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An Ethical Question Regarding Ebooks 715

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

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  • by pxc (938367) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:51PM (#25929243)

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

    • by Bob Gelumph (715872) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:11PM (#25929367)
      Born early 80s. I agree. Buying second hand books still has an effect on the market. The better the second hand price is, the more can be charged for new books. If you want it in a format that isn't legally available, at least buy it in a format that is legally available as well. This is my conclusion to the situation that has been presented of someone who wants to act ethically.
      • by EdelFactor19 (732765) <adam.edelstein@a ... u ['rpi' in gap]> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:49PM (#25929645)

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

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

        • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:06PM (#25929763) Journal

          If you're giving money to the person who is a creator, then you're doing a public service by empowering them to continue to create, but are not actually morally obligated to do so.

          If, however, you're giving money to a corporation that doesn't create things, but actively utilizes the economic power you gave them to ensure that things others create remain artificially scarce so that it's profit margins remain strong, then you are responsible for every individual who was needlessly deprived of access.

          It's not just "ok" to infringe copyright in such cases. It's an immoral act to fund such groups by making a purchase, it's your moral responsibility not to fund such groups, and it's an act of public service to subvert their capacity to continue to act in such a fashion.

          In summary, if can't put the money directly into the hand of the person who created the work, it's better not to pay for it at all, and it's better to help others to also not pay for it at all.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by warsql (878659)
            A creator can choose to avoid the business risk associated with publishing by using a publishing company. The publishing company agrees to accept the business risk and pay the author a negotiated fee, often including advance pay without which the creation would never have existed. So paying the publishing company is enabling the next creator. This is morally equivalent to paying the creator directly.
          • by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc...paradise@@@gmail...com> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:31AM (#25930323) Homepage Journal
            What interesting logic this is. The fact is that [in most cases] whoever did create the content willingly agreed to let the corporation handle distribution of it. Whatever deal they have cut between them has no bearing on whether you should 'pirate' or not.

            In summary, if can't put the money directly into the hand of the person who created the work, it's better not to pay for it at all, and it's better to help others to also not pay for it at all.

            This I agree with. Assuming that you mean "if I don't want to support the corp doing this, I will not own this, and will encourage others to also not own it". This is the same kind of choice we have to make with tangible goods: either we want it enough that we pay for it despite moral qualms; or we do without in hopes that enough people doing without will make a difference.

            Why should this be different?

            • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @05:09AM (#25931559)

              Copyright is an infringement on my right to free speech. Sharing knowledge does not diminish the original holder any more than lighting your taper from mine takes away my light. The public supposedly give up their free speech right in a limited and specific way for a limited time for the greater good. A large and healthy public domain of knowledge and culture being good for the public to build on, copyright is specifically designed to enlarge it by granting a temporary monopoly to authors so they could be encouraged by payment for their work. After a short period, the copyright lapses, the public domain is enhanced, and authors have to go on creating new works for more money.

              The suppression of free speech was not given up to create a new class of fake property barons making all the money as the middlemen. Copyright was not supposed to be effectively permanent, the whole point was to improve the public domain, not bury it!

              Copyright was a bargain between a creator and the public. Now it's an ever-extending new property right that benefits neither. I do not believe copyright in its current form to be an ethical restriction of free speech any longer, so I feel no ethical duty to respect it.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by williamhb (758070)

                Copyright was a bargain between a creator and the public. Now it's an ever-extending new property right that benefits neither. I do not believe copyright in its current form to be an ethical restriction of free speech any longer, so I feel no ethical duty to respect it.

                Then take it up with your MP or Representative. In a democratic society, you do not get to choose which laws you feel like respecting today. (A conservationist down the road from you might be very utilitarian about your carbon footprint,

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gnuASM (825066)

            If you're giving money to the person who is a creator, then you're doing a public service by empowering them to continue to create, but are not actually morally obligated to do so.

            I am also a product of the '70s, and I agree with this statement you make. Although you are not morally obligated to empower them to continue to create, you are legally required to. And unfortunately, many deem this as a moral or ethical obligation. The legal requirement that is our current copyright law is a dowry for the content creator to continue to create AND distribute their works.

            The main problem I see is that the content creator at some point fails to continue to provide distribution of the wor

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by GlL (618007)

              OK, so my questions are:
              Is access to a work of entertainment a right?
              Is there a difference between the right to access non-fictional information and fictional information?
              With the advent of self-publishing via the internet, what methods do you use, or would propose to sift through the dross to find the gold?

              I think this ethical question will become a moot point when the publisher goes out of business in a couple of years.

      • Ethically? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dan541 (1032000) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @01:39AM (#25930701) Homepage

        Piracy would have to be an unethical practice to begin with.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      As TFS mentions, nobody involved in the writing/publishing of the book would get a dime of that used copy.
  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:53PM (#25929261) Homepage Journal
    Fix the stupid laws that make this kind of thing ever come up. But this is rather impractical and takes forever, so in the meantime just do whatever.
    • The "copyright police" are irrelevant to the question. The question is, "What's the right thing to do?" For an out-of-print book, it seems like the right thing to do is buy it wherever possible, and make your own e-book as backup. If you can't buy it, there is no ethical problem with acquiring the book in what ever form you can find it. There is, however, an ethical question about whether you should enable the persons who created a "pirated" e-book to enjoy financial or psychological rewards for their un-et

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

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

        • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:56PM (#25930119)

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

          The more rational thing would be for the copyright owner to have to explain why they weren't printing the book and still wished to exercise their copyright.

          Upon a proper challenge, the copyright should expire after a few years if they are failing to actually print or offer the copyrighted material for sale.

          The laws don't define ethics, and they are irrational,they provide undue favor to authors, and undue discrimination against the consumers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)

        There is, however, an ethical question about whether you should enable the persons who created a "pirated" e-book to enjoy financial or psychological rewards for their un-ethical behavior.

        Oh yes, because having them lose bandwidth is going to be financial and psychological rewards for it! I mean, the average /.er isn't going to click on ads and most have some sort of ad-blocking enabled and it isn't like I pay TPB $.99 for every song and e-book I pirate. So I don't see how that is a benefit to the pirates.

    • by jesterzog (189797) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:00PM (#25929725) Homepage Journal

      Fix the stupid laws that make this kind of thing ever come up.

      I agree. Strictly speaking I think copyright is a good idea. It gives the creator (directly or by proxy) an incentive to create by allowing them to treat their creations as if they're physical property. Part of this power should allow them to control how many copies of their creative work are available during the time that they hold their monopoly. It could be that it's more valuable to them if they restrict the available copies, such as by declaring that only 2000 will ever be made available, and selling them at a high price. By deciding to infringe the copyright and make additional copies illegally before the copyright term has expired, it diminishes the ability of the author to use copyright law to its full potential.

      The problem here, though, is that copyright is supposed to expire so that everyone finally gets the benefit of newly created works, yet it effectively never does! "Temporary" monopolistic rights to information should not be something that grandchildren or great grandchildren get to inherit.

      If copyright terms were pulled back to something sane, such as 10 or 15 years, and required the author to demonstrate an active interest in maintaining the copyright (rather than anonymously disappearing and being unable to be tracked down), there would be far less incentive to make illegal copies because everyone would know they could simply wait. Members of society who saw the work being created and who supported the law that provided the incentive for it to be created would actually stand a chance of being around to fully benefit from it when it finally entered the public domain. Obviously it would reduce the ability for a creator (or content owner) to make extra money, but at least the whole thing would be above board and clear from the start. I'm sure that pulling back copyright terms in this day and age would spark complaints from some creators and it might even cause a few publishers to go out of business, but we'd actually have an opportunity to see if less content was actually being created, and I don't personally think there would be much change. As with everything else, the industry would adapt to the new conditions, and people would still figure out ways to keep making money. Even works that are well out of copyright still make money for publishing companies today.

      As copyright terms are stupidly long today and showing no signs of being prevented from being extended further, I don't personally have an ethical problem with infringing copyright on certain works. This is especially the case if the works are no longer in print, and have been out of print for a reasonable length of time (at least several years), and which the creator or owner is unavailable for giving or denying permission to make more. (In cases where publishers own rights to massive amounts of IP, I also don't have much respect for standard template "no you can't because we can't be bothered with the admin" answers, either.

  • by SoapBox17 (1020345) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:54PM (#25929267) Homepage
    Gen Y here, I think if you can't buy it new at all, then there is no reason not to read a "questionable" e-version. If you can buy it, even if you can't buy an e-version, then I say you should pay for a legit copy, but then you can read the e-version.
  • by i_ate_god (899684) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:54PM (#25929269) Homepage

    I don't understand here.

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

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

    • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:56PM (#25929281) Homepage Journal

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

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

      • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:02AM (#25930157)

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

        We (in the US at least) live in a society ruled by a government whose foundation is rule of law, made for us by our elected representatives.

        It is our duty as citizens to follow the laws, to follow the moral contract made by our ancestors who founded the country and the sovereign people among which we live now: to which we are all therefore bound (as individuals), and it is unethical to abandon our duties, or violate rules we agree to follow without very good reasons.

        There are some situations where a law may be so unjust as that it is not unethical to break or go against it in some way.

        The question one might wish to debate: is this really such a situation?

    • by vux984 (928602) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:08PM (#25929355)

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

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

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

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

      • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:18PM (#25929421)

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

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by maxume (22995)

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

      • by chill (34294)

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by vux984 (928602)

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

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

          The moment a book is finished its print run, and the publisher has unloaded all its copies the book is effectively out of print. (ie if you walk into your book store, and their supplier is out, they can't get it for you. It might be a couple more years before its actually

      • by countach (534280) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:16PM (#25929865)

        1) Copyright laws are not there to protect the "book market" as some kind of ephemeral whole. They are to protect creators of works.

        2) Copyright laws are not there to protect used book sellers.

        3) True, but the ultimate aim of copyright is to encourage production and distribution of creative works. When the owner lets them go out of print they are abusing the system.

      • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:46PM (#25930059) Homepage

        I think you're close to something here, but not quite there. When you buy a used book, there's not a clear way in which you're supporting the new book, and supporting the copyright holder of that original book is even more indirect.

        In response to issue #2, no one is saying that used book resellers deserve to starve, but they really aren't the issue. Used book resellers don't own the copyright to the books they're selling, so when you copy those books, those resellers aren't being wronged morally/ethically/legally. Even if their business model becomes obsolete, that's not really my problem to solve. You know, the whole thing about buggy-whip makers...

        Even point #3, which seems the most sensible to me, doesn't quite hold up. There are a variety of reasons that things go out of print, and it's not clear how to get them back in print. Again, you might have something, but it's pretty unclear, indirect, and uncertain.

        I guess what I'm saying is, I would agree with you that the situation it more complicated than whether the original creator gets directly compensated. At the same time, I feel like your arguments might be a little too complicated, a little too much of a stretch.

        I think part of the problem is that people are feeling like businesses aren't really providing the things they want. Lots of people think it's all about "free". The ebook is free, so greedy people will just get it. But often it's about availability and a sense of fairness, and people feeling like they don't want to have to search around for rare out of print books in order to read something, only for the purpose of propping up a secondary market.

        I think if you want to make an argument here, the only real angle I can see is that, if you destroy the secondary market for a book, you're also diminishing the value of new books (i.e. if I can't resell my books, then the price I'm willing to pay for new books is less). However, that issue is complicated by the fact that the book is out of print. lessening the market for out of print books isn't going to retroactively decrease the price of the book when it was new, taking money out of the pocket of the author.

        You could argue that declaring "open season" on all out of print books makes it less likely for people to buy new books, because if the books goes out of print then its value drops. But that seems to assume that speculative book collectors who buy books new, hoping they'll go out of print and become rare, are a significant part of the book-buying market. If that were the case, these books probably wouldn't go out of print, since there'd be such high demand.

    • by Hemogoblin (982564) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:19PM (#25929429)

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

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

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

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

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        I understand what you're saying, but other than collectors of rare works (necessarily already out of print), I can't think of any person who actually considers resale value when they buy a book. The popularity of paperbacks (which have nearly no resale value) bears that out.

    • by Kjella (173770)

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

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

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Waccoon (1186667)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spintriae (958955)
      When you buy a new book, it's not as if the author prints it out at his home and hand delivers it to yours. Many others put their resources into making the book available. So the question becomes more complicated than "is the author being compensated?" You should think about the publishers, printers, deliverers, retailers, etc. If you don't think any of them deserve your money, then by all means, download the pirated ebook. As a college student, I personally don't mind seeing used book stores stay in busine
  • Gutenberg project (Score:4, Informative)

    by pablodiazgutierrez (756813) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:54PM (#25929273) Homepage

    Given the life length of copyright in the US (thanks, Mickey Mouse!), the kind of book you describe is likely to be found at the Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org] archives.

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

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:01PM (#25929303)
    Yours is a loaded question. I may be do the same thing as you, but not for the same reasons. If I want to sample an ebook, or just use it for reference, I'll download it for sure (I'll either pay for it, or barring that option I'll find it some place else). On the other hand, if I want to read a book in its entirety, I'll get a dead-tree version (new, used, or from the library, it doesn't really matter, I don't want to read a book in its entirety from a screen). I'm 33 years old, if that makes any difference.
  • of course, to go with the wishes of the copyright owner, that is, buy the work and use it the way they have published it. whether this is wise, smart, useful or economically efficient has no bearing on the logic of the law, which is that copyright holder has a monopoly on copying until the copyright expires.

    the right question is not so much "is downloading an illegal copy of a book i purchased unethical", but "is the law that determines copy rights ethical", i.e. does the law deliver on its promise -- to in

  • Well. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PieSquared (867490) <.isosceles2006. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:05PM (#25929329)

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

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

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

  • Gen X says.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kiwioddBall (646813) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:06PM (#25929339) Homepage
    There is nothing more pleasurable than searching for old books in a second hand book store. Go and buy the printed version somewhere. Its environmentally friendly recycling of old books, and you can pass it on to someone afterwards, or back to the second hand book store. Printed books are a beautiful thing, and it makes me happy to think how many people have got pleasure from a single copy of a book. eBook readers are ugly things and use up heaps of resources - electronics, manufacture, batteries etc. Tradition is cool.
  • by nullhero (2983) * on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:08PM (#25929353) Journal
    If a book is out of print and the publisher isn't going to ever publish it my feeling is that it is perfectly ethical to use the pirated eText that is found on the Internet. Legal? More than likely it is not. Is that right? More than likely it is not. You would think that in copyright law that if a publisher chooses to no longer publish a book than shouldn't that book fall into the Public Domain, assuming of course that the original author is dead, or has given up their copyright or copylefted it. I'm a 40 year old GenXer - who is currently a college student.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:10PM (#25929361)

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

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

    • by vandelais (164490)

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

  • ethics and legality (Score:4, Informative)

    by speedtux (1307149) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:13PM (#25929377)

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

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

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

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:13PM (#25929379) Journal
    My book is currently in print and available in both electronic and dead-tree versions, so this doesn't apply to me directly, but if it goes out of print I would have no problems putting the PDF version online. Quite a few authors have done the same thing - put the PDF copy online when the publisher has decided to stop distributing. Typically, all rights revert to the author at this point, so they can do whatever they want with it. If they think there's still a market for it, they can keep trying to sell it, or just put it online for anyone to read if that's too much effort for the return.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by scradock (1420165)
      Yes, from the author's point of view that is fair and reasonable. The problems arise when "rights" are held after an author is dead, or by persons/companies who are not the author. If an author does NOT recover the copyright when the publisher decides to stop making the book available for sale the author has lost all hope of any further rewards. Copyright law should surely make it obligatory for a copyright-holder to release the copyright, either to the author or to the public, when it no longer wishes to p
  • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:14PM (#25929389) Homepage Journal

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

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

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

    • by PPH (736903)
      Right. But its not like the few wealthy companies are getting even wealthier. If they won't publish the stuff, how exactly were they planning on making any money of of it?
  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:22PM (#25929469)

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And probably a few more.

    The "My preferred format" crap is just that. To use the oft abused car metaphor: I

    • by Locklin (1074657) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:45PM (#25929615) Homepage

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

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

  • If a book is out of print and unavailable new then the publisher clearly has relinquished any intent of marketing the book for money. With Print On Demand so easily available they have to seriously not want to sell any more copies of this book for profit. To me that has thrown it into the Public Domain unless the author can wrest the copyright back to market it him/herself. Of course if the author is marketing it then it's not out of print any longer. Downloading a pirate copy beats stealing it from the
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)

      so do e-books actually go out of print?

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

    • I hate to quibble but:

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

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

      On a side note, under certain circumstances and after certain time periods, in the US an aut

  • Ask. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gfxguy (98788) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:35PM (#25929537)

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

  • Seriously. Do both. Buy the used book thereby doing your little part to take it out of circulation and show increased demand for it so it might get reprinted. Then read the pirate version. As you already have a copy you've got a reasonable legal defense of format shifting, not that anyone is likely to go after you, traditional publishers aren't insane like the MAFIAA. If you really feel an extra ethical need send a few bucks to the author. While you're at it urge him to see if he contracted for etext
  • Some countries don't enforce copyrights especially when it profits them to ignore them. What nation is the Internet again?
  • A Compromise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DavidD_CA (750156) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:57PM (#25929703) Homepage

    There are other benefits to the author for having a dead-tree book purchased, even when out-of-print.

    That sale helps improve the overall rating for the book, and all other books the author has written. So, your purchase may actually trigger the purchase of other sales from the same author. This works electronically on sites like Amazon, and in the real world when statistics are tabulated in all sorts of ways.

    An out-of-print book might also be sold directly by the author or publisher, or just some guy who doesn't want the book any more. Either way that purchase is helping other people, even if it helps Jeff Bezos's gigantic empire and the thousands of people who work for him.

    I think the ethical thing to do is purchase the dead-tree book and then download the ilegal version so that you can enjoy it in the medium you intended. This might not be legal, but it's ethical in my eyes so long as you don't pass it on. If you later sold the dead-tree book, you could then delete the electronic version.

  • by icepick72 (834363) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:37PM (#25930011)
    I have a friend who always tries to do the right thing and it drives everybody ape-shit crazy because he stresses over right and wrong so much that he can't function in life and doesn't do anything. At 36 he can't move out from his parent's home, change jobs, etc. etc. All he can do is turn everything into an ethical and moral problem because that's where's he's happiest.... now about that eBook thing ... just read the damn thing however you want and choose a method that lets you do it.
  • Library? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jchawk (127686) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:04AM (#25930167) Homepage Journal

    Gen-Y - What if you went to the library and borrowed the book, and then downloaded the e-version. Once you finish reading the book delete the e-book and return the library book?

    I don't see an ethical problem here, not sure about the legal ramifications. Knowing copyright holders it's probably completely illegal.

  • by Gondola (189182) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @01:40AM (#25930703)

    If you didn't pirate it, would you buy it?

    If you answered no, it's all right to pirate it.

    If you can't buy it even if you wanted to, that's the same thing.

    No harm, no foul.

  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @12:04PM (#25933575) Homepage Journal

    As a published author, I would prefer that people read my book than that they pay for it.

    In the long run, this builds me an audience, which may also be monetarily worth more than a one-time payment.

    If the book is not available... pirate it.

    Death metal, a tiny musical genre that thrived from 1985-1995, has many classics out of print. Our solution at the metal site for which I write (the Dark Legions Archive [anus.com], I'm a blogger) is to make FLACs available of out of print classics.

    The reason is simple: it's better that the artists have a new listener, than that the potential listener is thwarted by the chaos of record publishing.

    Technically, it is against the law. However, from artists, we have heard nothing but encouragement. There are now new generations, new fans and new life for their art. I don't think anyone can reasonably complain about that.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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