Jan 162011
 
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Did we indeed go too far?

MY wife and I sat cross-legged on the floor of a local Barnes & Noble store recently, surrounded by several large piles of books. We were searching for interior design ideas for a new home that we are planning to buy.

As we lobbed the books back and forth, sharing kitchen layouts and hardwood floor textures, we snapped a dozen pictures of book pages with our iPhones. We wanted to share them later with our contractor.

After a couple of hours of this, we placed the books back on the shelf and went home, without buying a thing. But the digital images came home with us in our smartphones.

Later that evening, I felt a few pangs of guilt. I asked my wife: Did we do anything wrong? And, I wondered, had we broken any laws by photographing those pages?

It’s not as if we had destroyed anything: We didn’t rip out any pages. But if we had wheeled a copier machine into the store, you can be sure the management would have soon wheeled us and the machine out of there.

But our smartphones really functioned as hand-held copiers. Did we indeed go too far?

I asked Julie A. Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project at the Stanford Law School. “The core issue here is that you are creating a copy of something rather than buying it,” she said. “Is it morally incorrect? Maybe. But it entirely depends how much of the book you copy, and what you do with that copy, that would determine if it was illegal.”

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