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.
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .