Monday, April 5, 2010

Augh! The New York Times Employs This Person?!

Nathan Bransford breaks out his hammer and wallops this (ahem) "Ethicist".
Go, Nathan!


Liesl Shurtliff said...

I read this on Nathan's blog earlier. All I could think was, what is the world coming to when it is ethical to do illegal things?

Ethical- adjective: pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.

His definition obviously added in "according to your own agenda and sense of entitlement."

Someone needs to be fired.

Sam Hranac said...

First, I totally agree with Nathan feedback. His analogies show the act in true parallel, highlighting how ridiculous it is to assume you can steal because you bought one form of something.

However, I wanted to point out that ethical and legal are two very different words with different meanings. An army recruiter was looking at me as officer material many years ago and asked me if I had ever broken a law. I asked why, stalling for time (this was the late 70s for crying out loud). He said, "So that we know you have the ethics it takes to be an officer." I had to explain that ethical and legal are two different things. It was once legal to own slaves, but it has never been ethical to do so.

He got red in the face and I realized that the army was not for me.

mallard said...

I want to start with a disclaimer: I agree (mostly) with what Nathan says, but while his peanut butter and jelly analogy is entertaining, logically it is not very useful. After I consume my PB&J, it's gone. After I read a book, it still exists.

If I then take my nifty, old-fashioned, hardcover and give it to a friend, I haven't broken any laws. If she loves it as much as I did and gives it to her brother, then she hasn't broken any laws, and thankfully I'm still in the clear. So far so good.

The next book I buy is an ebook because I just got an iPad. My friend has an iPad too, so I attach the ebook to an email and send it off with effusive praise and a suggestion for a new brand of peanut butter. Now we both have a copy of the book. Did I just become a pirate? If she then sends a copy to her brother, did she break a law? And since the original file was mine, am I in some way responsible for distributing that ebook to my friend's brother?

What is the practical ethical difference between passing around a hardcover and passing around an ebook? The obvious material difference is that we now all have our own copies. Economically, though, the situation is exactly the same.

Nathan is absolutely right when he says that ebooks are fundamentally different products, but he is wrong when he oversimplifies the ethical and legal changes that occur with just such a fundamental change.

Anonymous said...

mallard said: "Now we both have a copy of the book. Did I just become a pirate?"

Yes - giving away or selling a hardback book that you originally bought does not result in "now we both have a copy of the book" There is still one book, and one person has it. Making and distributing copies is a whole different thing, since your one purchase results in multiple copies for multiple people. Kind of like taking more then one newspaper from a vending box while you have the door open.

Get it?

Pixiewinkle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Hranac said...

Mallard wrote: "What is the practical ethical difference between passing around a hardcover and passing around an ebook?"

Your question is well supported and received. To answer from MHO, buying a hard copy does not allow you to begin publishing new copies of the book. Nor should buying an electronic copy allow you to create more copies (sending them to friends). Now, if you give them your electronic copy, keeping none for yourself, I can see the argument getting fuzzy.

ali liddell said...

Ahh, but you're not passing around the ebook - you are passing around a copy of the ebook. Because you still have yours.

A better analogy would be that you make a photocopy of your hardcover and send it to your friend, who then photocopies that copy and passes it to her brother.

When you pass on a hardcover, you then do not have the object - it has been designed to be used by one user at a time. You may pursue the convenience of telling your friend to buy her own damn copy since she never returns your books, and she can tell her brother to go to the library.

But when you pass on a copy of a thing, such as an ebook file, you are making more copies, not sharing the copy you have. It is just as illegal and unethical to do so as photocopying a book so others don't have to buy it.

When the publisher releases a hardcover, they know that lending/giving will occur. They hope that since your friend having the copy means you don't, that more copies will be sold.

So yes, you are a pirate.
Yes, your friend is breaking the law.
And yes, you are responsible for passing around a legally-non-passable item.

This is not an ideal situation, and there's gotta be a better way to do it, but that is the reality under discussion.

Jan said...

Mallard, I believe their IS an economic difference. You gave your hardcover book to your friend. Later, if you decide you really want to read it again -- you have to buy a new hardcover (assuming you want to own it that way) because you gave yours away. The same for your friend. You have *chosen* to make your hardcover a "one time use" by giving it to someone else even though you *paid* to use it for yourself forever. Your choice to give it away means it's no longer yours to use unless you invest in it again.

BUT with an ebook, you've now copied the book and given a copy away. If you want to read yours again -- you don't have to pay. The same for anyone who copies it again...over and over.

The second is like photocopying the hardcover and passing it out on the street but keeping your copy so you can read it as much as you want...and each person can read it as much as they want. We know that is wrong. It slams the potential sale of the book to a stop each time you do it because now the person has ZERO reason to ever buy it (unless they simply want it in a different format).

