Monday, April 5, 2010

Stealing or Not?

The New York Times's ethicist, Randy Cohen, recently published a column in which he stated it was O.K. to illegally download a copy of Stephen King's latest book if you had already purchased a hard copy edition. Why do you think the ethicist believes this? What are the implications for other media? Do you believe his argument to be valid and why?

25 comments:

Ken Holm said...

In the article, Mr. Cohen starts his response with a telling sentence:

"An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal."

Why would he use a pejorative to accurately describe this activity? He immediately tips his hand to reveal that he's biased about the subject and has no qualms with his bias.

As for why Mr. Cohen tries to compare illegally downloading the e-book with making a copy of a CD on your iPod. The two are very different. The reverse is certainly not true. If I purchase sheet music, that does not entitle me to have a copy of that music as performed by someone. Why? Because the "someone" that played that music has not been paid by way of the price of the sheet music. Nor has the recording studio, nor the sound techs, folks who make the CD, people who house the MP3 on their website, etc.

Were Mr. Cohen's ideas adopted by his own media outlet, The New York Times, how long would Mr. Cohen be paid? Extending his argument, if I subscribe to the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, which sometimes uses stories from the NYT, shouldn't I have access to the information within the NYT paper/site? Currently, the NYT site is open. However, even today, the media moguls are pondering whether to close them off to non-paying customers.

To be clear, I believe Mr. Cohen, being a published author in a hugely recognizable format, condoning this type of activity is either thoughtless or intentionally maleficent. Whatever Mr. Cohen's intent, the act is clearly unethical.

Taryn Holland said...

I agree with Ken in the aspect that comparing illegally downloading the e-book with making a copy of a CD on your ipod is ridiculous. Those two are not even close to being the same. Illegally downloading the book gives access to anyone else wanting to read it. Also, illegally downloading is just that, illegal.

His argument is not valid in any way and when it comes down to it what he would be doing is breaking the law. I can see where he is coming from in saying that he already owns the book so why does he have to pay for a new one online. Well the fact of the matter is that society is changing and media is changing. DVDs are being replaced by bluray but everyone still have to pay for a movie in bluray even if they already own it on DVD.

Only bad things could come from illegally downloading. Randy Cohen is wrong in his beliefs.

Angela Doles said...

Without purchasing the e-version of the book I do not agree with downloading the book. Many book companies offer hardcopies with e-versions for buyers. Without permission from the company to download the book it’s illegal no matter how you try to justify it. Randy Cohen is conducting illegal acts and is robbing the book company of profits. Book companies charge for their services so that they can compensate the authors and pay for their expenses. If people continue to download illegally then eventually the book companies will go out of business. Many people beleive if they purchase one form of the book then they are entitled to all forms.

Tanya Mathews said...

Yes. Unethical? No.

It should be noted that Mr. Cohen is answering a very specific question: is it unethical to download a copy of a book after having bought a hard copy.

In buying the hard copy of the book come the letter-writer fulfilled his part as consumer -- Mr. King was paid for his time and talent, the publisher was paid for publishing, the bookstores were paid for distributing, and on down the line. The question is once a person buys a book, have they not in fact purchased a license to enjoy its content any way they choose?

Another piece of the framework supporting Mr. Cohen's argument is the marketing techniques in use by publishers. Withholding the release of the (usually cheaper) digital version of a book to encourage sales of the hardcopy is questionable at best, and, dare we say it... unethical.

noelle carlin said...

Anything that is downloaded and not paid for is not worth the trouble it can bring, and also the fact that some think that it is "OK" to do is just ridiculous. By him saying that if you have bought a hard copy then it is ok well how would the downloading company know if the person has bought it or not. Furthermore, why would people want to download a book that they already bought a hard copy of? Anyone who buys a copy of something is not buying it because they already own it, they are getting it because it is free (most of the time) and they do not already have it.

Some people believe that if it is "OK" to do it for one type of media, such as a book, or magazine, then they can do it for anything, music included. There are people all over the world illegally downloading music and they are taking away from the money that the artists rightfully deserve. If the artist takes six months to create an album that people are just going to go online and download for free, where are they making a profit? Sure they get popular on the charts, but that will not pay the power bill or the gas bill every month. If anyone downloads anything off the internet then it is stealing and it is unethical.

Anita Griffin said...

I agree with Noelle, how would anyone know if the person actually bought the book in the first place, and in the second place what sense does it make to download a copy if you have the hard copy? That makes no sense whatsoever to me. I definitely do not agree with the idea that it’s okay to illegally download copies of books, because the author will not get paid for his work. You are basically stealing from them. I think it is illegal to post a book on line without the author’s permission. If the website or computer server distributes the content on line without permission, that is definitely illegal. There are a lot of websites that go through great lengths to protect their copyright material, simply because they know it can be pretty easy to download material. I would rather just buy the book than to download an illegal copy. Just because it may be easy to download a copy of a book without permission, does not make it right and it definitely does not make it legal.

Hartman said...

I see two separate issues. Paying an author for content and then being able to consume that content in some manner other than that intended by the author is one issue. Another issue is that the physical book and the digital version of the book are not the same.
In the article, Mr. Cohen writes:
"Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you've violated the publishing company's legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you've done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability."
I agree with him totally in this paragraph. The problem with his first sentence is that the book and the digital version are not the same. The digital version is a separate effort that consumes additional resources. In fact, digital versions typically take advantage of technology to offer additional features not available in the print version.

If an individual were to decide to reproduce a book into an electronic format so that the book could be read on an e-reader, I would consider it ethical for someone who purchased a book to also possess a copy of that electronic version.

Ken Holm said...

@Tanya Mathews

What about those folks that did not get paid for that illegal download? A paper book is different that an e-book. While it is not as much work as writing a book, there is still a lot of work that goes into taking what's given to the printer and turning it into something suitable for multiple e-readers. Then there's the computer guys that run the servers that hold the e-book for download. Surely, there are more folks in the production line of the e-book.

I program software for a living. This is a bit of a sensitive subject for me. As such, I'm challenging your assertion that they were paid, down the line.

Additionally, you pose the question, "Once a person buys a book, have they not in fact purchased a license to enjoy its content any way they choose?"

No. They bought a piece of dead wood with ink on it. Otherwise, I could purchase a single copy of The Hobbit and every time I wore it out, go pick up another copy at Borders without having to pay for that new book.

You've touched on the methods used by the publishers to collect a premium on a new release. I do not share your opinion that is unethical. Movie makers do the same thing ($10 for movie tickets vs $1 at RedBox), electronics makers (iPhone was $600 originally, today it's $100), etc.

On definition Dictionary.com provides for ethical is:

being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, esp. the standards of a profession

So, by that definition, those publishers are ethical in their practice.

Tanya, please know I am not picking on you. You're comments piqued my interested and I felt compelled to respond. Thus far in this class, not many have raised my interest so.

Respectfully,

-Ken

Alvin McKinley said...

Copying or downloading a copyrighted material is definitely illegal.

I think that it might be legal to have an electronic book copy, but according to current laws, it is only viable when making an electronic copy yourself.

I think that electronic copies should be made available when providing a transaction ID when purchasing a hard copy. There have to be electronic books made available by publishing companies. I guess there is little to no profit in that for printing companies.

Additionally, I believe that companies do not try hard enough to protect their products from illegal copying and distribution. I realize that these companies invest a lot in copyright protection research, but there might be a limitation in today's technology or simply not enough investment to produce an effective protection.

Bottom line is that I believe in legality of making backup copies yourself in order to make the product last or make more accessible, and downloading is another matter.

Illegal copying, download and distribution will be present until new security measures will be developed. Until then, some people take risk, some don't. It is the matter of choice.

Laura Chisolm said...

I think that even though he purchased the hardcopy of the book it didn't make it ethical for him to download a pirated copy of the book. I say this because I agree with others that the hardcopy and the e-copy are seperate items and should be purchased seperately. That doesn't mean that the publisher couldn't give some sort of a discount for the e-copy. I do think that pirate copies of movies and books are illegal. It is the same situation as if a person had purchased the book and wanted the audio version. Isn't that a seperate item even though it has the same content? The publisher should be faster to have the e-copy available but there are still those who like the paper copies.

Zack Harrington said...

I actually agree with Randy Cohen to a certain degree. I do not think it is wrong to download illegal reading material if you have already purchased the same material. I think it would be illegal if he had not paid for any version of the book, but he paid for a hard copy. He may want to read the book on his computer and not have carry the hard copy around. There is a fine line with this scenario because downloading this material and sharing it with others who have not paid is certainly unethical and illegal. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with downloading a copy as long as it is for personal use and a version has been purchased prior to.

I believe that his suggestion may lead people to believe that they can download illegal material on the internet. Some may think that it is ok to download movies as long as they have already purchased the DVD. I suggest movies is a different all together because it can be consumed by several individuals at one time. A book downloaded on a computer would probably be for the use of one individual only. I don't see a person lending their computer so another can read the book they downloaded.

Zack Harrington said...
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Jack Elliott III said...

I believe that he is saying that it is not wrong because legally you have already purchased the book once; so why should you have to purchase it again to download it. Ethically I think that they are right. It can get a little silly constanly purchasing different versions of something you already own.

Once you purchase something you should have all the rights to view it however and whenever you like. I hate the idea that there are some movies that I bought years ago for vhs and now I am rebuying them on dvd. It gets very old quickly. So no I do not see anything ethically wrong with downloading the book electroncally "illegally" if you have purchased a version of the hard copy.

Vanessa Collier said...

Randy Cohen stole the downloaded version of Stephen King's latest book. I think he believes it's ok to illegally download a copy of the book because he is trying to justify his actions. The implications for other media are it puts them in danger of having their work pirated as well. They will not get paid for their work.

Cohen's arugument is invalid because illegally downloading a book is stealing. Just because you bought the hardback copy does not give you the right to steal a downloaded version. For example, people do not have the right to copy a movie from a DVD just because they rented the video. If they want to own the video, they need to purchase the video. The writers, actor, producers, etc. deserve to be paid for their work and will not be paid if people continue to steal book, movies, music, etc.

Brandy Stuart said...

I agree with Tanya. In most cases if there is a book that is bought and it is also a e-book, they come with a identifiable code. Therefore, I feel that if we buy a hard copy of anybook and it has this code we should be able to enjoy it anyway we would like to. It is illegal to download music if whomever made it did not aprove it. I think of it like this, I want to be paid if I go to work on time and give my time of service and they would like to be paid for their work also. I think that it his argument doesnt sant its ground. If it is not paid for it is illegal and uneithical.

Sandy said...

In response to the Randy Cohen ethical situation, I believe that Mr. Cohen is haphazardly justifying his position of illegally downloading e-books as ethical. After researching his position on the matter, his argument is that once you pay for a version of an author’s book, the transaction is complete. He also believes the buyer’s decision to obtain the same copy of the book in any other format is ethical. It is interesting to note that Mr. Cohen admits that this is illegal in practice, but ethical in nature.

Other industries, such as the music industry has taken a huge stance concerning the practice of illegal downloading. Mr. Cohen would probably suggest that it is ethical to download a copy of your favorite compact disc, since you just purchased the album at the store. Americans understand from past law suits that the practice of illegal downloading of music will get you a huge fine and possible jail time. Therefore, it is my opinion that Randy Cohen is dangerously misleading individuals who read his ethics column in the New York Times. I do not believe Mr. Cohen’s argument is valid for two reasons. First, laws have been explicitly written to warn individuals of illegally obtaining pirated material. I do not believe a judge of any sort would buy the argument that an individual had purchased the product in question and was now due the rights to all other formats. Secondly, the end does not justify the means. Meaning, an individual would have to complete an illegal action to obtain the desired result.

Lucky said...

I can see his point. In a way, it seems that it could be okay to download the book. You did buy it after all. However, it is illegal.

It is never okay to download something that belongs to others (books or music) without paying for it. Even though it seems that you are not hurting anyone, you are. You are hurting yourself and people around you. If you are willing to break the law this time, what might you do next?

E. McGraw said...

I must say that it is illegal to just download things off the internet that you have purchased an hard copy edition, just because you purchased it, you haven't purchased it on-line meaning that you are doing it illegal.
I think that he believe this because he is very unethical about the situation. If I were to have a book I would want every aspect to be paid or you would be losing money in the industry.

I don't believe this argument to be valid because he is not Steven King and if he said it was ok, then it wouldn't be illegal, but this is coming from Randy Cohen, not Stephen King.

Jessica Williams said...

I think that in this situation that illegally stealing a copy of the book should be more carefully considered. Yes, it is illegally stealing if he did not buy the rights to obtain this type of media but if you buy it in one form you should be able to use it in another also. Like Blue Rays having a digital copy with your purchase, book should consider doing the same thing.

Why do you think ethicist believe this? I think ethicist are looking at the topic as if they are buying one form of the media they should have the right to any other form of the media. They are looking at it from the point of view that all forms are one in the same. They see that they blue rays are giving you a digital copy with the blue ray so books should be the same.

What are the implications for other media? If the book companies are going to market and sale the book and the digital cop as two completely different products then it should be respected the same as music on a CD and on iTunes. Think about the problems they had with people stealing music I think we are likely to have the same types of problems enforcing this same issue. I see the digital copies of books the same as the digital copy of a movie. Why should we not receive both types of media when we buy on?

Do you believe his argument to be valid and why? I think that illegal is just that, illegal. But I also do have to side with the fact that I think consumers should get both the hard and digital copy of the book if they want to keep customers ethical. People will feel that they have the right to the book online if they have spent their money on the hard copy. So yes, the argument is valid but that does not make it ethically correct.

Sandra Perkins said...

Randy Cohen said it was okay to illegally download a copy of Stephen King’s latest book. First of all, ok and illegally is totally contradictory to one another. That’s like saying it is okay to illegally sell crack on the streets next to a church. Correct me if I’m wrong but illegal still means illegal – right? He is either downloading information legally or illegally – there is no middle ground. Secondly, if he has already purchased the book, why download it illegally – that doesn’t make any sense.
This type of activity causes red flags to be thrown up as regards to downloading. Questions will arise such as – why would he purchase a book and then turn around and download it illegally. He is opening the door of himself for other people criticize and scrutinize his moral ethics. And, it he would do something unethical such as downloading books, what else unethical is he capable of doing. I truly believe that Mr. Cohen’s downloading act is unethical not to mention illegal.

Chris Stallworth said...

I do not think Mr. Cohen has a valid argument concerning the purchase of one media type implying access to other types of the same product. Example, if I purchase a DVD version of a movie, that does not entitle me to the Blu-ray version for free. Likewise, if you buy the hard copy of a book, unless otherwise noted by the publisher/distributor, that does not entitle you to the digital version.
Many distributors (Like Fox/iTunes) are including a digital version of media when you purchase the hard copy. This way users can enjoy the product on a mobile device. However, if you "illegally" obtain different versions of media simply because you have paid for one, that is unethical. If you download a book after buying the hard copy, then where does it end?
The comparison to making a copy of your CD on your iPod is not a good comparison at all. They are not in the same ball park. When you purchase a CD and copy it to your computer, that CD is registered and validated within the iTunes (or other media player) database. The data on the disk is coded with a protection so that ideally you can't share it illegally. Obviously there are methods to circumvent this protection. But the point is, the music on your iPod can't be shared with anyone (through normal methods). It can be put on the iPod or taken off.
There is nothing unethical there. Downloading a book that hasn't been paid for, yes, there is a problem with that. Digital versions of books have licensing too. When you buy a digital version of a book, you can't walk into Barnes and Noble and say "I'm here for my hard copy, I bought the digital version at home."

Paul Miller said...
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Mary Catherine Carmichael said...

Personally I don't think that if you already own a copy of the book that downloading it is not an unethical thing to do. After all you have already purchase the book. It would be like purchasing it twice and them getting paid twice. I think everyone is just to money hungry and will do any and everything to make more money off of hard working honest people.

Now if they did not already own a copy and they downloaded then clearing that should be illegal.

Paul Miller said...

I do not see any logic in this argument. To me, this is no different than someone trying to justify a crime they have committed. Whether it is an e-book or a hard copy, it does not make any difference. They are two different products.

The bigger issue here is property rights. If we do not do everything in our power to protect them, we would be no different than a third world country. Look at what happened in the music industry. Artist lost a revenue stream because of illegal downloading. This is the work of someone and he deserves to be compensated for it.

ryan said...

Ryan Wade
If it was o.k. to download the book it would be considered legal instead of illegal. If the columnist didnt want to buy another copy of the book he shouldnt have lost his other copy or whatever happened to it. It is one thing to burn a cd off itunes because apple allows you to do it. Stephen King is a very accomplished write, and im sure he wont miss the sale of one book. But what if it was an up and coming writer who is struggling to make ends meet. Would it be o.k. to download the copy of the book and cheat the writer out of extra sales? I dont think so personally.