Ethical Frugality Week: Sampling Content

Over the upcoming week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

A long while back, in a post entitled “When Is Frugality Stealing?“, I wrote about how I would sometimes jot down notes out of books when I was in a bookstore. This was completely allowed – and even encouraged – by the store’s owner (perhaps in part because I was a regular customer there) and would often result in me deciding to buy the book once I found that the information was accurate and useful.

This leads to a bigger question about frugality: when is it okay to sample content without buying?

Take, for example, music. Some people find it completely appropriate to download and keep mp3s, offering up the reasoning that the content is overpriced for what you get or that they might buy the music someday if they listen to it enough. Personally, unless these are given as free downloads by the people that recorded it, I find this stealing. There are many, many ways to sample music without just taking what you want – thirty second previews, Pandora radio, and so on. Access to such recordings isn’t really an issue, either, unless you get into highly obscure recordings.

This is a topic that’s endlessly debated online. There’s a significant group that argues that information was meant to be free and that anything that can be reduced to simple information should thus be free. Thus, content creators should find other ways to earn an income and treat their content as an “advertisement” of sorts for their other endeavors. For example, they might argue that I should give my books away for free and then charge a price for my live appearances or for “deluxe” versions of the content.

Here’s the thing. Content has a cost. Someone had to invest a significant amount of time creating the material you enjoy. It’s reasonable to think that the creator would want to be compensated for the time and energy invested in it. When you step back and look at a broader scale, there’s an enormous amount of people involved in making a film, showing it in theatres, and then making it available for you to easily rent or buy. The same is true for any creative work.

When do I think it’s okay to sample such content? It’s fine to sample if the person who created it or the retailer says it is. So, if I want to jot a note out of a book, it’s fine if the bookstore clerk says I can. If I want to listen to a particular song, I can go hear that thirty second sample or listen to a streaming source like Pandora. If you want more, pay for it. That “pay” might mean enjoying it with ad support for free (like on Hulu) or enjoying it by paying for it without ad support.

Some people might go further and just completely give away their content, and that’s fine. They’re choosing to give it away because they believe they’ll build a bigger audience for their live events that way. However, just because one person is doing it doesn’t mean that consumers can then treat every person producing anything in that same fashion.

All that being said, I think most content companies make it ridiculously hard (even now, with the internet) for people to adequately sample the content. How do I know if I want to watch this movie or not? Well, I can probably find a trailer for it (maybe) or a review here or there. How do I know if I want to listen to this album? I can hear some thirty second samples of the chorus and (maybe) a full song or two on a service like Pandora. At least with bookstores, readers are encouraged to read the first part of a book in a bookstore so they can make up their mind – I think that’s one of the reasons why bookstores aren’t having the difficulty that music stores are having.

What do you think? Where’s the line between sampling so you can make an informed decision and stealing just so you can save a few bucks? Where is the line of right and wrong?

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58 thoughts on “Ethical Frugality Week: Sampling Content

  1. Daniel @ Sweating The Big Stuff says:

    Wait a second. The storeowner didn’t write the book, so by taking notes, you’re not stealing from him (because he gave you permission), but you are stealing from the Author.

    In the same way that if your friend lets you download all music from his computer onto yours, it’s not okay, getting permission from only the storeowner sounds unethical, too.

    Anybody agree?

  2. Studenomist says:

    The line is the point where you go out of your way to “sample content” often. If someone deliberately plans to read a whole book in a bookstore then they definitely know what they’re doing. You know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong.

    We should all be allowed to sample but it is no longer a sample when you consume the whole product. It’s okay to read the first chapter of a book. How do you justify reading the whole book in the bookstore?

  3. Rachel says:

    Didn’t the store owner pay for the merch, though, in order to sell it later at a profit? So technically, at that point in time, it sorta belongs to the store? I could be totally wrong, as I don’t know how this stuff works, but to me it seems similar to if a friend bought the book and then let you take notes out of it–which would be okay since your friend, who purchased the content, allowed it. Just a thought.

  4. Ryan says:

    That’s a good point. Does the store owner have the right to give you permission?

