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An Ethical Question Regarding Ebooks

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the cui-bono dept.

Books 715

tytso writes "Suppose there is a book that you want to read on your ebook reader, but it is out of print (so even if you purchase the dead-tree version of the book used, the author won't receive any royalties) and the publisher has refused to make it available as an ebook. You can buy it from Amazon as a used book, but that isn't your preferred medium. It is available on the internet as a pirated etext, however. This blog post outlines a few possibilities, and then asks, 'What is the right thing to do? And why?' I'm also curious if the answers change depending on whether you are a Baby Boomer, or a Gen X, Gen Y, etc. — I've noticed that attitudes around copyright seem to change depending on whether someone is a college student or a recent college graduate, versus someone who can remember a time when the Internet did not exist."

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715 comments

Get it in both forms (5, Insightful)

pxc (938367) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929243)

The most obviously moral/practical solution in my opinion would be to order the text used from Amazon and then read the pirated electronic version.

Best use of the Kindle (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929271)

What I do is after I buy a book, I use a little script I wrote to print it up and then I read the printed copy. Then I have a backup, and I can read it in the preferred medium. Ethical problem solved!!

Re:Best use of the Kindle (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929343)

you DO know that this violates copyright law, right ?
you have no right to reproduce a copyrighted work without reproduction rights from the author.

Re:Best use of the Kindle (5, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929373)

Seriously. Who cares? This is about an ethical question, which most of us care about rather than "is this illegal". Like most sane people they want the money they spend on the book to go to the author and to read it in an electronic format.

Re:Best use of the Kindle (5, Funny)

stonedcat (80201) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929629)

you DO know that this violates copyright law, right ?
you have no right to reproduce a copyrighted work without reproduction rights from the author.

You should work for the MPAA or RIAA.
Seriously mate, they would love you.

Re:Get it in both forms (4, Interesting)

Bob Gelumph (715872) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929367)

Born early 80s. I agree. Buying second hand books still has an effect on the market. The better the second hand price is, the more can be charged for new books. If you want it in a format that isn't legally available, at least buy it in a format that is legally available as well. This is my conclusion to the situation that has been presented of someone who wants to act ethically.

Re:Get it in both forms (4, Interesting)

EdelFactor19 (732765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929645)

Also a child of the 80's and I agree; obv IANAL, but to me the spirit of the license and fair use of the content transcends the medium. Example: you simply can't buy a mini-disc with commercial content on it such as Name Popular Album. People buy the album in whatever format is available and convert/record it onto the mini disc, the desired format.

FWIW I also think that if you already owned a copy of the book but perhaps it was faded beyond readability / eaten by the dog and you disposed of the remains you would similarly have the 'ethical right' to download the book.

Re:Get it in both forms (1)

conlaw (983784) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929655)

Early Boomer. I believe that Bob's answer is the best ethical solution but I have to say that I like the idea of sending a money order to the author for use of a pirated copy*. She (as specified in TFA) wouldn't receive a dime from the sale of the second-hand book and yet it's her intellectual work that is really the product that the questioner wants.

*Of course, I'd have to get someone from a younger generation show me how to do the actual pirating.

Agreed (1)

Midnight Ryder (116189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929693)

I agree with ya' completely - and I've done that very thing once already. I've also done that once with a book that was new, but there was no ebook version of it. I feel bit silly about buying a used copy and pirating an ebook - the only reason for doing it was the "tagable" copy on my shelf. The new one I bought, though, was to help support the author and the company that published the book.

Pirate the book (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929245)

And if your conscious really bothers, send the author's estate a few bucks anonymously.

The *real* "right thing". (5, Insightful)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929261)

Fix the stupid laws that make this kind of thing ever come up. But this is rather impractical and takes forever, so in the meantime just do whatever.

Re:The *real* "right thing". (1)

eskayp (597995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929393)

Same thing for photographs that appear "professionaly done".
Thanks to legal liabilities in a litigious society Walmart and other photo finishers will not touch a well done photo without a signed release.
Even if the photographer was your long deceased great grand aunt and she never clicked her Kodak Brownie for money.

Re:The *real* "right thing". Irrelevant pont. (2, Interesting)

meburke (736645) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929411)

The "copyright police" are irrelevant to the question. The question is, "What's the right thing to do?" For an out-of-print book, it seems like the right thing to do is buy it wherever possible, and make your own e-book as backup. If you can't buy it, there is no ethical problem with acquiring the book in what ever form you can find it. There is, however, an ethical question about whether you should enable the persons who created a "pirated" e-book to enjoy financial or psychological rewards for their un-ethical behavior. How about contacting the copyright holder and getting permission to create/publish the e-book ethically?

Re:The *real* "right thing". Irrelevant pont. (4, Insightful)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929661)

How about contacting the copyright holder and getting permission to create/publish the e-book ethically?

Copyright is an entirely unnatural "right" to restrict others' freedom. I say it has no basis in rationality (it could have, except that it doesn't seem to have actually helped to promote any sort of useful progress), so the only link from copyright to ethics is the rather tenuous link between legality and ethics.

Mom always taught me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929263)

...sharing is good.

Re:Mom always taught me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929289)

That's because your mother was a whore

If you can't buy it, don't... (4, Insightful)

SoapBox17 (1020345) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929267)

Gen Y here, I think if you can't buy it new at all, then there is no reason not to read a "questionable" e-version. If you can buy it, even if you can't buy an e-version, then I say you should pay for a legit copy, but then you can read the e-version.

Re:If you can't buy it, don't... (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929473)

Mod parent up.

Don't feel bad about pirating anything which has no legal way to get hold of a copy or where you know the author won't be fairly compensated by the distributor.

If you can figure out a way to send the author some money then do so. If not, forget it...

What's the difference here? (5, Insightful)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929269)

I don't understand here.

You're questioning the morality over paying Amazon to deliver an out of print book in paper form versus paying nothing for the same book in ebook format?

You do realize in both ways, the creator gets nothing. So where exactly is the problem?

Re:What's the difference here? (5, Insightful)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929281)

You do realize in both ways, the creator gets nothing. So where exactly is the problem?

Our (counterproductive) intellectual monopoly laws make one way illegal, which has apparently been confused with making it unethical/immoral.

Re:What's the difference here? (4, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929355)

You do realize in both ways, the creator gets nothing. So where exactly is the problem?

1) You do realize that when you buy a used book, you are still very much supporting the new book market that paid the creator.

2) Why is it only the creator of the book who matters? Do you think the reseller of used out of print books deserves to starve?

3) Just because a book is out of print that doesn't make it ok to make copies. That ensures it STAYS out of print, which again, utimately deprives the creator. It might be ok to make copies of a book where the owners have no interest or intention to ever reprint it... but the mere fact that its currently out of print doesn't mean its been abandoned by the creator.

Re:What's the difference here? (3, Interesting)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929421)

Keeping it out of print may also be the desire of the creator or of their estate. Look into the on-line publications of the secret Scientology writings of L. Ron Hubbard, or look at the fascinating material over at www.wikileaks.org. Much of that is material the original authors or current owners absolutely do not want available for general information, much less duplication. And this policy goes right back to the beginnings of copyright law and the Catholic unhappiness with Bibles being printed in English.

It is fascinating history, and reveals the roots of copyright in the _prevention_ of publication to keep material secret, not in the assistance to public education and welfare offered as a reason for copyright and patent laws.

Re:What's the difference here? (3, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929519)

You are talking about dissemination, not publication. Copyright encourages publication by giving the rights holder influence over dissemination.

Re:What's the difference here? (1)

chill (34294) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929425)

Please provide some verifiable data to back that tripe up. How many books have gone out of print in the last 50 years in the United States? How many were later brought back into print because of a resurgence in demand? And no, I'm not referring to a switch to mass-market paperback.

Re:What's the difference here? (2, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929677)

How many books have gone out of print in the last 50 years in the United States? How many were later brought back into print because of a resurgence in demand?

Practically all of them. Very Very Very few books are continually being printed.

The moment a book is finished its print run, and the publisher has unloaded all its copies the book is effectively out of print. (ie if you walk into your book store, and their supplier is out, they can't get it for you. It might be a couple more years before its actually 'hard to find'. At which point it may or may not be re-printed, or it may be a few years before its reprinted.

But for an example of a book that I personally know went out of print, and we later re-printed? Sure...

The "Warlock of Firetop Mountain" (Book 1 of the fighting-fantasy' series)

This book was originally published in 1982 by Puffin, it enjoyed multiple reprints in Canada, Britain, the US and Australia as the 'fighting fantasy' series proved popular, but the series was out-of-print by the mid 90's. It was reprinted in 2002 by 'Wizard Books' and that edition is also now out of print, and only available in the 2ndary markets. It was reprinted again in 2007 as a 25th Anniversayr Edition in hard-cover, which is again has sold out, and copies of that printing are only available on the 2ndary market.

So, at the moment, its out of print, again.

Now that's just one title. There were 59 books published as part of the original series (with a 60th book written, but not published, and a few spinoff books, and one spinoff series of 5 books.)

Of these, only 28 have been reprinted since 2002 'reboot' of the series (including 'book 60' which was never actually printed with the original series.) So, for example, in 2001 the ENTIRE series was out of print, and most of the books hadn't been printed in over 10 years. It was impossible to find outside of places like ebay. By 2007 almost half the series had been re-issued.

Seriously... this is hardly an unusual situation. A lot of books I have have been in and out of print multiple times over the last 50 years. Stuff by Philip K. Dick... stuff by Clarke, by Asimov, by Bester...

You only need to look for a few minutes to find this to be true.

Re:What's the difference here? (0, Flamebait)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929427)

2) Do you use bottled water in your toilet? Why not? You deprive poor bottled water sellers!

Re:What's the difference here? (3, Informative)

Hemogoblin (982564) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929429)

Well it's not quite as black and white as you make it out to be. There's a little wrinkle I'd like to point out.

First, some definitions. A "secondary market" is when people can sell assets to each other after the original creator has sold them. For example, a collectors bookstore selling a used book, or EB selling a used video game. The existance of a secondary market increases the "liquidity" of the asset, in that you're able to resell your asset quickly/easily for a fair price. This creates value for the asset holder.

In other words, a functioning used book market increases the value for all book holders. By getting rid of the secondary market, the value is destroyed for potential new-book buyers. They're still paying the same amount for a new book, but they won't have the option of receiving a salvage value when they're sick of the book. One person's actions can't get rid of the secondary market on their own of course, but if everyone did it... tragedy of the commons.

That said, in the provided example, I'd probably go for the ebook. Just consider the above when talking about used books in general.

Quick tangent: this is why I get pissed off at the videogame publisher group the ESA (EA, Ubisoft, etc) with their DRM and lawsuits. They're trying to kill off both trading and the selling of used games. They are reducing the value of their product by depriving me of a secondary market, while still increasing their prices every year. Of course they have an incentive to remove the secondary market; they want to increase the primary market to make money for themselves. Jerks.

Pull (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929517)

Out of print does not mean the copyright has expired. Selling a used book is of course permitted under the First-sale Doctrine exemption recognized by SCOTUS in 1908 and codified in the Copyright Act of 1975. If publisher's would digitize their complete copyright inventory this problem could be quickly rendered mute once that is done and an accounting system for it established. The more recent works are probably stored in digital format already.

Amazon could promote potential reprints by reporting used book sales figures by title to the publishers. Search requests for ebooks by title that don't have an existing ebook could have a similar effect. Where Amazon maintains such databases and queries them resulting in information they think would improve their sales they should make the appropriate requests to the publisher which would mean guaranteed sales of the requested numbers and thus have a greater chance of getting the publishers to react. If this information results in new reprint and ebook sales then the creators should gain royalties.

Re:What's the difference here? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929563)

You're questioning the morality over paying Amazon to deliver an out of print book in paper form versus paying nothing for the same book in ebook format?

You do realize in both ways, the creator gets nothing. So where exactly is the problem?

Either you imply that there's a moral difference between buying a new and a used book since that decides how much the creator gets, or that there's no moral difference between buying a new book versus pirating the ebook. The point is that the author has gotten his money for the used copy somehow, it doesn't really matter how many layers of publishers and distributors and retailers and private citizens it's passed through. If there's a scarcity of copies, the author can still in theory print more if there's a market for it. Creating a new ebook copy reduces the market by one, because the used book seller can now sell it to someone else.

Of course you can say it's not going to happen anyway, the book's never going to be reprinted. But that's just picking the most convienient consequence (or lack thereof) of your actions. It's pretty easy to pirate Microsoft goods if you imagine you're just skimming a bit off the top of Bill Gates' money pile too. Whether it's that or taking away the income of the starving basement developer might be a degree of wrong, but it's usually not the decider on whether it's right or wrong (unless you get into Robin Hoods, and this isn't that kind of situation). There can never be a used sale without a first sale, but there can be piracy without a first sale. If you take away first sales from the author, that's bad right?

Re:What's the difference here? (2, Insightful)

Waccoon (1186667) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929623)

Well, from a moral standpoint, if a product isn't being made anymore but somebody has it in stock, I think it would be wrong to consider the product abandonware. Stores keep things in stock for a reason. I don't consider it terribly wrong to pirate something where there's no royalties to be paid, but still, arguing that it is moral isn't quite so easy. I appreciate people thinking about the artists first, but there's more to business than just content creation. Like them or not, the distributors have a place, unless you want to mail-order everything from the artist, which is hardly profitable for him/her.

It's different when only collectors have it in stock. Of the few things I got off Napster back in the day were the works of Marek i Vacek. I could not find any retailers with new-old-stock records or CDs of their works anywhere, and my original records were destroyed in a flood. When new CDs suddenly popped up out of nowhere a few years ago, of course I bought the official merchandise (specifically, things I didn't already have in my original collection).

Re:What's the difference here? (3, Insightful)

spintriae (958955) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929687)

When you buy a new book, it's not as if the author prints it out at his home and hand delivers it to yours. Many others put their resources into making the book available. So the question becomes more complicated than "is the author being compensated?" You should think about the publishers, printers, deliverers, retailers, etc. If you don't think any of them deserve your money, then by all means, download the pirated ebook. As a college student, I personally don't mind seeing used book stores stay in business.

Get it, then share it so others can enjoy (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929279)

Well, it would be pointless to buy it if author doesn't get revenue.
So just download it from the internet, that would be fair.
Then share it on the internet with others, so that other people can enjoy it too.

well..duh. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929295)

GenX : read the pirated version and say 'fuck you' to the copyright police.

Re:well..duh. (4, Insightful)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929573)

Boomer: I agree.

Copyright law got royally screwed up a few years ago. Now its principle purpose is to protect corporations from loss of perpetual profits, which is damn close to the antithesis of its original purpose (protecting the actual creator of a work from being screwed by marketeers).

Until there is a US Congress with the guts and brains to rewrite copyright law in keeping with its original intent, there is a strong Thoreau-ish argument that violating this law, in those manifold instances where it provides no benefit at all to any individual, is an expression of patriotic civil disobedience.

Go make your e-copy for yourself, or acquire one through whatever means you can find, knowing that you are not harming any individual. If you share that e-copy with friends or anonymous acquaintances, you are going a step further in limiting, to some small degree, the culture of corporate greed that has been allowed to wreck the USA economy in eight short years.

A non slashdot answer (-1, Troll)

Badbone (1159483) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929299)

The right thing to do is to buy it in whatever medium is available, or don't use it at all. Whether the author is going to recieve royalties is irrelevant.

If all they offer the Model-T is in black, then you get to liking black or you do without. You don't steal one because it's not your "preferred method".

Re:A non slashdot answer (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929415)

The right thing to do is to buy it in whatever medium is available, or don't use it at all. Whether the author is going to recieve royalties is irrelevant.

If all they offer the Model-T is in black, then you get to liking black or you do without. You don't steal one because it's not your "preferred method".

Actually, you would buy the Model-T, drive to the original designer, complain loudly that Ford can't design a spitoon let alone a car, take a dump in a box, wrap the box in a gift-wrap bow, write a nasty letter about not offering other colors besides black, and send it off to Ford. Then take the Model-T and paint it any goddamn color you like.

Your corporate facism is not appreciated. I really don't get a rat's ass what color it is, either you supply me with the product I want, or I will go to a competitor. If there is no competitor, then there is something terribly wrong isn't there?

Re:A non slashdot answer (1)

deimtee (762122) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929451)

If all they offer the Model-T is in black, then you get to liking black or you do without. You don't steal one because it's not your "preferred method".

But once you have bought a black model T, you are free to paint the thing any bloody colour you like. And then re-sell it too.

Re:A non slashdot answer (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929481)

If all they offer the Model-T is in black, then you get to liking black or you do without. You don't steal one because it's not your "preferred method".

That is one of the worst analogies even my /. standards. A more logical one would be, you want a model T in blue and there is an infinite stock of blue model Ts that never run out, however Ford doesn't get any revenue from these blue model Ts and you want to support Ford. However, Ford is bankrupt and the only way you can get the original model T is through third party sellers that you don't really want to support because you want a blue one.

There are two reasons stealing is wrong, A) someone doesn't get revenue from it and B) that person loses something. Pirating in this case doesn't affect A) because the original author doesn't get revenue from it either way, and B) there is an infinite supply of e-books that can never run out even if you download 435435436564575494390543905843905840 copies of it.

Re:A non slashdot answer (1)

duffel (779835) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929499)

What is this obsession with calling P2P "stealing"? Not every act of downloading files is stealing. Not a lawyer here, but surely stealing implies denying someone something, like an item or a sale. If no one is putting something on sale, then downloading shouldn't be stealing. Copyright infringement perhaps. Maybe ask the author for permission. Who knows, he might send you the text.

The Model T analogy is flawed on multiple levels. The question is more whether or not it's ok build one yourself using someone else's as a model, given they're no longer in production. (or if you have to resort to buying a used one... or if you have to buy a used one before you can build a copy yourself)

Oh and they were available in several colors from the beginning, so the whole "any color so long as it is black" line is a bit of a myth.

so long as its black (1)

duffel (779835) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929553)

Actually, I withdraw the "so long as it is black" line... it would appear that they were initially available in different colors, until the assembly line forced them to stick with one. Nevertheless, from that I guess there were Model-Ts in other colors around.

Not an interesring question here... (1)

Nicopa (87617) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929301)

Not an interesring question here because both answers are right in a way, and here we all favour one of them. This is a question that would be more interesting in a survey, to see how different ages/professions/genders/etc correlate with the idea of copyright, or even the meaning of "the law" vs "the sensible thing to do". It'd be interesting to see such a survey...

Yours is a loaded question. (2, Interesting)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929303)

Yours is a loaded question. I may be do the same thing as you, but not for the same reasons. If I want to sample an ebook, or just use it for reference, I'll download it for sure (I'll either pay for it, or barring that option I'll find it some place else). On the other hand, if I want to read a book in its entirety, I'll get a dead-tree version (new, used, or from the library, it doesn't really matter, I don't want to read a book in its entirety from a screen). I'm 33 years old, if that makes any difference.

what is technically "right" (i.e. legal) is ... (1)

siddesu (698447) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929307)

of course, to go with the wishes of the copyright owner, that is, buy the work and use it the way they have published it. whether this is wise, smart, useful or economically efficient has no bearing on the logic of the law, which is that copyright holder has a monopoly on copying until the copyright expires.

the right question is not so much "is downloading an illegal copy of a book i purchased unethical", but "is the law that determines copy rights ethical", i.e. does the law deliver on its promise -- to increase creativity, and whether extending the laws in the same direction is really smart.

you are pointing out an obvious failure of the law -- given monopoly profits, the copyright holder may find little incentive to offer works in novel formats that would benefit the society.

so, maybe the law is the problem.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929309)

You bought the book. You have done the legal, and ethical thing. Would using the free e-book version be any different than having a volunteer read the book that you've already bought and type it into your computer for you and your e-book to read? No.
The IP gets paid for once, not every time you read the book.

(Age: Mid 50's.)

my view (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929321)

The used market affects the market for in-print books. If there is enough demand for the book, the used price will rise. If it rises enough, there will likely be another printing of the book, and the author will benefit.

Personally, I don't think that the copyright term should be longer than twenty years, so if the work is older than that, I see no ethical problem with obtaining a copy by any otherwise legal method (so bit torrent is fine, but stealing a library copy isn't).

If the price for a used copy is exceedingly high, and there aren't plans for a new print run, then in my view, freedom of information triumphs, and it is again ethical to obtain your copy via bit torrent. So if the used copies are being sold for $100 each, and the originals were sold for $25, then I again have no ethical problem with using bit torrent.

Of course, legal and ethical are two entirely different things.

Free for all (1)

Charirner (1393091) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929325)

i think that all forms of the art's should be free to all so i would have no problem at all just getting the e-book

Well. (2, Insightful)

PieSquared (867490) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929329)

As a terminally broke college student, I don't see a serious ethical difference between "taking it out of the library, scanning a copy for personal use, and deleting it when I have to return the book, repeat every time I want to read the book" and "pirating it"... except that of course the first is far more work. Except that if nobody is selling the ebook legally, then I can't be said to be "stealing" that work *from* anyone.

I mean, you can make a pretty good argument that the work involved in making a digital readable copy of the book with nice type-setting and such means you're stealing an ebook even if you could get the book from the library (obviously it's worth *something* to you or you'd just go to the library). But when you're reading an OCR'd book full of misspelled or incorrect words with erratic formatting who's scanning someone knowingly donated to the public, and there's no "legal" version available you just can't really make that case. Especially since the book is out of print and most publishers probably consider re-selling books just as unethical as pirating an ebook.

So yea, I'd pirate it. This is assuming I had an ebook reader, I could never make it all the way through a book on my laptop. As things stands I'd just go to the library.

go for the etext. (0)

owlnation (858981) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929331)

I'm late Baby boomer, university grad. Authors don't make a huge amount from book sales. Publishers do. And publisher's costs are primarily on the physical logistics -- paper, printing, packaging, distribution and marketing. These don't apply in this case. They are not out of pocket. A print run is really expensive, so it's not worth their while if they won't sell 1,000s of copies. Nor do authors, nor publishers, make any money from secondhand sales anyway.

If you were to buy a book secondhand and scan it into an ebook by yourself -- something you are perfectly entitled to do for your own use -- neither the publisher, nor the author would gain. In this case, the original uploader, who presumably took the time to scan it, is the one who has incurred any costs.

I fail to understand why the author or the publisher doesn't have electronic copies available to download, even if from their own website. They are obviously missing an opportunity.

By encouraging the pirated ebook, you are only helping them. It will generate more interest in the author and their other work, and perhaps eventually encourage the publisher to reprint the book, or otherwise make it available in some format.

Re:go for the etext. (3, Insightful)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929547)

There's a valid claim in that purchasing a used book does benefit the publisher...it reduces the copies of used books out there, and makes it more likely they will sell a new one.

You may think that's rather indirect, but not really. They sold every single copy of their book out there exactly once. Any behavior that results in more copies of their book out there is beneficial to them, and someone buying a used copy means someone else didn't buy that used copy and might buy a new copy. (Or might buy a different used copy, which might result in someone else buying a new one, and so on...)

In the end, every copy of a used book you buy, or even every copy of a new book you bought and then didn't resell, is, statistically, about 4/5ths of a new book sale eventually made somewhere out there when someone would have purchased that copy and instead purchased another one. Losing only the 1/5th extra when people bought a different book instead, because that one wasn't handy or they never even heard of it.

Of course, none of this applies if the work is out of print. I have no moral qualms about making any amount of copies of out-of-print works I want. I can't possibly increase their sales by buying used copies if they aren't selling it. All I'm going to do it make it harder for other people to get a hold of it.

No, I don't care that demand for an out-of-print product could, in theory, cause it to come back in print. It is not my fucking job to fix the stupidity of companies not having actually popular books in print.

do what you will (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929333)

I'm 50, so that makes me a punk rock era boomer. I say: if the book is out of print, and it's not available as an ebook, and you find it on line as text, go for it.

Feelin' guilty? Fuck da police. Let 'em "come and gitcha".

RS

A Few Wishes... (1, Interesting)

Antlerbot (1419715) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929337)

Isn't it about time we stopped equating legality with morality? One need only look to corporate law to see that one's a slippery slope.

Also, can we get it through our collective skulls that piracy DOES NOT EQUAL theft? Piracy deprives no one physically or monetarily, though I agree it might be argued that it deprives them of the chance for a sale to whoever pirated the product. Nonetheless, the possibility of a sale does not equal a sale.

Re:A Few Wishes... (1)

Antlerbot (1419715) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929357)

Oh, and while I hate to double-post, here's my answer:

Buy the dead-tree version because I like a) having things in a bookshelf and b) being able to still read the damn thing when my (nonexistant) ebook reader gets lost or broken. Then download and send the author a couple bucks.

Gen X says.. (3, Insightful)

kiwioddBall (646813) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929339)

There is nothing more pleasurable than searching for old books in a second hand book store. Go and buy the printed version somewhere. Its environmentally friendly recycling of old books, and you can pass it on to someone afterwards, or back to the second hand book store. Printed books are a beautiful thing, and it makes me happy to think how many people have got pleasure from a single copy of a book. eBook readers are ugly things and use up heaps of resources - electronics, manufacture, batteries etc. Tradition is cool.

Re:Gen X says.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929365)

There are more pleasant things to do in a secondhand store. But it requires the right company, with the right fondness for archaic literature and a sense of the 'librarian in a severe dress with horn-rim glasses' costuming.

But that was a long time ago, and a wonderful, wonderful morning before the shop opoened up.

I remember life prior to the Internet (3, Interesting)

nullhero (2983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929353)

If a book is out of print and the publisher isn't going to ever publish it my feeling is that it is perfectly ethical to use the pirated eText that is found on the Internet. Legal? More than likely it is not. Is that right? More than likely it is not. You would think that in copyright law that if a publisher chooses to no longer publish a book than shouldn't that book fall into the Public Domain, assuming of course that the original author is dead, or has given up their copyright or copylefted it. I'm a 40 year old GenXer - who is currently a college student.

Re:I remember life prior to the Internet (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929665)

For a brand new book, the copyright should not depend strictly on their willingness to print copies of the book, there should be some period of exclusive rights (if only to sidestep the need to constantly be testing companies to see if they will publish a book). Also, crappy print-on-demand editions would pop up (which is good for the consumer, at least on some level) to stave off abandoning the rights.

Get a copy from the library (3, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929361)

is what I used to do when I was a student and had limited finances.

I wouldn't download a pirated e-book - I hate the format to begin with, and despite the fact the used book sale doesn't make it back to the original author directly demand for used copies is used by publishers to determine when to reprint a book.

Re:Get a copy from the library (1)

vandelais (164490) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929395)

Simply verify whether a library you have access to has the book on file. That way, it's fair use and all you would have to do to is demonstrate accessibility.

ethics and legality (3, Informative)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929377)

Ethically, I see no problem with copying it in whatever form you like if it's out of print or if it's older than 10-15 years. I consider copyrights lasting longer than 15 years and copyrights on out-of-print books to be unethical, but that's just me.

Legally, you are certainly completely in the clear if you buy a used copy and read it in paper form. You're probably in the clear if you scan the used copy yourself.

