Things are very clear when we deal with physical products. Everybody knows that if you go to a store and pick up a book without paying for it, you are committing a crime. Sure. You can always get a free book as a part of promotion. But you get the point. There is no gray area here. Things are less clear when dealing with e-books. If you buy an e-book, you are obviously not entitled to a free physical copy of the same title. But is it OK to download a pirated version of a book that you have already bought in paper format?
The answer is yes and no. Technically, you have already paid for the same content and supported the author in the process. At the same time, you are technically breaking the law. NY Times had a very interesting column on this very topic. The Ethicist concluded that while it’s illegal to download a pirated version of your book, it may not be unethical:
it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.
Publishers do not appreciate that take. They don’t mind you paying for the same content over and over again. But that seems to be the fundamental issue here. Many of us have come to think of books as physical products. But you are essentially paying for the information. Sure, the design work and all the extras you get with a book cost publishers as well. But there is no reason a person who buys a paper copy of a book should pay the full price of its e-book version as well.
There is nothing right about piracy. Unless you live in a country that censors certain books that can wake people up, I can’t see a good reason for downloading pirated copies. Authors spend a lot of time writing their books (not all of them but most). If you don’t buy their books and just download them for free, you are helping them go out of business. At the same time, publishers need to be less greedy when dealing with different formats of the same work. So there is no reason for them not to offer paper+e-book bundles to help consumers save money.
Piracy is not pretty and not productive. Especially in the e-book business. Some of us many feel entitled to free e-copies of the books we have already purchased. But when you download pirated copies, you help spread books to those who have not paid for them. The issue of piracy is going to stay relevant in the e-book industry for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope the publishing industry does not make the same mistakes as the music industry.
What’s your take? Should you be able to download the e-version of a paper book that you have just bought for free?