    And in the case of downloading music, if it wasn’t free I wouldn’t download. I have 5 gigabytes of music files. Just because most of it is “stolen” doesn’t mean anybody was hurt. I wasn’t ever going to buy it. Period. But I might buy music from the same artists I “stole” from in the future when
    my financial situation improves.

    Piracy does not equal lost sales. Most likely those sales never existed.

  5. I love Pandora radio, I wish I would have known about a long time ago! I agree though, artists & creators should be paid for their products. It is their livelihood! They aren’t out there making music, writing books, or making movies to give away for nothing. If you are a fan, you should support their efforts and put your money down as a way of showing your support to them.

  6. Andy says:

    I don’t understand how information could ever be considered free. Since when? Information has always been very expensive and carefully guarded.

  7. John says:

    There is always a tension between “sampling” and what I would like to call “double dipping”. Unlike the obvious connotations to food, most media can be reproduced costlessly. So if I buy a music CD or a movie DVD I could copy them and the Xth copy would be as good as the first, you all know this.

    The problem(s) that I run into is that I would like to buy my CD (or DVD) once from the cheapest supplier and then use it everywhere. If I create MP3′s or a perfect copy of this CD I can use it at home in the cd player, on the computer through speakers, on my MP3 playing device and in the car. The manufacture of that cd would like to charge me for each use. Who is double dipping here? Me or the manufacturer?

    Then there is the “sampling” problem. With my netflix subscription I am able to access certain DVD titles for as long as netflix makes them available. As a specific instance the childrens “Mighty machines” shorts about various large and complex machinery fascinates my son. These are only available for a month or so and after that they “go away”. Well my son would like to continue watching them regularly. I could create a perfect copy of this “sample period” and replay it. Here I am probably double dipping, but the idea that content has enforced time limits of usage is pretty difficult for a 3 yr old. it’s the old get ‘em addicted early and then take it away marketing strategy. I don’t like it. Yet this content was provided by my paying Netflix. TV content is handled in much the same way, yet no one thinks that recording a childrens program from the TV and replaying later is a problem.

    The real question is: “If you’ve paid for it once do you get it anytime and everywhere?”

  8. thisisbeth says:

    This is my thought on stolen music: I don’t plan on buying a Playstation2 ever, but does that give me the right to take one out of Best Buy? When you download music (movies, games, etc.) you don’t intend to buy, you’re getting the enjoyment out of something you didn’t pay for.

    I’m not completely innocent of having all purchased music on my computer. I uploaded mix CDs created by friends. There are some songs I enjoy, and I’ve went on to purchase other music by that artist. By all rights, I should purchase every song that I have, but I haven’t.

  9. Vicky says:

    I love Pandora. It has helped me get really interested in a lot of bands. However, I tend to listen to a lot of music from Japan. It’s not easy to get over here, and usually very, very expensive. (The last CD I bought was over $50!) However, I’ve never bought a CD without listening to every track on it first.

    I would agree with some above comments – reading an entire book in the bookstore is wrong. Go to the library to do that! If I pick up a book and start reading and enjoy it – it is time to buy the book or get it from the library.

  10. lurker carl says:

    Browsing for information in the bookstore versus browsing in the library. If the merchant doesn’t mind, what’s the difference?

  11. leslie says:

    I’ve read an entire book in a book store once. And then I bought it.

  12. Johanna says:

    I think I agree with John in that using a product is OK, but duplicating it is not. So lending a CD to a friend is OK, but making a copy of it and giving it to him is not. Reading part (or even all) of a book in the bookstore is OK, but copying a portion out word for word is not. Taking notes is a gray area – are you just jotting down a detail or two (like the name of a reference), or are you reproducing the content (like a recipe from a cookbook)?

    I’ve read entire books in the bookstore, and I don’t feel at all bad about it, although I understand how others would feel differently. To me, it’s like listening to an entire song on the radio or on an authorized streaming site on your computer, in that you’ve got use of the entire product, but with severe restrictions on when and where you can use it. If you want unrestricted use – freedom to read the book in your living room or at 3:00 in the morning, to have the cookbook in front of you while you’re cooking, or to put the song on your iPod to listen to whenever you want – that’s when it’s time to pay for it.

