General Question

joshisradd's avatar

If I own the physical copy of a book is it illegal to torrent the ebook version?

Asked by joshisradd (238points) February 6th, 2010 from iPhone

The questions says it pretty well; I have a lot of books that I would like to read again on my nook but hate to purchase them again when they are siting on my bookshelf. I’m not very well versed in all the copyright laws but I know if you own say a cd or DVD you can have a digital backup if you don’t distribute it, but I have no idea if books live under the same rules.

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19 Answers

The_Idler's avatar

Even if it is illegal, no-one will know or care.

Jack79's avatar

Yes, it’s even illegal to photocopy it in fact. There are various laws which allow “fair use”, ie photocopying a page (I think up to a maximum of 30) if you need a quote or something. But not the whole book. And distributing it would be illegal anyway, just like with the backup copy of a game or movie.

But yes, with all the illegal copies of fresh Hollywood blockbusters and Windows7, I don’t think anyone will even notice books.

joshisradd's avatar

I’m not saying I wouldn’t do if it it’s Illegal, but I was just pondering it today how it’s kind of stupid to be expected to by te same information multiple times. If that is the case

Holden_Caulfield's avatar

Absolutely illegal from a copyright standpoint! It is no different than owning two copies of anything. They are sold as individual coipies and thus the author should be compensated accordingly. As well, making it available for download via a torrent allows others to propigate the copyright infringement. In other words, even if it were not, and having owned a hard copy gave one a license to own a soft copy duplicate… those that never had a hard copy, would be able to recieve it for free… with no compensation to the author.

missingbite's avatar

I disagree. I’m no expert, but when you purchase a book or CD or movie, you are purchasing the content. You have a right to make a backup. As long as you are the sole reader and don’t distribute it you can. What’s the difference between that and buying a book and crossing out all the words? It’s your book.

Copyright laws protect from redistribution. Otherwise the makers of software like Toast would be targeted.

joshisradd's avatar

I’m leaning twords agreeing with @missingbite
I know with music youcannot get in trouble for having backups no matter how you got them as long as they are not shared. But again I really don’t know with books. It does seem diffrent thoug

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

I’m afraid so. Similarly stealing the paperback is illegal even if you already own the hardcover.

phoenyx's avatar

Torrenting the ebook is not making a backup of your physical copy.

rottenit's avatar

Fair use is a screwed up concept/law thanks to the DMCA, in the case of a dvd fair use says yes you can make a backup, the DMCA however makes it illegal to circumvent any copy protection systems (like the ones on DVD’s / BlueRays). CD’s, Books, and some other media never had a built-in copy protection system so from my understanding of the DMCA it does not apply.

Now to address the original question, no you are not going to end-up with a back of YOUR book, but someone else’s which I dont think as stupid as it may be would give you the right to download the file.

Lightlyseared's avatar

It’s probably also illegal to lend it to a friend, give it a charity shop or even to let some else read it over your shoulder…

rottenit's avatar

I think if you memorize or can recall any passage in a book, video or music you can be arrested and convicted of copyright infrigment under the DMCA.

Dominic's avatar

@Jack79 There is no hard limit on the number of pages you can copy and still be able to apply a Fair Use defense. One famous case held that even 300 words copied from a 500-page book was not Fair Use, in part because those were the 300 most important words. For some works, you can use every page, and for some works, you can only use a handful of pages. Wherever you read that 30 page limit was laughably inaccurate.

@rottenit The DMCA has nothing to do with this, and you’re entirely wrong about memorization being a DMCA violation. I’ll assume you have a very dry sense of humor.

To answer the original question, yes. You can have personal backups of books just like with CDs and DVDs. (Technically, under the DMCA, backups of CDs and DVDs are on shaky ground, but nobody’s ever been busted for making personal backups. And the DMCA does not apply to traditional dead-tree books.)

Let’s go through three ways in which you’d get a “backup” copy of this book on your Nook.