It's not clear what happens if you download a copy. The legality of that may depend more of who you copy from and where you live than whether you own a copy. Another possibility is that you borrow a copy and scan it yourself, or that you buy a copy, scan it, and then sell it again. I don't think any of those have been tested in court, and the legal situation may not agree with intuition.

Re:ethics and legality (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929701)

Legally, you are certainly completely in the clear if you buy a used copy and read it in paper form. You're probably in the clear if you scan the used copy yourself.

Yes.

It's not clear what happens if you download a copy. The legality of that may depend more of who you copy from and where you live than whether you own a copy.

Actually it is pretty clear - if the source is illegal, then it's illegal. If you rip your own CD to MP3s it's legal because the source is legal, if you download the same MP3s from P2P it's illegal. It doesn't matter if the outcome is the same, the legality depends on how you get there.

Another possibility is that you borrow a copy and scan it yourself, or that you buy a copy, scan it, and then sell it again. I don't think any of those have been tested in court, and the legal situation may not agree with intuition.

In the first case it's replacing a sale, and I think you'll find it very hard to get this covered by fair use. The second is pretty clearly a violation as your rights to the fair use copy cease when you sell it again. Or technically only your intent at the time the copy is made counts, but this kind of buy-copy-sell is definately not legal. Very hard to catch though, but that's not the same. Same strategy as those copying all Netflix movies btw.

Ask the author, not Slashdot (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929379)

My book is currently in print and available in both electronic and dead-tree versions, so this doesn't apply to me directly, but if it goes out of print I would have no problems putting the PDF version online. Quite a few authors have done the same thing - put the PDF copy online when the publisher has decided to stop distributing. Typically, all rights revert to the author at this point, so they can do whatever they want with it. If they think there's still a market for it, they can keep trying to sell it, or just put it online for anyone to read if that's too much effort for the return.

Re:Ask the author, not Slashdot (2, Interesting)

scradock (1420165) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929463)

Yes, from the author's point of view that is fair and reasonable. The problems arise when "rights" are held after an author is dead, or by persons/companies who are not the author. If an author does NOT recover the copyright when the publisher decides to stop making the book available for sale the author has lost all hope of any further rewards. Copyright law should surely make it obligatory for a copyright-holder to release the copyright, either to the author or to the public, when it no longer wishes to publish the work. In that way copyright law (a public policy) would protect the interest of the public, which has protected the rights of the copyright holder, once it no longer wishes to make the work available itself.

What I do is (1)

wmbetts (1306001) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929381)

buy the book and download the ebook version. I don't do this because of some moral / ethical reason. I do it because I like the book on my shelf, but prefer to read it digitally.

Out of print + refusal to make available (4, Insightful)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929389)

Suppose there is a book that you want to read on your ebook reader, but it is out of print and the publisher has refused to make it available as an ebook.

In cases like this, the correct thing to do would have the book in question fall immediately into the Public Domain.

That is, if we had IP laws that were set up to promote the progress of the useful arts as opposed to being set up in a way so as to make a few wealthy companies even wealthier.

Re:Out of print + refusal to make available (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929557)

Right. But its not like the few wealthy companies are getting even wealthier. If they won't publish the stuff, how exactly were they planning on making any money of of it?

Gen Y POV (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929391)

pirate the book. The author is not losing any profit since there is no paid version available. The author can't sue because in order to do that they would have to prove that you are taking money away from them...but you wouldn't be buying it at all otherwise so there is no loss

Re:Gen Y POV (1)

spandex_panda (1168381) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929505)

I agree, I would pirate the book and if I liked it a lot then I would donate some money to the author. I personally prefer paper 'dead tree' books, have been buying neal stephenson lately but I get them from ebay, second hand and for relatively cheap. This is actually depriving the author of money which he would have received had I purchased a new book. Maybe I should still send him some funds?

If you are reading this Neal, do you want a few bucks?

Early recorded music is in the same boat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929407)

In the late 90s, people began seriously digitizing old jazz and other music from ancient 33s and 78s and other discs. The facts are that even if the copyright holders could be tracked down, no music corporation would do anything but lose money making CDs.

The music would otherwise languish in catalogue cut out limbo.

Now, of course, that we have iTunes and other stores the problem is less acute but there's literally a mountain of lossless jazz recordings that was digitized by enthusiasts and it's out there.

Re:Early recorded music is in the same boat (1)

number11 (129686) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929607)

In the late 90s, people began seriously digitizing old jazz and other music from ancient 33s and 78s and other discs.

Ancient 33s? You insensitive clod, I remember when 33s (with microgrooves !) were hot new tech. And intro computer books discussed accumulators and registers and explained binary, because not only was there no C++, but they hadn't even invented the beginning of the alphabet yet.

Frankly, if it's out of print I don't think there is any ethical or moral question at all. Fire up uTorrent or watch alt.binaries.ebooks and grab a copy, or xerox (don't give me no crap about the lowercase X) your elderly uncle's copy. The whole concept of Imaginary Property has been perverted by corporate swine (who will no doubt rationalize printing out this post and passing it around, in violation of my own copyright). But note that I Am Not Your Lawyer, and just because a law is stupid doesn't mean they can't hurt you if they catch you.

Wrong assumption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929419)

So, if the author receives non-reimbursable advance royalties and does not expect to reach that level of sales, any sale will not bring additional money to the author.

Should we then just buy one copy and pirate from there? What about the work of the publisher (proof-reading, editing, promoting), does it deserve any payments?

BTW, I don't remember any contracts stating that the author receives no royalties after the book is out of print, and more prints are made.

I'm curious about wording? (1)

mseidl (828824) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929433)

the MPAA and RIAA and the other likes always complain about losing money to piracy. But, is this the right wording or is this a play on words?

For example. I download an album, which I would never consider buying. They claim they lost money. But, it's not like they had my 15$ and I took it back. How can you "lose" what you don't have?

And, how much did they really think? I mean, look at the recent case with the RIAA where the lady was ordered to pay ~220,000$ for downloading 24 songs?

Two albums = ~30$. I'm confused about the whole thing. But it really just seems of misusing words to get people on their side.

Re:I'm curious about wording? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929699)

Saying you would never consider buying it doesn't change the fact that you illegally got something for nothing. You got complete access to a creative work whose owner charges money for such access. The idea behind copyright is to allow the owners a limited time to set such restrictions, thereby incentivizing the creation of such works. You may personally disagree with this premise, or perhaps you feel the laws as currently implemented are overweighted in favor of the owners. Does that give you license to ignore those laws?

Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929441)

Buy the dead tree version, so you own a copy.

Then pirate the not-officially-existing-"e" version, so you can read it the way you want.

Not paying money for something just because the original creator is dead is a crap argument. There were other people involved, including the publisher who took the risk to pay for printing their work.

poaching books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929455)

Would you buy ivory from an antique market, or fur from a second hand shop? If you buy cannabis to smoke in the privacy of your own home, that may not be unethical, but if you don't live in the Netherlands then you probably bought it from people who ultimately are connected (at some point in the chain) to organised crime and human trafficking and that certainly is unethical.

Don't support unethical practices, even if they are "after the event."

On topic: if you need to read something that is out of print, go to a copyright library (many universities have one for example) and make a copy for personal use.

Obviously (1)

ekimd (968058) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929457)

"I've noticed that attitudes around copyright seem to change depending on whether someone is a college student or a recent college graduate, versus someone who can remember a time when the Internet did not exist."

That's because younger generations believe in the free exchange of information.

The Constitution says ... (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929469)

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

IANAL, but it seems to me that the key condition here is: 'To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts'. Once the copyright or patent holder ceases publishing, licensing, or producing the work or invention, progress has ceased. And so should the term of this right.

Ethics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929477)

The ethical thing is to buy it in dead-tree form, which is how books SHOULD be read. College student here, saying: fuck ebooks, and fuck you.

The answer to ethical questions.... (1)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929493)

The answer to ethical questions is "What would be the result if everyone did this?"

In this case if everyone did this there are two obvious problems:

- There rarely be a second printings of a book. This deprives authors of (much needed and already rare) revenue.

- There would be no purpose to used book stores, putting them out of business and depriving their customers the ability to buy affordable books.

And probably a few more.

The "My preferred format" crap is just that. To use the oft abused car metaphor: If someone doesn't make a car I want in the color I want, I'm not allowed to steal it just so I can paint it the color I want.

Re:The answer to ethical questions.... (3, Insightful)

Locklin (1074657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929615)

To use the oft abused car metaphor: If someone doesn't make a car I want in the color I want, I'm not allowed to steal it just so I can paint it the color I want.

What? that doesn't even make sense. I guess I'm hurting those poor used book stores as well, since I use the library. People don't "deserve" to earn money if they don't provide a service people want; those stores will exist as long as people want to buy used books, and no longer.

ROMS (1)

Farmer Pete (1350093) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929529)

I've asked this same question myself about SNES Roms. For instance, I loved Final Fantasy 6 for the SNES (Released as FF3 in the USA), but there isn't a good place to buy it any more. I used this to justify playing the ROM. And then you have some roms like the sequel to Secret of Mana that was NEVER released in the USA, but some guys translated it and released the ROM. How can I feel guilty if Squaresoft wont release the game in the USA? The trick to these types of justifications is that if you do justify your actions based on these pretenses, you will have to make sure to pay attention to the situation to see if those pretenses change. For instance, if Square releases FF6 on Nintendo DS, I'll feel inclined to purchase a DS and FF6. In your example, if the publisher ever releases an eText version, you'll need to actually purchase it.

Out of Print Means Out of the Money (1, Redundant)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929533)

If a book is out of print and unavailable new then the publisher clearly has relinquished any intent of marketing the book for money. With Print On Demand so easily available they have to seriously not want to sell any more copies of this book for profit. To me that has thrown it into the Public Domain unless the author can wrest the copyright back to market it him/herself. Of course if the author is marketing it then it's not out of print any longer. Downloading a pirate copy beats stealing it from the library to keep or copy.

Of course, if it's available as an e-book then it was likely marketed that way initially (lot of effort to convert print to e-book just to give it away afterwards) so do e-books actually go out of print?

Re:Out of Print Means Out of the Money (2, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929619)

so do e-books actually go out of print?

Depends. If the DRM isn't cracked soon enough eventually the DRM servers will go dead and the book ends up effectively going out of print. If the DRM is cracked or the book is DRM free then no because there can easily be new copies made. Now, these new copies might not exactly give the author any profit but it will effectively keep the book in print.

Re:Out of Print Means Out of the Money (1)

Compulawyer (318018) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929631)

I hate to quibble but:

With Print On Demand so easily available they have to seriously not want to sell any more copies of this book for profit. To me that has thrown it into the Public Domain unless the author can wrest the copyright back to market it him/herself.

That does not put a work into the public domain. Works are put into the public domain either by an explicit abandonment of the copyright (dedication to the public) or by the expiration of the term of the copyright. There is no obligation on a copyright holder to make copyrighted works available. Agree or disagree with the wisdom of that rule and the policies behind it, but that is the rule.

