Piracy Dilemmas Part IV: The Missed Episode

by Sarah on October 27, 2009 · 15 comments


This is the final hypothetical dilemma regarding internet piracy and the use of filesharing sites.

You have a subscription for digital TV and get a number of channels from around the world. You recently realized that one of the channels you get as part of your package is showing a four-part drama series you’d be very interested in seeing. Unfortunately, you’ve already missed the first episode, and it’s not scheduled to be repeated. It is being shown on the TV channel’s website, but it’s only available for viewing by UK residents. The missed episode is available for download on a filesharing site…

In this case, what’s the difference between downloading the episode and getting a copy from a friend – if you’re fortunate enough to find someone who recorded it? You pay for the right to watch the TV channel on which the show was broadcast, so why can’t you watch it on their website? What say you?


Magdalen October 27, 2009 at 15:01

There’s a saying in law school, “Don’t buck the hypo,” meaning that it’s illegitimate to respond to a hypothetical example by saying, “Yes, but . . .” and then arguing with the premise of the question.

So, before I “buck the hypo,” let me answer the question. Sure, fine. This instance seems to me to be wrong only if you get some terrible virus when you download the episode. If I understand the example, you’ve paid for the programming, you might have recorded it to a DVR but didn’t, you could have watched it with a friend, or had a friend record it and pass over a DVD — so none of that happened, so you go get the recording some other way. From the point of view of the revenue stream, there’s no loss to the creators of the programming or the providers of the digital feed. Whether this is something on a premium channel you paid extra for, or something that comes with your particular digital TV provider (cable or satellite), you’ve already paid.

Now to buck the hypo! Most special programming comes around again (and again and again), so I say set the DVR to record with a keyword, and you’ll get it.

Mind you — network TV is a better example. I missed a single episode of House (guests were here that Monday and the kids did something that interfered with the DVR) — do you think I’ve been able to watch it? No. It was on Fox’s website briefly, but I missed it, and it hasn’t been a re-run during the summer. I don’t seriously care enough to get it from a filesharing site, but that’s more to do with the level of my interest (mild to tepid, I would say) than my scruples.

Janet W October 27, 2009 at 16:53

I’m trying to watch this discussion from the sidelines … there was a time when I was the house recorder of shows and such and now, what with Comcast changes and a new VCR and widescreen TV, I just can’t be bothered to keep up. So going searching for a free missed episode, I think I’m too tepidly timid.

But when it comes to DRM and copying and especially the convo about Harry Potter, there was an incident. What’s with that passive voice? I took liberties with a book … way before any of these discussions. My library imported a copy of Mary Balogh’s Gentle Conquest (I was on a male virgins kick as I recall, reading JoBev’s Forbidden, the Gaffney Wolf book) … they had to interloan it from Chicago. I was thrilled to read it but knew right away it was never going to be in my top 10 or even 20. But even so, knowing that, I still wanted it for my complete Balogh collection — I checked the cost on Amazon and it was a LOT of money — it’s still between $25 to $45 dollars — so I copied it. Will a thunder blot strike me dead? On a scale of one to ten, where does that fall? I haven’t done it again and I suppose with the guilt I feel I would just save my pennies and buy it used where it to come up again. I’m sure part of the reason I share 2nd hand copies of obscure Baloghs far and wide is to pay forward my fall from grace.

Magdalen October 27, 2009 at 20:38

Oh, Janet — That’s almost as sordid as my shoplifting porn. (No, not really.) In legal land, what you did was violate a statutory copyright, which if anyone cared to prosecute, could result in a hefty fine.

In ethics land, your crime is de minimus: You had already obtained the book in an ethically (and legally) approved manner, the book if purchased would have had to be a used copy so no royalties were lost, and you didn’t sell your bootleg copy on to another, so no profit accrued from your actions.

In real-life land, no one cares. Sure somebody can (and may) jump and down and say, “See! See! I told you libraries are a gateway to infringement,” but that would just be hyperbolic rhetoric and not truly germane to the discussion.

There is a subset of what you did that would concern me: copying a craft book, cookbook, etc. Let’s say you borrowed not a novel but a book that you meant to use more than once. I know too many quilters and cross stitch designers not to pipe up at that point and suggest that even if you had to pay a lot for a used copy, you really should have to do that in order to use the book over again. By contrast, you could have made no copy of the Mary Balogh and when/if you wanted to reread it, just ordered it from the library all over again.

(P.S. Do you want me to mail you my copy of Joan Wolf’s A Kind of Honor?)

