Monday, April 12, 2010

Publishers Should Be Happy People Are Buying Books at All

Last week, The Ethicist commented on an increasingly problematic issue in the reading world: pirated books. In this case, a reader bought a hardcopy of Stephen King's new door-stop of a novel, Under the Dome, before later downloading a pirated ebook version. As there was no digital version legally available at the time of his initial purchase, he is wondering if his foray into the illegal might still be ethical.

Cohen, quite reasonably in the Ape's opinion, let him off the hook:
An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.
A publisher Cohen interviewed wasn't quite so understanding:
Anyone who downloads a pirated e-book has, in effect, stolen the intellectual property of an author and publisher. To condone this is to condone theft. 
Considering how block-headed and retrograde this position is, the Ape wonders if the publisher would have us instead do something that is, while legal, undeniably damaging to authors and publishers---buy a used copy.