Does anybody remember the Unethicist? Now that was an awesome column. And such a simple concept: every week Gabriel Delahaye answered the same questions featured in Randy Cohen’s “Ethicist” column, but with extremely different (and much more vulgar) answers. The perfect example of how to jack someone else’s content, add snark, and create something that effing hilarious.
Anyway, one of the first unethicist columns I ever read was this one, which I probably shouldn’t quote from here in fear of offending at least a few of you . . . But to summarize, some guy asks if it’s ethical to take his laptop into the library and copy the library’s CDs and DVDs. Which is obviously piracy, but hell, that’s exactly what the internet is for! (According to the Unethicist, at least.)
This weekend, the Ethicist was faced with an interesting situation that’s only going to become more and more common as the iPad reproduces itself all across the country.
I bought an e-reader for travel and was eager to begin Under the Dome, the new Stephen King novel. Unfortunately, the electronic version was not yet available. The publisher apparently withheld it to encourage people to buy the more expensive hardcover. So I did, all 1,074 pages, more than three and a half pounds. Then I found a pirated version online, downloaded it to my e-reader and took it on my trip. I generally disapprove of illegal downloads, but wasn’t this O.K.? C.D., BRIGHTWATERS, N.Y.
Now, of course Cohen’s going to disapprove, right? I mean, it’s illegal. And besides, if readers get the crazy idea in their head that it’s totally OK to download things they paid for in other formats, the whole publishing industry will implode, and none of us want that, right? It’s a moral imperative that Cohen make every reader out there with an internet connection and the ability to use Scribd feel really, really guilty about their suspect activity . . . So here’s the ethical hammer:
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. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.
Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.
Wait— What? Even after a couple paragraphs explaining the publishing industry’s opposite point of view re: this situation, Cohen comes back with a healthy dose of wit that will surely cause publishing execs throughout New York to collectively freak the fuck out:
Your action is not pristine. Downloading a bootleg copy could be said to encourage piracy, although only in the abstract: no potential pirate will actually realize you’ve done it. It’s true that you might have thwarted the publisher’s intent — perhaps he or she has a violent antipathy to trees, maybe a wish to slaughter acres of them and grind them into Stephen King novels. Or to clog the highways with trucks crammed with Stephen King novels. Or perhaps King himself wishes to improve America’s physique by having readers lug massive volumes.
So be it. Your paying for the hardcover put you in the clear as a matter of ethics, forestry and fitness training.
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .