On How Many Times I Should Get Paid For a Book (By Readers)
Posted on April 7, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 198 Comments
Randy Cohen, who writes the “Ethicist” column at the New York Times, caused a minor fracas this week when he told someone who had purchased a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Under the Dome and then also downloaded a pirated electronic copy for travel purposes, that they were ethically in the clear for the illegal download. Cohen’s reasoning is, hey, the guy paid for the thing, and because he paid for it once, he should have the right to enjoy it in whatever format he likes. Therefore the download, while illegal, was not unethical.
Personally I think Cohen is pretty much correct. Speaking for myself (and only for myself), when I put out a book and you buy it for yourself in whatever format you choose to buy it in, the transactional aspect of our relationship is, to my mind, fulfilled. You bought the book once and I got paid once; after that if you get the book in some other format for your own personal use, and I don’t get paid a second time, eh, that’s life.
So, as examples: If you bought the paperback copy of one of my books and then liked it so much that you pick up a cheap remaindered hardcover edition for archival purposes, great. If you buy a hardcover copy, lose track of it, and then pick up a used paperback copy for re-reading, groovy. If you buy a trade paperback edition of one of my books and then happen to find a free electronic version of the same book, which you then download onto your cell phone for travel purposes, that seems reasonable to me.
Now, in each case, if you decided to pay me or any author a second time, I wouldn’t complain — indeed, please do! Athena’s college fund thanks you. And it’s what I do; for example I recently paid for and downloaded an authorized electronic copy of China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station because I wanted to read it again and my trade paper copy is currently in a box in my basement. I didn’t want to bother to dig it out, I didn’t want to have to troll the underside of Teh Internets for a pirate copy, I can afford the $6.39 authorized copy cost, and I like paying authors. Likewise I usually buy new editions of books I’ve lost or displaced, again because I can afford it and because philosophically I am inclined to do so.
I pay the authors more than once, because I can and I think I should. However, I also put such actions in the ethical category of “morally praiseworthy but not morally obligatory” — that is, I believe my transactional responsibility to the author was fulfilled the first time I paid her. Additional payments to the author are optional, and indeed are sometimes transactionally difficult. If a book is out of print I may have no choice but to buy a used physical copy, for which an author gets nothing, or acquire an unauthorized electronic edition, which again gives nothing to the author.
The moral issue with unauthorized/pirated electronic copies of works has to do with the fact that a) they were put out online by people who didn’t have permission to do so, and b) that it makes it easy for people who haven’t paid for the work and have no intention of paying for it to acquire it and share it with other people who also have no intention of paying for it. These are separate moral issues than the issue of whether someone who has paid full freight for an author’s work should feel bad about acquiring a second copy of the work for personal use without additional financial benefit to the author.
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 don’t take kindly to it and neither do my publishers, who have lots of lawyers. Please don’t post my work online without permission, and please don’t share unauthorized copies with others. I thank you in advance for your sterling morals in this area.
But if that work is out there online, and the guy who just bought an authorized version — thus paying me and the people who worked on the book — downloads it for his personal use, am I going to be pissed at him? No, I don’t really have the time or inclination. Maybe it would have been marginally more ethical for the fellow to have, say, scanned in each individual page and OCR’d it himself, thus making the personal copy he’s allowed to make under law, rather than looking for it online. And maybe I’d ask him how it was he got so knowledgeable in the ways of the dirty, dirty undernet, where pure and innocent books are exposed to bad people, and suggest to him that he get his computer checked for viruses. But at the end of the day, he did pay me, and paid my publisher.
(That said, I do think there are limits to this. For example, I think an audio book and a text book are two separate things, because a significant part of the audio book is the performance of the reader, an aspect that is not there in the original book. Likewise buying a book doesn’t give you a free pass to torrent the movie version of the book; alternately, having bought a Halo video game doesn’t give you a moral green light to snarf down a Halo novel. Etc.)
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. There are distribution issues with doing something like this (unlike physical movie media, books are typically sold unsealed) but these aren’t unsolvable; I think in a later post I’ll talk about this in more detail.
But the point to make here is that these days, people are deciding that when they buy a book or a movie or a piece of music, they’re buying the content, not the format. As a writer I don’t have a philosophical problem with this, since I write content, not format, even if publishers want that content to fit a particular format. And as a consumer, I think there’s a certain point at which you get to say “you know what, I’ve paid for this already, and I’m done paying any more for it.” Both of these are why I say that if you’ve paid me once for a book I’ve written and what you’ve enjoyed, we’re good. Pay me again if you like; I won’t complain. But once is enough.
“However, I also put such actions in the ethical category of ‘morally praiseworthy but not morally obligatory’…”
A single, useful adjective for “beyond the call of duty”: supererogatory. (I find that word neat and wished to share it.)
I’m trying to pronounce that word and my mouth is fighting me.
Hmm. I’m sensing that you’re implying that buying used books is not much better than stealing them, and that, from the author’s point of view, it is essentially the same thing.
I buy dozens of books a year, many of them used. I enjoy finding bargains and rarities. Am I unwittingly being a jerk as a reader?
n.b. — all John Scalzi books I own were purchased new. Then again, I have yet to see any in used bookstores.
What I really want to see is when I buy a hardcover book, a receipt code for an electronic version. A version that would be compatible with whatever device I wanted. Why Amazon is not doing that already for the Kindle I have no idea, but it seems reasonable.
“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 still have the free ebook version of Old Man’s War that I downloaded from TOR.com a while back. That was the book that introduced me to your work and your website. Do you mind if I share that file with friends? I won’t post it online or anything like that. I’m just wondering if I can email it to someone to introduce them to your stuff as well.
“…bundle a legal electronic copy of the work in with the hardcover release”
This would make me so happy to see in reality. If it happened, I might have to start buying hardcovers instead of waiting for the paperback.
Along the lines of #3 Evan, the majority of the books/CDs/DVDs that I buy are used, either used stores or garage sales. Some of these are out of print items but the majority are not. The only stuff that I download for free are items intended to be downloaded for free by their authors.
I don’t see this as morally different than buying a used car. Purchase generally extends certain rights to the owner including resale.
You know, there’s a place I always go to when I want to read a book that I have no plans to buy – OR that I might in fact buy after reading and enjoying.
It’s called a “library”. Just saying.
I rarely purchase hardcovers, but you know what I did last Christmas? I sent my parents a short list of possible books I’d love to own and they actually BOUGHT me one. Hardcover, even.
Now, I’m not perfect, but it just seems to me that a person unwilling to BUY a recently published book ought to find alternatives to the pirates.
“I’m sensing that you’re implying that buying used books is not much better than stealing them”
You’re sensing incorrectly. I don’t have a problem with people buying used books. They’re legal, I buy them myself, and it’s a good, cheap way to make an introduction to a new-to-you author.
That said, if you want to support an author, you buy new, because they get paid for those books, not used books, or books one downloads illegally online.
I think Tor distributed those with the idea they were for personal use, not for sharing. No one’s going to stop you from doing it, however.
I fully support libraries as a source of free, legal entertainment. Especially because when they buy copies to give to patrons, I get paid.
re: bundling electronic and print, this is wonderful for nonfiction for electronic search ability and you’re more likely to be looking for a particular formula/code snippet/rule.
I’ve seen publishers do bundling when you purchase directly from them but it’s tricky otherwise.
I wish publishers would offer some kind of bundle deals for books/audiobooks. There’s certain books I’d like to experience both in text and audio, and I’d be happy to pay a little bit more for them.
When you download an electronic backup of a physical copy, the people who went through the work of converting the books aren’t getting paid. If you already own an electronic edition, and you just download it illegally a second time I figure no harm is done in a financial sense.
That said, “bundling” from direct purchases from a publisher is a great idea. The one problem is that Some monopolist wannabe (rhymes with barbazon) may well try to undercut this for a while, take a loss at it, and force competitors out of business. This is good for consumers in the short run, but bad in the long run.
“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. There are distribution issues with doing something like this (unlike physical movie media, books are typically sold unsealed) but these aren’t unsolvable; I think in a later post I’ll talk about this in more detail.”
Actually, Baen already does this. The first edition hard covers of some of their books are released with a CD containing electronic copies of all Baen published books written by the author. Granted, they only do this between 2-3 times per year, and only in books by their top selling authors (David Weber, David Drake and John Ringo, at the moment). Still, it is proof that the distribution issues can be over come.
So, shall we say that buying new books from an author you like is superoroa .. superoro .. superor …
Well, you know what I mean.
Here’s a question, and I’m guessing that I already know the answer, but where does lending out a physical copy of the book fall within this? I’ve got four of your books on my bookshelf – what if a friend of mine really wants to read your book, but is really cheap and just wants to borrow the book from me?
As an aspiring writer, I wouldn’t download the extra copy for free; I’d buy it. My thoughts about what a normal consumer should do fall closely in line with yours.
Once again, you have succinctly summed up a potentially complicated issue by weeding through the initial emotional impulses and–dare I say it?–actually thought about it. That’s why I get this feed, even though science fiction isn’t my area; there’s always something worth reading here.
Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet here is that the NYT ethicist feature involved a case where the customer COULDN’T find a legal electronic copy (which is what they really wanted to begin with). I think this makes it even more clearly not-a-problem than if s/he just didn’t want to pay the extra $6.39 for the ebook. This customer bought a format they DID NOT WANT as the publisher refused to sell them the format they wanted at any price.
Also, I just want to point out that Baen does in fact bundle electronic versions (on CDs) with some of their hardcover releases, has for years in fact.
I don’t often disagree with you, but I think you’re flat wrong on this one. As is the NYT ethicist, who has failed prima facie in his self-proclaimed role by giving this advice.
#Scalzi: I’m so glad you feel this way, since I have bought everythng you’ve done (Zoe and TGE autographed, thankyouverymuch) and I’ve also grabbed them all online, since when I go out of town and feel like going on a Scalzi binge, I have them with me.
QUESTION, if the China Mieville book was only available as an ebook for $25 (or higher; I’ve seen them for $30 when the paperback is out for $8) because the publisher just ‘doesn’t get it’, would you have felt the same way? I mean, the publisher has the right to price however they want, but I’ve already BOUGHT the right to read it…
#Josh: Most of the ebooks I’ve seen were done by fans, doing their own scanning, OCR and proofreading. The first page will usually have version#, so the higher the version#, the more proofreading has been done.
But everything on my Sony reader is a copy of a dead tree book I have upstairs on the shelves. I just like having all my favorites available…
@ # 16 – Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet here is that the NYT ethicist feature involved a case where the customer COULDN’T find a legal electronic copy
In that case, what happens when/if the electronic copy comes out? I’d say the downloader is ethically obliged to buy a copy.
I should add that so far I have no interest at all in ebooks. I’ve read texts from Project Gutenberg on occasion, but while I am an avid reader (fiction and nonfiction), I just don’t find regular books inconvenient at all. Unlike music that is fairly short length, loading up an e-reader with more than one book seems a waste.
My feelings on this are subject to change, ESPECIALLY if a more open reader becomes widely available. (I’m opposed to the current locked-in popular ones because I have made a choice not to sacrifice freedom for convenience. YMMV. I also)
I don’t know where that fits me in with the rest of your regular readership.
I know Evil Hat games (a publisher of RPG sourcebooks) has a deal that not only will they sell you a ebook copy of their products for free if you buy a print copy, but will also send you a ebook copy if you send them a scanned receipt saying you bought the print copy.
The problem with taking this from a small publisher with a limited number of releases to, say, Tor Books, would be scaling. There’d probably have to be checking to ensure that the same receipt wasn’t used for hundreds of free books, or even just the ‘load file, check to see if it works, open mail, attach ebook to mail, click send’.
One could do what textbooks do nowadays, and print a ‘code’ that lets you get into free online content, but only works for a limited amount of uses (or has to be linked to an account — for instance, let’s say Tor.com made you get an account with them, and there you could enter book codes to get your backup ebooks). Downside is that you’d have to figure out a way to keep people from ripping off codes in stores.
I do like the idea of book CDs bundled with hardcovers that someone said Baen did — for instance, being able to go out and buy the newest book in a series and get the rest in ebook form. Heck, I’d even pay a bit extra for it.
Some of David Weber’s books – the hardcovers, mind you – have come with a CD of not only the book itself but also titles from his back catalog.
I love it! Never mind that I own almost all of them in dead tree format; the convenience I get from also having authorized electronic copies is great, and makes it easier to avoid fighting over who gets to read the next book first during a reread.
@wygit – All the same, if a legal e-edition is out there legally, you’re sidestepping people who got paid by the publisher to do the job. Look, if I buy a movie, then rip the soundtrack (let’s assume for the purpose of argument that the soundtrack is rippable in such a way that one can listen to it without dialog, I know it doesn’t actually work that way) the people who put the CD of the soundtrack together are getting sidestepped in that scenario. They deserve to be paid as much as John’s ebook editors do.
If I buy Old Man’s War, I own the physical book, and it’s mine. If I pirate an ebook edition, I’m sidestepping the people at Tor who’re trying to make a living selling ebooks.
You want lower ebook prices? If you can buy an ebook legally, but choose to download it, you’re screwing yourself and the editors. And if you get an online edition that’s done by fans where no legal copy was available, you need to buy one once it’s legally for sale, or as I said, you’re screwing yourself and the people who later go on to put out an ebook edition.
Jay Lake @ #17 – it helps if you tell us *why* he’s wrong :-)
Why not just drop the first “r” sound, like most everybody does with “prerogative”…?
I think that an author benefits any time his/her work ends up consumed by a new reader, regardless of the method by which that reader acquired the work. The potential upside of a new reader, both from their future purchases and their word-of-mouth value, outweighs the short-term loss of a single sale.
(Of course, this fails to address the moral issue of any of the illegal methods, but I think Mr. Scalzi already did a fine job of that.)
I understand that most publishers get electronic as well as print rights when they acquire a book from an author. So in that respect, if I buy a book and download a pirated electronic copy I’ve still paid both the publisher and the author. Ethics check passed.
I also understand that audio performance rights for a book are usually sold separately, possibly to a different publisher. (Someone who has actually sold a book feel free to correct me, but I seem to recall a fuss over the Kindle having text to speech capability because of this.) So if I buy a book and download a pirated audio book file I’ve paid the author and the print publisher but I haven’t paid the audio book publisher. Ethics check fail? I think so.
It seems to me the ethical lines fall along the publisher’s rights as well as the author’s.
As for buying used books: those were at one point sold new, so the authors and publishers did get paid for them. It may be that originals of pirated works were also legally purchased, but you can’t give the same used book to 800 of your closest friends.
Interesting topic and refreshing concerning JS opinion.
I for one will buy a legal copy of a work. Sometimes new, sometimes used. If I really like the book or series I will buy new when it first comes out.
I for one agree that once I bought it, I bought it and it is mine. If it is a ebook or audiobook I will remove DRM so I have the freedom to do with it what I will. I think the only area I disagree a bit on is with the audiobook version. Let me first say I almost always buy that version and may obtain the ebook version elsewhere. But to me they are all the same. The area is gray I know and reminds me of the drama over the Kindle’s text to speech capability when it first came out.
The problem with taking this from a small publisher with a limited number of releases to, say, Tor Books, would be scaling. There’d probably have to be checking to ensure that the same receipt wasn’t used for hundreds of free books, or even just the ‘load file, check to see if it works, open mail, attach ebook to mail, click send’.
This is pretty much a solved problem, technically speaking. One-use code on the receipt that invalidates itself after the first download, and a site that checks codes and delivers the book. No need for human intervention in the process. It’d require integration with retailer’s POS, though, so probably only big chains would be able to participate.
“QUESTION, if the China Mieville book was only available as an ebook for $25 (or higher; I’ve seen them for $30 when the paperback is out for $8) because the publisher just ‘doesn’t get it’, would you have felt the same way?”
I probably wouldn’t have downloaded the copy and would have just waited to unpack it.
“I think you’re flat wrong on this one.”
That’s okay. It’s also why I noted I was speaking for myself and only myself. I should also note that while this is my opinion it might not be the opinion of any organization which I might be in the running to lead, whether or not I succeed in my campaign to run it.
“where does lending out a physical copy of the book fall within this?”
I don’t have a problem with anyone lending their personal books to anyone else.
“When you download an electronic backup of a physical copy, the people who went through the work of converting the books aren’t getting paid.”
I think someone else noted that most illegal copies at this point are not cracked legit electronic copies but copies OCR’d by some dude. I don’t think they expect to be paid (or should be). In the larger sense, I suspect that the production cost for the legit copy is subsumed in the overall book production cost; I’m not sure the eBook production crew is paid only out of the income from eBooks.
re:the bundling concept, what are the ethical obligations for the unwanted formats? One of the reasons I bought the kindle was to save space in the house while maintaining access to all the books. Since I’m not a collector, the physical book holds no real interest for me, especially if it’s a mass market novel. So while I’ll buy the bundle, I’ll get rid of the physical book. Destroying it feels morally wrong (I would find it hard to destroy a book I hated, much less one I liked), but giving it the library, a friend, selling it to the used bookstore, etc. isn’t perfectly correct either. Unless the bundled version costs more than the physical book. However, in that case the book is essentially the annoying novelty bookends or cyclon head etc. the studio decided you had to buy to get the extended directors cut, or the concert film. which is annoying. obviously not a huge deal, but irritating.
Part of this too may simply be a pricing issue. I may not want to pay $10 for an e-reader version of a book already sitting on my bookshelf, so I’ll go through the hassle of visiting the dark corners of the Internet to find it for free. However, if that e-reader version were $1.99 I’d likely happily pay it to avoid the hassles of the other way.
The challenge for the publisher is how to do this without cannibalizing book sales. A unique code on the inside of each book could be used only once, or maybe 3 times, or whatever, to download a free or low cost e-book copy of the same book. I think you can make an argument that the convenience of the additional electronic copy has value, and that value can have a price on it. I suspect that price is much closer to $0.00 than $10 though.
This is all theoretical for me today. I won’t buy a Kindle or anything like it until I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to move my purchases around to different devices at a later date.
I hate to be the negative nanny here…
But assuming a legal version is available, this man’s purchase of a hardcover does not compensate for all the work that goes into making the legal electronic version. And it does encourage a trade that ultimately steals from the author/publisher etc.
Obviously the smart idea is to make those versions easily available to thwart the pirate.
Bundling is fine idea, as long as there is always a choice. I don’t have an electronic reader and doubt if I would choose it for a work of novel length fiction. I would prefer not to pay for what I don’t use.
re: bundling an electronic version with the dead tree version:
I would so very much buy that. That would, in fact, be a selling point.
Retroactive would be nice, too, but I can see why that’d be tricky.
My mind goes back to a time when music was available, mostly, on these large flat vinyl circles called “records”. And while many people had devices in their cars called “tape decks”, it was highly unlikely they had something called a “record player” so many of us who did pay for the record would also make a duplicate, unauthorized, copy onto a “blank tape” in order to listen to the music we’d purchased while cruising High Street.
I see this as no different. One has already paid for a copy of the work. Someone else just happens to have done the work of OCR’ing it into digital format (i.e. – someone else taped it for me, since I only had a record player and not a tape recorder)
I’m another reader who would love to see bundling of print and ebook copies. And while I drop a lot of money per year on books, very few of those wind up being hardbacks. I’d totally bump up my hardback purchase rate if the hardbacks came with a download code for an authorized ebook.
Most of the e-books that I’ve looked at are not copies of e-books, but of paper. The pirated copies are usually of new stuff. For instance, a few days after I got my copy of The God Engines (paper), it was available for free as a pirated e-book. But you have to be invited into the site, so it’s not like the general pirating public had access to it. For me it’s only an issue for study in market trends and behavior; I can’t see myself bothering with an e-reader until the txt is in 3D. Oh yeah!
TomG@20: Every reader on the market will read non-DRMed ebooks just fine and every reader on the market except the Kindle supports epub, letting you buy books from a variety of different sources. There is no “lock in” at all for any reader except for the Kindle.
#34: and there’s actually a small fee tacked on to the price of blank tapes and CDs and recorders that goes to the RIAA , because copying from one format to another is allowed by law. http://bit.ly/d8j8DD
I’ve always thought J.K. Rowling’s contributions to the promotion of ebook piracy were pretty amusing.
“The JK Rowling books are not allowed to be released in digital format, but pirates had the book scanned and turned into a digital copy within hours of their release.”
I think the lack of availability of non-DRM-crippled, reasonably priced ebooks is doing FAR more to promote piracy than just ‘people wanting books but not wanting to pay for them’.
Apple finally dropped DRM on iTunes music not to be ‘nice’, or ‘fair’, but because Amazon came out with a music store that could actually compete, with non-DRM music.
Wow. I bought a hardcover copy of Android Dreams in Chapters…. the only real book store in Canada… for $1.99. I had already read it… the paperback was still (with multiple copies) on the shelf.. but I found it in the bargain bin. i had read it before… and I have not picked up that copy yet.
Am I a good fan? I do not know. I think maybe I only ever bought a copy of Scalzi new at full price with Zoe’s Tale. I have talked Scalzi up… too many people. I do not know if anyone bought his books though. My ex girlfriend introduced me to your blog.. she had read it for years…. still does.. never read a book by you. She is in a book club. I said agent to the stars is so amazing and not like Scifi.. it is just a fun romp… read it on a Maine beach in June in 2008 from the library. Library copy was autographed.. apparently it was worth like $1000 to some at the time. I read it IN THE OCEAN on a lawn chair. Cold Ocean.. hot day, great book. If my ex takes my advice maybe someday 10 people buy agent to the stars. But maybe it never happens.
I read your blog… I referred a zillion people to the being poor post.. well not a zillion really. I wanted to but I do not know how many people went. I read it and wept.. and wept some more.
My point is.. I love your work.. I have read it all. I have maybe only ever bought one book new… Zoe’s Tale. I have pimped you greatly.. I do not know if that helped you much at all. Maybe it has or has not.
As a huge fan…. and a reader of your blog and your books… I do not know if I have helped you earn more than a dollar or two…. maybe a little more. Maybe not.
[i]You bought the book once and I got paid once; after that if you get the book in some other format for your own personal use, and I don’t get paid a second time, eh, that’s life.[/i]
Wait. What? If I buy your book in hardback then again in mass market, you don’t get royalties on both those sales????
To those saying that downloading an e-book is wrong because the e-book team isn’t getting paid for their work…
I disagree if the pirate copy is the product of OCR and not a copy of the official e-book. In the OCR case there is no reason to want to pay the e-book team because the downloader isn’t benefiting from any of that work. In fact the pirate did the work.
It is the difference between an audio book produced by a professional reader and an audio book produced by text-to-speech software. In the text-to-speech case, there is no extra work deserving of extra pay.
It is also the difference between a play produced by a Broadway company and the high school play. Both productions should pay the playwright but the high school company doesn’t owe anything to Broadway.
A lot of this arises because people can’t convert their own books easily. For an iPod or other MP3 player, it’s simple to rip my own CDs to a digital file and put them on the player. Not so for books.
To Josh Jasper’s point that the people who do ebook conversions aren’t compensated in this case.. no, they’re not. But in the long run that conversion process will become trivial, in fact it almost HAS to for ebooks to really take off. Taking a final format, electronic file and outputting it to print and electronic forms should move toward a push button operation as time moves on – if it takes substantial effort to make the ebook there’s something wrong with the tools and, while that might be the case today, it won’t remain the case forever. By the way, I’m assuming here that the electronic version is a copy of the text without additional features made possible by the fact that it IS digital.
I wish I could pay you for audiobooks. I really wish. I love your work. I love audiobooks. Voice actors need to eat, too.
But audiobook publishers refuse to take my money.
Their DRM-infested schemes won’t work on my N900 nor on my Linux PCs.
In the mean time there are plenty places where you can download those for free if you are so inclined. They would not reject my patronage, unlike the assholes at Audible.com
Ethically, were do library books fall? I know its heresy for an author to come out against community libraries, but don’t they essentially do the same thing. 1 legal copy passed around to who ever wants, depriving the authors of revenue they would conceivably have received. While I do try and purchase the books of authors I enjoy, even after having read the book for free thru the library, I will freely admit there are several authors who’ve never seen one red cent since I’ve read all of their books thru the library. A good example is the new Dresden Files book that came out yesterday. I checked my local library and all of their copies are out with at least 10 reader backlogs apeice. How much lost revenue is that?
Here in the world of poor-college-student-dom, my friends and I have a system by which one of us (more often than not me) will find a library book, read it, and (if enjoyed) lend it out to friends. I’ve sometimes wondered if this pushes the boundaries of ethical behavior (particularly when, on occasion, I’ve lent a book out to a dozen or so people), but given that (a) any one of us could check out the book and (b) we’ll typically end up buying a book if we like it enough, I don’t see a problem with it.
A few of my peers download books illegally without any scruples, on the grounds that they’ll “buy the books later when I’ve made my fortune as a writer.” This makes me sigh and pat them on the back consolingly.
I’m a high school librarian. I do whatever it takes to get books in the hands of kids, even if that means that I usually end up spending about $2,000 out of my own pocket to augment my pathetic budget. It’s difficult to meet the demand for what I consider tripe: Ellen Hopkins’ books, Nicholas Sparks’ books, and the Twilight series, for example. I bring in my own books when demand for a title like Hunger Games is too great. Personally, I never check out books from my local public library because they charge fines. I’d rather just buy the book, thereby supporting the author. Do libraries cost authors revenue? I think it’s negligible if we do. Large public libraries purchase multiple copies of most popular titles. I’ve purchased 3 copies of Twilight (fewer of the sequels), 2 of Hunger Games (I could use 2 more), 3 of Glass and Crank. I have to repurchase the ever-popular Child Called It each year. But I will do anything to get a kid to read.
niczar – of course you could live without the audio book since your choice (of platform) doesn’t allow you to use the legal versions. Like most pirates, you put your interests above all and then blame the world for not working the way you feel it should. This isn’t a hard ethical question – are you getting value? You are?? Then compensate those providing the value.
Mauther – John addressed library stuff above. The libraries buy copies and so, while the number of readers exceeds the number of copies, it gives some compensation back to the author. Similarly when one loans a book to a friend, the friend can read that book, but the person loaning it can’t.
RickWINTR @ 42 said, “if it takes substantial effort to make the ebook there’s something wrong with the tools and, while that might be the case today, it won’t remain the case forever.”
That’s what I was thinking. If you’re a publisher, and you don’t have the ‘ware to take your file and turn it into a paper book or e-book, then I see a problem. Let’s face it, all the lawyers in the world won’t be able to stop all the little e-nerds that don’t and won’t think twice about finding thier fav authors pirated e-books and loading them. Because that’s what people do better than we want to admit: people steal all the time. It’s those little crimes that make people feel just bad enough to get a thrill.
Steve Burnapon@37 TomG@20: Every reader on the market will read non-DRMed ebooks just fine and every reader on the market except the Kindle supports epub, letting you buy books from a variety of different sources. There is no “lock in” at all for any reader except for the Kindle.
I think TomG was speaking more to the ebook side of things, rather than the devices. Most ebooks from the major retailers (B&N, Amazon, Sony) have DRM, which can prevent moving the book from device to device.
What is your opinion of downloading a pdf copy of a book that can no longer be found or purchased? For example, I am a tabletop RPG player. There are a LOT of gaming books that are so obscure you can’t find a copy, out of print, or unavailable for legitimate digital copy purchase (either as an e-book or pdf). Sometimes the information you want/need for your game is in one of those books. It is not the fault of myself, the would-be customer, that the publisher doesn’t make that book anymore or it is so obscure…but I really want or need that information. Is it unethical for me to obtain a digital copy of those elusive books if legitimate means have failed me?
(note: all above uses of “me” are purely hypothetical, of course)
@RickWhoIsNotThatRick: he who does not want to sell to me does not deserve my hard earned money.
While I respect authors and am more than willing to pay them for their work, and do actually spend quite a bit on books & music, I don’t regard intellectual schmoperty as a magical concept like you do. It’s a legal construct intended, as the US constitution puts it, “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.” It is a very valuable goal, but also one that makes it limited in scope and completely distinct from actual property.
You’re not asked to respect real estate property just because doing so would promote the progress of roof tiling and lawn mowing. It’s much more fundamental than that.
> This isn’t a hard ethical question – are you
> getting value? You are?? Then compensate
> those providing the value.
I’m not getting any value. They don’t want to sell to me. So I’m not buying their stuff. Easy enough to grok, innit? I could be getting it for free though — what difference would that make to them? They don’t want my money! Want my money? Sell to me!
And since I’m a minority Linux user, that ought to be a civil rights crime or something.
If a person receives two formats of a book after paying only once for the book, what’s to stop that person from giving one of those formats to a friend? Then two people would own the book even though there was only one purchase.
And is that a valid concern?
I realize the same issue could easily happen with music: someone buys a cd, copies the music onto a computer, then gives the cd to someone else. It’s not a game-changer in that industry, so maybe it wouldn’t be for books either. In both cases it’s a matter of asking people to behave ethically I guess.
So does the question really come down to whether a person is buying a product or buying the content in the product when paying for a book?
Your mentioning this is fascinating to me, as I had a WTF? moment involving The Wall Street Journal a couple days ago. I already pay full-fare for the online version of the paper ($155/year), and had previously downloaded the iPhone app when it the content was free. About a week ago, I went to go pull something up on the app and discovered that a good portion of it was behind a pay wall. No problem, I thought, getting ready to enter my user info. But that’s when I discovered that I would have to pay *another* $52/year to get the content within the iPhone app. Mind you that there’s nothing within the iPhone app that doesn’t appear within the full-featured site. And I thought how absolutely absurd this was.
Content creators need to realize toot sweet that those people who don’t mind paying for content *do* mind having to pay for content more than once when there’s no additional cost to provide said content in multiple platforms.
John @ 29 – I think someone else noted that most illegal copies at this point are not cracked legit electronic copies but copies OCR’d by some dude. I don’t think they expect to be paid (or should be). In the larger sense, I suspect that the production cost for the legit copy is subsumed in the overall book production cost; I’m not sure the eBook production crew is paid only out of the income from eBooks.
I wasn’t trying to imply that the illegal scanners should be paid. Quite the opposite.
It depends. It’s tricky to say how they’re paid. But if there’s less profit form ebook sales because someone else is scanning a copy of a print book and releasing it to the world, that’s a good reason why ebook prices are as high as they are.
As for factoring in to production costs, I’m unsure about that. It depends on how much extra work goes into ebook production. If an author sends digital files, it’s easier. If not, scanning, OCRing, proofing and formatting can cost $1000 at least when contracted, and that’s just getting it into RTF. Not a huge amount, but not pennies.
Lol, choice of operating system does not a minority make, because, you know, that was your choice. If you can’t deal with the consequences of your choices, you ought not to be making them. That’s like if I bought a dvd player and then bitched because it didn’t play blue-ray.
“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. ”
I’d be willing to toss an extra 50 cents — $1 into the cost of a new book for an authorized e-copy to download to my readers-of-choice, and I suspect most fans would likewise. Simply put an access code into the book somewhere to enable downloading. The number of people willing to go to a bookstore and scribble down codes to “pirate” an e-copy would be far smaller than the number presently downloading from illegal torrents.
My view is that illegal is illegal and legal is legal. If I can get it free legally, then it’s fine. If I buy a used book from a legal vendor — who also paid or legally traded to get the stock — then it’s fine. If I borrow a book from the library and read it, then it’s fine. If someone gives me a book, which at one point someone paid for, it’s fine. All of these things are legal recycling, which keeps books being read and in print.
And if I accidentally downloaded a book that turned out to be an illegal file, then certainly I didn’t intend to commit a crime. But if I deliberately go to an illegal site and buy or get for free an illegal download, then I’m committing a crime and more importantly, I’m contributing to crime. It’s like a person who is entitled to get medical pot and then goes to a drug dealer to buy some more pot illegally. The first is medicine, the second contributes to drug dealers and to crime, which increases violence, poverty, oppression, exploitation and societal harm.
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. And then there is the percentage who think they’ve won something in the coolness sweepstakes because they’ve stolen lots of books and pass them around, as if libraries and free online publications didn’t exist and they were somehow “freeing” information.
Everything costs. It costs in money, electricity, and it costs in time and effort that are worth money, even if it’s only an author making a free e-book available of an out of print title. And when it comes to the large scale operations, those multiple platforms do cost money in production and most critically personnel, distribution and advertising, and this continual notion that they don’t is the equivalent of a five-year-old who thinks his parents are given money by the bank when they go to the ATM machine.
Authorized freebies, like the library or an online novel, are gifts or promotional giveaways — the cost has been factored in and sacrificed for possible other gains. But illegal ones are just plain old stealing, sucking the life out of human beings. If you don’t want to pay for something — and the costs inherent in it — don’t buy it. If it’s overpriced, it’s overpriced. But Randy Cohen is wrong. If I pay for one apple and steal another, I still stole an apple. And yes, it is a second apple, because that second apple can be loaded up on various electronic devices whereas the first apple cannot, which took humans time and money to make possible. The second apple was stolen by the pirate, and then stolen by the customer. It didn’t support the author, it didn’t support public libraries or schools, it didn’t support used booksellers. It didn’t support anybody. It just takes, and it promotes an idea that taking from others is fine and dandy as long as you are in the lucky position to do it.
An awful lot is being made of this concept that if there isn’t a “legal” electronic version so its a free for all on the “not legal” version.
Well folks, here’s some news –
Just because you want something doesn’t mean you have a right to something.
And ultimately life ain’t perfect. Make the best of what you can get and still keep your self respect. Which hopefully includes not stealing.
Kate at #57 said, “because the bulk of these pirates are the same people dealing drugs…”
How would you know this? Because, I know a group of pirates that just bother with books. And sex slaves, but no drugs.
Also, if you accidently had read a pirated book, you could make up for that sin by going to the library, taking out that same book and re-reading it. Then you make sure you buy the next paper book the author gets published. And don’t let anyone else read it!
My personal crossroads with e-books and electronic readers is simply the cost involved in converting my existing print library to a digital format. While I might be able to slog through ripping my CD collection, no such personal conversion exists for books and thus I’m left out in the cold for the hundreds of dollars spent on existing print.
(That and I’m not sure I like reading on a screen. Unrelated point).
I’d love the downsize with the convenience of having it all at my fingertips. Without having to buy everything again.
Also, this brings up another point (and DRM specific). If I were to buy an ebook for my Kindle and lose the Kindle or acquire a 2nd one, would I have to buy the book again? Basically, would we then be obliged to pay for multiple copies? One of the core advantages of electronic media is its replicat-ibility (forgive my hyphen . . . and somebody give the correct word). Software licenses allow us to copy media for archival purposes; would it matter what format? If I were to copy my Windows XP installation disc to DVD instead of CD, am I on the hook for the cost of another license . . . even though its the same license?
Do you have statistics or data to support your statements, or are you going on theory and things you read on teh internetz?
Wanting something doesn’t give me a right to it. I can acknowledge that. But what if having something I want (e.g. that obscure source book from that gaming company that only ever produced the one title and no longer exists so there is no way we’ll ever get a legit copy) means that my life, or my friends’ life, or the world at large somehow benefits or is improved because someone put an illegal PDF copy out there for us to find? Apply this thought towards non-fiction works, where getting ideas and information out to a larger audience means someone else will have access to that information and can build upon it to create a better world.
Obviously this isn’t a black-and-white issue, thus the continued posting on the thread and the variety of stances and opinions.
QueenTess@49: yes, I was thinking of DRM even though my post only mentioned readers. I should have clarified.
Also, like niczar, I use Linux often and find it excellent as a desktop alternative. I don’t complain constantly about the limits that choice imposes on me, but I do wish that more people in the Windows world understood that just because I choose a minority OS, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to just suck it up and take whatever slops fall my way. That seems a shallow attitude to me.
If I pay for one apple and steal another, I still stole an apple
A book is not an apple.
Thank you for this! I love Nathan’s blog and appreciate his posts on e-books, and I usually agree with him, but this post I did not agree with. I found myself in a distinct minority in arguing the other side, so I’m glad I’m not alone in this opinion.
This, to me, is one of those cases where following the letter of the law varies a little from following the spirit of the law.
The spirit of the law is that authors (and editors, and everyone else involved) should be paid for their work. So if you buy the hardcover and then download the e-book, you may be in violation of the letter of the law, but you’re not in violation of the spirit of the law, which is that the author needs to be paid.
The one sticking point is that creating the e-book involves some additional costs beyond those required to create the paper book, and that work needs to be paid too. However, to demand that the consumer pay full price for the ebook after buying the hardcover, is excessive and not really fair. In that case, the buyer is paying the production cost for the ebook (good), but overpaying the author, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, etc. (if they want to overpay, fine, but it should be be required).
I don’t know what the cost of creating an ebook from a finished, edited print book is, but it can’t be very much. Authors are always saying that the primary cost in creating a book is the cost of creating the content (that is, paying the author, editor, copyeditor, etc.), and that creating the physical packaging (pages or ebook) is a small portion of the expense. I take them at their word on that. Ebooks may cost a little to produce now, but that’s a cost that should drop almost to zero as technology improves. There ought to be software that takes a finished, edited, proofread manuscript and turns it into an ebook almost at the press of a button. If such software doesn’t exist now, it ought to in the future, or someone’s not doing something right. This is an absolutely automatable process. When that pushbutton software exists, the cost of creating an ebook from a finished print book should be next to nothing.
The problem with your argument here is that you’ve chosen an arbitrary and ultimately untenable point to draw the line between different formats for the same story. Buying the hardback entitles the consumer to a free digital version, but not a free movie, video game or audio book. All these distinctions in versions are blurring. Soon we’ll have e-readers that can actually read a book out loud passably well. There goes the artificial line between the digital version and the audio book. Already there are digital books with snippets of video embedded, blurring the line between movie and book. In that world, your narcissistic position on the issue (hey, I got paid) breaks down: what about all the other people working to create and sell those alternate formats?
Oops, I left out an important word in that previous comment:
(if they want to overpay, fine, but it should *NOT* be required)
Steve Burnap@37, there’s not a bit of difference between the lock-in on the Kindle and the other major e-readers. They all support DRM’d versions that are semi-non-portable, and they all support non-DRM’d versions that are portable across devices, for Kindle that format is mobi, which many vendors supply, for most of the others it’s epub. And it’s pretty easy to convert between non-DRM’d epub and non-DRM’d mobi, so even if a vendor doesn’t supply mobi, if they do supply epub you can still use it.
Kat Goodwin @ 57 –
“And if I accidentally downloaded a book that turned out to be an illegal file, then certainly I didn’t intend to commit a crime.”
I dunno about that. It’s like saying if I accidentally wound up with an eight ball of cocaine, I didn’t intend to commit a crime. Or, it’s like saying he fell on his own knife nine times. Still a crime though.
How do you accidentally download a pirated copy?
“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.”
I’d like a citation for the that.
For my own opinion, Regardless of what I think of DRM, if I like an authors work enough to read their book I’d like to support their effort in the hopes that this will encourage them to write more. But, it sure would make me like an ebook reader a lot more if my hardcover purchases came with electronic copies.
I don’t buy it. Your argument, that is. I do buy your books.
I own lots of movies on VHS. That does not entitle me to a free DVD of the same movie. Hey, I wish it did. But it doesn’t, and I can’t see that that is any different from a print book and an ebook.
If I want your book in different formats, I need to buy it in each format. Otherwise, it’s stealing.
I don’t see that used copies or remaindered copies fall into the same category. In the case of used books, someone bought that book. It belonged to that person and he decided to sell it. That’s his right. No quandary for me if I buy it from him instead of you. In the case of remaindered books, it is (technically) no longer for sale by the author or publisher. If it’s only going to be destroyed, I don’t feel any guilt for taking possession of it.
In a perfect world, print books would come with a license for an ebook. Consumer Reports would give me free access to their website with the purchase of a magazine subscription, instead of making me pay another $12/year for the privilege.
Heck, Microsoft would let me turn in my old Office software in exchange for the new version, which they decided I needed. I was perfectly happy with the old one until they stopped supporting it.
None of these businesses give away product just because the format changes. I don’t see that authors are any different.
> If I want your book in different formats,
> I need to buy it in each format.
> Otherwise, it’s stealing.
No, it’s not. It’s copyright infringement.
I don’t know what bothers me most: that it’s such a tired useless cliché, that you’re peddling the Mafiaa propaganda, or that you believe that you actually are making an insightful point.
Here’s the difference between stealing and copying: if I steal your book, you don’t have that book anymore. What happens if I copy your book? Does it magically erase itself?
Other Bill @68: I dunno about that. It’s like saying if I accidentally wound up with an eight ball of cocaine, I didn’t intend to commit a crime. Or, it’s like saying he fell on his own knife nine times. Still a crime though.
How do you accidentally download a pirated copy?
I think what is meant here is downloading a copy, honestly believing it to be a legitimate, legal copy, and later finding out otherwise. While I find it hard to imagine an eight ball of cocaine resembling something legal and legit, I can imagine someone being unable to distinguish between a legit file and a pirated file.
I’d like to add one fairly obvious codicil to John’s main point. It is NEVER cool to pay for a pirated copy. In other words, if you’re paying $1/copy (or sending $5/month) to a site engaged in piracy, you’re supporting piracy in general, even if you only use these copies as e-versions or archives of purchased, legal copies.
pirates are the same people dealing drugs, doing sex trafficking, running numbers, selling pirate DVD’s, and generally screwing up the world
Plus sinking all those Spanish galleons.
I found this very interesting, and I’m glad to see that many people, including authors are seeing it in a logical way. If the author and the publisher have been paid once, you should be able to enjoy it in whatever format you prefer (text only).
As an example, I bought the latest Terry Pratchett novel when it came out (November I believe). I then started reading it just before Christmas. I got a Kindle for Christmas, and naturally wanted to use it while traveling. I went on to Amazon to find out that the Kindle edition was actually more than I had already paid for a new Hardcover copy of the book! I refused to pay for the same book twice, so I carried the hardcover, and didn’t use my new Kindle.. :-(
I don’t mind paying a couple dollars more to get it in a different format, but in my mind, I’ve already paid for the rights to it. It should be sold like movies are now, where you buy the book, and a digital copy to enjoy however you want. At the very least, charge a dollar or two more. Not full price again. It would be very good for both the publishing industry, and for Amazon as they are trying to push a specific device in a very competitive market. Are you listening Amazon!?!?
I disagree that it can be difficult to discern a legal e book from a pirated copy. Where do you download an ebook for free from that isn’t obviously one source or another?
I mean if you get it for free off a p2p thing and then later go abwuhhh? That’s a pirated copy? I didn’t know. Or, I thought barnesandfable.com was legit.
But, I take your point that too much exaggeration was the case in the eight ball referece.
Maybe a more accurate comparison would be the person who says “I didn’t know that was a *marijuana* cigarette, honest.”. The response to that is really? Really you didn’t know? That demographic has to be startlingly small.
I have no data to support this theory. My basis is that I’m an idiot and I can’t see myself nit knowing the difference. I can see why there might be holes in my theory.
Scott westerfeld –
I saw Avatar in the theater. I should download it for my archive. Is this the logic we are to apply as ethical?
You didn’t pay to own a copy of Avatar when you watched it in the theater, so no.
But you could have taken home those ginchy 3D glasses.
There are whispers going around at B&N about bundling physical books and eBooks. The only problem I see with it is delivery. Both codes printed on the book and cds packed inside get stolen. The only way I can see it working is with a receipt. You wouldn’t even need a special code, just the bar code/transaction number on the receipt. Just link up the returns system (which can tell what books were purchased as well as how much you paid) with the eBook redemption system. This would also keep people from buying the book just to get the eBook, then returning it. The returns system would know that you had redeemed your eBook and therefore you get no return.
I’m going to see how far up the B&N ladder I can get this post. Since this is a highly read blog and many of the comments said they would buy such a thing I think it might help make the decision.
Also, this in response to a few comments talking about DRM and not being able to take eBooks from one device to other. As far as I know B&N’s nook is the only ereader that lets you read it’s eBooks on another device. Not other ereaders but your PC, MAC, iPhone, Blackberry and even the iPad.
Can I download e-3D glasses for when I want to use them online then?
Actually I think you *do* own your memory of watching Avatar.
If you enhance your memory with artificial aids such as a video camera and a computer or a cybernetic mind implant in the future, that should be entirely legal.
Otherwise, we are going to end up in the future with really stupid legal codes, making it illegal for computer enhanced humans to enter movie theaters.
Actually, IIRC it isn’t even copyright infringement. IANAL but I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to make an additional copy of a creation you purchased “for archival purposes”- I personally find well named files easier to navigate and search(necessary features of archives) then shelves stacked high with books, but YMMV of course.
Other Bill @74: Where do you download an ebook for free from that isn’t obviously one source or another?
I mean if you get it for free off a p2p thing and then later go abwuhhh? That’s a pirated copy? I didn’t know. Or, I thought barnesandfable.com was legit.
There are many ways to get free ebooks off the internet legitimately, e.g. promotional giveaways, public domain, etc. A pirate could easily misrepresent himself (I know; pirates misrepresenting themselves?!? Shocking!!) as a legit vendor (though generally more subtly than the example (barnesandfable.com) you suggest), or that his titles are all in the public domain, or whatever. My point being that some free ebooks may not be as obviously illegal as you think, at least to those who aren’t all that savvy to the ways of the internet (who themselves are likely more numerous that you think).
I do agree though, that anyone who is internet-savvy enough to know how to obtain and use p2p software should have at least some idea of what they’re getting.
I’ve been reading the comments here, so far nobody’s come out saying they actually have illegal ebooks laying about.
I have, a substantial amount too. Do I think this is wrong? To a certain extent. But I have my reasons. One of them is availability.
Where I’m from, scifi is very specific niche. Not a lot of scifi books gets translated into Dutch, my native language, and half of the time when they’re translated there’s always something lacking. What’s left at the end of the day are the ‘classics’. (Foundation, Dune, Saga of the Seven Suns, HG Wells,…)
So if I want to expand my horizons, I need to look for English books. We’ve got a Waterstone in the capital, we’ve got Fnac which has a small segment of English imports, but that’s where it ends. It’s a catalog, but a relatively limited one.
That’s where my pirated collection comes. It allows me to learn authors I would never have heard of before; it gives me the chance to ‘skim’ books, so I have a good idea of what the book is about. Then I google what I’ve found.
Mostly, that’s where it ends. 99% of the pirated books aren’t worth the effort of reading – bad formatting, missing text,… But I’ve got a name and title. If I’m really lucky, I find the book in the library. If I’m just lucky, the next time I come across a bookstore (like Waterstone), I’ll start looking for the authors I’m interested in. Should they have the books, I’ll be very tempted to buy them – owning a book feels more satisfying than having it.
So I’m coming from the illegal side and, as time and finances allow, move towards the legal side. Do I see this procedure as problematic? Hardly, because without that illegal foundation, there wouldn’t even exist a legal side to and for me. It’s about discovery and exploration, not a compulsive urge to steal and rob authors off their income. (If the authors are alive at all. If they’re not, well, I’m of the opinion that an original work belongs to the creator, not the offspring.)
Being able to pay one price for a hardback plus an e-copy is the only thing that would make me buy hardbacks. Or e-readers.
I can’t understand why none of the publishers over here (I’m in the UK; didn’t know about the Baen CDs) have done this yet…
I think most of us agree that the current publishing business model is obsolete. (As an aside, I understand Murdoch is charging more for the iPad version of the Wall Street Journal than the paper version. I don’t know if paper subscribers get the iPad free or have to pay for it. I wonder what will happen when Murdoch finds that people, particularly current subscribers are not willing to pay extra for the e-version?)
There are a number of inexpensive ways to bundle ebooks with conventional one. CD’s are only one.
The problem is that publishers tend to react viscerally to the idea that any form of their product should be free. As long as they do this, people who want or need electronic versions will get them any way they can.
Publishers simply must get over this. They will or they’ll die. Do I need to mention newspapers here?
fair enough. I might rephrase and say that what I’m drivng at is that accidental supporters of a black/grey market aren’t a big enough part of the equation when looking at the solution to the pirating of books.
And, in a moral argument about intention being necessary for the commission of a crime, I’m not a fan of that line. If using pirated copies, free ones, is a crime part of the responsibility in avoiding this lies withthe consumer taking annextra few moments to determine whether or not the provider is legitimate.
Rick York –
Wait, what’s a ‘newspaper’?
Lorien@77, nope, Kindle lets you do that as well, on those devices. There is one for Blackberry, PC, Mac, IPhone, which definitely works on an ipod touch and probably works on the ipad as well, though I haven’t confirmed that. It won’t let you read them on a Nook, but then the Nook doesn’t let you read them on a Kindle either.
It’s interesting, right now the DRM on all these files is about as secure as that of DVDs, IE, very easily defeated with anyone who’s got any google-fu at all. It’s about as effective as tying a knot around it with yarn. I do wonder, though, if that was intentional. Put in just enough protection to keep the honest folks honest, and not enough to even slightly inconvienence anyone else.
I have a couple problems with this:
1) I hate to see pirates prosper, either by being able to boast about hit counts or getting ad revenue from download pages
2) If it’s distributed via bittorrent, then by downloading I’m also uploading — and I have no control over whether those people downloading from me are in a similarly ethical situation
3) What if this ebook is being distributed by a pirate who hates you, and has intentionally mangled the book? I’d notice discrepancies if I first read the physical brick I purchased, but if I switched over to digital instead of finishing that, I’d never notice. If I were to then tell someone based on that, “Oh, don’t bother with Zoe’s Tale, it’s full of misspellings and she swears like a drunken sailor through the whole thing, it’s really horrible” I’d be committing a real injustice.
So, I suppose that I’d say that I agree that in principle, having paid for a copy of the book puts one morally in the clear to try to get a digital copy … but that I can think of very few ethical ways of actually acquiring such a copy.
It’d be really nice if we could all turn down the rhetoric a bit and stop calling people names just because we disagree with each other.
Ebook pirates aren’t nasty, thieving bastards. They’re human beings, much like you, doing what human beings have done for all recorded history; cataloguing and preserving their intellectual heritage and trying to make sure people have access to it. They are, at least from their own perspective, performing a public service and are trying to make the world a better place.
Publishers aren’t moustache twirling parasites tying damsels to railway lines. They’re human beings, much like you, doing what human beings have done for all recorded history; putting food on them and their’s plates, and trying to make sure authors can do the same. They are, at least from their own perspective, performing a public service and trying to make the world a better place.
You don’t have to agree that everyone should have access to whatever book they want, regardless of ability or willingness to pay, nor do you have to agree that everyone should pay for every book they read. But do try to keep in mind that those you disagree with simply have different priorities, not ethics.
# Other Billon 07 Apr 2010 at 4:05 pm
Kat Goodwin @ 57 –
“And if I accidentally downloaded a book that turned out to be an illegal file, then certainly I didn’t intend to commit a crime.”
I dunno about that. It’s like saying if I accidentally wound up with an eight ball of cocaine, I didn’t intend to commit a crime. Or, it’s like saying he fell on his own knife nine times. Still a crime though.
How do you accidentally download a pirated copy?
You download a copy of George Orwells 1984 , from a well known retailer.
I know it’s only happened once but it shows it is possible.
I personally refuse to buy any book with drm as it’s going to disappear after so many downloads or if i change my equipment or in the case of 1984 it’s deleted by the retailer. This is not buying it’s renting.
There is also the cost to consider.
when p.f.Hamilton last book was released i bought the new hardback for the equiv of £7.99 (buy 2 get one free). The price for the ebook was £19.99 with no specials , And was not available till 1 month after the hardback release.
I do use ebooks from BAEN and guttenburg as they have no drm, But i prefer real books as i like to read in the bath, And book readers are somewhat expensive.
I skimmed the comments and didn’t notice anyone else mention this, but China Mieville is a very handsome young man. Gorgeous, really.
I think that your post sort of implies that he’s a she, but maybe I’m just misreading you. You use his book as a specific example then in the next paragraph say you already paid her.
Gin & Tonic is his drink, if I recall correctly, and someday I’ll try to figure out how to buy him one.
China and I are friends (I’ll be seeing him in a few weeks), so any implication he’s a she is unintentional.
And yes. Very good looking man. He wrecks the curve for the rest of us male spec fic writers, he does.
Lala.com has introduced an interesting new option into music purchasing. I have lots of older vinyl records that I’d love to rip to my hard drive but it’s so much quicker (and much higher quality) to buy them for online listening from Lala.com.
Downloads are normal prices (~$1/song) but to listen online as much as you want is only $.10/song. It’s a limitation I can live with, and the artist is getting something more than nothing.
There should be a way to put a system like this in place for books, too.
I’m sorry if I’m repeating what’s been said, but reading all the comments would take quite a while and I tried to skim. :)
I understand the point that’s being made and I agree with it. I think electronics have made things a bit ridiculous, understandably so, but sitting on the phone for hours trying to get Adobe Fireworks, which I legitimately paid for, on my new computer, I get a little exasperated. I think, well, I could just try to find it illegally and it would be much quicker.
But, the problem with obtaining content illegally is supporting those who are doing the illegal thing and that’s where I disagree with this post.
I agree with the sentiment, but not the action necessarily.
Michael Kirkland @ 88 is an ebook hippy pirate.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m sure you’re a very nice ebook hippy pirate. Seriously though, I think it’s a well known opinion that book pirates also kill puppies to commerate each illegal download.
Andy @ 89
Ha. Yeah. I do have a problem with DRM and that’s A great example. Vendors treating the item more like a loaner than a purchase. But, I suppose that’s slightly off the topic for the post.
Treating every paying customer as a freeloading criminal isn’t a great strategy to incentivize those customers not to download illegally. I think it makes sense to offer your top tier package hardcover as a bundle containing the ebook.
I don’t think that means i should be able to request an electronic copy of hard cover I’ve purchased to date, but I would seriously consider doing so if I knew my future purchase of the format I prefer would be accompanied by a format more comfortable to travel with. As opposed to say just finding a copy on bittorrent to accomodate the one or two books I’d like travel with inthe occassion that I actually travel.
Publishers are going to be doing lots of bundling in the future, probably with the small presses doing more experimentation first. The bigger ones have to wait for the following:
1) For the market to develop further and get larger.
2) For the technology to become more standardized (not DRM, but not the Wild West either.)
3) For the e-book price negotiations and distribution and sales contracts to be finished and standardized and e-rights negotiations with authors worked out and standardized.
4) For them to hire enough personnel (because e-books have costs,) to deal with and run the larger e-book market, and more than e-books, promotions, related tech products, publishers’ multiple websites, etc.
And about a hundred other factors that have to be dealt with before titles are more available and at a better, time-descending rate of price, and with things like book-e-book bundling. Like I told folks at SFFWorld, give it five years, then it will all be up and running well.
Can’t wait five years for a book? Well, probably you’ll only have to wait a year or two for most of them, because you can afford a computer, so you have disposable cash. Do you know how long I had to wait to be able to afford lots of the books I wanted, scrounging libraries, used bookstores, etc.? A long time. And in all that time, I was not remotely compelled to steal books just because I wanted them and because they were too expensive, or, because I was in publishing, to steal an early copy before it was officially launched, rather than such an early copy perhaps being given to me. If it’s not ready yet in the form and price you want it, you have to wait — try inter-library loan. (One exception I’ll give you — places with repressive government censorship. You know, where they actually are freeing information.)
Obviously, with libraries being down-sized, it’s going to be an issue for poorer people to have access to information, the Net and a lot of other problems. But authorized free stuff is not going away, print is not going away, and there are better solutions in free countries than stealing as regular practice. And people who own computers and maintain websites and make bit files, etc., aren’t poor people.
As for the pirates, Nancy Kress had a charming conversation with one who operates out in Russia, and who has become known to many, and who does not just pirate for the philosophical joy of it, as he argues with Kress, but for the criminal profit, because he’s got quite a few operations like this. And other authors have been having encounters like this. A small press author at SFFWorld found out that pirates in Eastern Europe were selling his novel, and they were organized crooks, not some computer jockey trying to spread the word. Crime searches for new markets, like anything else. Guys who sell drugs also sell pirate movies, and now e-books.
But what about the souls who make their own e-book copy and stick it up on the Web without asking for money? Surely, they are the same as your pal who makes you a cassette tape or CD or loans you a book after they paid for it or someone else paid for it and gave it to them? No, they are not. They aren’t your friends. They are people who decided to put e-books up on the Web for anyone to steal because they think it’s cool to do that since the e-book market is too slow and because e-issues are so cloudy. Or just because they feel like it.
Nor is the book business like the music business. Musicians can give live concerts, sell songs for t.v. commercials and film soundtracks, and have dozens of different ways beside the actual recordings that they can make money, even if they aren’t famous. Book authors have basically one thing that can be put in a few different formats but remains the same thing. A tiny, tiny percentage might get a film deal, but the bulk of them don’t make even as much as a bar band that tours. So piracy, free or paid, hurts them more than it does musicians (not that it’s fun for musicians either.)
Free e-books do get the word out on authors, which is why publishers and authors put them out on-line legitimately and promotionally, and why authors are rather ambivalent about the ones that others hijack and put out unauthorized. But it’s still hijacking, even when it’s free. It’s a selfish, illegal act that people do because they have the resources to be able to do it, because it’s unlikely that they’ll get caught, and because they don’t care about the bad consequences to it. Like pirates who take their little free copy and then sell it all over the world.
Raj Patel has written a really interesting book, The Value of Nothing, which I will get to read in authorized ways, that looks at things like the fact that hamburgers (and e-books) cost us more than people think, how we in the markets attach extraordinary value to things of very little worth (such as status,) while not attaching much value to things that cost society quite a lot and may benefit it a lot (like e-book files.) People don’t value authors or books much. They value the things that they think authors get perhaps, like money, movie deals, awards, fame (which only a few authors ever achieve,) but books — well, they aren’t like an apple, folk like silbey claim. And bit files of books? Even less. They want books, but they don’t value them enough to get them legitimate ways, especially if it means they have to wait a bit. (Whereas, Scalzi wrote fan fiction with Fuzzy Nation, and then went to the estate of the original author to get authorization before trying to do anything with it.)
That doesn’t mean that people aren’t human. But it doesn’t make it a nice thing they’re doing, either.
@Kat Goodwin #95
Er, did you actually read your link? It says exactly the opposite of what you think it does. The pirate is a bit off in his own world (and probably at least somewhat on the Autistic spectrum), but he makes his living as a librarian and does his piracy at a financial loss to himself.
I own lots of movies on VHS. That does not entitle me to a free DVD of the same movie.
Suppose you own one or two movies on VHS, and that these movies have not been issued on DVD and will not be released in the foreseeable future? When you finally give up your VCR — or it breaks — are you entitled to convert that movie to a format that is still usable?
@Other Bill #74
Maybe a more accurate comparison would be the person who says “I didn’t know that was a *marijuana* cigarette, honest.”.
I opened the ebook but I didn’t “inhale.” :)
@Spherical Time #90 & Scalzi #91
China Miéville is a very handsome young man. Gorgeous, really.
I refuse to give up my mental picture of that delightful young woman. Gin & tonic fits nicely, however, so I’ll keep it. And I’ll try to forget that bald guy (with the big nose) on China’s wiki page. :)
And to think Nora Jemisin thinks China looks nothing like Mr. Potato Head. I am vindicated!
“He wrecks the curve for the rest of us male spec fic writers, he does.”
He also kinda wrecks the curve for liberals, as he wrote his PhD thesis on a Marxist theory of international relations. In many senses he stands to the left of pretty much the entire North American continent
Sorry, I call BS. If you enjoyed something, you got value out of it. Period. Full stop.
Simple test: why do you want an illegal copy if it has no value to you? Desire is practically a definition of value.
If you go to a concert, a movie, a sports game, you don’t walk out of the venue with anything physical for your admission fee; just the memories and the experience. Does that mean you didn’t receive value, and that you’re somehow entitled to attend them for free?
You’ve taken something of value, that was not paid for (or freely given). Sounds like a common-sense definition of stealing to me.
Sure; doing format-shifting for yourself was explicitly established as a legal precedent. But what you get as a result is not equivalent to a DVD-rip, and shouldn’t serve as justification for copying one. Among the things a DVD may offer over and above a VHS copy:
* Improved picture and sound quality
* Multiple languages
* Director’s cut
* Deleted scenes
…enough there that I, at least, can safely conclude that it’s a different product.
Same with audiobooks, really. You’re not just getting the words, you’re getting someone’s performance of the words. Which may not matter much for Joe generic voice actor, but when it’s John Cleese reading The Screwtape Letters… well, let’s just say he earned every penny he got for that performance, and probably more. :)
@69 (Marlene) says “If I want your book in different formats, I need to buy it in each format. Otherwise, it’s stealing.”
But is it? When i buy a book what’s the value I’m paying for – the words or the delivery medium? If it’s the delivery medium, why doesn’t anyone buy blank books? Blank DVDs (for entertainment, not to burn things on)? Of course the answer is that those blank media are worth very little because they’re missing content. Print words on paper and bind that paper into a book and the words give the paper value. If the content was a minor part of the value the people who argue that ebooks should be much cheaper than paper versions would be right. But they’re not, precisely because the value of creative works isn’t in the delivery medium, but in what’s delivered*.
Does buying a VHS version of a movie entitle you to a free DVD? No. But is it unethical to, say, rent that DVD and rip it if I’ve bought the VHS tape? Not illegal – I’m not an IP lawyer and the odds are good that you aren’t either. Is it unethical? I’m not sure – all of the people involved in making the movie were compensated by your purchase of the VHS tape. Are they entitled to double royalties? I could argue that they are since I get the new value of being able to watch the DVD on my DVD player but the creative team that made the movie didn’t bring me that convenience. What if I bought the DVD? Can I rip it to my Mac, sync it to my iPod Touch and watch it there (ethically…. I know it’s technically possible)? If not, why is it OK for me to do that with music CDs? If so, how are those cases different from ripping a rented DVD when I’ve bought the VHS tape? Does the format change REALLY make that much of a difference?
To bring the point full circle, I’ve bought all of John’s works in paperback plus TGE and even the chapbook of Judge Sn Goes Golfing. If I went out and bought an iPad and grabbed an electronic (pirated) version of, say, TGE, is that unethical? There isn’t one out there that’s legitimately available so on the one hand you could argue that no potential sale is lost. But a potential future sale might be lost since I’m unlikely to buy an authorized version if I have a perfectly usable eversion already. And, to use my own point above against myself, does my choice of a reading platform really entitle me to a copy just because I want one?
*yes, I realize the media have costs that need to be recouped, etc.
> Sorry, I call BS. If you enjoyed something,
> you got value out of it. Period. Full stop
I can’t get anything of value from audible.com. They will only sell me an encrypted binary blob without the keys. That’s not value.
> You’ve taken something of value, that
> was not paid for (or freely given).
> Sounds like a common-sense definition
> of stealing to me.
You keep repeating the same inaccuracies. That does not make them true.
Consider this: I could falsely claim that my competitor’s goods give cancer and blow up in your face. That would make people buy my stuff instead of my competitor’s; I would win money and he would lose money, relatively speaking. Yet that’s not by any stretch of the imagination “stealing.” It’s forbidden but it’s not “stealing.”
You keep calling copyright infringement “stealing.” Why not call it libel or slander? After all, it’s illegal and it makes the copyright owner lose money, supposedly. Would you agree that calling it libel or slander is idiotic? So why do you keep calling it “stealing”?
“What I really want to see is when I buy a hardcover book, a receipt code for an electronic version.”
That would be a bit of a pain in the neck to operate, as you’d need to print and insert x thousand unique codes. It’d have to be separate from the book but not easily stealable out of the bookstore. That would cost money and be more of a headache than it’s worth.
What I would do is have a copy-protection system much like they used to have with video game manuals back in the good old days when video games had manuals that were as thick as your wrist: you buy the book, log onto the website, and it asks you what, say, the 12th word of the second line of the fourth paragraph on page 41 is. The only way to beat that system is to already have a pirate PDF of the book you’re trying to steal (or stand in the bookstore with the book while you answer the question on your iPhone, but if you’re that motivated to steal it you’ve probably already downloaded it from the comfort of your own home.)
On the basic point in question, both you and Randy Cohen are unquestionably correct. Those who create a work are entitled to be paid for their labours, and by buying a new book that obligation has been performed.
The devil is, as always, in the details. One of the greatest problems with current ebooks is that the quality of production is simply not up to the standard we have come to expect from print. Spelling and punctuation errors, poor layout and typography and a lack of decent (or often any) cover art are all too common. It’s going to take a lot of pushing to get publishers to spend the money required to ensure that their ebooks present the material properly.
Anything that devalues ebooks works against this process. This was true of Amazon’s pricing policy, and it’s also true of the notion that buying a print book entitles you to a professionally-formatted ebook. Crafting an ebook doesn’t happen by magic, and the output of automatic conversion programs is generally very poor.
So let’s put an important proviso in here. If you own the hardback, you can scan and OCR the pages to create your own ebook, or you can download the result of someone else’s scan. But that doesn’t entitle you to the commercial ebook that’s been formatted, laid out and tweaked by a professional, who also deserves to get paid for his labour.
I’m not so sure about your idea that ebook costs just get rolled into the general costs of the book. Publishing is (as always) a fairly knife-edge process in many cases and the bean-counters are always looking at which parts generate profit. eBooks should be viable as a profit-centre in their own right, that’s the only thing that’s going to urge publishers to spend more to get them right.
I should read all the comments but I’m at work and should also, you know, do work. so I’m being a jerk right off the bat, sorry.
The way I see it, any books that end up being sold as used were paid for once, so the author got paid for it–its okay to buy used.
I also dig the idea of getting a download code with the purchase of the physical book, as several have already mentioned. I don’t read electronic versions of books, because I don’t own an e-reader and don’t like reading big docs on my ‘puter, but if they also came with like a 5% off coupon for audiobook downloads, I would so buy many more audiobooks of books I already own physical text copies of, because I like to listen to books, and I like to buy audiobooks I already know I like (because they’re so expensive! I never buy one I haven’t already read) so that would just encourage me to buy even MORE. so the author gets money, the publishers get money, and I get to listen to beloved books that I might not have because I got a discount
Charles, I think that you’re falling into the classic trap that the publisher loses a sale for each downloaded illegal copy (of the professionally formatted e-book, in the case of your distinction).
I think it’s also worth mentioning that e-books already have a lower intrinsic value, because they can’t be resold or lent, because their shelf life is potentially very short (I have many Mobipocket books, which no new e-reader supports), and some other factors.
A pal of mine loved the pirated copy of Old Man’s War that he read. He didn’t pay for it. No drug-selling, child-eating pirate made a dime on his download. But he then bought a hardcover copy of the same book because he loved it so much. AND according to some spec-fic writers, if you give your stuff away for free, or it gets pirated, that’s a GOOD thing. More people see your stuff and (this is where the theory gets great) when they see your next book displayed on the shelf at the book store, they will be more inclined to buy it! You see, the free books were just samples to whet the readers’ appetite.
If J.S. made his new Fuzzy free for a while, those free e-books (PDF files, whatever) might just end up in the hands of mostly library book readers, or used book readers. The real fans will buy the paper, and then put their new Scalzi book on a shelf. And I want mine with a leather cover and gold-leafed page edges. And color pictures inside! Lots of pictures. God, I can hardly wait!
Michael #96: If you read the comments to the blog entry, you will see that the guy is not simply a mild-mannered librarian and he’s lying. He’s making quite a bit of money, nor would he take Kress’ books down from his site, even though he said he did.
There is a lot of money in this. A bunch of publishers hired this company to track pirate operations — Jim C. Hines blogged about it — and while I don’t know that I entirely agree with their assessment of how rampant the piracy is or how much it’s costing publishers, nonetheless there were clearly documented large for-profit criminal operations going on selling thousands of e-books. We used to not bother to sell book rights to Taiwan because the copyright laws there allowed for wide piracy of print books, and not surprisingly, you get the e-book kind now.You can try to pretend that all pirates are kindly souls doing it for free or at a loss, but that’s not the case. It’s a profitable business.
Rick #103: “If it’s the delivery medium, why doesn’t anyone buy blank books? Blank DVDs (for entertainment, not to burn things on)? Of course the answer is that those blank media are worth very little because they’re missing content.”
They do buy blank books; they’re called writing journals, and they cost money too. Blank DVD’s cost money to make. The medium has value because it has use for you to manipulate and display content. If the DVD’s were not there, then you would only get to see the movie in the theater. Therefore, DVD’s are valuable irrespective of content for what they can do as a device, and paired with content. An empty concert hall has value too, and it has value when a concert is held there — a concert which is not a physical thing, yet that you pay for.
“But is it unethical to, say, rent that DVD and rip it if I’ve bought the VHS tape?” — Yes, also illegal, as the warning notifications tell you. People who don’t think it is unethical are why we have to sit through the stupid legal notifications in the first place.
“Are they entitled to double royalties? I could argue that they are since I get the new value of being able to watch the DVD on my DVD player but the creative team that made the movie didn’t bring me that convenience.”
It’s not double royalties, it’s additional royalties for a different form of the product. The creative team that made the movie did bring you the convenience, because the creative team includes the movie studio, editing and distributing people who convert the movie to DVD, along with additional content to the DVD. It costs the people who made the movie extra money to make you a version just for the DVD players.
“What if I bought the DVD? Can I rip it to my Mac, sync it to my iPod Touch and watch it there (ethically…. I know it’s technically possible)? If not, why is it OK for me to do that with music CDs?”
Because when you do it with CD’s, you are not changing the audio file into something else, just moving it around. But more to the point, because the music producers authorized you to do it. They made the decision that the cost of having you able to play the audio file on multiple machines was worth sacrificing for the pay-out of you buying more music to play on those devices (especially as some of them, like Sony, are also involved in selling the electronic devices.) They made the same decision with playing songs on the radio that you hear for free (but if you want Sirius’ transmission, you pay for it. It’s legal.
A lot of people are arguing that e-books should be the same, but books are in two mediums — print and electronic print, there are not other revenue streams related to the product, etc. So the publishers and the authors sometimes have authorized a free e-book because they’ve decided the loss of cost is worth other pay-outs, and sometimes they don’t because they’ve determined that the loss of cost would not be made up for in other pay-outs. (I’m aware that you are just arguing in circles here; just my two cents on it.)
#104 niczar: “You keep calling copyright infringement “stealing.” — Copyright infringement is legally a type of theft, yes. Willful copyright infringement for commercial advantage or personal financial gain (which could include getting something without paying for it that is not authorized free,) is considered criminal.
#106 Charles: “It’s going to take a lot of pushing to get publishers to spend the money required to ensure that their ebooks present the material properly.”
It’s not taking any pushing at all. This is one of the reasons that publishers are trying to take control of their e-rights so that vendors don’t get to make different e-versions willy nilly. Publishers are spending a lot of money on it, hiring new personnel to do it, etc., and this costs money that makes doing an e-book version additionally expensive to a print version, especially as it’s only a few hundred e-books sold per title, so it’s not yet very cost effective. Which also slows down how many e-books are available as part of the production. If there was one standard format, this would be less costly, but we’re not there yet because vendors want different formats and there are issues like piracy. But even so, it would still cost.
But some people who want their e-books refuse to believe that any of this costs anything, and they want the books out now and they want them cheap or free. And they decide to go steal the book instead, because they can. But your ability to do something does not make it ethical. That you paid for one thing does not make it ethical that you steal another you are being asked to pay for or can’t yet buy because the authorized version isn’t out yet.
We make decisions every day. When I was at a restaurant and I was given the bill and saw that they forgot to charge for my daughter’s apple juice, I had a decision to make. I chose to tell them they forgot and got a new bill and paid it. And they thanked me for it, because if I’d just gotten myself the free apple juice, it comes out of the waitress’ salary, it comes out of the restaurant’s ability to continue, and it wasn’t their choice.
You can make the decision to swap illegal e-book files or buy a pirate one of a title not yet out in authorized e-book form. But if you think you’re not hurting others doing it, then you’ve got some blinkers on, I feel. Taking from others without their consent has a cost, is all I’m saying.
> Willful copyright infringement for commercial
> advantage or personal financial gain (which could
> include getting something without paying for it
> that is not authorized free,) is considered
I know it’s “criminal”, and so is theft.
But so are indecent exposure, embezzlement or antitrust violations. Ah yeah, treason is also criminal, and is often done for monetary gain.
So how is copyright infringement more “stealing” than is is treason?
@Travis Butler #102
Among the things a DVD may offer over and above a VHS copy:
* Improved picture and sound quality
* Multiple languages
* Director’s cut
* Deleted scenes
Does buying a VHS version of a movie entitle you to a free DVD? No. But is it unethical to, say, rent that DVD and rip it if I’ve bought the VHS tape?
Could you rip the DVD while omitting the additional content described above?
Subtitles and commentary make a DVD more valuable to me. I bought the extended version of LOTR trilogy, despite owning the original version, for the omitted scenes and the joy of hearing Dominic Moynahon and Billy Boyd joke around during the actor’s commentary. And if a new release DVD does not have commentary or special features, I will wait til it is released in extended format. I think this is similar to the value that can be added to — or subtracted from — an audio book, depending upon the skill of the narrator. (For some reason, the worst narrators seem to be the actual authors, leaving me to believe their time is better spent in writing another book!)
Interesting post and ensuing conversation.
For the record (and it’s interesting you used King’s Under The Dome as an example), I preordered Under The Dome from Amazon for $12 (the first “real” book I’ve read in over a year!), received it in the mail a few weeks later, and realized that I didn’t want to lug a 15-pound book around with me. So I fired up the Sony Library, and downloaded the ebook version for an additional $10.
I ended up paying less for both copies than the MSRP, FTW!
Slight change of subject:
Since my pre-ordered Alex ereader should be shipping next week, I have a general question about ebooks that are legitimately free. What are some reputable places to download them, without inadvertently downloading something that is still under copyright? How is the quality? I know of Project Gutenberg. Any others?
To the extent that you’ve said how you personally feel about this issue, that’s useful to you. To the extent that you’ve qualified your opinion in multiple ways, and drawn vague reference to ways in which your opinion is not useful as policy, you’ve advanced the ball not a whit.
The question is not how you feel about the issue, or how Cohen feels about the issue. The question is: what will work as a matter of policy? Where are the hard lines of law and order going to be drawn? Certainly we are in the midst of upheaval and chaos, but saying that such is not particularly troubling to you is mere observation, when what’s need is advocacy.
My take here:
“The question is not how you feel about the issue”
Actually, the question is how I feel about the issue, because it’s my site and I get to say what the topic (or the question) is. The part where I say “speaking for myself” should have given that away for you. Trying to tell me what the real question is, as cover for an attempt to funnel people over to your own site, is sort of squicky and arrogant. Please make a note of this for future reference, and to avoid further confusion on the matter. Or at the very least, qualify your statements in the future like so: “The real question to me…” etc.
Kate at 110 said: “A bunch of publishers hired this company to track pirate operations — Jim C. Hines blogged about it — and while I don’t know that I entirely agree with their assessment of how rampant the piracy is or how much it’s costing publishers, nonetheless there were clearly documented large for-profit criminal operations going on selling thousands of e-books”
I love it when criminals document their For Profit opperations. It makes things so much easier when it’s time for prosecution. Kate, my impression is that much of the free ebooks that are free (pirated) are made available for free to insiders. Why? Because it’s good to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Everyone knows that.
I used to work in electronic publishing (on the technical side, not the editorial side). The product I worked on was being pirated. We studied piracy so we could make an informed decision as to what to do about it.
There are basically two types of piracy, though there’s not a clear demarcating line between them. It’s more of a continuum. The first type of piracy is piracy by the incorrigible–people who are amoral, who like to get something for nothing, and don’t care if others are harmed by their actions. You’d be surprised at some of the people in this category. One of them I know is a well-paid technical writer who pirates movies for fun, even though he could clearly afford to pay for them. He’s not ashamed at all of what he does; his thought process is, “Ha ha, I’m so much smarter than those saps who pay for movies.”
The other type is piracy as civil disobedience. These pirates are willing to pay for the product, but for some reason have chosen not to. They may feel the price is unfair. They may feel they have been treated poorly by the publisher and this is their revenge. They may wish they could pay, but be starving students who can’t afford it until they finish school. These cases of piracy are essentially failed business transactions.
It’s important to know what kind of piracy you’re getting. Because if it’s the incorrigible-pirate type, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. You can use copyright protection, you can take legal action. But you will never eliminate it completely, for the same reason no one has ever succeeded in completely eliminating crime.
If the bulk of the piracy is the failed-business-transaction sort, then changing your business model to be more customer-friendly may be the most effective tactic. This is what happened to the music industry. Most music piracy was the failed-business-transaction type. Buyers were angry at having to buy entire albums just to get the one song they liked. They were angry about restrictive DRM. So they pirated, and the industry changed to selling songs individually and without DRM.
Was it a good thing? Maybe. Piracy is a means of consumers exercising power over businesses. It’s not an ethical means of doing so, but I don’t think the music industry would have changed if the pirates hadn’t forced it to. Do the ends justify the means in this case?
Demographics matter. Men pirate more than women. Younger people pirate more than older people. Tech-savvy people pirate more than non-tech-savvy people.
The computer game industry is in a perfect storm, piracy-wise, because of their demographics of their customers, who tend young, male, and tech-savvy. Publishing industry demographics, on the other hand, tend older, more female, and less tech-savvy. As such, I wouldn’t expect piracy to be as big a problem in publishing as it is in the gaming industry–unless publishing tries to force a bad business model on its customers, in which case there will be a lot of failed-business-transaction piracy.
In the case of the product I worked on, we ultimately decided to do nothing. Our piracy rate was low, suggesting it was just the incorrigibles and there was no fundamental problem with our business model. Our demographics were good. We were profitable despite the piracy. We concluded that attempting to control the piracy would cost us more than we would recover from lost sales, so we let it be.
What of the case of region-locked idiocy?
I’m thinking in particular of the vastly-superior UK version of the Harry Potter series read by Stephen Fry. Nothing against Jim Dale, but Fry totally owns the books with his far more understated (is that even possible?) performances. Sadly, there’s not a real way for me to get ahold of them here. If I want audio Harry Potter, I have to get the (inferior) Jim Dale version from Audible.
Forgive me if this is covered, as I have yet to read the entire comment thread yet, but John, are you high? @29 you posit that the production costs for electronic copies are subsumed by the costs in producing physical copies. As one who is, with a very small staff, working to make some of our backlist available electronically, let me assure you this is not so.
If a book is not currently available in any format, then one buys the book on the secondary market. I’ll use an example here. Octavia Butler distanced herself from an early novel of hers, SURVIVOR, and didn’t allow it to be reprinted later in her life Her agent is honoring that stance since Ms. Butler’s demise
A beaten up copy runs a good $100+, with a fine paperback as high as $450+. If you want to read the book, you pony up the going rate.
@Josh Jasper #19
Strictly speaking, it would seem that the ethical thing to do would be to sell the hardcover and purchase the electronic copy. Depending on the timing, this might well be a wash in costs. I imagine however that it would result in less money going to the author and publisher if you assume that the person who buys the used hardcover would have otherwise bought a new one (an uncertain claim at best).
Unfortunately the new legitimate copy is most likely much less yours due to some stupid DRM scheme locking it to a certain class of device and a the seller’s whim. The sooner the publishers learn from the music industry and just stop using DRM the better. It kills me to still use dead-tree books, but I can’t bring myself to support the proprietary devices.
Does an author get more money for a hardcover than an ebook or paperback?
@William Schafer #120
I believe that the assumption is that going forward, the cost of a new e-book should be subsumed in the production of a new paper book. I think it should be safe to assume that any modern book being produced is going to be formatted on a computer. The step of converting a computerized layout for a paper book to the computerized layout for an ebook will become more and more streamlined as time goes on. Eventually it should be entirely automatic, if it isn’t already.
Converting a backlist of old paper-only books (or even ones in old abandoned computer formats) to e-books is obviously going to be much more costly. It’s probably better to let someone like Google do it in bulk so that economies of scale can work in your favor.
Regarding SURVIVOR, as long as one copy of the book survives to 2076, ebooks will probably come to the rescue and fix that market — alas I am unlikely to live long enough to see it.
Sam @ 121 – Strictly speaking, it would seem that the ethical thing to do would be to sell the hardcover and purchase the electronic copy.
Selling the hardback has nothing to do with buying an electronic copy. Sorry.
Doug @ 119 – IP Spoofing is possible, just time consuming. Alternately, get someone in the UK to burn you the files on disk or a thumb drive after purchasing them for you. Yes, you’ll be violating the EULA, but really, who gives a fig about that?
Most people complaining about DRM aren’t thinking about the simple ways around it. It’s easy enough to defeat, just time consuming, and it might cost you a few bucks for blank DVDs or CDs.
Personally, I get my audiobooks from eMusic. They’re in clean MP3 format. I have them backed up to several remote drives. I can put them on whatever OS I want, and I can re-download them a limited number of times for free if I loose them.
Also, eMusic has more science fiction and fantasy than Audible. If more publishers (and authors like John) dealt with eMusic, they’d be giving fans a better option. I understand that Audible probably pays out more, but giving your customers more ways to buy your book makes it more likely they’ll buy it. Locking yourself into a proprietary format is your right, and probably a good deal financially at the time, but in the long run, I think it harms the “brand”.
I’ve had no shortage of ability to acquire the files, it’s just the legal and ethical portions that fall flat.
Because of idiotic “region” restrictions, I can’t legally get ahold of a copy.
Doug, region based EULA licensing is a joke, and an unenforced joke at that. If you care about people getting paid for the work they do, you can bypass it and still make sure people get paid. Yes, there’s a technical “illegality” there, but ethically speaking, no one is getting hurt.
> Yes, there’s a technical “illegality” there, but
> ethically speaking, no one is getting hurt.
Illegal for illegal, I find it entirely ethical to not give money to people who don’t want to sell me stuff. If they want my money, they just have to sell to me. If they don’t, they can frak right off.
You can cut it as fine as you like on “not selling”, can’t you? Not the right file format? OK to fileshare. Store wasn’t the right color? OK to fileshare. Didn’t like the CD art? OK to fileshare.
@126. I’m sorry, are you saying that the author/publisher/rightsholder is beholden to make a work available to you? And if they choose not to do so then you’re within your rights to acquire an illegal copy?
Just trying to make certain I understand exactly what you’re saying, because if I’ve summarized it accurately, you’re suffering from one hell of an entitlement complex.
Do you really believe you are being insightful with those spiteful little strawmen?
Do you really, really believe you’re going to make me feel guilty about not willing to bend over backwards to please faceless corporations? My conscience is doubly clear: not only do I buy from and support the artists I like whenever I am given the opportunity, I refuse on principles to encourage backwards businesses to continue in their stupidity by giving them money.
And btw whether I would pirate the works or simply ignore them is irrelevant: they’re not getting my money. Nothing magical happens just because their bits would materialise on my hard drive.
If only copying the works really hurt the author; I would spend all day pirating Fox News in the hopes that it disappears.
> @126. I’m sorry, are you saying that the
> author/publisher/rightsholder is beholden to
> make a work available to you?
Certainly not. But they are not entitled to crying like little spoiled bitches if I were to help myself. In any case they’re not getting my money whether I were to copy or not.
> And if they
> choose not to do so then you’re within your
> rights to acquire an illegal copy?
No, I’m not saying I’m within my rights. That’s idiotic. The law is clear. And the law is bad. I disapprove of such laws, in their current implementation at least. Infringing on them is not necessarily morally wrong in my system of values.
Do you know it’s illegal to eat bacon in Saudi Arabia? What do you think of those kind of laws? Yeah, me too.
Illegal is not a synonym for immoral.
Bribing congresspeople through campaign contributions is not illegal in the US. It’s highly immoral in my book.
I am not much into e-books (burned too many times in the early days) but this is what I do with hardcovers and paperbacks.
With my favorite paperback books, I tend to read them until they fall apart or the spine is so cracked and broken it looks horrible. Then I pick up a used copy to replace it.
With hardcovers, once the paperback comes out I generally buy a new copy of the paperback (replacing the hardcover for space reasons) and donate the copy to the library.
To clarify for those who are trying to make e-piracy not theft….
Value is defined as “An amount, as of goods, services, or money, considered to be a fair and suitable equivalent for something else; a fair price or return.”
Theft is defined as “the illegal taking of another person’s property without that person’s freely-given consent”
Property is defined as “something owned; any tangible or intangible possession that is owned by someone”
Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. The law has been interpreted to state that copyright is an intangible (or intellectual) property.
For the last time,
When you TAKE something, it’s not there anymore. Because if it’s still there … well you haven’t TAKEN it, you have copied it.
See, that’s why there’s lots of fancy words in the dictionary, to mean DIFFERENT THINGS.
And piracy is hijacking and pillaging ships on the high sea. e-piracy is … something you just made up so stop lecturing us with your e-diocy.
Be more polite when you disagree, please.
@niczar: I disagree. E-piracy, in book terms, is the digital equivalent of photocopying books.
And on that term: in Belgium you’re allowed to photocopy pieces of books for educational purposes. (Sometimes pieces imply the entire book.) Is that the same in the US?
@Josh Jasper #123
Actually in the ethical question posed in the NY Times, it does. The user purchased something he didn’t want, the hardback, in order to pay the author for something he did want, the e-book. In your proposed future where the e-book becomes available, you claim he’s ethically obliged to buy the e-book. I claim that he then has no ethical obligation to keep his (quite probably unused, perfect condition) hardback off the used book market.
As John pointed out that buying a new book is preferable to an used one, I wonder whether buying and keeping a hardback is preferable from a financial point of view from buying an e-book and selling a hardback.
@John Scalzi What is the variation in revenue to an author between book formats? Is a more expensive book more supportive of the author, or does it just support the publisher?
Mark Barret @115:”what will work as a matter of policy? Where are the hard lines of law and order going to be drawn?”
Since we’re talking ethics, rather then law, in this case then even if it wasn’t Mr. Scalzi’s site to post in as he wished it would have been far from certain that this is the appropriate question. I’m not interested in a long post here, but if you’re interested please google “care ethics” and read the wiki article.
Alpha Lyra and #118 said: ” The first type of piracy is piracy by the incorrigible–people who are amoral, who like to get something for nothing,…”
Something for nothing is bad? Okay, I’m guilty, as is every other honest person. Look at all the people who get money from the government and haven’t done anything for it. That’s amoral, isn’t it?
Thank goodness in the future we won’t have to worry about money, which is good. Because in the future there is going to be this big data net-thing, and information is going to pour into it, and it will not be controlled.
Write a book and publish for the world to see, buy it you like, or get on the net for free.
What, not buying into the new theory of marketing? I understand Tor and others give away a lot. So what if your book is pirated? So some fans love you, but not enough to buy you. They wouldn’t have anyway. Pirated books are going to be there, so now it takes someone to figure out that you can give those ebooks away, but make them tools. It’s more than a book when it’s a digital file; it’s an opportunity to sell more crap to people who love to buy stuff they don’t need, like the stupid e-reader they’re using to read their add-saturated e-book.
Better yet, sell consumers an add-free version e-book, but make it cost more than the paper version. The same rubes who buy apple-everything will be more than willing to pay more for an e-book.
Just to say, a well written article and review. ;-)
This goes to the same moral/ethical/legal dilemma as downloading music. How many times do I have to pay for the same content, but in different formats? If I own the vinyl, and bought the CD 15 years later, do I really need to pay AGAIN for an MP3 or iTunes version of the same song that I went and paid to listen to in concert several times as well?
Books are a very different issue because the new versions are so radical and different. I don’t often buy hardcovers for myself – mostly because I’m not a first-edition collector, I just prefer paperbacks, and because it’s not about the collection of books you have, it’s about the READING of those books.
But if and when I do purchase a paperback (and I purchase plenty) I don’t feel that when I make the transition to an ebook reader that downloading the content to enjoy again should be a problem.
Maybe we should equip e-readers with barcode scanners so they can check on-the-fly the library of congress number on the book and download content you also have physical access to?
“Trying to tell me what the real question is, as cover for an attempt to funnel people over to your own site, is sort of squicky and arrogant.”
In the spirit of appeasing whatever demons control your fingers, please delete my previous comment. My link was simply an attempt to share a point of view — as a means of communication and dialogue — and not an attempt to soil your site.
“In the spirit of appeasing whatever demons control your fingers, please delete my previous comment.”
I’d rather your own fingers didn’t drip condescending snideness all over your keyboard. Try working on that, or try working at not being surprised when such a tone doesn’t get quite the reaction you expect.
Sam @ 135 – In your proposed future where the e-book becomes available, you claim he’s ethically obliged to buy the e-book. I claim that he then has no ethical obligation to keep his (quite probably unused, perfect condition) hardback off the used book market.
OK, I misread you. You seemed to be saying he was obliged to sell the book, not that it would be ethically neutral, and a way of recouping his cost. After he buys the hardback, it’s his. It’s ethically neutral for him to do anything he wants with it. There’s no ethical obligation to keep it off the used book market at any time after he’s bought it.
@Kat Goodwin #110:
I just checked the guy’s site, and he’s done exactly what he said he would. Her books are still listed, but the download just contains an explanation for why they aren’t there. I looked through the thread you linked, but I saw nothing to suggest he’s anything but what he claims to be.
Yes, there are people downloading ebooks (as well as music, movies, and everything else) and selling them to people who don’t understand the internets. These aren’t the people who do the hard work of scanning, OCRing, proofing and formatting books for the simple and direct reason that it would not be profitable. That’s all done by bibliophiles who care about people having access to books perhaps a bit more than would be considered healthy. It’s a lot of work.
Yes, there are pirates who do it for money. They’re not the ones you find on the internet giving things away for free, they’re the ones you find at flee markets or on eBay selling DVDs they torrented.
I’ve commented on this before and I’ll repeat:
Music/movies/books etc. are created by people that expect to get paid
someone illegally getting the content without paying for it are stealing – its wrong
John described a possible exception to this – but it’s just that, an exception
if you want the ebook, pay for it, if the ebook isn’t available – buy a legal paper copy and scan/ocr it – and then not share the digital copy, or wait until it is available
if you don’t want to/ feel it’s too expensive/ don’t like DRM/ (insert justification here)…. too bad – you are still wrong
niczar: “So how is copyright infringement more “stealing” than is is treason?”
Well, I’m not going to get into treason, but willfull copyright infringement is taking from the creator of the work and all the people whose livelihoods depend on the author. You know, all the people who are just part of those faceless corporations. You keep arguing that it’s not taking, it’s “copying,” that print code is not a physical thing, an entity, that something that is not a physical object (tangible) is not property and therefore cannot be taken, which includes the electricity provided by utilities presumably, that if I create it, you can own it and that shouldn’t be unethical. Have I got that right? You want it, so the law should be changed so you can take, er, copy it. Sounds like the U.S. finance industry. (Hey SubPress Bill, did you know that you’re a faceless corporation? Give them all your wares.) Oh, and you don’t want a word in the English language like piracy to develop more than one meaning. Good luck with that.
The Grey Area: Your impression doesn’t change the fact that the websites exist.
Look, ultimately, authors can’t do much about e-book piracy, free or paid, except hope that maybe it will give them some exposure after all. It’s probably not going to destroy the industry. And Web issues are complicated because so many of them are new.
But arguing that it’s not stealing because it’s a service instead of a good, an electronic code product instead of paper and ink, because you bought a different version that you were under no obligation to buy in the first place, or because the version you want is not available to you legally, and so on — for me, these are all rationalizations for I want, so I’m going to take it. If you think a law is wrong, work to change it. But this isn’t the civil rights movement. This is a bunch of people with computers who want more stuff — stuff that a lot of the time they can get legally, and even for free through such things as a library. And if for some reason — location, budget — they can’t get it; they can live without it. It’s not food, water, shelter or medicine. It’s not a justified or ethical crime. It’s not a protest movement. You’re not oppressed just because you don’t have goodies that you want.
And it does have consequences and it does cause harm. If you’re fine with that, like the NYTimes ethicist, you’re fine with that. But I don’t personally think it’s a real plus for the world.
what Kat said – (more eloquntly than I)
Kate said: “And it does have consequences and it does cause harm. If you’re fine with that, like the NYTimes ethicist, you’re fine with that. But I don’t personally think it’s a real plus for the world.”
I hear that to be human is to harm. It’s about our carbon footprint. Listen, if there was no internet and pirated ebooks didn’t exist, like in distant past, then we could talk about all those poor authors that make no money from all those library readers, or used book readers. I read only library books when I was a kid. But if I had an e-reader, I would have justified downloading pirated books: it’s just like the library. So now free ebooks (pirated or otherwise) are going to hurt someone, such as the author? I think I’ll go with Doctorow on this. It’s the best form of free advertising. I’m a buyer of books now, never go to the library.
Modern authors can see their ebooks as being part of the virtual library. How very SF is that? A virtual library you say? Will I be able to go there and take out a book…to read? I will? Oh my gosh, it sounds too good to be true. I’ll never have to go to that old physical library again! Screw you real library! Ha!
I think that may be a straw-library argument…I’m not sure. Straw-thing expert, where are you?
it doesn’t seem to me thought that Kat Goodwin concedes the exception to the rule (that I thought this post and the article were fundamentally about) as you do.
I’d have no problem if the package were bundled to and cost a bit extra to cover the electronic production costs. But, I resent having to pay for the content, the majority portion in the price, twice.
And that’s part of my issue with the argument that hey, you want it you pay what the man asks argument. I don’t think they’ve established a fair price point. And there isn’t exactly a fair market springing up around it. It’s alot of proprietary gadgets and proprietary files that companies are willing to loan (you know, said the man typing on his iPhone) the customer.
There isn’t exactly a fair competition driving this market towards a point where providers are paid for their value and consumers are happy with their return.
But that said, I agree that taking something for free from an unauthorized vendor instead of paying for it is in fact stealing. And I’m not as ardent a supporter of Steal This Book in reality as I am in a moral argument about the ethics of this situation. I like to buy hardcovers, and when I rebuy books I’ll buy any copy currently in print that isn’t a mass market paperback.
The ethics of the current market fromthe vendor side aren’t any more impressive than the ethics from the consumer side supporting their righ to steal by riding the anti drm bandwagon.
@Kat Goodwin #110
This is patently untrue. The music producers did not authorize it, they fought it tooth and nail, but the courts decided that space-shifting music was legal fair use, so they had to accept it. (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/is99/RioSpaceShifter.htm)
Copyright law was created to strike a balance between authors of a work and society such that authors receive a temporary monopoly on their words in exchange for releasing them into the public sphere from which their work grew. As times and technologies change, these laws need to be tuned so that the balance of this monopoly is fair. The courts and congress are responsible for these corrections, and whether books should be subject to space-shift fair use has not to my knowledge been tested. It seems likely however, that someone scanning a book into their e-reader would fall into the same precedent as someone reading their CD into their computer, were such technology commonly available.
Copyright is not an inalienable right, it is a compromise created in law, and while the exact wording of the current law may line up with your ethics, to claim that illegal equates to unethical is a bridge too far. Surely you can think of many illegal acts that turn out to be entirely ethical, both historically and currently. For instance, is it unethical to bring 5 oz of toothpaste onto a plane?
Grey Area: “I hear that to be human is to harm. It’s about our carbon footprint.”
Right, our carbon footprint is the same as say, deliberately hitting someone or stabbing them with a knife. All harm is the same, and intent and attempts to make amends (say by trying to fix the damage of carbon footprints) mean nothing. Sorry, Grey Area, I don’t agree.
“make no money from all those library readers, or used book readers.”
But the authors and publishers do make money from the library and the used book trade. The libraries pay for the books and in fact, the library market is very important for publishers. The system of libraries provides authorized, legal promotion, and a percentage of people who borrow library books will then either buy the books or buy other books from the author, which contributes to trade — legal, healthy economy supporting trade. Likewise, used book vendors pay for their stock, which recycles money back into the system. The author may not get the money directly from a used book sale, but the author gets it indirectly from remainder sales to used book vendors. And again, the used book trade provides an authorized, legal promotional value.
If, however, a vendor buys paperbacks illegally with their front covers ripped off — books which were supposed to be pulped and which were not paid for by the vendor, and if a person knowingly buys a copy with the front cover ripped off, well, that means it’s okay with you to screw the people involved in making the book and selling the book over because you feel it is your right. Which to me isn’t ethical and creates harm, not help.
If an e-book is released free officially, then it certainly can be very good promotion. But that’s the authorized choice, not you making the choice for them.
Other Bill: “The ethics of the current market from the vendor side aren’t any more impressive than the ethics from the consumer side supporting their righ to steal by riding the anti drm bandwagon.”
Maybe, but we’d have to take it by a case by case basis on the vendors. You are assuming that you know what the fair price point is and the publishers are shafting you, but as we’ve seen, there are a lot of people who think they know what e-books cost without wanting to deal with the fact that they are actually more expensive. A publisher like Bill can come out and say that it’s a problem, and the assumption of some is that he’s lying. Your suspicion that a business is not offering you a fair price — on a product you don’t have to buy — is different from someone actually illegally downloading an e-book.
Sam: “This is patently untrue. The music producers did not authorize it, they fought it tooth and nail, but the courts decided that space-shifting music was legal fair use, so they had to accept it.”
No, it’s not patently untrue. It’s what was worked out. The music producers fought against it because they believed the costs were higher than benefits. The issue was negotiated and brought to the courts, which made a decision about what the rights holders were entitled to. The music producers decided to abide by that decision rather than fight it further. And so certain types of space-shifting were authorized and made legal by the courts. The music producers also had the choice to sell music under the terms or not sell music, just as their customers have the right to buy music or not.
The law, as you say, is not rigid. And I’m not arguing that illegal is always the same as unethical. (In fact, I’ve named various exceptions.) But for me, deliberately downloading an e-book illegally, committing the act with no ethical reason behind it, I don’t find that ethical and it does contribute to the crime community, which harms the regular community (yes, even the illegal free ones, which can be used to make illegal paid ones.) None of the reasons I’ve been given for illegally downloading e-books have got anything to do with ethics or oppression, but with what people want, and that they don’t care about the consequences of the act.
