From The Ethicist - E-Book Dodge -

[Q:]... The publisher apparently withheld [a Stephen King book's eBook version] to encourage people to buy the more expensive hardcover. So I did, all 1,074 pages, more than three and a half pounds. Then I found a pirated version online, downloaded it to my e-reader and took it on my trip. I generally disapprove of illegal downloads, but wasn’t this O.K.? C.D., BRIGHTWATERS, N.Y.

[A:]An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical.... Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability...

What crap. Is the book out of print? Is that hardcopy somehow obsolete now? Of course not. There's obviously value added with the eBook or ole C.D. wouldn't've wanted it. How does Mr. Cohen (the "Ethicist") decide when you've paid enough into the system to begin illegal civil disobedience?
  • Can I pay for the movie in the theater and then download?
  • Better parallel: Can I burn a Blu-Ray b/c I've purchased the DVD at full price?
  • What if I paid a clearance price for the DVD? Have I still paid in enough for someone to forward me a bootleg Blu-Ray in high def?
  • If I've read the book, can I sneak into a theater showing the movie that's not quite filled? Where's the harm in that?

Would it really put poor, poor CD out to take along that "more than three and a half pounds" of codex on his trip? Really?

Look, if you want a law changed because, in this case, you feel superior enough to remark "the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology", then start lobbying. Now show me one fair law that's anticipated a specific technology perfectly. Sort of another anachronism, ain't it? Honestly, I think eBooks are an interesting way to leverage your ownership of IP into more profit. As long as we're not EULAing hardcopies, knock yourselves out.

Furthermore, in this case we have easier solutions for CD. Wait for the g*******d eBook to be released. Trade time for money. Read another book on your trip. I just finished Water is Wide by Pat Conroy on my iPod. You'll enjoy it. If you want to read a new book now, ya gotta pay. Or why not go to your local library and reserve a copy to read while you're waiting. That's a pretty good deal, isn't it? You're not out a buck. Now you read Conroy on your trip and you get to know the latest and greatest from that sick-o King[1]. And guess what, you've already paid for the privilege. Take advantage of it.

Had Cohen even so much as said, "Though the risk of being caught is low, it does exist, and in NY the penalty is [X]. I would also say that you need to delete the eBook as soon as you return from your trip, when its marginal utility is gone, and that once the eBook is released, you should stop using this rationalization immediately," I would have felt a little better.

As it stands, it bothers me that a representative of what's essentially the record of the United States could show such a simpleton's approach to ethics and encourage his readers to break the law without understanding the ramifications on themselves and the corporations that provide them with their goods. I'm no corporate cheerleader, but when a "ethicist" rationalizes stealing in officially sanctioned e-print, you know society's gauge of right and wrong had long since made a turn for the gutter.

[1] Actually, I'm suspicious King is one of the best authors alive. I've read a few of his books that aren't about blood and guts, and they're all exceptionally well written. Still, I tried that city in a bubble book and couldn't get past the first few chapters. SICK. It's all about how you apply yourself, I guess.

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