Via Ars Technica, here’s a New York Times columnist reframing the pirated-ebooks debate as an ethical issue rather than a legal one, in response to a question asking whether it was wrong to download a pirated ebook version of a book already owned in hardcopy. His answer: it’s not legal, but it could be arged to be perfectly ethical. Although that ethical assessment rather hinges on one’s perspective:
Unsurprisingly, many in the book business take a harder line. My friend Jamie Raab, the publisher of Grand Central Publishing and an executive vice president of the Hachette Book Group, says: “Anyone who downloads a pirated e-book has, in effect, stolen the intellectual property of an author and publisher. To condone this is to condone theft.”
Yet it is a curious sort of theft that involves actually paying for a book. Publishers do delay the release of e-books to encourage hardcover sales — a process called “windowing” — so it is difficult to see you as piratical for actually buying the book ($35 list price, $20 from Amazon) rather than waiting for the $9.99 Kindle edition.
I tuned out a lot of the fine-detail wrangling over the Amazon/Macmillan debacle and the events that followed in its wake (simply because I didn’t have the spare time to read it all), so I’m unaware whether the notion of a blanket ownership license (e.g. where buying a hardcopy gives you rights to an electronic copy as well) was ever put forward.
It’s no cure for piracy, of course, but it’s an option that at least acknowledges some of the unaddressed issues currently surrounding content available in multiple formats. I’m somewhat heartened to see that the publishers are thinking hard about it, and publicly; hopefully, if they continue to avoid doing an ostrich impersonation, they won’t go the way of the record labels.
Further evidence that ebook piracy is a geek-o-sphere topic du jour: if Diesel Sweeties is satirising it, you know an issue has really arrived. 🙂