As I said, e-book piracy is not going to destroy publishing. It will not be controllable. It certainly isn’t going to help with e-book pricing issues. And if you do it, odds are you won’t ever get caught. None of that makes it ethical to do it.
(And yes, I do think it is unethical to bring 5 oz of toothpaste on a plane when you know they don’t want you to do it and it’s going to cause everyone problems. It’s a dick move.)
Tonight, I got a call from my daughter who is on a school trip. Due to a bundle of bad circumstances, her hotel room was robbed. The thief took a bag with her iPod and her digital camera with all her photos of the trip, both of which she bought with saved up money, and some stuff she bought as souvenirs that was special to her. The good things are that she got to go on the trip, that she’s okay, that we can afford to replace the non-memory items. But she was emotionally harmed.
Did the thief feel like he had a choice? I have no way of knowing. Maybe his mom is sick and he felt he had to steal to help her. Maybe not. But the person sitting at home who illegally downloads an e-book does have a choice. You may feel that it’s not as big a deal as a thief in a hotel room, and I’d agree with you. But for me, it’s still the unethical choice.
Kat Goodwin –
“And again, the used book trade provides an authorized, legal promotional value.”
In response to what you said to me, I’d offer that authorized is the key word in your argument, from my perspective. In the specific case of having purchased a hardcover and wanting to augment that with an ebook, I am not authorized by the system set up by and large by the vendors.
My quibble with their ethics is that they are both a party to the purchase of an item I want AND the controllers of the gates. Because of the way they have fought to get the copyright laws and drm structure in place, I can’t go go to a market that is willing to compete in a fair way. (go go is a typo, but I’ll leave it on account of the favorable mental image it leaves me with)
I certainly hope nothing I’ve said comes across as a personal attack on Bill, as I’m a fan of the shiny that he makes.
The market on ebooks is rigged so that I must purchase content twice. Ethically, that’s the yin to the yang of ebook piratry on the high seas.
I am sorry to hear about your daughters experience. I’d be terrified for my daughter. Fortunately, I have some time before she even starts walking to prepare myself mentally for that trauma.
But, I certainly don’t ethically equate that with stealing a book. I’ve always found those promos at the start of the DVDs I’ve legally acquired to be laughably offensive.
I understand I’m looking at the argument from the flip side of our discussion, but I see these issues as hopelessly intertwined. Chicken and the egg.
I think the history of the industry, in terms of the decisions that vendors have made to habitually treat their customers like criminals in order to profit additionally off digital revenue is at the least relevant to the conversation. Certainly not an excuse or justification for stealing content.
But, they follow the dictates of the market. The only problem is they’ve turned a fair market into an echo chamber.
Well, I think I’ve thoroughly demonstrated my bias in this issue. That said, I think more than a fair number of consumers treat this like Halloween or a South Park hunting expedition. It’s great, you just say drm is the Man’s game and then you help yourself to all this loot.
Pirates have to buy at least one copy to lend out, too, and similar percentages of pirates will go on to buy official copies.
I can see you feel strongly about this, but shouting “thief!” is not constructive. People don’t respond positively to name calling – those you’re berating will just dig in their heels and feel more justified in what they’re doing.
That said, I do think there are limits to this. For example, I think an audio book and a text book are two separate things, because a significant part of the audio book is the performance of the reader, an aspect that is not there in the original book.
When I first started reading, I agreed, with the “but what about audio books” in the back of my head.
I feel that way about music. I’ve bought the CD, I own not just the format but the media, in my opinion, never felt guilty about downloading the music on the net, simply because the media I purchased is in a box.
And I think that music audio is a GOOD thing, there are a LOT of artists I never would have purchased had it not been for hearing it first in mp3 format (ani difranco is a prime example.)
But Audio books are bigger than even movies. If you like the audiobook enough to listen to it, then you are investing more than a day in the case of most books, and likely SEVERAL days, all combined in the listening.
What do you think the producer engineer and voice performer dedicated to the project of an audio book?
In some cases I like audio books (almost always test them from the limited collection available at the library or through friends) but if I dedicate I at LEAST pool money with friends to buy a copy and then we swap as we listen. (audiobooks ain’t all that cheap, also called, NOT AT ALL CHEAP!)
If I own the CD that has Tool’s swamp song? You bet your but I will down load it for convenience. But If I never read OMW I will make sure borders gets it in on special order, before I do so.
Also, it’s been stressed quite often, to justify the price of e-books, that a large portion of that price tag concerns the content.
That’s what I don’t get. I remember hearing a lot of published authors say that at the end of the day, they get maybe 50 cent to 1.5 euro off of a novel that costs about 15 euro. (15 euro ~ 20 dollars)
I wouldn’t mind paying 15 euro for an e-book, though I would need the assurance that, like with the hardcover, I can keep it in my collection for the rest of my life (meaning, no DRM or formats that exclude conversion). And, I think I would only pay that price if I knew that the author got a larger share.
Also, what I strongly suspect is going on now, is that publishers are using parts of their profits on e-books to pay for the printing costs and all that’s related. I don’t have any certainty about this of course, but it seems like the ‘natural’ thing to do.
That’s something I don’t want either. When I pay for an e-book, I demand I pay for:
1) the people directly involved in the creation of the content (author, editors, agents?)
2) the people directly involved in making the e-book (and only the e-book)
3) the publisher, because they have the framework and manage the publishing procedure (let’s call this the publisher’s profit margin)
Where the money shouldn’t go is to the printers and the likes. Why? Because my business transaction concerned the e-book, not the printed book.
Of course, that’s perhaps a level of transparency many won’t accept.
(My apologies if this gets posted twice, my first attempt appeared to not work)
William Schafer @128:
“@126. I’m sorry, are you saying that the author/publisher/rightsholder is beholden to make a work available to you? And if they choose not to do so then you’re within your rights to acquire an illegal copy?”
My first response to this was instinctive agreement with you. Any “you must do this because it’s convenient to me” argument doesn’t sit well with me. But it’s been nagging me — doesn’t this get to the heart of the copyright issue? It’s a tradeoff, right? Society gives authors exclusive control over their work for a limited time in exchange for the benefit to society, which will eventually own that work as part of the public domain.
Other Bill: Once again, you are first making the assumption that you know how much the e-books should cost and therefore that publishers like SubPress Bill are being unethical and lying to you. But as we’ve seen, the e-book market is small, is complicated by vendor demands and new production and personnel costs, and a lot of the attempts with price is to set up a regular price structure, to get clear who can exploit which rights, and to stabilize the market, and to figure out how to produce a wider e-book choice of product than has been managed previously.
Right now, the e-book market is not profitable for publishers. They are operating it often at a loss in hopes of future profitability. And because they aren’t tech companies, they often make mistakes. The prices of e-books vary widely and are sold by many different places. Many of them are offered officially for free for promotional purposes. So saying that all the publishers are charging high prices for all the e-books is a simplistic, inaccurate complaint.
Second, we don’t get to set the price by which things are sold to us. It would be great, wouldn’t it — here’s $100, give me the Ferrari, here’s $2 and I get to rent this parking space for two weeks, write me a software program for free, etc. We’d just demand and they’d give us whatever we demanded, based on our notions of value of the product (which is to say, cheap or free.) I want, so I take, is the philosophy. It’s just not a very ethical one, in my view.
If you think a product — especially a luxury product which e-books are — is priced too high, then you can not buy it, wait and see if the price goes down in time (which publishers are already doing and promising,) complain to the seller and the maker that the pricing is unfair — all ethical ways to challenge price, and often effective. We can certainly complain about publishers — though an individual complaint is more accurate — but as you note, that isn’t an ethical justification for taking their stuff.
Michael K: “Pirates have to buy at least one copy to lend out, too,” — No, they don’t. They can steal a copy, borrow a copy or get it from the people who think it’s just great to upload the book illegally and put it out there for free.
“and similar percentages of pirates will go on to buy official copies.” — Well, no, we don’t have any proof of that at all. As one person pointed out, if they’ve downloaded an illegal copy of a book, why then buy one? Why not just steal some more? Some people who are pirating may also buy books (which is what this column was about.) That doesn’t mean, however, that their decision to take an e-book unauthorized is ethical.
“I can see you feel strongly about this, but shouting “thief!” is not constructive. People don’t respond positively to name calling – those you’re berating will just dig in their heels and feel more justified in what they’re doing.”
I disagree, I think it is constructive because I think a lot of people are deluding themselves into believing that they aren’t stealing when they do it. Because they aren’t walking into a store and carrying out a physical object, they don’t want to call it theft, to think about the harm that they may cause or the ethics of what they’ve chosen. Whereas if I call it something else — not sure what that would be, but freedom fighters would not be it because they are not being oppressed — then they don’t have to think about it.
Of course, they don’t have to think about it with me calling it stealing either. This column was about Scalzi’s opinion about what was ethical concerning the issue and he invited our comments about how we viewed it. My view is that deliberate illegal downloading is a form of theft and is not ethical.
I’m not going to run around and try to stop pirates. I have no desire see people put in jail for it, except perhaps for the for-profit crooks who will still never see jail. The business will survive despite it. But it’s unethical and it’s wrong to do, in my opinion.
Kate said: “If an e-book is released free officially, then it certainly can be very good promotion. But that’s the authorized choice, not you making the choice for them.”
So, it Might be a very good promotion. I’ll buy that. Who doesn’t want to be well-promoted? Do you know how much a full page ad for a book in the NY Times would cost you? Lots. More than most publishers would spend to promote their authors.
If you buy into the Doctorowian idea of marketing, then it works so darn well that any author would be foolish to not let the organic flow of information work to his/her benifit.
So that’s why I think the publishing industry should be offensive and not defensive. As John knows, because he is logical and writes some good military stratagizing, that being on the offensive offers far more opportunity to beat the crap out of the enemy. The same holds true for the changing digital culture. I was serious about giving away all ebooks for free. Let’s say the average book is 250 pages. More than enough ads can be placed in the ebook, and could even be updated automatically. This would make the publisher more money than it would have made selling the ebook for 15 bucks. Give the book to a friend. But first you have to update the ads. On and on… And then the increased revenue can be passed on to the authors. Unless the publisher just wants to screw them out of it. That’s the important part: you can adulterate an ebook with ads because it’s not really a book, it’s a vector. It’s a promotional tool. The authors could make more money, and that’s a good thing. Digital books hold the reader captive. Want to turn the page, you have to look at an ad for 10 seconds. And most people will look at the ad. Just like you do if you watch TV and don’t FF through all the ads. But, from what I’ve seen, most of the book crowd is still stuck in the old way of doing things and isn’t very innovative. Publishers didn’t invent ebooks, that was trust upon them. Time to thrust back.
If you think a product — especially a luxury product which e-books are — is priced too high, then you can not buy it, wait and see if the price goes down in time (which publishers are already doing and promising,) complain to the seller and the maker that the pricing is unfair — all ethical ways to challenge price, and often effective.
I don’t disagree with you. Certainly choosing not to buy is the most ethical way of telling a publisher that you don’t think their pricing is fair. Even better is to complain to the publisher directly–but let’s face it, hardly anyone bothers to do this. I’ve never written a complaint letter to a company in my entire life, though I’ve frequently been dissatisfied with a product.
So let me point out that simply not buying gives the publisher no feedback. If an e-book doesn’t sell, what is the publisher going to conclude? Maybe, “Consumers don’t want e-books.” “Consumers are not interested in this particular book.” “People don’t read anymore.” They’re not going to know it’s a problem with price; they may guess correctly, but then they may guess wrong.
On the other hand, if an e-book is not selling, but it’s being pirated in large numbers, that tells the publisher that there is demand for the product, and the problem is with pricing or delivery, not the product itself.
True. But if I want to send a message like that to the publisher, I’ll just use Western Union (or, email, in this day and age).
Kat Goodwin –
“So saying that all the publishers are charging high prices for all the e-books is a simplistic, inaccurate complaint.”
I don’t think all publishers are lying and cheating with all of their products. I’m trying to speak in general terms about the industry.
“Once again, you are first making the assumption that you know how much the e-books should cost and therefore that publishers like SubPress Bill are being unethical and lying to you.”
Please stop ascribing this specific example of Bill and SubPress to me. I really don’t know what he thinks specifically about this issue. I also really happen to think he’s a fine specimen of a human being thoroughly skilled in the art of customer service.
“But as we’ve seen, the e-book market is small, is complicated by vendor demands and new production and personnel costs, and a lot of the attempts with price is to set up a regular price structure, to get clear who can exploit which rights, and to stabilize the market, and to figure out how to produce a wider e-book choice of product than has been managed previously.”
Exploit rights and bring stability to the market. That language sounds almost like how we talk about war. And to an extent, that’s part of my point. Publishers and vendors are at war to win the right to exploit rights and stabilize the market. Impose the terms of the war so you can impose the terms of the peace. And that isn’t wholly beneficial to the consumers. I certainly don’t have a shining knight out to defend my honor in this fight.
Also, I’m not assuming I know the proper price for an ebook. I am guessing that the price of an ebook is dominated by the price of content. And my quibble is that in this case, I am forced to pay for content twice if I want to read a paper format at home and an e format on the metro.
Piracy isn’t theft. You may want it to be, but the law couldn’t be any clearer; copyright infringement and theft have no legal relationship. Nor, when we’re talking about non-commercial activity, is it a crime. It is, at most, a tort.
I realize that shouting “thief!” and “criminal!” is much more emotionally satisfying, but it’s destructive. I’m sure your mother taught you that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, just as mine did. She also taught me that if I hadn’t anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. I don’t always manage to live up to that, myself, but I regret it when I don’t.
Please remember that there are good and decent people on both sides of this issue, and there’s more than one perspective. (A message I’ll equally give to the kill-the-publisher crowd.)
I can certainly understand the publishing world feeling ambushed by rascally kids subverting their industry, but this isn’t something new. People copying and preserving literature is older than copyright, older than publishers, hell, it’s older than books. It’s almost certainly even older than (and probably the impetus of) government. Maybe even older than religion.
And it’s been done electronically for generations. From the pirate’s perspective, the publishing industry has suddenly burst into their quite little library, wailing and nashing their teeth and demanding that it be burnt to the ground and the land tilled with salt.
How would you respond to that?
Relevant point: if you own a legal copy of a book, it is legal for you to scan it electronically for your own use. Scholars do that all the time for texts they want to be able to word-search.
It only becomes illegal if you give it to other people or put it on the web.
Richard Curtis wrote: “We’d be interested to know how Scalzi’s publishers feel about his posting.” [supporting Ethicist Randy Cohen’s benign attitude toward a reader who downloaded a pirate edition of a book because the authorized version was windowed]
John Scalzi replied: “These would be the publishers who have been selling tons of my novel “Agent to the Stars” (and are prepping to bring it out in mass market paperback) even though I have a *contractually allowed* electronic version of the novel up for anyone’s perusal on my Web site?”
That’s wonderful. I suppose your publisher won’t mind, then, if I walk out of a bookstore without paying for one of your reprints, since you’ve already been paid for the original edition. After all, by your logic I’m simply helping myself to a different format of the same book that I already own, right? In fact, your publisher shouldn’t mind if I walk out of the store with all of the copies and give them away. It’s no different from what pirates do.
#157: “They’re not going to know it’s a problem with price; they may guess correctly, but then they may guess wrong.”
Oh trust me, they are well aware of the price complaints. Other people are perfectly happy to let them know. The Kindle folk have been quite loud. But there are limits to what can be done, especially in the current, developing market, and there are customers who will not accept that those limits exist. There are also customers who have a mythological view that there is not a spectrum of e-book prices but only highway robbery prices, that publishers won’t lower the price of bestsellers as time passes, etc. There is a lot of mythologizing about giant, evil publishers and how far advanced the industry is at this point. So publishers are getting the complaints, but they can’t always act on them because a lot of them aren’t realistic. That doesn’t mean, however, that complaints are all ignored and won’t effect prices over time.
Pirating does not tell a publisher anything about demand for the book because the rank and file may get pirated, but the bulk of the pirating — both for-profit and private free — is of the bestsellers, for which the publisher already knows there is demand. For-profit pirates scoop up as many e-files as they can get their hands on and sell them in batches, so the individual titles are unimportant. Trying to pretend pirating provides a service that publishers can’t get in other, ethical ways is wishful thinking, in my view.
Other Bill: “I’m trying to speak in general terms about the industry.” — And in doing so, tarring and feathering the whole industry.
“I really don’t know what he thinks specifically about this issue.”
What he said on this comment thread was that turning their backlist into e-books had been very expensive and difficult. This effects price. A lot of people don’t believe Bill about the e-books being expensive to produce, and therefore don’t feel e-book prices are fair.
“That language sounds almost like how we talk about war.”
It’s not a war at all. It’s the people and companies involved in the industry working out legal issues and business procedures that they’ve never had to deal with before. It takes time, it takes negotiations and adjustments, technological developments, new personnel, infrastructure building, and sometimes there is pouting and argument along the way. The media may portray that as a war, but it’s not. People are happy to wait over a year for Apple to release the iPad or iPhone into the market or a new form of software, but for some reason, that a publisher doesn’t instantly have its whole catalog converted into cheap e-books is considered a horrendous crime.
“I am forced to pay for content twice if I want to read a paper format at home and an e format on the metro.”
Yes, currently you are because they are still trying to figure out how to bundle it and be able to do it effectively. There are lots of theories about how to do it, but it will have to be worked out in the marketplace over time, just like in every other industry. You are paying for the convenience of an e-book version that you can use right now in your e-reader which you chose to buy, but which no one is obliged to provide you with software and e-files for for free. People who buy the print book and don’t have e-readers don’t get that service. People who bought an e-reader but not the print book don’t get that service. If you want an extra edition of a book that is electronic, that can be used with a specific device instead of just read on paper, you pay for that service. If you think the service is overpriced for a title, don’t buy it.
But nobody forced you to buy the print book either. You bought the print book for the convenience of having it at home instead of the e-book. You made the decision that you needed two copies of the same content in different formats. And this is currently what it costs for you to have this choice. If you think it’s too much, don’t buy the print, don’t buy the e-book. But, as you agree, that the market can’t satisfy your desires at the moment is not ethical justification for taking what you want from others. If it were, I could take a Ferrari.
#160: I’d respond that that’s not the way copyright infringement was treated in the book contracts I dealt with for years. But people who pirate books for their own use and don’t re-sell them are not really engaged in the sort of copyright infringement those contracts are dealing with. They’re just stealing the books.
To claim that the pirates are collecting and preserving literature out of noble purposes is a bit thick. As so many keep telling me, e-books don’t last. Someone with an e-book is at best “renting” it, according to these very same pirates. So they aren’t collecting or preserving, they’re just using. They want something, they can get it for free, they take it. Some of them sell the illegal copies for profit, which is basic copyright infringement.
Nor are most of the books they are taking in any danger of disappearing — bestsellers, big names like Stephen King. The people who pirate, free or paid, are not being oppressed. Their civil rights are not being violated. They are not leading a revolution. Publishing is not crashing down on them; what happened is that electronics lovers got interested in e-books and crashed down on the publishing industry. They declared to publishers that they don’t actually own those rights they licensed, and the authors don’t deserve to get paid for products made from their writing, and they’re just going to take them, because they think publishers are moving too slowly to make lots of e-books.
I’m well aware that I’m not going to catch any flies with honey or vinegar in this argument. People who take books justify it to themselves as an okay act, because certainly the for free pirates are perfectly nice people. They’ve just talked themselves into the idea that this sort of theft is ethical because the publishers are big meanies or technologically backwards, or they can’t get what they want through normal channels right at the moment and they’ve got an e-reader to fill, because they sometimes buy books, or hey, it’s just an e-book which is not even a thing. They don’t want to think about how that act may be harming others. They try to argue that they are doing more good than harm in serving their own ends.
