Buying "second-hand" ebooks - a form of stealing/copyright infringement?


Hello folks. I’m a student, one in a business-related field, where the textbooks are exorbitantly expensive. Naturally I make use of used book pages and resources to save money. Increasingly people have offered to “sell” me used ebooks for prices drastically below what I could pay per hard copy ($200 CDN/pop is normal). My first reaction is that this is an obvious case of copyright infringement, hence stealing, hence immoral. Is there anything that I haven’t thought about that would make this legitimate?


How so? It may be against a publisher’s policy but unless they have some contract with you that they can take you to court for breaking, there are absolutely no worries about that. I see it no different as buying an actual book second hand, as long as it’s not just a copy of an “ebook” that can be constantly sold and resold by the seller without the publishers receiving their just compensation (which they wouldn’t receive when a used book is resold anyways).


Since that’s how a “used” ebook is made, it is depriving the publisher of its just revenue.

This is just like any other stealing.


No more than buying used record albums, used DVDs, or used paper books.

When someone buys these things, they own them to do as they wish with them, including transferring them.

The only stealing/CR infringement issue would be if they were reproduced (in paper or electronically), and the copies sold.


If the seller owns the ebook in the first place, and if he destroys his own copy once the buyer has his copy, then there is no theft, no more than if a paper book had changed hands. The number of copies has not increased.


That’s where I disagree. Ebooks are fundamentally different than paper books. You can distribute ebooks without relinquishing control of your original copy. Paper books also deteriorate with use, hence why second-hand books are sold for less. Also, the fact that extremely-expensive books will probably be resold is implicitly built into the original selling price. If the price were less, the incentive to buy used would be less, and the publisher would sell more new.


And that’s where I think my moral loophole theoretically could be. Realistically, the seller won’t bother to do this, and I have no means of verification. Also, probably speaking, he will never touch the ebook again once he’s finished the course - however I don’t think this fact would excuse me. Publishers and authors know this trait of human/student nature as well, and they expect that other individuals will still buy the original and also use it only once.

I guess what it comes down to - are there any legal loopholes that I could do this legally? If there are, then the authors/publishers also have an responsibility to know them and work within that framework when they consider pricing and distribution.


That’s what I was technically unsure of. I’m 26 - I haven’t exactly owned many physical CDs or DVDs in the age of streaming. Therefore I’m not familiar with the laws and conventions around distribution. So, you are claiming that it is treated as a physical property, rather than intellectual property?


I’m not sure… Does a finite, concrete “number” of digital copies ever really exist, or is one just buying the unlimited personal use of the material, rather than a physical entity?


Right. I think in all likelihood if you do buy the book in this way you’re helping someone disseminate illegal copies of the ebook.

The only case where I could see it another way is if a service like Amazon Kindle were directly supervising the transaction. Since they have a connection to the other person’s Kindle account they can enforce the removal of their copy. (And I know this can happen because of the way library ebooks work)


If it’s an illegally published book, then it would be wrong to use it.

If the copy of the book is legitimately published, and the person decides to sell it to you for cheaper, I don’t see anything questionable about it. Can somebody confirm?


Good point. I could see this becoming a thing with Amazon, and I would welcome it wholeheartedly.

On a completely unrelated note, how much of a chess nerd are you? Are you as obsessed as I used to be? :smiley:


My understanding of ebooks is that instead of owning the book, you are essentially leasing the book. