April 7, 2010

The Ethicist Agrees

Last week a reader sent in an interesting question to the NYT Ethicist, Randy Cohen. Until just now Cohen's background was a mystery to me; now I know that he answered ethical questions from listeners to NPR's All Things Considered for several years...and now you do as well.

Anyway, the reader asked whether or not it was "okay" that after having bought the print version of a book, he then found a pirated version online and downloaded it to his e-reader. The Ethicist responded: "An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so," comparing the action to "buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod."

In his response to the reader, he shares the view of his friend, the publisher of Grand Central Publishing, which is that anyone downloading pirated material has stolen intellectual property and is a thief. But Cohen takes issue with the publisher's point, arguing that "it is a curious sort of theft that involves actually paying for a book."

The Ethicist's view has long been my own - I just don't see why I should have to pay for a book two times. I realize many consider this a rather sketchy position. Frankly, I feel better knowing somebody who thinks about ethical questions daily came to the same conclusion.

Finally, and apropos of nothing, really, yesterday it was reported that in 2009 e-book sales grew at the astonishing rate of 176% while overall book sales were flat at best.


1 comment:

Diane Farr said...

Interesting that something could be illegal, but not unethical. As an author, I hate it that used book stores make a profit off my work and owe me nothing. But someone who has already bought the book? I agree, it should be more like the CD-to-iPod comparison.