Why should I provide my email address?

Start saving money today with our FREE daily newsletter packed with the best FREE and bargain Kindle book deals. We will never share your email address!
Sign Up Now!

Publetariat Dispatch: Copyright, Piracy and the Arts

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat looks at the copyright debate raging between two Slate columnists.

Over on Slate, a debate on the topic of the merits of copyright, as well as the ethical and moral implications of digital piracy, has been raging between Slate Business & Economics Correspondent Matthew Yglesias and author and literary scholar Caleb Crain.

In the first post in the series, Why Should We Stop Online Piracy? (subtitled “A little copyright infringement is good for the economy and society”), Yglesias posits:

“…even when copyright infringement does lead to real  loss of revenue to copyright owners, it’s not as if the money vanishes  into a black hole. Suppose Joe Downloader uses BitTorrent to get a free  copy of Beggars Banquet rather than forking over $7.99 to Amazon, and then goes out to eat some pizza. In this case, the Rolling Stones’ loss is the pizzeria’s  gain and Joe gets to listen to a classic album. It’s at least not obvious that we should regard this, on balance, as harmful.”

Read the rest of the post here.

In his rebuttal, Crain replies (with tongue only slightly in cheek):

“That’s quite a line of argument, and I don’t think Yglesias has really  taken it as far as it could go. So let me take it from him, as it were,  and go further. If I were to visit the Slate  cafeteria, sit in Yglesias’ chair, and eat his lunch, it’s not as if the  money that I failed to spend on a lunch of my own would vanish into a  black hole. No! The economy will not suffer! Yglesias, after all, will  have paid for the lunch I ate, and the money that I didn’t spend would  still be in my pocket or my checking account or whatever. So I could  take that money and spend it on, say, the new Shins album. Now I can afford vinyl! Flourish, Keynesian multipliers, flourish!”

Read the full rebuttal here.

Yglesias comes back with a counterargument, in which he attempts to—believe it or not—draw a parallel between Jesus Christ and online pirates:

“Crain thinks he shouldn’t steal my sauce. I agree. He thinks he  shouldn’t pass my recipe off as his own invention, and I agree. But  suppose he duplicated the sauce and used it to feed the poor—is that so  wrong? When Christ performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes do we  condemn him for depriving fishmongers of hypothetical income? I say that  the man who learns to conjure pasta sauce out of thin air will be one  of humanity’s greatest benefactors, even if he drives the Olive Garden  out of business.”

Read Yglesias’ full counterargument here.

Not about to let it go, Crain returns with his own counterpoint essay:

“In my initial salvo,  I pointed out that Yglesias had minimized the harm of copyright  infringement with a rationale that could extenuate theft of any kind.  Yglesias repeats the error in his reply.  He describes copyright holders as monopolists who set high prices in  order to maximize profits, thereby pricing some consumers out of the  market…”

“But nearly all companies try to maximize profits when they set  prices, and every price higher than zero excludes somebody. Suppose that  Savor of the Savior tomato sauce sells for $4.99 a jar and I feel that  eating it is only worth two bucks. Theft would help me get my hands on  it. Would theft therefore be socially beneficial? Am I justified in  stealing the goods of any company whose prices don’t suit my budget?”

Read Crain’s full counterpoint essay here.

BookGorilla.com eBook Headlines, June 9, 2011: YA Books & Censorship, Sunshine Pricing, Connelly, Kobo, Calculator, Nook, Kindle, Apple, Piracy, Textbooks, Tablets, and More

Wondering what’s going on in the world of eBooks today? You’ve come to the right place….

Our headliners:

Other stories of interest:

New York Times "Ethicist" Column Condones eBook Bundling Through "Piracy"

Generally I’m not a fan of Randy Cohen’s “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times Sunday magazine. Even when leavened by self-deprecating humor, it too often gets just a little too sanctimonious and fastidious for my taste. (The litmus test may be that I even find Cohen to be sanctimonious, at times, when his summary point is to condone behavior that I consider wrong.)

But I am willing to accept that Cohen’s capacity to see clarity where I see complexity is preferable to my approach, and I frequently read and find myself discussing what Cohen has to say about what are often the rather quotidian ethical conundrums of 21st century life for affluent Americans. That ability to provide fodder for discussion, of course, is probably what makes Cohen’s a good column for the magazine, along with the possibility that the act of perusing it may give some Times readers a basis, of some kind, for concluding about themselves that they are “the right kind of people.”

So I’ll admit to having raised my eyebrows this morning as I read Cohen’s ethical advice for a Long Islander who wrote in seeking the columnist’s ethical imprimatur after having “found a pirated version [of Stephen King’s Under the Dome] online, downloaded it to my e-reader and took it on my trip.” The basis for the question and for Cohen’s answer, let me be clear, is that the questioner, C.D. of Brightwaters, claimed to have first purchased the 1,074-page hardcover and found it prohibitively heavy for travel.

Cohen answered that the piracy was “illegal … but … not unethical.” His rationalization is basically that the author and publisher got paid, so what’s the problem? He buries the real possibility that C.D. might have been “encouraging” the pirates in a fun little set of riffs about the effects of a 1,074-page dead-tree tome on forestry and fitness training.

C.D. of Brightwaters may have been guilty of a bit of selective memory or reality-editing in setting up the question by saying of Under the Dome that “[t]he publisher apparently withheld it to encourage people to buy the more expensive hardcover.” Readers of Kindle Nation Daily know that the hardcover was available for $9 for several weeks late last year, so that the ebook when it was released commercially on December 24 may have even then been more expensive than the price that C.D. of Brightwaters could have paid either at the Walmart or the Target right down the road in Massapequa or online at Amazon.

And Cohen himself, despite being correct in lamenting that “the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology,” seems a little out of touch with what’s really going on both by letting C.D. slip the curve ball in the preceding paragraph by him and by referring to $9.99 as the ebook’s price when, alas, I see this morning that Steve Jobs has managed to get that price increased to $16.99 in the Kindle and iBooks stores.

Me? I’d love to see the emails that Cohen gets from some of the thousands of traditional publishing industry leaders, employees, and apologists who read the Times. I doubt they will see the ethical crawlspace through which Cohen and C.D. of Brightwaters slithered or find merit in the rationalizations supplied to lubricate these already slippery and sloping passages. Piracy is piracy, and pirates are pirates, ne c’est pas?

But I’m also a bit amused by the shorthand moniker of C.D. of Brightwaters. Remember CDs? I’ve got hundreds of them somewhere, and last year I listened to one on my car stereo, although it was a mix CD that I burned at home, before a long trip, from tracks that I had purchased from Amazon’s MP3 store or iTunes or copied from my own CDs. After having seemed like such a brilliant technology two dozen years ago, CDs turned out to be not quite as venerable and durable as the technology of the print book that has served us so well for centuries. But understanding the denouement of some similar issues faced by the music industry during the past decade should be homework for everyone in the book trades, and it would be wise for print book publishers to offer solutions — such as sanctioned bundling of print, ebook, and/or audiobook formats at marketing-positive price points — that would free up both Cohen and C.D. of Brightwaters to tackle larger ethical issues.

Condoned or not by Timesmen, piracy will fester and could become rampant if some publishers continue their upside down and backward approaches to pricing and availability. I am quite confident that there are few ebook pirates among the populace of Kindle Nation, but I am equally certain that the best way for book publishers to defeat piracy is to start playing straight with readers.