert an audio track
> to an mp3. The court has ruled this is fair use, and I do not forfeit
> my rights regardless of what Sony thinks.

I get this. But let me ask this slightly differently.

Lets say you meet Bob Dylan (or insert some other notable artist you respect and enjoy here) tonight. He hands you a CD of unreleased songs. He says he will give it to you only if you don't rip mp3s from it and don't make copies of it.

Would you comply with his wishes? Regardless of whether you were legally bound to do so or not?

That's part of what I'm asking I suppose. IANAL either, but I do understand something of ethics, and there is something of creator/consumer ethics going on here.

I do understand that when Sony, Microsoft, or Random House gets involved there is the element of a middleman, and people's feelings about those middlemen drive much of their behavior, despite the fact those middlemen are rarely the creators of the work. But if it's just you and the artist, and the artist makes a request at the point of purchase, I think there's an argument the right thing to do is to honor that request. Even if it's inconvenient for you.
posted by Berkun at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2010


I support your right to be stupid and self-defeating, too.

But acting self-defeating and being surprised by reaping bad results -- that'd be stupid. Oh, wait, you're already covered there. Carry on.
posted by Zed at 2:48 PM on April 8, 2010


Berkun: Here's the subtlety I'm not getting across well. I agree that this is stupid and likely self-defeating, but it's still within the rights of authors and publishers to be stupid and self-defeating.

Well, here is the problem. The right of other people to be stupid generally ends when that stupidity starts to infringe on other people's rights. And I'll say there's some reasonably strong arguments that the pendulum in regards to new media has swung too far in favor depriving consumers of their rights as participants in those economic transactions.

Berkun: Would you comply with his wishes? Regardless of whether you were legally bound to do so or not?

By all means, producers and reviewers voluntarily enter into those kinds of agreements as a matter of practice. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, as a buyer, I retain as a matter of both custom and law certain rights in regards to the things I bought, own, and possess. Your preferences do not automatically trump my rights as the owner of a given work. If that's objectionable to you, then you shouldn't create your work for the kinds of markets where those rights are still important.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:06 PM on April 8, 2010


If that's objectionable to you, then you shouldn't create your work for the kinds of markets where those rights are still important.

The flip side is that if continuing to consume the material created by the artists working in those markets is important to you, you probably shouldn't go out of your way to deprive them of reasonable profits, even if you can.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:51 PM on April 8, 2010


The flip side is that if continuing to consume the material created by the artists working in those markets is important to you, you probably shouldn't go out of your way to deprive them of reasonable profits, even if you can.

The flip side of that is that the definition of "reasonable" is not and should not be set by the artist. For most people, "Pay me once to listen on your car's CD player, once to listen on your computer, and once to listen on your mp3 player, and you can't resell any of these" is an unreasonable request.
posted by kafziel at 4:01 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Lets say you meet Bob Dylan (or insert some other notable artist you respect and enjoy here) tonight. He hands you a CD of unreleased songs. He says he will give it to you only if you don't rip mp3s from it and don't make copies of it.

"Would you comply with his wishes? Regardless of whether you were legally bound to do so or not?"


Probably. At least until he stamped out a couple million copies. Then I wouldn't feel guilty in the least downloading mp3 versions of the album.
posted by Mitheral at 4:29 PM on April 8, 2010


The flip side of that is that the definition of "reasonable" is not and should not be set by the artist.

I'd love to agree, based on sheer anti-Marxist principle, but that's not really true. The definition of "reasonable" is pretty much set at "the amount at which it's no longer financially feasible for the artist to continue to do what they do." Somehow I don't think anyone making eighty million dollars a year is going to pack it up when their profits drop to sixty million. But the guys making thirty grand might very well move on when that income dips to twenty grand. There are a lot more professionals in the latter income bracket than there are the former (especially since this thread is at least allegedly about writers and e-books), so, again: if those people are valued, then it's probably not a good idea to take what they do for free, even if you can.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:44 PM on April 8, 2010


Amanojaku: I'd love to agree, based on sheer anti-Marxist principle, but that's not really true. The definition of "reasonable" is pretty much set at "the amount at which it's no longer financially feasible for the artist to continue to do what they do." Somehow I don't think anyone making eighty million dollars a year is going to pack it up when their profits drop to sixty million. But the guys making thirty grand might very well move on when that income dips to twenty grand. There are a lot more professionals in the latter income bracket than there are the former (especially since this thread is at least allegedly about writers and e-books), so, again: if those people are valued, then it's probably not a good idea to take what they do for free, even if you can.

Except that this isn't an argument we make in regards to other consumer goods. We don't hear makers of new furniture bloviate at length about the ethical failings of antique shops, nor do we hear about automakers conducting illegal searches of taxi stands, bus stops, and used-car dealerships. With just about everything else under the sun, possession is 9/10ths of the law, and even with books, publishers have little cause to complain about my prolific sharing and giving.

Which is, again, why I'm an eBook skeptic. Publishers can't complain when I buy used editions because they've sat on a work for the last decade, and then bitch about pricing when they do bother to publish in eBook format. (*) A book that can't be shared with friends and loved ones, gifted to relatives at a funeral, annotated, transcribed, translated for my own use, copied into my own notes, quoted, or performed for a nephew is substantially less useful than the rights given to me by law as a consumer of copyright materials.

Copyright law gives authors and publishers the right to prevent gross commercial copying and derivative works. Consumers, librarians, and educators retain substantial rights that are protected by the same law. The convenience and economics of modern publishing fail to give publishers either an ethical prerogative or the legal entitlement to pursue broad suppression of ownership rights.

(*) When I browse eBook stores, I'm reminded of this quote by Le Guin, "The airport bookstores did not sell books, only bestsellers, which Sita Dulip cannot read without a severe systemic reaction." Alas, Changing Planes apparently not available for the Kindle.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:45 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Lets say you meet Bob Dylan (or insert some other notable artist you respect and enjoy here) tonight. He hands you a CD of unreleased songs. He says he will give it to you only if you don't rip mp3s from it and don't make copies of it.

"Would you comply with his wishes? Regardless of whether you were legally bound to do so or not?"


Let's say it's my job to evaluate new music (which explains why Dylan is giving me unreleased music), I own a high end system (so I can listen to it as the artist intended without any potential loss from converting), and we're genuinely concerned about leaking the tracks. In that case, yes, I would likely respect the artists wishes. I would neither rip nor share the music in that case.

6 months later though, when he releases the CD, if I wanted it on my iphone, I'd buy a cd and rip it. Even if the CD had the same request attached to it.
posted by Crash at 6:26 AM on April 9, 2010


"[Bob Dylan scenario...] Would you comply with his wishes? Regardless of whether you were legally bound to do so or not?

I think that's an interesting question. My answer is "yes, probably." But that's because it's a personal request, not some sort of ultimatum backed up by threats. And I know a fair number of musicians and so this is not something I'm totally unfamiliar with; I'd never share their stuff without asking them about it first. (Of course, most of them would say "yeah, sure," and none of them are unreasonable enough to give someone a CD and tell them not to put it on their iPod — most people don't distribute physical CDs anyway.)

If "his wishes" took the form of a page or two of legalese invoking the threat of lawsuits and the U.S. Code, then it's no longer a personal request; I'm not on my honor, as it were, to comply with it. I'll act based upon my assessment of the risk/benefit and perceived enforceability of his wishes within the legal framework. I.e., is the audio likely to be watermarked? How many other CDs has he handed out? Is he likely to be able, realistically, to trace it back to me? Does he care enough, if it leaked, to start an expensive series of lawsuits? Is he going to show up in the middle of the night with a baseball bat, force me to shoot him, and leave me with an expensive carpet-cleaning bill? I might still decide not to rip the disc, but it's for an entirely different series of reasons. Or I might decide that he has no way of catching me and I give him a big 'ol "fuck you, Bob" as I click on the iTunes Import button.

IMO, you can either make a polite request or you can make threats. When you start invoking the legal system, it's an implied threat. That's not to say that it's an ineffective threat; it may very well do the job in terms of modifying my behavior. I do all sorts of things that I'd probably rather not, because if I didn't some sort of bad thing would happen — we all do.

But "I'd appreciate it if you didn't do this," is a universe apart from "if you do this I will sic my lawyers on you [miserable peasant vermin that you are]." One is an appeal to personal honor and an implicit declaration of trust, the other is just a threat and an implicit declaration of mistrust. And you can't play both sides; once you start breaking out the threats, or veiled threats, it's not really an appeal to honor anymore.

If you're an artist / author / software developer / whatever, be very careful how you treat your public. This goes doubly for using technical means to enforce your "wishes" on the public; "this disc is copy protected" might as well also say "SO GET TO WORK."
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:20 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSluder: Sure, no argument there, for the most part. My point isn't necessarily an ethical argument, or a legal one, but a practical one. It's in the best interest of the people who enjoy something to ensure that it's going to keep being produced, no? Sometimes that requires going easy on the things we're able and feel entitled to do.

Consider it a version of the time-honored liberal tradition of conservation. Don't farm the artists too hard. That's all.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:11 PM on April 9, 2010


I'm saying if I make flour, I can choose, when I sell it, what the person buying it agrees to do with the flour or not to do.

Wow. What a difference thirty-odd years can make to one's sense of entitlement.

Fuck you, lawyers.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:20 AM on April 14, 2010


The New Yorker has an interesting article on ebooks and the publishing industry:

Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?
posted by homunculus at 4:19 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


it may well be trivially easy for anyone to scan and OCR a book by riffling through the pages while holding the book in front of their phone's camera.

The state of the art on this is further than I thought [video]. It's with a high-speed camera that will continue to be out of reach of phones for some time, but, still -- it seems to be genuinely photographing while the book's just being flipped through.
posted by Zed at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2010


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