Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is it unethical to loan out books?

Ok, today I was on MyLot goofing off. And I read a posting about how this woman was told by her friend that it was unethical for her to loan her neighbor a book that she brought. Please note that the woman saying this wrote the book in question.

And here I was about to loan a book to a fellow philosophy student on Monday. Hmmm, I never pondered the ethics of loaning books to others before. If it is unethical to loan a person a book (and the ethics here seem to be concerned solely with what is good for the writer's wallet), then there are a couple of other questions that we need to ponder.

For instance, is it ethical for a college student to buy an used textbook? Or should they have to buy a new one no matter how high the prices on them go. (Gee, we wouldn't want to rob the poor publisher of their money--who cares if the student has no grocery money.)

If it is unethical to loan a book to someone, what about all the books that have gone out of print? Should a writer (or their publisher) be allowed to let a book fall out of print? If it is unethical for a person to loan a book to someone (or to buy an used copy for that matter), is it ethical for a publisher to quit printing copies of a book?

For me, the whole idea of it being unethical to loan books, and to borrow them, not alone buy used books is ridiculous. I hear the sound of a cash register as the voice of ethical reason. Business as the guiding light of ethics, it makes me shudder.

To illustrate how silly this is let’s look at a different product--used cars. Is it unethical to loan someone your car? Is it wrong to buy or sell an used car? If it is allowable for used cars, why not books?

In my experience, people are going to pass books hand to hand, and heavens knows I have brought enough used books in my lifetime to fill a small storage locker. Two of the textbooks I am using this semester are loans, and half of the others were brought used. Look at the shaky ethical ground that I am on.

And when I did my Lulu project (it was a modified Golden Dawn ritual) I put a six dollar royalty on it because I figured that the book was going to meet a photocopier. I figure that only one person in a lodge was actually going to pay the book, so I jacked up the price.

(Was that ethical? Maybe. Maybe not. There are some who would argue that I should have PDFed it and gave it away for free--Golden Dawn being considered a spiritual system--just too bad that I like to eat occasionally.)

I think this person has no clue what ethics really are, and no clue about the word of mouth advertising that working writers depend upon. Look at the success stories that the publishers talk about--the one that surprised them--what do they have in common? People talking about the book, and quite possibly loaning it to others--it is the root of success for a writer.

But maybe they are right; maybe it is wrong that people are not paying their own copies. And maybe we should burn down all the libraries while we are at it.

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