  13. Adam says:

    I really hate when my “cheap” friends pirate movies and music. It seriously upsets me.

    For music, if it is available from iTunes or wherever I will buy it and pay for it. If I have bought the CD (back when people actually bought CDs) and my CD is not in great condition so I can’t convert the music, then I’ve had friends send me the mp3 file for it. I haven’t ever had the desire to download a movie; I don’t watch many movies now and if I really like a movie I will buy the dvd (happens rarely).

    I view pirating music/movies/shows as stealing, and voice my concerns about those who don’t pay.

    HOWEVER – There are some tv shows or seasons of TV shows that I love that I cannot get on DVD, but would gladly buy if they were released (and will buy) and for those, I have downloaded copies of some of my favourite episodes; BUT I have bought the seasons of the shows that are available to support the release of future seasons. Also, in Canada, we can’t get Hulu, so it further complicates things since if I lived in the US I could watch some shows on Hulu rather than download a pirate copy.

  14. Luke says:

    My biggest problem is that content providers still don’t offer what I want. I don’t want a bunch of physical media filling up my house. Streaming content over the internet is what I want. I have netflix and it is great, but I want ALL the movies to be on their streaming service. Likewise, I love Hulu, but what’s the point if only season one of a 5 season show is available? Especially if the show is 10 years old. Are they really going to loose that much money in DVD sales on a 10 year old show? I would gladly pay a monthly fee to Hulu if it meant I could stream every season of every show they offer. It seems like there is a lot of money to be made with something like Hulu/Netflix if they would just expand their offerings. Digital distribution has essentially no distribution costs aside from bandwidth, which is cheap compared to a DVD production/shipping facility.

  15. Kyle says:

    Here’s an argument that I’ve never heard a good rebuttal to:

    If someone writes a poem, he owns it.

    If I read it and remember it, does he own the part of my brain that remembers it? Of course not.

    If I buy a pen and paper, clearly I own it.

    So if I then use my own pen and paper to write down something from my own brain, why does the original author own that, too?

  16. I had the same thought as lurker carl – is it considered stealing to make notes from a book that you borrow from (or read at) the library? I assume that we’ve all done this at some point or another since schools require completion of research papers. If the material is properly cited, it shouldn’t be considered stealing. When it comes to jotting down notes or ideas from a book, I have to say that I don’t think it’s stealing. I’m not a published author but in general, I would think that an author would be pleased to know that their works are inspiring thought and action.

  17. Ryan says:

    Stealing a playstation is a completely different matter. Mp3 files can be copied and traded infinitely without any cost to the content creator.

  18. Four Pillars says:

    I disagree that sampling a book is ok just because the clerk said so – what about the author and publisher of the book? Are they ok with that? I’m not saying it’s wrong – just that your reasoning is incomplete.

    The other thing is that it’s one thing to check out a book to see if you like it. It’s quite another thing to use a book as a reference without paying for it – the author spent time collecting data etc so you should pay for it.

  19. Johanna says:

    @Kyle: OK, I’ll bite. If you can read the poem and remember it, you don’t need to write it down. The problem with taking notes in the bookstore is that you’re taking away more information than you can commit to memory (or that you can be bothered to commit to memory).

    Reading a recipe in the bookstore, memorizing it, and cooking it at home = fine. Copying a recipe out of a cookbook in the bookstore so you can cook it at home = not fine.

    Yes, I realize that this gives an advantage to people with better memories. I don’t see a problem with that.

    And as for other media, like music and movies, your argument doesn’t apply to them at all. I can listen to a song a remember it well enough to sing it to myself in the shower, but I can’t reproduce the original recording just based on what’s in my brain.

  20. JoeTaxpayer says:

    Music seems to be the epicenter of a very gray area. I can record a song off the radio, onto a cassette tape (the old days). Was that ever wrong? I could record an album and give it to a friend. It’s the wholesale uploading that became an issue, a flawless copy there for a 10 second download.

    The bookstore is an interesting topic. Why do they have the benches and big comfy chairs? How long does one need to thumb through a book to decide whether it’s a good purchase? Same with a magazine.

  21. Kyle says:

    Why should it matter whether I “need” to write it down or not? It’s my brain, my pen, my ink.

    Or, to stretch it further, it’s my laptop. If the way I arrange the bits on it isn’t hurting anyone else, why is it wrong?

  22. Kyle says:

    @JoeTaxpayer

    Actually, music companies fought very hard against the technology that allowed you to do those things, and they insisted that it would be the end of music if they were allowed to continue.

    I’m not sure about the legality of recording a song off the radio. It gets into the vagaries and nuances of fair use that I can never remember.

  23. Brent says:

    I think I should point out here that there is a lot of should and should not going on here. Most of it is based off emotion of what the individual thinks “should” happen.
    Most of the shoulds have no basis in any law or case the courts have decided on.
    For example, according to US law, you can lend a copy of an album to a friend and he can copy it. But if you make a copy and give it to him that is illegal. Sound strange? Yes. Is it legal? Apparently so.
    Moving on. Legal does not equal right. Illegal does not equal wrong. There is such a thing as just and unjust laws. I see many people are making the move between morality and legality in their posts without stating they are.
    There is a lot of confustion of terms, too.
    Copyright infringement does not equal stealing. Two different things. That is why they have two different names.
    Just some things to keep in mind.

  24. If you believe that content must always be paid for, how can you justify using Paperbackswap or buying used books? Neither the author nor the publisher gets paid for your use of that content (libraries don’t count in this instance, because the libraries do pay for the content and the publisher/author sells it knowing it will be lent out for free). Yes, a used bookseller is making money off of it, but if the point is that the content creator must be paid for their work, then you can’t ethically argue for the acquisition of second-hand books.

  25. Beth says:

    @Little Miss Moneybags — interesting point about used books and other used goods, but I can’t come up with an alternative. Should I only buy new and then throw out the item rather than selling it, lending it or donating it? I would argue that keeping an existing item in circulation is better for the economy and the environment.

    Reproducing an item and distributing it or selling it is another story.

  26. Nik says:

    OK, all of you who yell at Trent for writing notes from books because the “owner said it’s OK” need to get an understanding of how bookstores work. That book has already been paid for by that store owner. If he sells it, he gets his money back. If he doesn’t sell it and doesn’t want it hogging up inventory space, he has the option of sending it back to the publisher and recouping some of his cost.

    That’s only really a problem if the books are sealed (as they are in my gaming store) and he unwraps it, copies from it, stashes it in some remote place in the store. That is unethical. It borders on illegal if he plagarizes it word for word (well not only bordering) and publishes as his own work.

    It doesn’t make sense to castigate someone for joting some notes from a few paragraphs in a book, essentially borrowed with its owner’s permission.

  27. Nik says:

    PS: @Little Miss Moneybags, PBS participants aren’t getting books for nothing, they are bartering for them essentially. As Beth illustrates, it is legal for you to resell your items, what is wrong with using them in lieu of currency if the other party agrees?
    My friends refuse to participate in PBS as they feel the “cost is too high!” They would prefer to buy a book or borrow it from the library than trade a precious book from their collection. (I even tried explaining the ‘only offer the books you don’t mind trading’ concept only to be looked at as if I had 3 heads (I might.)

    I can’t seem to feel that those participating in PBS are robbing people (well, my abstinant friends might argue that the original book owners are being robbed somehow.) ;)

  28. Jonathan Vaudreuil says:

    I think a number of people have made some of the key points I want to build on, which is the ethical question of borrowing from someone, buying second-hand, or taking for free.

    First off, if you borrow it form someone or buy it second-hand the creators have been paid. If you take it they have not.

    Second, if you borrow it or buy it second-hand the creators are not paid for YOUR acquisition, nor are they paid if you take it for free.

    Third, someone else does get paid if you buy it second-hand, but they do not share any money with the creator.

    You have to decide if there is a difference for yourself. The creator does not get paid if you borrow, buy it second-hand or take it for free. If you truly support creators then you should buy their works new – anything else means you do not, because they do not get paid for your acquisition and your usage. If you do not support them you have other avenues to get it.

  29. Michelle says:

    CD’s cost a few cents to make, and record companies usually collect most of the profits that artists (IMHO) should be getting. I, personally, think that you should be given a complimentary pre-listen of an album to decide whether you want to buy it and re-listen to it.

    many independent artists are bucking the system by giving their music away and asking for donations (nine inch nails for one) and are having wonderful success with it. The music industry will collapse if it continues these anti-customer practices, and in a way I feel like it is vigilante justice to download (steal!) if you feel the price is too high. Take this with a grain of salt, my moral codes are more radical–vicious toward corporations and business entities and kind and generous toward individuals.

    I’m glad to see you write on this subject, Trent!

  30. graytham says:

    #28 Jonathan Vaudreuil said:

    “First off, if you borrow it form someone or buy it second-hand the creators have been paid. If you take it they have not.”

    I think this is a very important point. An author should expect to paid ONCE for selling his work, but there is no reasonable expectation that he’ll be paid again and again every time the book is loaned out, traded, resold, etc.

  31. Nick says:

    I download music regularly, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. Sorry, but I’m not going to pay $10 (or even $0.99 for a song) for a CD I might hate.

    I want to support the musicians themselves, not the record company. If I download an album I truly enjoy, I will support the artist through buying merchandise and/or seeing them in concert.

    Several of my favorite bands I discovered through downloading their music for free, and I’ve since spent hundreds of dollars on concert tickets, tshirts, posters, and the like, and I’ve only purchased a few of their albums. I’ve sent checks to artists themselves ($10 or so), simply to support what they do.

  32. Maggie says:

    The problem I have with people reading entire books in the bookstore is that if I wanted to buy a *used* book, I would go to a used bookstore. I hate the thought of buying a book that has been pawed through extensively. Somehow to me it feels different if a person just briefly leafs through a book, vs turning each and every page to read the entire thing.

  33. Abby says:

    A great way to preview music before deciding to purchase it, rather than illegal downloading, is lala.com. You can listen to a complete song thru the website for free. If you like what you hear, it costs 10 cents for unlimited plays via the website, or you can download a DRM-free mp3 for 79 cents. They also have some great features for discovering new music.

  34. Brent says:

    Can you own an idea, a thought, a sequence of words, a sequence of noises, an image, a sequence of images, a design? The real problem is that we have created this kludge to encourage people to organize information in meaningful and desired ways. We invented copyright. Had we not would art still exist? most certainly! would it be like it is now? certainly not. People have this notion of “I came up with X, it’s mine.” Support artists, but don’t feel guilty about having the mona lisa on your computer and not buying it.

  35. Tracy says:

    Trent – its interesting that you seem to have shifted so much in position from your original bookstore post – I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that you now have a book out yourself. And if I recall correctly, you weren’t “jotting things down” you were reading whole passages into a voice recorder. Guess it must feel kind of different now?

    As for music, I wish more of my favorite artists would follow the lead of NIN and Coldplay and just let me buy music straight from them. I hate that if I buy a CD, only a tiny percentage of it every actually gets to the people who made the music. If you really support a musician, go to their shows, people. That’s where the money is for them.

  36. Rap says:

    I think, ok with the owner or not, taking notes in a bookstore is wrong. In this day an age, a store owner will bend over backward to keep a customer happy – and customers can and do take advantage of that. I don’t think Trent means any harm in this practice, and once or twice doing it isn’t taking advantage of generousity, but intentionally going back and doing it with multiple books… its using the bookstore as a library.

    Kyle – if you read the poem and remember it, you can’t sell multiple copies of it. If you buy pen and paper and write down the poem so you can reread it for your own personal use, you’re fine. If you take your pen and ink copy and sell it to me, you’re out of line. If you recite the poem from memory and *I* write it down… we enter a gray area but you’re still morally clear in my opinion (fair use). It crosses the line into misuse when you are profiting from making copies or intentionally distributing free copies of copyrighted work. Purchasing one copy for personal use does not allow you to make multiple copies for others.

  37. Robin says:

    I often listen to songs on youtube. Companies can pretty easily shut down videos on youtube if they don’t want their songs there. Most of them, however, realize that it is great advertising. I have often bought a song or a soundtrack (from Amazon – boo to Itunes) after listening to it on Youtube.

    I think movie and music piracy is straight up wrong. I used to do it, but now I just can’t.

    I often obtain books through PBS. Selling used books is perfectly acceptable. Buying used does not directly benefit the creator, but it creates more of a demand for their products – indirectly helping them. Also, I have no problem going to a bookstore and reading a book. If the bookstores didn’t want to you to, there wouldn’t be all those comfy chairs.

  38. Jane says:

    This is an interesting debate. I go all the time to Borders to drink coffee and read magazines. Is this also unethical? Probably. I guess my question is: why do they always put the magazine section next to the coffee shop? In some respects, they are tacitly consenting to the practice, or if not, they are certainly encouraging it. Coffee has a high mark-up, and I imagine they make a lot of money off of people who do exactly what I do over the long term. I go there to read the magazines that are guilty pleasure magazines like People and US Weekly. The magazines that I actually see real value in, I subscribe to and read at home. I would never pay $4.95 for a celebrity gossip magazine.

  39. Amy B. says:

    I agree that this is an interesting debate. Loved the point that the bookseller has already purchased the book, so that does give him every right to allow you to thumb through it with your coffee.

    Regarding the “ethics” of reselling. This deserves additional consideration. Think of the parallel with the used car market. If there is greater demand in the resale market (and hence greater resale value) that is often reflected in the first market price – i.e. the maker actually does receive a benefit from the secondary transaction. How does this apply to other goods?

  40. Leah says:

    @ Brent and others who’ve brought up this discussion:

    As a third-year law student who’s taken more classes than I’ve cared to on copyright and related issues, here are my two cents. If what you’re doing is copyright infringement, it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s ethical or unethical. You can still be sued, and heavy fees are associated with your copyright infringement.

    The only time ethics comes into play is when what you’re doing doesn’t violate federal copyright law.

    @ Jonathan
    Your proposal to buy everything new essentially means that I can’t dispose of my personal property in the manner I see fit. Right? If it’s unethical to buy music or books or movies second-hand, is it also unethical for me to sell it? Why? It’s my personal property. I own that copy of the author’s work. As long as I do not copy it, I can do whatever I want with it.

  41. Jonathan Vaudreuil says:

    @ Leah
    To quote myself, “You have to decide if there is a difference for yourself.” The ethics are for you and everyone else to decide. If you decide it’s unethical to buy second-hand, then it’s as unethical to sell those items. If you decide it IS ethical to buy second-hand, then it’s ethical to sell those items. (Personally I believe it is ethical to buy second-hand)

    My statement on buying new simply pertains to the creators getting paid. Buying used means they will not get paid again for your personal usage.

  42. Andy says:

    Kyle – you may own your paper, pen, and brain, but you don’t own the information.

    If that seems silly, remember, most money is not cash, its 1s and 0s on a computer at your bank, in other words, its information that you own.

  43. aryn says:

    @Kyle – It’s because you didn’t CREATE the poem. You copied it onto the paper from your memory after reading the original creation.

    You own the piece of paper you wrote it on, certainly, but you don’t own the right to make a profit off someone else’s work. So, you can give away that piece of paper, but you can’t sell it without the creator’s permission.

    Think of it this way, what if you had an idea and told your boss. And then your boss wrote that idea down and submitted it to his boss. You wouldn’t be very happy if your boss got a bonus and all the credit for YOUR idea and you got nothing, would you?

  44. Leah says:

    @ Jonathan

    Then I totally agree!

    I am just a bit lost on the concept that an author might think he/she should get paid the second time because a user buys it second-hand. I don’t grasp why anyone would consider it unethical. Isn’t this part of the negotiation the first time? Information is expensive, especially when bought new; you kind of have to expect them to factor those “lost” second-hand profits into the equation.

  45. Honestb says:

    I was reading a Cory Doctorow novel (“Little Brother”) the other day. Doctorow releases all his novels free online, but still sells them well. He probably does better because more people get a chance to read them, and he’s become a poster-boy for Creative Commons just for that reason.

    Ultimately, it’s the creator of content who gets to decide, but I think Doctorow is a great example of how giving away content is good business.

  46. chacha1 says:

    @ Amy B. re: reselling: certain resale markets do benefit creators. For example, the rare-book market. Lots of people (me included) will hunt down and buy hardcover editions of work we discovered at the library or in paperback after the hardcovers are out of print. We mostly then (being established addicts) will buy the author’s new work in hardcover as soon as it comes out.

    If there is a strong demand for an author’s backlist, the publisher will keep it in print so that more people can buy new copies rather than used. Sometimes publishers will even bring back work that had previously gone out of print – say, to sell an e-book edition.

    On a smaller scale, the same goes for rare music discs and DVDs, and the vinyl record resale business is still hopping.

    Of course, *all* these markets rely on people being willing to actually pay for their entertainment, but unlike downloadable content, hard media have to physically change hands.

  47. Jamie says:

    HI! Just wanted to say that I am really enjoying this series. Thanks.

  48. Kathryn says:

    For me, marketing is often a factor.

    There is a doc whom i follow – he sends out a frequent newsletter. His marketing standards are along the line of “Read about this supplement to help boost your energy!” And then, “buy my book, buy my book, buy my book.”

    I’m not suggesting he give me all the info in his book for free. However, his newsletter doesn’t give me enough info to make the decision whether or not i think his book will be worth it for me (& his books are quite highly priced). His marketing drives me nuts & i did decide to buy his book – from an online used bookstore.

    Ethical? I don’t know, but i do know i did not want to support his form of marketing. I follow other health websites that are not so obnoxious with their marketing & occasionally i purchase items from them.

  49. joan says:

    Maybe I misunderstood but if you asked the clerk instead of the store owner; you asked the wrong person. Clerks aren’t always as concerned about ethics as the owners. Also, clerks could end up being a good friend or someone trying to make an impression. Didn’t you have an article about how someone went out of business because they were to lenient about letting people try out music and etc. at their store and then the people went to a cheaper place to buy? Ethics seem to be okay when a person wants to do something and wrong if they don’t want someone else to do it.

  50. joan says:

    I also would not buy a book without reading a few pages or at least the introduction. In which case I may not buy right then, but I often go back to get the book for myself or as a gift. I also use PPS thanks to Trent telling us about it in his posts. I only buy new books for gifts. I see nothing wrong with Trent writing down a few notes as he reviews books all the time. Who knows that might just be the next book he reviews in which case he will acquire the book and his review will actually be an advertisement for the author. Plagerlism however; whether it is a cookbook or any book is unethical and illegal.

  51. Kim says:

    A book becomes the property of the purchaser the moment money changes hands. Legal uses include reading it, not reading it, re-selling it, loaning it, giving it or throwing it away. NOT legal: copying the content, making multiple copies of the material and selling, loaning or giving them away. The original purchase confers the right to legally re-sell or give the material away. Certain rights are retained by the owner/creator of the material, much as in a home sale, certain mineral or water rights may not be transferred during the sale, but the house may be resold, given as a gift or destroyed by right of purchase.

    Software has it’s own limitations. Purchasing it does not grant you the right to deconstruct the code and alter or redistribute multiple copies. Typically the only right of copying is one backup copy and the installation on one CPU and one laptop owned by the same person, but not for use at the same time.

    The argument that has been made to me is that “creativity is a gift from God and so should not be sold.” Rubbish. A tradesman has a gift in the ability to create things with his hands. He may be naturally gifted in metals, woodwork or stonework, but he must hone his craft through learning and practice and WORK, for which he is paid. A writer hones his natural abilities the same way, but it is the actual WORK that produces the item. A musician/composer must WORK at his/her craft. Etc., etc. It is offensive to me that someone would steal the creative work of artists, musicians, and writers, and it should be criminal in the same way it would be criminal to steal someone’s cabinetry work, their plumbing, their accounting work, their mechanical work, or to order food from a restaurant with no intent to pay for it.

