Ethics and the Borrowing of Videotapes

General discussions of interest to readers and fans of Harlan Ellison.

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Ethics and the Borrowing of Videotapes

Postby Moderator » Fri Mar 17, 2006 12:20 pm

Rich -
Gotta disagree with today's post. You're in essence saying it's okay for everyone else to borrow tapes, but not for Harlan because he's fought the good fight against online piracy.

There's a huge ethical and moral gap between borrowing a legally copied videotape to watch and allowing unprincipled profiteers to post copyrighted works on a website.

Borrowing a copied video is neither unethical nor illegal. I hesitate to use the words "trust me" for fear of sounding like the president, but having studied broadcast law in college, and being nearby as my wife's company deals with legally reproducing music cds, it's okay for him to do.

You're right, there really was no need for him to even ask on Webderland, but to insinuate that somehow it'd be legal for everyone else but not Harlan is the true set of double standards here, not his borrowing of the video.

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Postby Eric Martin » Fri Mar 17, 2006 1:40 pm

I agree with Barber on this one, since HE made it clear he wanted to borrow and then return the tape. That should be enough for any careful reader.

Rich's point is that Ellison has to tread VERY carefully in this realm, not just because of KICK, but because he's spent a lot of ink slamming the so-called culture of entitlement. While we can trust Harlan to return the tape on principle, if the larger skiffy/Internet press heard about this there could be a small ruckus.

More to the point, why the millionaire writer can't just pony up the 80 bucks a year or whatever for cable is anyone's guess, and frankly it's a little tedious that a) he won't just pay for HBO and b) he comes cadging his fans to mail him VHS tapes, knowing full well that a handful will be stumbling over themselves to do so.

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Postby JohnG » Fri Mar 17, 2006 5:29 pm

Let me throw out another example: I see lots--and I mean LOTS--of people squatting a space at either of the larger chain book stores here surrounded by books and magazines from the stacks.

Let's say they read the magazines or books, sometimes for hours, then being good citizens put the magazine(or book) back in re-sellable condition where they found it, so the items could in theory still be sold. They haven't bought anything other than a cup of coffee.

The exposure to the store is minimal; they can return the book or magazine for 100% credit, or maybe even sell it to another customer, and they're probably happy with the profit they made on the coffee. After all, they're the ones putting the tables and chairs out, something that was pretty revolutionary for bookstores in the NY city area until Borders did it in a big way here.

They've consumed the content, not merely browsed it to see if they want to buy it. Are they stealing?

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Postby Moderator » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:15 pm

Eric, you ask an important question, and make an interesting point:

"why the millionaire writer can't just pony up the 80 bucks a year or whatever for cable is anyone's guess"

Actually, it's more like $600 a year, measured at $50 a month (which may or may not be enough to pay for HBO on top of basic). And, if he's angry with Adelphia, it's more than just a matter of being "cheap", IMHO.

"and frankly it's a little tedious that a) he won't just pay for HBO and b) he comes cadging his fans to mail him VHS tapes, knowing full well that a handful will be stumbling over themselves to do so."

Well, this is one of the perks of being well-known and having a website with numerous participants. If I were to post this on mine I'd get stony silence accompanied by less than an infrequent cricket chirp.

I don't fault HE at all for canceling Adelphia. I don't like cable companies for both professional and consumer reasons (we have satellite and DSL, thankeeverymuch). He could get satellite, and may very well be planning exactly that (note he only asks for a few weeks of the show, not the entire season).

Harlan knew very well that by asking the question of ethics he would be offered a tape. And, since he likely already knew he wasn't really in any ethical danger, he could thank us all for the input and merrily accept the offer of a loan.

Played like a master, if you really want to be honest about it.

(And JohnG, you post another excellent example, except for the fact that videotaping off tv and loaning the tape are slightly different than people in the Border's coffeehouse. The analogy here would be more along the lines of someone buying a book and then loaning it to a friend.)


