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Open Mic: If Pirating eBooks of Previously Purchased Hardcovers is Ethical, What About Digital Comics?

When it comes to the issue of digital piracy, the comics crowd can seem to be relatively…unengaged. There are vocal opponents, sure, but it’s mostly a culture inhabited by some quiet supporters and apathetics, if you will, who seemingly circumvent anything resembling an ethical dilemma by buying/pirating comics on whims of convenience. This is an admittedly anecdotal generalization for sure, but accepting widely relaxed attitudes about piracy helps to explain why downloading is usually most interestingly explored in terms of how it’s justified rather than how it’s demonized.

That’s why when I saw BoingBoing’s link to New York Times ethicist Randy Cohen’s case for pirating eBooks, it piqued my curiosity from a comics angle even if it’s an argument I’ve heard before (and even if it has a lighthearted-yet-sincere tone).

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.

Cohen goes on to reason that paying for a hardcover should be a license to enjoy a product on any platform, even if it denies publishers from fully regulating the distribution of their intellectual properties. [That sizzle you hear is your iPad/Kindle's robot ears burning.]I’m not going to open a full can of Shai Hulud-sized worms here, but when it comes to pirating digital comics, is it okay to download something you’ve already paid for? Should the proud owner of tattered comics from the Silver Age be condemned for skimming through healthier scans of the same material? Is it a moral failing to Torrent a copy of something that’s owned rather than digging through unorganized longboxes for the sake of digital convenience? Where do readers draw the line between comics as objects and comics as ideas?

What do you think qualifies pirating digital versions of previously purchased comics as ethical or unethical? Speak your mind.

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