Janet W October 27, 2009 at 20:44

Yes, and I’ll warm up my copy machine! KIDDING! And rest assured I’ll return it insured. There’s a copy of The Temporary Wife that will be making the rounds in a month or so … 6, 7 people already on the list so if you’d like to receive it in a year or so :D please let me know. I’ll send my snail mail address privately for the Wolf. Thanks again!

I see what you mean about craft books … I think … does that mean that all craft books should be purchased? What if you just copied say a hat that you wanted to knit in a month or so and had to return library book? What if you copied instructions by hand? Or is this utterly grey area?

Sarah October 27, 2009 at 20:54

@Magdalen @Janet W
I also admit to photocopying an out-of-print book in its entirety. My defense: It was for my dissertation and it was an interlibrary loan.

Renay October 27, 2009 at 22:32

I am totally shameless, I did this when Merlin was airing on the BBC but I have no access to that channel and I wanted it RIGHT NOW, and didn’t want to wait for NBC to start airing it….IN SIX MONTHS. I have no shame over this, considering that I have Amazon set to alert me when I can buy the shiny, shiny DVDs of the first season and then write Merlin/Arthur fanfic to my heart’s content!

Although I wished they released DVDs faster. I am dying to give SOMEONE my money for the shinies, what is taking so long!

Magdalen October 27, 2009 at 23:48

The instructions for the hat (and only the hat) are probably covered by the “fair use” doctrine, which permits copying of a small portion of the entire printed work, provided that the small portion isn’t the nub & heart of the matter. (I used to know the case that led to the exception, but I’m old and decrepit and just don’t remember this stuff anymore.)

Hey, you’re not alone. I just copied a book on CD before returning it to the library. I rather assume this is okay — it’s the equivalent of using a DVR to time-shift watching a TV program. (Oh, and as it happened, back in the day there was a lot — a whole LOT — of hew & cry about VCRs and time-shifting, which Hollywood was convinced was going to destroy the movie-making industry. Further evidence that we’ve been around this block more than once, people. And yet the sky is still up there; go figure.) I’m sure I am expected to delete the book after I listen to it the one time anticipated by having borrowed it in the first place. But it’s on my iPod, and I don’t think I know how to copy it off my iPod.

(I’d make a crappy pirate.)

(Hell, I’m not even sure where my iPod is — I had it for walking the dog the other day, and now… I really am getting decrepit.)

heidenkind October 28, 2009 at 03:48

Magdalen & Janet W.~Do either of you own copies of The Windflower? ;)

Janet W October 28, 2009 at 04:10

@heidenkind — I do. It’s on my keeper shelf altho I haven’t read it. Why? It’s a LOT bigger than a Balogh Regency :)

heidenkind October 28, 2009 at 05:38

@Janet W
How long is it?

Janet W October 28, 2009 at 05:53

Gee, I haven’t counted pages — it’s just a regular Old Skool Historical with lots of pages, tiny print — unlike Gentle Conquest which was a typical Signet Regency.

I don’t know a lot about ebooks but I know a lot of older titles … like the Joan Wolf line — are being re-released digitally. Have you heard anything similar about The Windflower? I’d be happy to pick up an extra copy for you if I ever spot one. One never knows :) what one might find in a dusty UBS.

heidenkind October 28, 2009 at 07:26

@Janet W
I always imagined it was pretty short for some reason. I’ve heard about people trying to get it re-released, but that’s about it.

Magdalen October 28, 2009 at 14:16

Okay, to answer some questions:
1) Nope, I don’t own it and have never read it (although the plot sounds wildly familiar, but then it’s an oldie but goodie: innocent girl on pirate ship);
2) The paperback edition is 500 pages; the large print edition is 453 pages (this makes no mathematical sense to me, but clearly publishers live in an alternate universe where math works differently — see their claims of lost sales from sharing);
3) It’s selling for $20-30 on Amazon, so the odds of finding a copy in a UBS is slim.

So, Janet — how about I mail you A Kind of Honor and you mail me Windflower? We each read & mail back. Postage to be paid by the shipper. What say you?

Janet W October 28, 2009 at 16:51

I say you fine Magdalen! The only thing I would add, not that I don’t TOTALLY trust Uncle Sam postal service — throw on a bit of insurance so that if either book goes poof, we can get ‘em again!

And sometimes, if one is very lucky, one has a friend with a UBS owner who a) stocks Regencies and b) doesn’t check them against Amazon. Like my pal in Texas. She only bought The Temporary Wife for me because she knew I live to lend out of print Baloghs (hey, as addictions go, it’s a pretty safe one :)

Magdalen October 29, 2009 at 15:45

Janet — a friend on the inside! Very canny! Well, if you want to check with her if she’s got copies of one or both books in our proposed book swap, go right ahead. Otherwise, I’ll mail AKOH on Saturday, okay?

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