Doing the right thing, the ethical thing, is not always the easy thing. Taking that which does not belong to you and you were not given just because you want it and you can do it and because a company or a person is not acting the way that you think they should when you think they should, on a luxury item, the lack of ownership of which does not harm any of your civil rights and survival needs, is, in my view, ethically wrong. It is a deliberate theft, whether it is an apple or a stream of electronic data, and it is not a theft for a noble purpose or out of compassion for others, but out of your own wants to own stuff.
We can argue it, we can discuss it. But I have yet to be offered any argument for pirating an e-book that does not boil down to basically I want it, so I took it. And the funny thing is, of course, that there are so many e-books that are offered for free: promotional give-aways, books in the public domain — which are centuries of classics, books that authors put out as Creative Commons license or otherwise, works written specifically for free on-line distribution, etc. — more than can be read in one lifetime. But a pirate wants a particular work that is not currently free electronically, and so takes it.
“I suppose your publisher won’t mind, then, if I walk out of a bookstore without paying for one of your reprints, since you’ve already been paid for the original edition. ”
The bookstore might. I don’t suggest you try it.
Beyond this, this argument is poor for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that you’re conflating “pirates” who illegally distribute work with people who acquire for their personal use an additional copy of a work without compensating the author for it — a group which includes people who purchase used books, for example. You also appear to be conflating “not compensating the author” with “not legally acquiring a work.” Not every instance of the former requires an instance of the latter. For example, the case I noted with my own work (and which you quote), which was done with my publisher’s knowledge and approval.
In short: Bad argument, no cookie. Try again, please.
Kat Goodwin –
“Other Bill: “I’m trying to speak in general terms about the industry.” — And in doing so, tarring and feathering the whole industry.”
Oh pish posh. That’s nonsense. I’m speakng about a subject in the same general tones you are. If the general concerns I have about the history of the industry “tar and feather” the whole industry in a way that is personably offensive to you, I do apologize for unwittingly offending your sensibilities.
Meanwhile you have referred to me and my supposed ilk as no better than sex trafficers and drug dealers.
But that’s okay. You’re fairly blunt about your thoughts on every human being whose ever once used a bittorrent. Just so you know.
“I really don’t know what he thinks specifically about this issue.”
What he said on this comment thread was that turning their backlist into e-books had been very expensive and difficult. This effects price. A lot of people don’t believe Bill about the e-books being expensive to produce, and therefore don’t feel e-book prices are fair.”
Right, well I’m not exactly whining vaguely about, like, the unfairness of drm man. We can agree to disagree about my feelings regarding having to purhase content twice without you twisting insults out of my end of our conversation explicitly directed at a man whom I happen to have a great deal of respect for the way he handles his business.
SubPress is awesome and I can imagine how it might be expensive for him to reformat his back catalogue.
“It’s the people and companies involved in the industry working out legal issues and business procedures that they’ve never had to deal with before. It takes time, it takes negotiations and adjustments, technological developments, new personnel, infrastructure building, and sometimes there is pouting and argument along the way.”
That is by far the most gracious description of this process that I have heard. Which house do you work for in which imprints media relations department. Pouting doesn’t usually screw over a whole range of mid list authors for the weekend just to make a point about customer relationships and price points.
The various entertainment industries, book publishers included, were not just ho humming their way down mainstreet when the Internetz hordes cold cocked them and took there wallet.
Book publishing took their cue from the rest of the entertainment industry and started created products to “sell” me that I no longer actually “owned” any rights to use it the way I use anything else.
And for the love of Pete, please stop comparing the person who steals some digital books to the person who would break and enter to steal your daughter’s things or a person who would rip off a ferrari.
You know, I saw the Boondock Saints. And I don’t remember their monologue at the end where they say “do not rape, do not murder, these are things people of every faith can agree on” ending with and don’t steal books because it’s the same as selling crack on the streets and your sister into prostitution.
Oh god dammit. You’ve got me misrembering my Boondock Saints quotes. Fine. They said steal too. Shoot everyone in the head who used a p2p file sharing program.
Clearly I’m too upset to continue this conversation if I’m misremembering that. I retire my side of the argument. Where’s the flipping lynch mob to go kill all the flipping teenaged pirates and ex freaking hippies. Burn em all, I say. God save the publishing industry.
I have some digital pictures of things that are important to me. If someone broke into my house and stole the camera they are on, that would be sad. If someone broke into my house and copied the pictures, that would be creepy. But the loss would be different.
I don’t think theft is the right word for the second example. It is clearly wrong. And illegal. And if I were a better photographer, it could mean a monetary loss.
Kat, I’m very sorry your daughter was really the victim of a robbery, but the example you gave clarified the argument in a different way than I think you intended it to. Well, the theft/copyright infringement semantics part of it.
I missed DB’s post last night and so I checked with the hubby who is in the scholar trade. He said he hadn’t done it himself, but if it was for personal use, not for others, he thinks it’s okay. Certainly they can’t do it for students, though the electronic textbook market is developing. You’d have to check, but there you go, Other Bill, a legal, negotiated way that has been given to you to take your print copy, scan it and have it on your e-reader, as long as you are not distributing it to all and sundry. And that goes for the original guy who questioned the ethicist. Why didn’t the ethicist check to see if he could scan it for personal fair use, instead of doing the illegal download? Oh, these lazy journalists. :)
And I’m sorry that I’ve upset you, Other Bill, because I don’t mean to, just as I haven’t in other conversations we’ve had in the past. I think that it is partly because you are misinterpreting what I’m trying to say. When you talk about how the entire publishing industry is doing X to you, that includes SubPress Bill. So what I was trying to point out is the generalized criticisms of publishing behavior were not accurate for all publishing situations and I didn’t find the points you were making to be therefore a fair argument. I was not stating that you were slandering SubPress Bill or had any grudge against him. But I was pointing out that in saying that publishers are all pricing unfairly for their costs and not dealing honestly with you, that would include SubPress Bill, who had just told us that the e-books were expensive to make as an additional format. Do you believe SubPress Bill about the costs? And if so, does that change your view of the price issues that many publishers face? (With apologies for dragging him into it.) What I was trying to point out is that publishers are not necessarily lying that putting out the additional e-book costs them additional money. A lot of people don’t believe publishers like SubPress Bill that this is true.
Nor was I calling you a sex trafficker. Nor was I calling people who illegally download an e-book for free for their own use a sex trafficker. What I was pointing out was that there are people who are doing piracy who are selling the e-books and these are people engaged in criminal activity and often doing other criminal activities. And these people are taking the titles that the for free pirates put up on the Web and using them for criminal activity. So the free stuff contributes to crime and, I feel, to a culture that taking stuff — especially creative stuff — is okay to do.
Nor was I saying that illegally downloading an e-book or putting it up for free is the same level of crime as stealing a Ferrari. My point was that wanting something doesn’t mean that it’s okay or ethical to take it without permission. That’s something we teach kids early on.
Nor do I agree with the argument that since a person feels that publishers are unfairly pricing or inconveniencing them, that this gives free license to the person to screw over others by grabbing and copying e-books.
I agree that Amazon’s pout was over the top and unethical towards Macmillan and Macmillan’s authors. I agreed with that on this blog, whereupon I got screamed at by several Kindle owners. But that spat does not justify the behavior of other people. That one’s behavior is less bad than others doesn’t mean it wasn’t a wrong choice on its own that can hurt others.
I also really don’t appreciate the claim that I think teenagers downloading illegal e-books should be burned. :) I don’t. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to stop them. But that doesn’t mean that I think they are doing something ethical by doing it, and if I recall correctly, you agreed with that. But maybe I misunderstood you.
Beth: In both cases you came up with, the person breaks into your house and takes stuff that is yours without permission. (And if you were a professional photographer like a professional author, yes, causes you a monetary loss.) It’s not how awful the crime is that makes it ethical or not. It’s not how much the person who is taken from loses. It’s doing the crime, when you don’t have to but because you want to particularly. It’s the decision, not just the nature of the act.
Fair enough. My response is that insisting a generalized comment about the industry necessarily applies to a specific niche market in that industry is a bit unfair.
Crap. I can’t even flounce right today.
When people describe ebooks as rented, they’re referring to DRM. Electronic files are not fundamentally any more or less temporary than any other information storage, and you preserve them through the ages in exactly the same way as any other – by distributing them far and wide so at least one copy survives. If it hadn’t been for scroll pirates, a copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls wouldn’t have ended up in that forlorn cave that just happened to be a perfect place to preserve them. Because there weren’t TV pirates in the 60’s, we’ve irrevocably lost important parts of our cultural heritage.
That bestsellers are more widely pirated is a tautology; popular books are popular.
No one’s declared that the rights publishers buy from authors no longer exist. Quite the opposite, publishers have suddenly declared that what historically were institutional restrictions now apply to individuals. Even the Napster and Grokster cases were between labels and public corporations. It’s not until the last few years that cases have been brought against regular people minding their own business like Jammie Thomas.
Telling people that they can’t copy things is new. So is people being able to do so easily, but that’s just what technology does. Things get easier. There’s no changing that.
Libraries have not historically gotten in the way of publishers because without infinite funds, they had to ask for the books to come back after a time, and they wouldn’t necessarily have what you want. That’s no longer the case, so libraries are put in conflict with the publishing industry.
Yelling, screaming and calling people names isn’t going to change that. At best, you’ll be dismissed out of hand, but often you’ll drive people away from paying for books at all.
I’d really rather you not do that. Let’s make nice, have a cup of tea, and try to work out what can be done, rather than smash the looms.
Interesting to come back to this thread. It’s strayed quite far from the original point, though, and while that’s not bad, I think people are starting to talk past one another. John’s original point was that, as an author, he feels that once one person has paid him for a work it doesn’t bother him if they acquire it in another format without paying for the second copy. The easiest example of this is someone who buys a hardback version and then acquires a used paperback version. He’s not compensated for the second copy, but I think we’re all fine with that.
Now we introduce making copies. Let’s extend the example above and pretend that someone was handing out, for free, copies of John’s work. From the perspective of the person buying the impact to John is no different than if they bought a used paperback – in both cases they bought a hardback and have acquired a second copy of the book in such a way that John (and the publishers, etc) aren’t getting more money.
To use a more concrete example, I have a copy of Judge Sn Goes Golfing. It’s a chapbook and would be easy for me to scan in and OCR. I don’t see any ethical issue with me doing that so I could read it on my iPad. I do see an issue if I were to torrent that file so people who’ve never paid for the chapbook suddenly have access to it… but again, that’s not the situation John was describing.
All of the talk about pirates above equates making any copy, for any reason with piracy and the situation simply isn’t that clear. The issue with music and, to some degree, DVDs is simpler since I can rip a very high fidelity copy of my purchased CD/DVD. I can’t do that with a book, so I either have to buy an authorized copy (thus paying AGAIN for the same content, i.e. paying full freight when the only value to me is the different format) or get a copy that someone else has made. Personally, I’m more likely to pay up, but a solution whereby I got a free or reduced price e-version of the work with the paper book would be best.
As the kids are so fond of saying on the interwebs.
An earlier post mentions someone getting peeved because they’d bought the Wallstreet Journal but were unable to access a particular electronic version. The post concludes that content providers need to make various versions avaialbe to those who’ve already bought the product. A spot-on observation. Although I don’t agree with a lot of their practices regarding writers and reviewers, “Publishers Weekly” was doing just that years before this became an issue. And they are a _very_ small market compared to the WS Journal.
I think that the Business Journals empire (they do localized business news for regions like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Atlanta, etc.) does that. Have a subscription to the paper version, you get free access to the electronic version. Can’t pass it around, of course, but I think that’s how it should be done…
In the first situation, I can’t look at my pictures. They are gone. But in the second case, I haven’t “lost” anything at all. Nothing. I have everything I had before the crime took place. So theft doesn’t seem like the right word for this crime.
It’s not a question of how awful the crime is. It’s the name of the crime. Using “steal” to refer to the taking of an abstract (the right to control copies of my work) stretches the word a lot, and there are other words that accurately describe that crime.
In practice, my ethics are close to Scalzi’s. I like to pay writers for their work, because I want them to keep writing. But I don’t feel bad for not paying them every time I read a book. I like to try out authors before I pay for them; I use the library for that. I think I’ve accidentally infringed a few copyrights; I rip library audio CDs for my kid to listen to as he falls asleep and sometimes I’ve found chapters I forgot to delete after I checked in the CDs. So I delete them when I find them.
Which is another way copyright infringement is different from theft. If I accidentally steal something, destroying it is not the ethical choice.
So on the possibility that taking a copy of the books without permission might possibly preserve the works sometime far in the future — which no one can actually determine will happen — it’s okay to take them, is what you seem to be saying. That’s very convenient; it’s not very ethical.
What you seem to be trying to say is that all forms of copying are ethical. I’m saying that some forms of copying are not. And I’m not doing it by yelling and screaming, and trying to accuse me of that to claim my argument is invalid is not a genteel discussion either. (Scalzi will tell me if he thinks I’m being out of line.)
Nor am I going to accept the blackmail argument that I should stay quiet about something I think is ethically wrong so that they won’t do it some more. If they choose to do it some more, that is again their free will, unethical choice. This is a discussion of our views of these actions, and if the people doing this stuff can’t stand that others think it’s wrong, then perhaps they should consider not doing it anymore and avoid the problem altogether. I can tell you that coaxing them to not do it so far has not worked at all on the Net, so if that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
“That’s no longer the case, so libraries are put in conflict with the publishing industry.”
Libraries are not in conflict with the publishing industry. The publishing industry loves libraries. Borrowing from a library is an ethical choice and is not taking. Copying library books and putting them up on the Web without permission is taking and is not an ethical choice. Publishers do not hold libraries responsible for that happening. That the technology is there for people to use in this way does not mean that it is ethical for them to use it in that way.
Rick: “All of the talk about pirates above equates making any copy, for any reason with piracy and the situation simply isn’t that clear.”
Well, no, that’s not what I’ve said at all. I’ve said some forms of copying (borrowing) and downloading are unethical and pirating, not all. The argument that seems to most often be made back to me is that all forms of copying and downloading are perfectly fine, including loading an e-book up on the Web without permission for anyone to take or for sale, and downloading an e-book without ever having purchased any work is fine and downloading illegally because of a purchase of a work is fine too.
Beth: “But in the second case, I haven’t “lost” anything at all. Nothing. I have everything I had before the crime took place. So theft doesn’t seem like the right word for this crime.”
Well yes, you have lost something — the right to determine how your pictures are used. You have no control over whether the person who took your pictures sells them, either in your name or their own. You may still have a copy of your pictures, but they are no longer your pictures. If you wanted to put those pictures up on the Web yourself, well and good, but the choice was taken from you. So perhaps you don’t feel that the artists and photographers who are suing Google for storing their work in Google’s archives, taken without permission and used to make money for Google, have a right to do that, have not really lost anything. They disagree.
And again, it’s not how much you lost as the victim of your photos being copied that makes the taking of the photo copies ethical or unethical — it’s that the person decided to take the copies from you. It’s an unethical choice that person made. They didn’t have to copy the photos. They could have asked you if they could copy the photos. They could have waited to see if you would make them available on the Web. They could have lived without the photos. Instead, they chose to take them. That is what makes it wrong, in my view.
“But I don’t feel bad for not paying them every time I read a book.”
That’s not what I argued. I also stated that someone who does it accidentally — who doesn’t realize that it was a problem, is not being unethical. It’s knowingly making the choice to do it or keep doing it that is unethical.
“That’s not what I argued. I also stated that someone who does it accidentally — who doesn’t realize that it was a problem, is not being unethical. It’s knowingly making the choice to do it or keep doing it that is unethical.”
I’m not sure if this came across previously and I missed it or if you were dancing around it. Either way, to that extent I do agree with this. In an ethics debate, intent does matter.
But, the intent of the big players in the industry matters too. And blah blah, I’ll not beat my dead horse. But, maybe some of the folks making the decisions just don’t get it there, and so ethically they’re in the clear.
You know, I don’t even use bittorrent. I don’t actually have any illicitly acquired files. As a full pledged purchaser or hard cover novels and trade paper backs, I’d prefer it if the industry didn’t snow me over with the “well we’re still trying to figure this whole e thing out” in 2010.
Clueless or profit seeking, regarding the requirement to purchase content twice, I’m an annoyed paying customer.
Viva la revolucion! It’s nerd chic.
The crux of the issue is that you see copyright as an ethical issue, rather than a utilitarian (and until recently, rather obscure) industrial regulation intended not to support artists, but to “promote the sciences and useful arts.”
I’m not trying to hush you, I’m just asking you to choose your words a bit more diplomatically. Calling pirates “unethical” is just going to make them defencive. How would you react, for example, to a vegan browbeating you about eating meat?
Most people aren’t going to respond positively to being told it’s unethical to eat meat, but a more tactful approach can, say, get them to prefer free range chickens. Coaxing pirates does work, just not on all of them, nor all of the time. Pirates do buy things.
Yes, for me it’s about pragmatics. Sure, piracy is unethical. But talking about how unethical it is does not change pirates’ behavior.
What can change pirates’ behavior is giving people who buy the product a better experience (or, at the very least, a just-as-good experience) than those who acquire the product illegally. And most importantly, making sure that paying customers feel satisfied with their purchases, not ripped off. Making a customer buy a product twice, first as hardback, then as an e-book, makes them feel ripped off.
Someone please explain the REAL ethical difference between borrowing a book from the library and reading a book you downloaded online.
After you’re done reading it, you delete the file or return the book to the library. You never paid the author, nor the publisher. In the library, the publisher was paid once, maybe, but not by you.
Simply put, does a writer (or songwriter, or movie maker) have an entitlement to be paid for every viewing or use of his product? Would it be wise to try to devise a system to ensure this?
One of the most successful and popular bands of all time was the Grateful Dead. They practically encouraged “piracy” of their works. Yet, they still sold tons of merchandise. Maybe, they figured people love to share stuff they dig, and so that’s the best way to make new fans.
I know that fewer and fewer kids today have ever heard of Metallica, but the Dead seem to still have growing sales.
“Someone please explain the REAL ethical difference between borrowing a book from the library and reading a book you downloaded online.”
The book from the library was almost certainly legally acquired by the library; the book you download off a torrent was almost certainly illegally put there.
It is certainly more unethical to take receipt of something you have a high expectation of being illegally presented to you, than to do so of a work legally placed in a library (and of course, if you keep a library book for too long, you may find yourself accused of stealing it).
My personal point of view is that people should not download works of mine illegally placed online, but if they’ve legitimately purchased another version of my work and then download that supplementary not-legal copy, then I’m not going to kick about it.
“Simply put, does a writer (or songwriter, or movie maker) have an entitlement to be paid for every viewing or use of his product? Would it be wise to try to devise a system to ensure this?”
It should be noted that in many Western countries other than the United States, authors are in fact compensated when their books are borrowed from libraries. Likewise, songwriters get paid for every single time their songs are played on the radio, actors and writers paid for each (or at least many) reruns of their TV shows (and also commercials, in the case of actors), and so on.
So it is in fact very often technically possible to assure people get paid when their work is performed or acquired — and so long as a work is in copyright, yes, actually, the copyright holder does have a legal right to be compensated for the work, if they so choose. And while personally I don’t find it horribly unethical for someone to choose to compensate me only once for a particular text, legally I have the right to demand compensation for each instance of “first use” acquisition.
Incidentally, Metallica outsells the Grateful Dead in terms of recording sales, and its career got a recent boost with “the kids” through its “Guitar Hero Metallica” game, which sold 1.5 million copies, and its most recent album has sold 4 million copies to date; its concert tour for that album grossed over $76 million. For the 2000 – 2009 decade (i.e., post their Internet freakout), its total concert grosses were over $227 million.
Which is to say I don’t think Metallica quite works as an example for the point you wish to make.