And if we're really going to go "there", how many people attending this board have ever bought a book at a "used" bookstore....????
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Postby Moderator » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:27 pm

Apologies for the double post. Whatever's infecting the boards apparently I've caught...
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Postby Eric Martin » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:44 pm

I personally really dislike that practice of bookstores, and have complained to management about newspapers being returned in greasy, crumpled condition...I tend to shop for the kind of paper that stores stock one or two copies of, and I don't appreciate someone scumming it up and then stuffing it back in the rack, sometimes with sections missing.

If people want to read books they aren't going to buy, that's what a library is for.

In honor of Ellison penury I upgraded my satellite package today.

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Postby JohnG » Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:54 pm

Steve, you're right, but here's the distinction I didn't make explicitly: the real value of the tape, or the magazine, or whatever is in the content, not the package. FWIW we dropped HBO, too, thanks to Comcast's pricing, and I'm dying to see the new episodes.

To me the line is someone making say *two* copies, or hanging out and reading a book that's for sale without paying for it... one more person doesn't have to pay anything to get the content , whether they pay the taper or bookstore or not, and now has NO incentive to pay for that content. I'm likely wrong here but I see a difference between broadcast TV and pay services due to the way the content provider gets paid for their stuff. And if the provider wants to give it away, that's their decision as long as it's explicit, like say the way Baen Books puts out samples.

No one here would argue that loaning or buying and selling a legal copy of a book or tape or whatever is wrong in the slightest, but copying that item and selling it gets the no-no. I'm pretty sure there's explicit legal rights to sell or resell copyrighted material you own in its original form--hell, I hope so otherwise I'm going to owe a lot of folks some serious coin :)

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Postby Eric Martin » Sat Mar 18, 2006 8:59 am

The bottom line is that people, HE included, are cheapos who want something for nothing. Harlan doesn't want to pay for HBO, but he wants to watch the Sopranos. That's something for nothing. He's not an exception to the rule...we all want things for free.

Let's not kid ourselves about any other issues here. We're all a bunch of penny pinchers.

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Postby Jan » Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:19 pm

I always appreciate a laugh :-), but I think that's a given. The whole point of the discussion is that we have a choice; that despite humanity's lowest-cost/highest-gain approach we should have some common ideas about what's right and wrong to base our actions on.

Sadly, I'm coming right out of being a student and money being tight; piracy and eBay are just part of the way of student life here in Europe. It's the only way to stay au courant, except if you no interests. The money, for the most part, has to go into other things. Culture is what we thrive on, especially when we have to read textbooks the rest of the time.

Said something about used books in the Pavillion, suddenly I find half the discussion moved over here. How about making sure it's in one place? (No offense.)

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Postby Moderator » Sat Mar 18, 2006 1:17 pm

Jan - I moved the topic here because a) it was pretty much done on the main board and b) this side allows for multiple posts and has the luxury of being a more active discussion instead of a "how I feel today" entry.

I get your comments regarding books, but again the analogy only goes so far. Books can be freely loaned out and no one thinks twice about it. I loan dvds to friends all the time. I don't charge a penny, and they in turn borrow movies I know they would never buy.

If anyone were to begin running multiple copies of the Sopranos ep, or posted it to a website for everyone, THAT crosses the line. Lending a single copy to a friend is well within the definition of "Fair Use" laid down by the Supreme Court.
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Re: Ethics and the Borrowing of Videotapes

Postby rich » Sat Mar 18, 2006 3:58 pm

I followed the chain in this thread, but I wanted to address Steve's initial post here without cluttering up the Pavilion. (By the way, thanks Steve for starting this 'cause there's actually a whole can of worms that can be opened by the Harlan Ellison Ethical Question of the Day.)

Barber wrote:Rich -
Gotta disagree with today's post. You're in essence saying it's okay for everyone else to borrow tapes, but not for Harlan because he's fought the good fight against online piracy.


No, I'm not. What I'm saying is that because HE is so vocal about artists' rights, and just came off a huge upset victory with KICK, anything Harlan asks for in regards to copies of stuff is going to be questioned. Anything. As I said, I personally think it's ok for Harlan to ask to borrow a book, or a DVD, or whatever.

Barber wrote:There's a huge ethical and moral gap between borrowing a legally copied videotape to watch and allowing unprincipled profiteers to post copyrighted works on a website.


Agreed.

But go back and read some of the posts from folks here who responded to Harlan's "ethical" dilemma (and remember, Harlan is the one who characterized it as such). Almost all of the responses indicated that it was ok for one of us, or our friends, to lend out copies as we're all ethical individuals and others are not. And I would tend to agree with them in principle because most of those that posted have exhibited sane and ethical behavior in the past.

What I'm concerned about (and 'concern' is too strong a word for what I actually feel, but I obviously feel strongly enough to bring it up) is that the responses posted on the Pavilion recently were exactly those given to HE by the "everything on the internet should be free" crowd when he started his KICK campaign. To a man, those against KICK used the "we just were doing it for our friends", and I don't believe most of the content that was posted was for an intended monetary gain.

You're right, though, there is a big difference between posting a story that has the capability to be downloaded and accessed by a million people, and someone borrowing one videotape.

But, the principle is the same. Besides, that "capability" was perceived and not actually proven (or, was it, someone with intimate knowledge help me out here), and one could easily do the same with a videotape. It may not be you or your friend doing the copying, but it might be a friend of a friend that may do the copying. But, that's all just well-wishing and argumentative. The point is the principle is the same.

I just find it odd that those that supported Ellison in KICK, are using the exact same arguments that those that didn't support Ellison in KICK. I mean, look at what Jay wrote right after I posted on the Pavilion. If that's not a backhanded rationalization, I have no idea what is. (And no disrespect towards Jay intended. I may have said things in the past that Jay doesn't like, but my feelings and impressions of Jay are of a good guy and he's done nothing to disabuse me of that notion, whether reciprocated or not.)

Of course, Eric does come up with the game, set, and match quote of the day:

Eric Martin wrote: The bottom line is that people, HE included, are cheapos who want somethign for nothing. Harlan doesn't want to pay for HBO, but he wants to watch the Sopranos. That's something for nothing. He's not an exception to the rule...we all want things for free.


I don't know if that sentiment is cynical or not, but I think it's more true than not.

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Postby Jan » Sat Mar 18, 2006 9:20 pm

I think it comes down to how many people you make something available, or how many items you make available to a single person. From a purely moral standpoint it's also important how close the people are to buying the item themselves, but that's not something the law can get a handle on.

When you post something on the internet you have no control over the number of beneficiaries.

Barber: What I was trying to say was that you split the thread into to halves, which is not the same as "moving it". But I checked the Pavillion again and saw that you mentioned "the other thread" in passing.

Eric: As I said, it's a given that we are "cheapos" (and I'm glad Rich thinks so too), but upon rereading your statement, there is also another thing wrong with it. Not wanting to pay for HBO doesn't mean that Harlan doesn't want to pay for THE SOPRANOS. We're having this discussion because he can't. There's no way for him to do it without paying for a whole lot of other stuff along with it. That's *quite* another matter than wanting "things for nothing". I think you will agree.

In a few years, of course, everyone will be able to legally download any tv show there is.

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Postby JaySmith » Sun Mar 19, 2006 3:43 am

If I am asked to not only pay for the show I'd like to see, but everything else on the network as well as bundled programming like The Golf Channel, The Baking Channel, The Buy My Shit Channel and Buy Our Shit Channel, it's not necessarily "cheap" to refuse the extra $20-$40 a month.

But I can't imagine Harlan would have a problem getting a screener of any episode, especially when HBO mailed out a large number to the media prior to the start of this season. A phone call would probably make David Chase and Harlan fast friends.

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Postby Eric Martin » Sun Mar 19, 2006 7:46 am

Ah, the old "I'm important so there must be a way for me get this free" trick.

Works well enough while you indeed are important. Then as your fame or relevance wanes, suddenly the better tables are no longer available. That can be disheartening.

I suppose one could spend their entire working day making phone calls, seeing just where there name gets them the a get out of jail free card. But finally it's just easier to get a Webderlander to mail you a tape, hmm?

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Postby Ben » Sun Mar 19, 2006 8:34 am

Eric, believe it or not, I do understand what you're trying to do. You're trying to be different.

You're not different. You're just mean.


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