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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Right or Wrong? » » On Selling Used Digital Goods (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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lelando
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I think Chris gives some very compelling examples and logic, and I really appreciate that he's explained why he used to feel one way, and why he changed his mind. (Thanks, Chris, for being so clear!)

The only problem I see, as Michael also noted, is the double-standard when applied to physical books and DVDs, in that you can also sell those products while still retaining the knowledge. This is exactly part of why I asked the question in the first place: there is obviously a different way of treating the same product in various formats.

The matter of selling items in which knowledge is gained but not utilized is the ethical 'gray area' I've struggled with the most, and Chris addressed this quite well. And while I completely agree that there is certainly value in that knowledge, I still have a hard time putting that scenario in the same category as piracy and bootlegging. Additionally, the fact that books/DVDs and the stuff in your junk drawer all get sold every day, even when knowledge has been gained but not used, gives cause for some serious consideration, and it creates more questions. Is it only wrong when it's digital? What happens when we apply the same moral standard to physical goods? Should people only resell books, DVDs, and junk-drawer tricks they haven't read or watched? I honestly don't have answers to these new questions, and they aren't meant to be an argument for or against; they are just some of the things that are coming to my mind as I consider the various points of view. And if I try to answer these questions, they raise new ones, and I'm not sure I like the can of worms it seems to open. Smile
stempleton
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Here's another wrinkle. One can arguably make a case that the information gained from reading an ebook is not translated to a benefit unless it is acted upon. I recently gambled upon purchasing an ebook directly from its writer for a standard magic effect, the basic "secret" of which was already known to me. I was simply interested in the handling of this particular performer/publisher. No demo/video of the trick is posted. It could have easily been beyond my physical abilities to perform (not something that practice or increased dexterity could overcome) and therefore I would not have been able to actually implement the routine. Would I then be able to sell the copy I printed out and delete the downloaded digital original? In this case I did not make a digital copy, simply printed it out for convenience. As I printed a quality, color copy on good stock, would I not be entitled to compensation for the materials used, as well as a fair amount to recoup some of my initial investment?

In this case the selling of this item would be more like Chris' example of the knife. Yes, I received knowledge (same as from reading a "hard copy" book) but did not actually utilize it nor make a copy.

By the way, I believe I actually CAN perform this effect, but wanted to contribute this scenario for the sake of discussion.
Chris
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Printing an ebook and selling the print even if you delete the ebook is very clearly an infringement of copyrights, because printing can only be done with permission. At Lybrary.com we allow printing for personal use, but not to sell it. That would be a clear violation of our or the author's copyrights, unless it is expressly permitted. We do sell some ebooks which you can print and sell or give away.

And for me at least the argument that "I read it but don't use it" doesn't mean you did not derive utility. Often knowing what not to do and what is not a good fit for ones character is just as valuable as finding a good routine to add to the program. Our mind is way more complex than a simple use or no use distinction. An idea that you don't use now could later spawn something you might use, or allow you to make a connection that later will be valuable be it consciously or subconsciously. You cannot unread or unlearn information. That is why this is an irreversible process. Once you acquire information it is unethical in my opinion to sell it without permission.

I think what might be an ethical compromise would be to sell it but then send at least a part of your proceeds to the author/retailer from where you bought it. While not a perfect solution it would at least demonstrate a recognition of the situation and that the creator should profit from the sharing of information among more than one person. Sharing is I think the correct term. Information can only be shared never passed on like other physical objects.
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stempleton
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Chris, thanks for the enlightenment. I did not know that printing out an ebook was forbidden. Since it comes in a PDF format, the program that opens it has a "print" option on the first screen. To be clear, I do not intend to sell it, merely printed it for convenience as I do not rehearse in front of the computer Smile

And then comes the traditional query regarding reselling a hard copy book. Does the same argument against the "learning but not utilizing" aspect not apply?

For my intellectual edification, can you direct me to a source that further describes the allowances and prohibitions (i.e, printing) that one falls under when dealing with ebooks?
Chris
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Printing is making a copy. That is regulated by copyright law. Feel free to read it if you want to know all the details. Just because it is easy to print or easy to copy doesn't mean it is the correct thing to do. As I said at least for ebooks sold on Lybrary.com printing is allowed for personal use, exactly for the reason you mentioned - it is more convenient for some, or some want to file it away, or have a copy when the computer breaks down. All fine per Lybrary policy as long as it is for your personal use. Once you start selling your print outs you are clearly breaking the law as well as our use policy.