1. The library copy was bought and paid for. The downloaded copy wasn’t. This is kinda a big deal, you know?
2. You have to return the library copy. The downloaded copy you can keep.
3. Only one person can have the library copy at a time. If someone else wants to read it while you are, they have to wait their turn, talk the library into buying another copy, or buy a copy for themselves. 2 out of 3 responses result in another sale.
So? They were still paid for every copy in circulation. And that’s kind of the point, really. With a library – or a used book, or someone lending his copy to another friend – every copy has been paid for, and only one person can have that copy at a time. If more than one person wants the book at the same time, someone has to buy another copy. If you go to the library and the library’s copy is checked out, you have to wait, or buy your own copy. If you want a copy to keep, you have to buy your own copy. If you want to buy a copy used and can’t find one in the used bookstores, you have to wait for a used copy to show up, or buy a copy new. There is no free lunch.
Downloading copies violates all of that – anyone can have a copy of the book, to keep, at any time, without paying for it. No waiting, none of the other factors that encourage new sales of a book. Moreover, the number of copies in circulation is increasing, without anything going back to the author.
The Dude @ 180 – Someone please explain the REAL ethical difference between borrowing a book from the library and reading a book you downloaded online.
There’s REAL work that went into the ebook edition that gets paid for with REAL money. So if you download an illegal copy, no one who did that work is getting recompensed for your fun. And reading a scan that someone did for free is not going to change that.
If I go into a movie theater with a camera and record a movie, I’m doing the same to people who work on getting the online legal release out on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and other legal sites.
Setting aside the  aspect of this comment, and the issue of whether ‘successful’ and ‘profitable’ are genuine synonyms – are you really trying to argue that Scalzi should be giving away everything he writes and making his real money off OMW T-shirts?
Is it OK for me to buy one copy of a book, make tons of photocopies and hand them out to all my friends so they have free copies? Not too many people would say it is, yet when the method of distribution is electronic rather than dead-tree, suddenly it’s all about how Information Wants To Be Free.
Other Bill: “I’m not sure if this came across previously” — At no time did I state that libraries are evil. In fact, I stated the opposite.
“But, the intent of the big players in the industry matters too.”
No, for this issue, it doesn’t. It is an entirely separate issue — one that we hashed around during the Amazon Macmillan negotiation — from the behavior of readers. Publishers are not oppressing readers just because readers can’t get non-essential goods at the price they want. And the business issues of publishers is not ethical justification for taking stuff, as you agree.
As for that other e-book market issue, you keep trying to assume that small presses have one set of issues with the e-book market and large ones another and that’s not the case. And there is the continued refusal to believe that making e-books costs additional costs. The technology is there, but the infrastructure for the growing size of this market is not there yet, because print publishing was not an electronics industry that already has it and owned the technology like music and apps. It was practiced only in a desultory, experimental, and small scale way because publishers weren’t able to do much with it — there weren’t many customers, they didn’t have the resources. Baen Books was an early experimenter, etc.
But when Sony and Amazon got serious, it created a tipping point to growth — the Kindle was a tipping point, the iPad is another. And to deal with it, publishers big and small have to build infrastructure to go with the technology, they have to hire personnel, they have to work out contracts — it is not instant. The Macmillan Amazon negotiation was not about e-book prices — it was about who owns electronic rights and in what ways and this sort of stuff has to be dealt with to have a functioning market. Think of the e-book market like a very cute Golden Retriever puppy. When it gets bigger, has grown, it will be able to jump the six foot fence into the fluffy green meadow. But jumping up and down and insisting that the puppy should be able to jump the six foot fence now is not very realistic. But it will be in the next few years.
Michael Kirkland: “The crux of the issue is that you see copyright as an ethical issue, rather than a utilitarian (and until recently, rather obscure) industrial regulation intended not to support artists, but to “promote the sciences and useful arts.”
Uh huh. So the copyright law that protects artists’ rights to their work is unethical and has not existed for millenium in its present form, therefore it’s okay to violate it? Sorry, don’t agree.
The point isn’t even the illegality of the act or not, however, once again. It’s the mindset of the person who does it. That is what I find unethical. I want, I take, I do what I want because I can. No thought for trying to find an alternative, authorized way to get it or going without it, no care for the consequences of the act and potential harm.
The problem is not getting pirates to buy things. After all, most pirates bought the shiny computers and e-readers and software and sometimes Internet service — all the things they need to pirate. Certainly, we can assume that the for free pirates did. They may have bought cars, houses, many, many things. It doesn’t matter how much they buy. That doesn’t whitewash the ethics of their taking the e-book or putting it up for all to grab for free or selling it. Buying things doesn’t give them a free pass for all the decisions they made. Being mad at publishers does not give them a free pass for the decision to pirate. Nor is it ethical for them to hold me responsible for their behavior.
The point of this column was Scalzi asking if we thought this was ETHICAL or not. I’m saying that it isn’t, to me, ethical. You keep trying to argue that I should say that it is ethical and then the pirates will stop doing it. But Scalzi says that he finds it ethical enough if you also buy the print version and Doctorow doesn’t find it unethical at all. They both carry more weight in the field than I do, yet the pirates have not magically stopped, including illegally putting up e-books on the Web without having bought a print version. In other words, telling me that I shouldn’t answer the question Scalzi posed because those who pirate will then be upset at my answer did indeed sound like you were saying I should keep quiet or agree with you. :)
Or perhaps it is that you feel copyright law should be changed or abandoned and that would make all this legal and therefore ethical. I don’t agree, but I’m not trying to stop you from making your argument for it either.
But nobody makes you pirate. Not publishers, not e-book vendors with their DRM, not libraries, not courts. The choice to do so is the responsibility of the pirate, and I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s an ethical choice in life. I answered Scalzi’s question.
Copyright has not been around for millennia. The first copyright law was The Statute of Anne in 1709. Copying and preserving literature has been around for all recorded history, rather by definition.
The two weren’t in any real conflict until the last few years, and then only really in America. No one was ever sued for making their sweety a mix tape, photocopying a book, or recording a PBS marathon. Copyright is intended to grant commercial rights, not allow an author to insist you store your books in a cool, dry, secure place.
I’ve not intended to suggest that there’s anything at all you (or anyone else) could do to stop piracy. There’s not. You’ll just have to make peace with it. The point I’ve been trying to make is that you can coax pirates to pay for content even though you can’t force them to. As the study I linked above shows, most pirates do buy content.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure you can drive them off the shores. Calling them names and being hostile isn’t going to stop them from plying the high seas, but it might stop them from coming to port to trade honestly. They don’t share your beliefs, so you no argument based on them is going to convince.
Further, there’s a whole generation of folks who’ve grown up with internet piracy as a norm. For them, it’s an old, settled fight. You might as well be arguing about abortion or miscegenation as far as they’re concerned. At best, you seem eccentric.
Michael Kirkland: You don’t listen to a word I say, do you? :)
I said: “So the copyright law that protects artists’ rights to their work is unethical and has not existed for millenium in its present form, therefore it’s okay to violate it?” Meaning, I’m asking if you, MK, are saying that the copyright law is unethical and has not been around for millenium and so therefore it is okay to violate it. Not that I believe copyright law has been around for millenium, or is unethical or is okay to violate it. (I’m well aware of the history of copyright law, thanks.)
I’m not trying to chase down pirates, as I said. I’m already at peace with it. I don’t think it will destroy the publishing industry, print or e-book. That doesn’t mean I think people who pirate — for profit, for non-profit, are doing something ethical.
Nor will they go away once the full e-book market is up and running. When we got the MP3 market for music established, the people who had been on Napster and such continue to trade and upload and sell files acquired illegally. It’s the people coming in with the new toys who make the new market. Publishers could offer e-books for $2 — which already exists and will exist in some circumstances — or free bundle them with a hardcover — which will be happening — and the people who claim that the absence of those things were why they were pirating will still go on pirating mostly. The guy in Europe who was having trouble getting books — he might stop pirating as they are more available in his area — but your basic for free pirate will continue. That’s their choice. It’s not a generational thing (let’s not tar and feather a whole generation,) it’s the personal choice that it is okay to take unauthorized electronic files because one can and one wants them. And it’s actually a narrow percentage of folk, in the end. (Which doesn’t mean their actions don’t cause harm.)
And please stop trying to equate a desire for consumer goods with civil rights issues.
Kat Goodwin –
“At no time did I state that libraries are evil. In fact, I stated the opposite.”
I probably should have clarified. I was referring explicitly to the notion of the way in which you were approaching the discussion. That sentence, even though I wasn’t using it to refer to the back and forth on libraries, did put a different context around our discussion for me. Hulk not get words right.
“No, for this issue, it doesn’t. It is an entirely separate issue — one that we hashed around during the Amazon Macmillan negotiation — from the behavior of readers.”
I can see your point. From the perspective of paying customers, as is the hypothetical at the start of the post, I think it’s perfectly relevant. From the perspective of people who tend to take what they want off the internet anyways, I think it isn’t relevant at all. They make their decisions independent of the actions of the publishers. So, I think we agree on that part. But, I don’t think these groups of people are the same.
“As for that other e-book market issue, you keep trying to assume that small presses have one set of issues with the e-book market and large ones another and that’s not the case. And there is the continued refusal to believe that making e-books costs additional costs. The technology is there, but the infrastructure for the growing size of this market is not there yet, because print publishing was not an electronics industry that already has it and owned the technology like music and apps.”
Well, if I might quibble with your, er, phraseology, I’m most definitely not ‘trying to assume’ that. Heh. Sorry.
I do think there’s a difference in terms of cost, and its impact to the business, between large publishers and smaller presses. I think large publishers have an ability to ride out certain costs through profits in other areas that a small press doesn’t necessarily have. So, while the actual cost may not be different for the two, it’s impact almost certainly is.
Although, I can’t say if this cost is or is not different. A larger publisher may already have staff on hand who can deal with the emerging market where a small press may have to hire explicitly to accomplish the same goal. Again, it may not change actual dollars programmed out, but the impact is different. Or, fundamentally, I do think the cost is different, even if the work costs the same.
Part of the problem, we agree, is that the infrastructure isn’t exactly there. But, that is by and large a product of decisions that big publishers have made. Charlie Stross, sandwiched in between his pieces on the industry that he recently put up, has a link to a NY Times article talking about challenges with the e-book market. Part of that discussion is a reluctance to enter the market for fear of killing their very lucrative tried and true paper business model.
I do think ebooks cost money to make. However, what I keep coming back to is that the bulk of my purchase is for content, then to profit for the publisher, then to actual work spent in format and layout for the content. I have issue with paying for profit to the publisher and content twice, with the hardcover first and then the ebook.
I think then that the decision to download a book illicitly, for free, that one has already acquired legally in a paper format is not ethically wrong. Currently, it’s legally wrong if you didn’t produce that digital copy yourself from your legally acquired paper copy, right? But, I don’t think ethically wrong.
Other Bill: “But, that is by and large a product of decisions that big publishers have made.”
Well, no, it’s not. There are numerous reasons why the infrastructure wasn’t in place when people magically decided that e-books suddenly were very, very important (which was when very big Amazon introduced shiny new toy, the Kindle.) Some of them are publisher choice related and quite a few are not. One of the big ones was that the electronics industry wasn’t interested in e-books for a long time, and if they didn’t bring their money and resources and tech of the big players to the party, it wasn’t going to happen. Now, they have. Another is that publishers didn’t have the money or man-power or tech training to do it, and they certainly didn’t have it to devote for what was 1% of the book market. Now it’s 3% of the book market and the electronics and bigger online companies are in, so now it is more possible to do. But Rome wasn’t built in a fricking day.
Another reason, which is publisher decision related, is that publishers plunged into the CD-Rom e-book market, made divisions and infrastructure — and got totally burned and lost millions of dollars on it and had to dissolve most of it in the aftermath of an economic recession — thanks to the Internet. So they weren’t going to build that infrastructure (and the new parts of it) again for e-books — especially at only 1% of the market — until the shape of the e-book market was clearer (were e-readers going to be part of it or no? Do you do DRM like iTunes initially or no? What is Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Microsoft — all not publishers — going to do? Etc.,) and the issues were clearly realized and could be negotiated and resolved. Plus they lost half the market for mass market paperbacks when the wholesale distribution market shrank, so yeah, they’re a little protective about their hardcovers at this early stage. They could jump into the pool and hope there was water there and high enough not to break their neck, but non-techy publishers tended to decide to fill up the pool with water first. So you have to wait.
Apparently, a lot of e-book customers hate waiting. But publishers aren’t really worried about the early adapters. (Because again, only 3% of the market.) It’s the bigger picture, when that market is going to be 20% of the total, and yeah, publishers are cautious and yes, that’s not always a good thing. But again, the behavior of a business that is not oppressing you is not a justification. That the publishing industry is slow in developing the e-book market and had to wait for the electronics industry is not an ethical excuse.
“Currently, it’s legally wrong if you didn’t produce that digital copy yourself from your legally acquired paper copy, right? But, I don’t think ethically wrong.”
I think it is ethically wrong. Even more so if there is this authorized option — scan the book electronically only for personal use, and alternatives — don’t have the e-book, or don’t buy the print book and buy the e-book instead, or wait and see if the e-book price comes down later on. “I don’t want to pay twice for content on my e-reader” is not an ethical excuse for a non-essential consumer good. Basically, you’re saying that you are being wronged and thus have the right to avenge your wrongs by the means available. In my opinion, you’re not being wronged, you just don’t like the deal that is currently available and you don’t like the authorized alternatives to the deal. So you go do what you want. That’s not ethical.
Doesn’t mean I think you’re a horrible person if you do it, certainly not compared to those pirates selling the e-books or putting them out on the Web. But it’s still not the ethical choice. It’s the convenient choice. Basically, all of the forms of piracy, from for profit to I don’t want to pay for double content, are rationalizations that how you acquire the e-book isn’t important. But it is; it’s the entire key issue — what you chose to do when you didn’t have to.
“Doesn’t mean I think you’re a horrible person if you do it, certainly not compared to those pirates selling the e-books or putting them out on the Web.”
But, would you think I was a horrible person if I sported a gold hoop earing, a bandana, and a cutlass, bought a boat, dry docked it and built a stage around it so I could conduct my own one man revival musical about the great and wonderful, if sometimes lonely, life of a pirate-arrgh-me-matey? A musical I would make everyone watch.
All I know is pirates are cool. I saw these ads on movies and music talking about piracy. Then I saw Johnny Depp become, like, the pirate. Pirates are The Next Generation of Joe Camel. And who doesn’t want to be Johnny Depp? I mean, who doesn’t want to be a pirate? Kids these days don’t grow wanting to be an astronaut. Unless it’s a pirate astronaut.
For some reason, my notion of pirate music is strangely subheaded under irish jig. This may be because I think Shane MacGowan looks like a pirate.
I think what I’m saying is we may have reached an impass. But, sometimes I get distracted when I’m trying to say that. Pirates!
LOL, see, this is why I like arguing things with you, Other Bill.
The problem is that books were a print industry now facing a viable second industry of electronic files. Lots of people want e-books to be just like the music business, but music has always been all electronic audio files, including on the physical CD’s that still make up most of the music market. Music also has a secondary industry of ephemeral live performances that books cannot replicate and a merchandising network on a scale books can’t match. Nor has publishing found advertising to be a workable thing in books, except for ads for other books — book customers don’t like them, so books can’t follow the magazine models either. (Not that this model is doing so well lately.) Additionally, publishers are not selling the e-readers, so they and the authors can’t make a living the electronics way — expensive hardware device and cheap electronic features for it. All they’ve got are the electronic features people want cheap or free, and right now, they can’t make all of them that cheap, and certainly not free.
Which means figuring out a new model just for books, which is difficult, and I can understand the impatience of a lot of electronics customers who are used to that cheap or free data. I certainly understand their desire for transferability between electronic devices. It’s the turning to underhanded practices because you don’t like a sales deal I’m not okay with. How you treat others does matter, as Captain Jack Sparrow did find out.
I’ll just make a suggestion to any pirates still listening. If your big objection is that the cost is too high, consider this: kick in US$1-5 per book you pirate for free to a donation to your public library. The libraries have had their budgets slashed, their hours slashed, their staff laid off, their book stock reduced, etc., at the same time that they’ve become vital community centers for people also laid off and desperate, as a source for resources and the only access to the Internet those folk get. (And not just in the U.S., but elsewhere as well.)
If, as so many argue, libraries are just like pirating, then supporting the library would be supporting pirating, and since libraries supply books, CD’s and DVD’s for for free and for profit pirates to rip off, free of charge, donating to your library will also help other pirates. And unlike those for free and for profit pirates, the library actually does try to preserve books for the future, so if you’re worried that copyright law is destroying the treasure trove of literature, helping the library is the right thing to do.
Just a thought. You know, while you’re filling up that e-reader or hard drive, like gas in your car. :)
Kat, didn’t we just go full-circle? You just suggested that people copying files make a good faith donation to a book supplier (a library) to balance the ethical books, but the discussion started on whether making a good faith donation to the book producers/writers balances copying files later.
For example, if I buy the hardback to have in my library (either at home or at my local library), is that an ethical figleaf for copying the file to lug around with me? Because that’s what Scalzi was saying up in his post. I’m fairly comfortable with that, although, like Scalzi, I’m more likely to pay for the ebook as well. (Well, except my library has a good selection of ebooks as well, so it’s usually not necessary.)
I don’t agree that the corporations get to make up all the rules for what should happen to their products, but that’s a different post.
(I don’t like the term pirate because I actually know someone who encountered a modern pirate, not the romantic fictional kind. So calling people pirates implies to me that they are ruthless murderers, not copyright infringers. I realize this is a personal glitch, so it’s not a comment on anyone above.)
Nice point about bundling ‘free’ electronic versions with the hardcopy edition. Bleep, an online electronic music retailer, is already doing this for releases on the Warp label. When you buy the vinyl or CD version of a release the electronic version is automatically sent to your download library. Collectors get instant gratification and the nice shiny ‘real’ object too.
Beth: I neither said nor believe that making a donation to the library balances out or excuses piracy. It’s still an unethical thing to do, even if you give money to charity and even if you buy other consumer goods or the same goods in a different format. But as long as you are going to pirate, you might as well consider doing some actual good too. My comments about supporting the library also supporting piracy were sarcastic.
Jay Lake had some interesting things to say about this subject on his blog.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this kind of thing, and I keep coming back to one point:
What happens if I reverse the situation?
Does anyone out there think that buying the ebook should entitle one to a free paper copy even if they have to steal* it? If not, why should the purchase of the paper edition automatically provide the right to a free electronic edition?
* (While I don’t consider theft directly synonymous with either civil or criminal copyright infringement it is the appropriate word when dealing with the illegitimate acquisition of paper copies.)
I know we’re in a transitional stage and still figuring out both what’s socially acceptable and what’s legal and which should change to reflect the other, but until we can answer these questions, I think the resolution will be a long time coming.
A physical book, even a completely blank one, has costs: the price of the paper, and the opportunity cost of what else could be made on that press with those materials. It is not an equivalent situation.
So, no. This bond doth give thee here no jot of ink.
Dave – ‘entitle’? No. You’re not entitled to anything more than you bought regardless of medium.
The issue is whether you’re hurting people by getting an electronic copy if you’ve bought a physical one. I don’t think you are. However, you’re certainly getting value from having that electronic copy (else why would you want it?) so I do think you should pay something for it even though the distribution cost is close to zero.
Think of it this way – if I’ve bought a hardback copy but am about to go on vacation and I grab a paperback version from a used bookstore. No one is getting paid again for that copy… and yet we’re OK with that. Now, there’s the obvious fallacy thats *someone* paid for that paperback… but *your* purchase doesn’t contribute anything more to the people who made that book.
So, I just got a kindle and was looking for this article as I recall the discussion of downloading e-copies of books you already purchased. Glad I could find it!