Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Right to Download Books

While I doubt that this post signals the onset of a period of regular updating, I found myself today with a thought that I felt was a little too deep to simply post as a g-chat status or link to from my facebook page (don’t get me started on the generally idiocy of facebook questions before anyone suggests it). Then again, considering all of six people will actually read these thoughts (and I’m probably overshooting that number by four or so), perhaps the medium doesn’t really matter. And that thought is actually a perfect segue for my musings.

Is torrenting a book (downloading it illegally) morally wrong if one owns the book in another format?

Two interesting posts brought this to my attention; one from a literary blog decrying torrenting as morally bankrupt and the other examining it as a symptom of the commodification of literature. Both of these were linked from one of my favorite websites:

My own thoughts on the issue are somewhat muddled. I’ve considered torrenting books before, but I also understand why moralists argue that downloading books without paying for them is theft. At the same time, if one already owns the novel, is it theft to simply regain access to something you’ve already paid for?

What this boils down to is whether the purchasing of a novel grants one an access right to the underlying metaphysical object, the text, or to the physical implementation of it, the book you actually purchased. I concede that it would be nonsensical to argue that purchasing the e-book version of a novel gave you the right to steal an actual, physical hardcover. But this can be explained due to the fact that physical hardcover books cost something to create. An electronic copy of a text costs almost nothing (that almost is actually pretty important, but I am going to ignore for it for the moment) and thus, assuming you’ve purchased right to access the text, you’ve taken (almost) nothing from the author.

Under copyright law, making a copy of the text for backup purposes is almost certainly fair use and it’s possible that it’s fair use even if the copy is to allow you better access (although in that case, the fourth factor of fair use analysis, how the use affects potential markets, which is generally considered to be the most influential of the four factors, may way against fair use if there is significant evidence that people are likely to purchase both the e-reader version and the physical version). While law might recognize a difference between actually making the copy and downloading an identical copy, I do not see a particularly strong philosophical difference between them. Although it is true that a person who makes the copy and then disseminates it is violating copyright, someone who makes software or hardware that allows one to perform this act probably isn’t violating the law (unless one reads the DMCA incredibly strictly). We can draw this distinction out until the actual cost to the book owner is so negligible as to be even with the cost of downloading the book, thus rendering the distinction moot.

Although it may be legal (and this is an assumption), the question still remains whether it is moral (I don’t hold to the belief that either legality or morality are subsets of one another). Considering that a book owner has already paid for the right to access the work, there is a countervailing moral interest in preventing people from being charged twice for the same item. We don’t require consumers to pay every time they play a particular piece of music (for that matter, am I pirating music by listening to it online? what if that online access is so ubiquitous - such as youtube - that for all intents and purposes I own the song?), nor do we think that people are thieves when they copy their own music from a CD onto a computer or on to a mix tape. Change of format is usually not seen as thievery as it takes something one possesses and changes it into something else possessed by that person.

What this ramble has been trying to reach is the idea that ownership is a peculiar thing, more often defined by legal rather than moral terms. I own a book, but what that ownership implies vis a vis the text of that book is not simple, it’s incredibly complex, partly due to legal issues and partly due to moral issues. If I choose to back up my books in an electronic format, I don’t feel that I’ve committed a crime. And if I were to choose to obtain those backups via torrents, arguing that I am the same as a person who never purchased the book seems suspect. I am not implying that people who do this are white knights, only that they are not necessarily black hats.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Sorry there haven't been a ton of (or any) updates. Having a pair of disappointing tournaments, being injured and working a lot this summer wasn't fertile ground for regular updating. Just started physical therapy again (after re-injuring myself), so hopefully this might pick up once I'm healthy-er.

If you're from a law firm, hi.

Monday, March 9, 2009


There won't be any pictures from this tournament. If someone was stupid enough to have their hands outside their pockets, I'm not sure I want to remember the weekend.

This would be the last tournament before Spring Break and, judging by the number of nagging injuries plaguing the team, it had the potential to be a big flop. We secured a #1 seed in our original pool with a big-time final round match-up against NC State. Of course, someone dropped the day before and the seeding changed abruptly. We found ourselves a #2 seed (seriously, I can't explain the seeding for this tournament) with our big game against Pittsburgh, the tournament's top seed.

Regardless, we were excited for the weekend. A couple of games that would allow us to open our rotation up (something that had proved difficult in Vegas) and a couple of games that would let us figure out where we stood in the Section/Region was exactly what we needed going in to our break.

Of course, the weather didn't cooperate. I drove up Friday night with about half the team to find Greenville being drenched with rain. Woke up to find that the rain hadn't stopped (wouldn't really stop until Monday and then it snowed). At least it wasn't windy. Oh wait, it would become VERY windy VERY soon.

We get to the fields and discover some problems. Although ECU had been told they'd have the field site no matter what, we weren't allowed to play. Of course, back-up fields hadn't been secured, but we managed to find some community rec fields that we could squat on. Rounds were pushed back about 45 minutes and shortened slightly, but we started with expectations of playing the weekend.


UNC-Greensboro, 12-4

Our first game was against UNC-Greensboro. Although their coach was kind of fiery, they seemed to be generally nice guys. Berendes didn't want us to give up any points to them, but we couldn't muster the level of intensity necessary for that level of domination. Our all-star line couldn't get the D on the first point, giving them their first and only lead. After that, we punched the disc in and started a nice D run. We gave up another point later, but took half 7-2.

After half, we managed to score our O point. Unfortunately, we gave up the D and then saw our O-line get broken. This threatened to make B-des go catatonic. After the O-line punched it in, the D-line got on the field and never left. Can't remember any great highlights outside of a nice poach layout D by Hagan.

After the game, we got a bye, during which we retreated to our cars. While we were safely ensconced in the heat, the rain picked up, the wind started to howl and the temperature dropped.

Rutgers, 7-4

Rutgers had just finished slapping UNC-G down, so we needed to start with some fire. We scored going downwind and then broke them going upwind to take the quick lead. Unfortunately, our zone D on their ensuing upwind point got broken after a through-the-cup throw went just under Trahey's arm and the popper who caught it put up a pretty nice huck that got over the top of B-des and ended up resulting in an upwind score. Our O-line couldn't punch the upwind in and we ended up falling back on serve. This continued for a couple points until we managed to get another upwinder and this time converted the other direction to score downwind for half and the end of the game.

The weather was a big factor in this game and it included a couple of 10-15 minute points. I think if we had continued to play to full score, we would have won 13-6ish, but time cap got called and the score ended up being closer. Moral of the story: we've got to bring it hard form the get-go or we're going to end up in long games against not-so-good teams.

Pittsburgh, 10-6

This was the game we actually cared about. By this time, both teams were frozen from top to bottom and I can't say that either of us were excited to play. Even so, we managed to bring a good deal of intensity to this game. The first point, with us going downwind, was a marathon. Both teams got within 10-15 yards of the endzone multiple times, but we eventually managed to score to prevent the break. Pittsburgh came back and scored almost immediately. I didn't really notice because I had point-blocked a huck in the first point and after I'd gotten off the field I realized my hand was screaming in pain. I'd eventually get back in, but I can't say that I remember much of what happened in the intervening points. I know we scored to maintain serve and then scored upwind on a gorgeous Trahey step-thru backhand huck that hit Berendes in stride.

After breaking upwind, we converted downwind and took a strong 4-1 lead. Pitt roared back with a nice break through our zone that lead to a two-person fast break and a score. 4-2. We managed to get the next three points with a lot of fight and some fortuitous grabs. The only one I remember was a nice IO flick break from Will Kane to me for a score.

After half, Pitt put the disc in to stop the bleeding and we traded to 9-5. At that point, Pitt managed to score upwind for their first break. I'd like to note that they scored this break with three or four straight up-line handler cuts. When we stopped these cuts, they didn't break us. 9-6. We replied with an all-star line and Trahey put up a big backhand that B-des and a whole pack of Pitt players missed and went straight to Tommy who was waiting for the second effort. Game.

Overall, Pitt played a very physical, very fundamental style of ultimate. I'd love to play them in better weather.

Kenyon, 9-5

We were happy to get our win over Pitt, but quite unhappy to play another game. Our opponents didn't seem interested in playing, so we all secretly hoped that they would forfeit and we'd get the free win. 'Twas not to be. They ended up playing and we ended up playing flat.

We almost gave up a break on the first point, but managed to save ourselves with tight goal-line defense. Their zone was heavily trapping us going upwind and we even had problems with it going downwind. Half ended with us on serve and a total of 0 breaks from each side.

After half, we got our shit together and ran off three straight breaks before allowing them to score upwind and continue the game (we'd agreed to play to 9, rather than 13, due to our later start). We put in a solid O-line and worked the disc up until Trahey hit Nick with a nice backhand for the winner.

The only highlights of this game were Guenther's everpresent hammers, which he threw constantly with a high completion rate. Tommy, in particular, caught tons of these for huge chunks of yardage. I got to play a couple O-line points, which made a nice change of pace, but most of us just wanted to get back to the hotels and shower.

We finished 4-0 in our pool and earned a bye for the bracket on Sunday. This meant we could sleep in until 9:30. When we woke up and looked outside to more rain, more wind and colder temps, it wasn't suprising that B-des got a call that the tournament was cancelled. It would have been nice to play our first round match against UNC, but no one (particularly my quite ill self) really wanted to play in the slop.

On spring break now, visiting Rachel in Princeton. A week or two off my feet is already making my shins feel better and I'm pretty psyched for Easterns at the end of March.