For me the ethical argument also applies to books and DVDs. Again I am not making a legal argument here. It is completely lawful to resell a book second hand. However, for me if the author/publisher is around and you read the book at least a part of that second hand sale belongs to the author/publisher. With books that portion is less because a part of what you paid is due to paper, print, binding, shipping and not the cost of the intellectual property. So the portion of your second hand sale that I consider ethically belongs to the creator is less for a book, more for a DVD, and pretty much 100% for an ebook.

Posted: Dec 5, 2014 06:26 pm
Just to give you an example of an ethical customer. This happened a few weeks ago. A customer returns to my shop to buy two more copies of the same ebook he bought a few days ago. He also sent me a comment that he liked the ebook and will gift it to two of his friends and that is why he bought two more copies. That is an ethical customer. There is no way for me to enforce ethics, but it is great to know that there are folks who are honest. He could have easily sent the PDF by email to his buddies, and that is how he gifted them the ebooks, but he bought two copies to cover his gift. Think about what community we could create if we all would be honest and do the right thing.
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stempleton
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Chris, I think that is a scenario that anyone would agree is the ethical thing to do. I've done that very thing with CDs. I was simply worried about my personal action of printing an ebook I purchased, since you stated printing could only be done by permission. I have no intention of selling an ebook, printed or not. There was no notice in the ebook that it was only licensed, not allowed for printing, etc so I was afraid I had broken the law, not to mention ethical infractions.

Copwrite laws are fairly understood, but when there is no copywrite, therefore no copywrite notice included in the epublication that might be more problematic legally. Ethically, well that is in large part what the OP is concerned about.

While I disagee on the stance that reselling a hard copy book is unethical, I see the OP's interest in this discussion.
lelando
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Chris, first of all, let me commend you on applying the same argument to physical goods. Regardless of any other details that we may or may not agree on, I have complete respect for your consistency. Good on ya!

I totally love the story about the ethical customer, and I agree with about 99 percent of what you've said, across the board. And that last 1% isn't quite that I fully disagree with you, so much as I still have a few uncertainties and doubts that leave me in a bit of a gray area. Let me present a scenario that, while hypothetical, is still a fair representation of a very real situation. I think it will illustrate my remaining doubts. This has nothing to do with the format of the book/video (physical vs digital), but focuses on the questions surrounding knowledge gained but not applied.

Let's say that "Al" buys a video for $20. As is often the case in the industry of buying secrets, he didn't know what he would get until he paid the $20, and upon watching it, he realizes that most of the secrets were already in other things he'd bought, and that he has no use for the new secret he learned, as it is impractical (or whatever reason fits). He decides to resell the video to "Bill" for $15. In "Al's" mind, he hasn't made any profit from that intellectual property; rather, in his mind he's recovering a portion of his losses. To him, the additional $5 was his cost for learning a secret he'd never use. When we buy magic, we aren't just buying the secret, but also the ability to gain the added benefits of performance, as Steve pointed out in a previous post. From "Al's" point of view, he's paid for the secret, and passed along the performance benefit. Of course, this brings up even more ethical questions... for example, now "Bill" has basically received the secret with the same performance benefit at a discount. Maybe he should be the one to send the remaining $5 to the creator/publisher, instead of "Al"? Or should "Al" charge *full* price, but send half of it to the creator/publisher? In any other industry, you can return an item that is impractical and won't be used. Maybe, we should be able to 'return' magic knowledge, but at a loss (like a restocking fee), wherein you obviously maintain the knowledge, but lose the right to perform it or gain benefit from it? (Obviously unenforceable, but that's a new tangent.) Again, I don't have the answers, and these aren't arguments, just the questions that arise as I try to maintain equity and consistency in my beliefs and actions.

As some point, during this thought process, I also wondered about applying this to other areas of life. Would I apply the same consideration to a DIY book on plumbing or any other kind of How-To book/video? Probably not. But I realized that the very nature of magic, the passing of secrets, is what makes the difference. So I wonder, are there other industries that rely on hard-to-obtain knowledge (besides espionage), and if so, how do they handle this sort of matter?

I think it's fair to say that we've gone beyond a discussion of the legalities, and are talking much more about what we think is fair/unfair, right/wrong, etc. I'm pretty sure that, for the most part, we all agree that no one wants to see people getting screwed over, and that the ethical thing obviously means not screwing people over. But since we are in the business of buying secrets, we rarely know what we're getting 'till we've spent the money, and that means that product-buyers will sometimes feel screwed over by re-purchasing the same method in new wrapping (or just a seemingly impractical method), just as the creator feels screwed over when that buyer resells it to another person. So what happens then? Whose interests are more important? Smile
Chris
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There is of course unethical behavior on both sides. There are unethical authors, publishers and retailers. As a retailer I always try to write a correct description, not a misleading one, but I have failed at times. From an ethical point of view if you have been tricked or scammed or otherwise mislead I see no ethical problem for selling the digital good if the retailer is not willing to issue a refund.

It is impossible to put a mathematical formula behind this. Everybody will feel differently about this and there is really no right or wrong when it comes to the details of how much of a book is useful for any particular person. I also want to stress that these are merely my opinions. Ethics has more to do with your own conscience and how you want to live your life. For me magic is both a hobby and my business. I derive so much enjoyment from it that I try to support the community, the creators, the performers the magicians the hobbiests and everbody with an interest in magic as much as I can. As a customer, if I buy something that was perhaps not that great, something that I would return if it was a toaster, I would just forget about it if it is a magic item, because I love magic and I don't need to wring out every last dollar from each purchase. It will end up in a drawer or box which my heirs will probably throw in the dumpster when I am dead. As a retailer I also try to accommodate my customers. If you are a loyal customer at Lybrary.com and you buy something that you feel was a royal waste of your time and money I will always issue a refund. If you are an unknown first time customer and you arrogantly request a refund based on hair raising arguments I will probably be a tough nail to crack.
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lelando
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I think Chris pretty much hit the nail on the head, in that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to some of these questions, and the bottom line is to just treat each other with respect. I think his attitude about handling customer complaints of this nature is perfectly fair, and I wish that most magic retailers (especially individual sellers of their own magic), held the same point of view. None of my Lybrary purchases have ever felt like a waste, but I have bought things elsewhere that were a big disappointment and impractical. I'll be honest, though, I have never really felt comfortable, even with the best customer service, asking to return something (especially a digital product) with "I'll never use this," or "the method is impractical (or old-news, or sucks)" as a reason. The only times I've ever felt comfortable complaining about a purchase is with a damaged or poor-quality prop.

And, although it certainly happens from time to time, I don't necessarily blame misleading or incomplete descriptions. Again, the very nature of buying secrets is that we don't know 'till we pay for the privilege. Chris, I agree, your descriptions are pretty good, and often more complete than most. One problem which I've encountered (not necessarily on Lybrary) is when the magical 'secret' is coming from an old text by another author, and I feel as though that information should at least be in the description. For example, the most disappointing purchase I ever made (not from Lybrary, btw) came from one of my favorite creators. Without calling anyone out or naming names, it was basically a method for solving a puzzle (difficult, but not magic) while blindfolded. It was the blindfolded part that was the 'magic secret,' but it came straight from another old text (Corinda or Anneman, I forget which right now) - but it was nothing new. And the technique for solving the puzzle was impractical and and much harder than the original free method provided by the puzzle's creator on its website. That's a case where I felt very misled by the ad copy. If they had just said, "we teach you a new method for solving the puzzle, while using a classic method of being apparently blindfolded," I wouldn't have felt quite so ripped off. Luckily, I bought it on DVD, and so I had no qualms about reselling it. But if I'd bought it as a download, I'd have been quite a bit more upset about it.
Chris
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I have to admit that even with the best intentions writing proper product descriptions in magic can be tough, because you have to balance what you can say, and what you can't without revealing the secret. It also depends on how sophisticated and knowledgeable your customers are. Sometimes I reveal the secret or good parts of the method in my newsletter. I feel that the newsletter provides already a filter that eliminates the merely curious, and I can talk shop and be more direct in my comments.
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lelando
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Yeah, that makes complete sense. I'm sure it's a fine line to walk.

And of course, there have been other products I've bought with methods I'd never use or found impractical, but only that one time (as mentioned in my previous post) did I ever actually feel burned. C'est la vie; we live and we learn.
Deckstacker
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Suppose that I have purchased a relatively inexpensive trick--say $10--via digital download from an online vendor and almost immediately realize that I don't like it and know in my heart that I'll never perform it either in public or private. Is there a moral way for me to pass it along to another person? A legal way? May I simply give it to someone else without receiving any recompense? Or must I just "suck it up," keep both the trick and my personal disappointment to myself, and carry on in silence with that being the end of the matter?
Never try to teach a pig how to sing. You will waste your time, and it annoys the pig.
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