In the case of passing your tangible product on (thus eliminating YOUR chance to ever use it again) changed the "use of it forever" to "one time use" because you passed it on. Thus, opening up the possibility that you would buy it again if you decided you'd made a mistake and wanted to reread it again.

The only way to make that work with an ebook is if passing it to a friend erased it from your possession...then you'd have to buy it again if you wanted it again.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Apparently the Nook has a "lend" feature, where you can send a book to a friend and it's automatically returned to your Nook after 2 weeks. Kind of a cool concept...

Why yes, I WAS cornered by the perky-young-nook-sales-girl when I was just running into the store to pick up a few favorites as a 'new baby gift.' How could you tell? (She was very persuasive-- if I'd had disposable income (hahahaha) I'd probably have walked out with a nook.....

Anonymous said...

The thing about ethics, is that it's based on ones sense of morality. It isn't like etiquette, where a society more or less agrees to certain rules, and it definitely isn't like the law where we're bound to the rules or risk imprisonment. In general though, there isn't one definition of what is ethical behaviour and what isn't. There are many different beliefs, some more well known than others, such as the tenets of Kant or utilitarianism.

Without knowing which philosophy the NYT Ethicist follows, I don't think we can really evaluate whether the answer given was appropriate or not. To be honest, this was a bigger issue for me, because the basis for the behaviour is never really grounded, but seems to be based more on gut feeling of the NYT Ethicist and on absolving the letter writer from feeling guilty.

It's too bad - the column could be really interesting in the hands of someone who could be more upfront about what guides their reasoning.

Christine Tripp said...

Mallard, your point is well taken. Certainly there is a financial loss when one person lends anouther their book, in most instances it's minor (and something that has gone on since the beginning of print)
True that lending will result in fewer purchases. You will either ask for the book back after your friend is finished with it or you never want to read it again and will not. Highly unlikely that someone would lend out a book, then just go buy it again. Libraries are a culprit on a much larger scale. What some Countries have done is institute a government run payment system where yearly funds collected from lending and copying institutions are shared 50/50 between publishers and author/illustrators. It compensates somewhat for "legal" lending (libraries/schools) and photocopying of published material.

The article in the NYT gets me in that, he is saying what this person has done is not unethical. I am in the same camp as the columnists publisher friend who is quoted as saying, “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.” We can justify almost anything we do if we try hard enough. The fact is, feeling we have right to now own it in many formats does not alter the fact that we are supporting theft and that must be unethical.

librariankris said...

My 2 cents from a librarian's perspective.

1) People who borrow a lot of books are also the same group that buy a lot of books. While borrowing does mean that you've lost one customer in the short term, I firmly believe it helps a book's sales a lot if people can take a look at it before buying.

2) Libraries and schools are *the* primary customer for very large/expensive books (nonfiction, textbooks, etc.). They create the market desire for such things.

2) This is *exactly* the reason I haven't made the leap into an e-reader. As a voracious reader, I totally am sold on the convenience of it, but I haven't got the budget or desire to buy every book I want to read. And while plenty is available for free, a lot of what I would read isn't.

I'm with you, EA, I think "Ethicist" is wrong, dead wrong. But I do think that if e-readers are going to get more than the niche market they occupy now, the question of lending and borrowing has to be addressed.

Diane Foote said...

Of course the NYT employs this person. The NYT exists for people to read (and get exercised about what they read, sometimes). The NYT does NOT exist to actually guide people's behavior. Um, does it??

I happen to believe strongly in most, not all, of the opinions espoused on the NYT editorial page, but I frequently disagree with their "Ethicist," as I do in this case. But that's what makes him so much fun to read!

Of course he's wrong in this case, no doubt about it. I don't need to add to others' arguments against his position, only to point out that the point of his column MAY not to be right all the time, but to entertain the NYT readership. And that it does! Yes???

Editorial Anonymous said...

If I wanted content that flummoxes and enrages me with its wrongness, I could watch Fox News.

I go to the New York Times for intelligent discourse with defensible positions.

Deirdre Mundy said...

EA- Surely you can find a better source of intelligent discourse than the NYT!!!

(Though I admit to being a National Review-Commentary-First Things kinda girl myself-- And BBC for straight news--

The NYT has really fallen off on global coverage since they shut most of their foreign bureaus..... Also, the Christian Science Monitor tends to be very good AND have better reporting (as they still go on-site instead of cobbling articles together from wire reports...)

Also, for political stuff, the Washington Post and the Politico kick the NYTs butt. Though I can see how, being an editor (and probably based in NYC), you might have a bit of a local bias....

WV: Sankma --what a morning with instant decaf did to my mother...

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