On a side note, under certain circumstances and after certain time periods, in the US an author who assigned copyrights to another can in fact reclaim those copyrights.

Ask. (3, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929537)

This is one of those cases you might just contact the author and ask.

Re:Ask. (1)

apollosfire (954290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929595)

I agree completely. I've just posted a comment on the blog (awaiting moderation) asking why they didn't consider that as an option:

Of course, another option would be to contact the author BEFORE doing anything. Write her a letter telling her that you enjoyed her work and are interested in more, but that it is out of print and explain your situation. Specifically ask her if it would be okay with her for you to download her books, and that you'd be willing to send her some money. Nine times out of ten, you'll get a perfectly rational person who will say "Sure, download it. Don't worry about the money - glad that you enjoy my work! Thanks for the letter." An older, more niche author will really appreciate letter. Even if she doesn't turn out to be as charitable as that, you'll respect her wishes and not just do what the internet thinks. It is very unlikely that any author would essentially tell somebody not to read their works.

Steal it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929543)

Simple answer, pirate it. Posting as anon for obvious reasons... Steal everything if you can. I create IP for a living, my Dad creates IP for a living, and I know many others. If you don't get paid for it the first time (i.e. on commission), don't expect any money later. It's only yours until someone else sees it, after that, fair game. Don't even worry about the original author getting payment for it in the first place - that's his responsibility. Cry about it if you like, but this it the Real World. Take anything that isn't nailed down, and lock your own shit up tight.

- Coward

Do both. (1)

davolfman (1245316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929599)

Seriously. Do both. Buy the used book thereby doing your little part to take it out of circulation and show increased demand for it so it might get reprinted. Then read the pirate version. As you already have a copy you've got a reasonable legal defense of format shifting, not that anyone is likely to go after you, traditional publishers aren't insane like the MAFIAA. If you really feel an extra ethical need send a few bucks to the author. While you're at it urge him to see if he contracted for etext rights with his original publisher and if not recommend your own preferred electronic publisher.

Simple - It isn't your choice. (0)

Compulawyer (318018) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929601)

The right thing to do is to get it in your non-preferred form and deal with the inconvenience of not having access to a "modern" format. The author was the original copyright holder and he or she probably assigned the copyright to a publisher. Whomever holds the copyright gets to control distribution of the work. If the copyright holder doesn't want to distribute in electronic form, it is their choice to make.

The mere fact that you as a consumer have a strong desire to obtain something does not impose an obligation on another to make the thing you desire available to you. Unless licensed (and that is likely the case because if a license existed you would be able to get the work electronically), whomever created the electronic version created an unauthorized derivative work under the copyright laws and is an infringer.

Re:Simple - It isn't your choice. (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929697)

The right thing to do is to get it in your non-preferred form and deal with the inconvenience of not having access to a "modern" format. The author was the original copyright holder and he or she probably assigned the copyright to a publisher. Whomever holds the copyright gets to control distribution of the work. If the copyright holder doesn't want to distribute in electronic form, it is their choice to make.

Did you even read the summery before you started trolling? The book is out of print, yes the copyrights still are with the publisher/author but with a used book neither of them are making a cent . So really, downloading the unofficial e-book is not going to harm the copyright holders at all. So really, whats the harm? Oh sure you are a bad person for breaking all the copyright crap that the USSA has created, but use some common sense, if it isn't hurting anyone it isn't stealing, if you extend the same logic to physical duplicators of things it would be a crime to duplicate your friend's new car.

I guess it depends which country you're in (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929605)

Some countries don't enforce copyrights especially when it profits them to ignore them. What nation is the Internet again?

Re:I guess it depends which country you're in (0)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929643)

How would copyrights even really apply to this situation? The book is making no money, and is out of print. And are you going to sue for something that you aren't losing any money on? I think not...

No useful information (1)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929609)

If you expect to get any useful information from /., you're sorely mistaken.

That said, I'm a Gen Yer and would be reasonably willing to download, but I'd be more willing to find a different book. If I knew of a particular out-of-print book that I wanted... I certainly wouldn't buy used books online. I'd prefer a reasonable quality used book to an ebook, but I'd not hesitate to download if the physical copy was not readily available.

Why not just contact the author directly? (2, Interesting)

I_want_information (1413105) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929633)

A few years ago I was faced with a similar dilemma: a book on computer game creation, one which I wished for my students to read, was regrettably out of print.

I found a PDF of it online, being used at another university. I contacted the professor and asked how she had come by it; she gave me the author's email address.

I contacted the author, explained what I wanted to do, and he gave me authorization to freely use the PDF.

PayPal (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929635)

These days all author's should have PayPal accounts so that you can assuage your guilt (if any) over pirating their work, or feeling that they're being screwed by their publishers/music company (consumers are being screwed in return by the Mickey Mouse Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, but that's another subject) by making a payment directly to them for a secondhand book or pirate download. They'd be happy for the extra money and you might sleep better at night.

Disclaimer: I do not work for PayPal or eBay.

out of print means abandoned. do what you want. (1, Interesting)

swschrad (312009) | more than 5 years ago | (#25929667)

same thing with any other media. these guys can keep their content availiable 24/7/365/endless for the cost of two sales a month. if they don't want to, then AFAIAC they have abandoned the work, do what you want.

By Neruos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25929679)

Books are information and as such all information should be free, good or bad. The ethics shouldn't be if a book should be free or not, but is a book being wrote for money or for the merits of information. The concepts of wrote speech was in itself not for the financial reward but for the content in the first place. Making mass productions and other visual aspects for the book including art, etc and the marketing behind it is the drive for the book.

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