    The ONLY time it is okay to copy music is from one’s own legally purchased files onto their own listening/recording device and for their own use, or when given permission from the author/creator of such a piece. We have no divine right to the work of another.

  52. Brent says:

    @Leah “The only time ethics comes into play is when what you’re doing doesn’t violate federal copyright law.”

    I disagree, it also comes into play when deciding how to write laws and public opinion. I’m not advocating violating the law. I’m advocating changing your perception and encouraging you to voice that opinion to a representative.

    @Kim “It is offensive to me that someone would steal the creative work…” You can only steal a copy of a creative work. You can make a copy for yourself and deprive nobody else of that original copy. This is not stealing. It does infringe their copyright, but it is not stealing. never confuse the two. Objects can be stolen, Ideas can only be shared.

  53. Sharon L says:

    Re: paying the creator for more than one use. When we play a concert and play the music of others, we have to pay ASCAP or BMI a fee to use it if we charge money for the concert. ASCAP and BMI then pay the creator or copyright holder. And if you are caught playing copyrighted music and not paying, they will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

    On the other hand, with sheet music it is illegal to copy if. However, out of print music is impossible to get parts for. And the music publishing industry until very recently has refused to let you get just, say, the first bassoon part. You had to pay for the whole arrangement to get one missing part. That has led to wholesale copying.

    However, if I pay for an arrangement, why can’t I make copies of parts to use in playing and keep the arrangement score intact? That seems to me to be fair use.

  54. Bill in Houston says:

    Kyle (#15)

    Your argument is from a faulty premise, so it really isn’t an article but rather a logical fallacy.

    You can write down the poem. Yes, you own the pen and ink but you can not distribute it and take credit for creating the poem.

    I could write down Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees, but it is not MY poem. I did not create it, I merely copied it down. Kilmer created it. It is her work.

    I’m a writer by trade (despite two business degrees, companies in down economies aren’t hiring many MBAs). I take copyright law very seriously. I loathe the idea of pirating and believe that authors and artists are entitled to compensation for their work.

    ©2009, Bill in Houston Enterprises

  55. Bill in Houston says:

    What about another type a sampling, product sampling.

    I’m in Costco nearly every Saturday. I get my heart and cholesterol medication there, and buy many things in bulk. Many different food products are given out as samples during the day (especially Saturday).

    I’ve heard the argument both ways: I paid my membership and the product is free, so I’ll take as much as I want. Then there are those who stop, listen to the spiel from the staffer, take one item, and move on. I know people who structure their day around being at Costco at say, 1PM so they can graze the premises and get a free lunch. I’m more in the “sample one here, sample one there” camp. Just because there are a whole tray of quesadilla samples in front of me does not mean I’m entitled to all of them.

    I believe this the difference between being frugal (me) and being cheap (my lawyer, among others).

  56. Bill in Houston says:

    Oops, just noticed there was a post earlier in the week for free samples.

    That’s what happens when I don’t pay attention.

  57. Lise says:

    I agree with Abby (#33) who recommended LaLa.com. It’s great, it’s legal, and I’ve discovered lots of new music that way. 10 cents for a web song is a great price for me, as I’ll almost always be somewhere with a net connection.

    I am definitely guilty of reading books in bookstores without buying them, however. Usually this is when I have to kill time while I’m waiting to pick someone up and I haven’t brought any reading of my own. Rarely do I ever read a whole book, though I did recently read all of Sway in Barnes & Noble while waiting on my husband. I always buy a latte or a drink or something while I do, so I guess B&N is getting some money out of me. I dunno if it’s illegal, but it falls within a level of ethicality (is that a word?) I’m comfortable with, so long as the behavior isn’t excessive.

    I guess a better alternative would be finding the library in the town I’m in and going there.

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