8 November 2017

South Africa: Letter to the Editor - Moralising Hullaballoo Around Circulation of 'The President's Keepers' Is Misplaced

analysis

There was an outcry on South African social media on Saturday 4 November when a PDF version of investigative journalist Jacques Pauw's book The President's Keepers began being circulated online and via WhatsApp. A number of prominent media, academic and other South African personalities took to social media to criticise the sharing of this file as "theft", "stealing", "immoral" and "pirating". At best, none of those assertions reflect the nuanced complexities around copyright and the public good. At worst, they merely illustrate misinformed armchair moralising. By SEAN MULLER.

There appear to be three different but often overlapping premises for these arguments. First, that copyright infringement is illegal. Second, that circulating the book as an electronic file will reduce sales and harm profits for the author and publisher. Finally, that there is something inherently morally wrong in circulating a book in a way that allows people who haven't paid to read it.

I want to argue that only the first argument may be correct and that, even then, it doesn't follow that it is immoral to distribute the book this way.

Whether distributing a PDF version of a book you have purchased or received, without any expectation of private gain, is...

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