(1) It’s not illegal to copy the book into a PDF by yourself and then upload it to your Nook. Personal use (at least for books) is strongly favored by American copyright law, and practically speaking, no one else would ever even know, because it would only be between you and your Nook.

(2) It’s arguably not illegal to download the book in PDF form from a website and upload it to your Nook. Again, this is pretty personal use, although if the relevant authorities ever got ahold of that server’s logs, they might make your life rather miserable. You’d be hard pressed to prove that you already owned the book at the time, but assuming you could, you’d be pretty safe.

(3) Torrents are a special case, because you’re simultaneously downloading and uploading the file all around the world. In this case, you’re making way more copies than you’re allowed to: you’re not making complete copies for everyone in the swarm, but you’re certainly making copies of bits that get uploaded elsewhere. This is a Very Bad Thing: there are practically no circumstances in which you’d be allowed to make copies for strangers in this way.

Assuming you only leeched from the swarm, you would be back on the second use case (downloading from a website): still not super strong protection for your actions, but you could theoretically “win” after a lengthy trial. I say “win” because you’ll spend an awful lot on lawyers, and probably just settle before an actual trial happens. Of course, the odds of you being busted for torrenting anything are astronomically low to begin with.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I’m a law student who has done well in Copyright class, but that’s about it. See an actual lawyer for actual legal advice.

missingbite's avatar

Thanks @Dominic I was not aware how Torrents work. I had a feeling that making a copy for personal use was ok but not familiar with the working of Torrent. Thank you and GA.

Dominic's avatar

@missingbite How Stuff Works has a more in-depth discussion of how exactly BitTorrent works — for the purpose of copyright law, you don’t need to know any more than what I said, but you might find it interesting. It’s really rather genius.

rottenit's avatar

@Dominic Yep, I was being sarcastic. For point 2 could they argue that posession was illegal b/c it was obtained illegaly? (Aside from the fact thats its going to be a very slim chance that anyone caught on)

Also, I was not trying to imply the DMCA was involved with the book copy, but that it has really made the fair use concept muddy across the board.

One more though on this from the book perspective, could the publisher just say that they never intended on the book being converted into an electronic format and fair-use does not apply?

Dominic's avatar

@rottenit My apologies for my faulty sarcasm detector.

For point 2, no, possession isn’t one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. At best, the copyright holder could possibly frame the act of downloading itself as making an unauthorized copy (but it’s arguable whether it’s the server or the downloader himself who is actually making the copy). Even so, such copying—while infringing—would very likely be Fair Use.

I have to disagree that the DMCA has made Fair Use muddy, because Fair Use just doesn’t apply to DMCA violations. See Universal v. Reimerdes. As it happens, many infringements of copyright that might otherwise be protected by Fair Use are also covered by the DMCA because copyright holders employ (laughable) encryption, but that’s not necessarily Fair Use that’s become muddier.

You raise a good point about the publisher never intending to make a digital version of the book. That almost sounds like a law school exam question! I suspect that would be a much closer call than the cases I outlined. I don’t have a good answer for that. As one of my favorite professors liked to say, “put enough money in my hand, and I’ll argue either way for you.”

rottenit's avatar

@Dominic Wow thanks for the explination, thanks!

waverlymain's avatar

Ok I have a question to add to this. I was aware that I can have a back up copy of my music and movies etc… (was not sure on books) Where someone gets that backup copy is always a very debatable subject in forums.

But here is my question, I have a few re-sellers companies I buy items through. I have this idea on a few books that I sell and I am trying to find away to increase my sells. One thought I had was offer the paperback book or hardback book at my usual price but then offer them a instant download as well for the book.

This gives them the backup copy and they would not be able to have the download till they purchase the hard copy of the book therefore they do technically own the book when they are downloading their “backup” copy . This way they would be able to read the book instantly on whatever eBook reader they own and in the meantime their hard copy is in the mail on its way to them.

So how many laws would I be breaking here or am I dancing all over that real gray area on internet piracy laws that a question like this will never get a real answer till the law knocks on my door ?

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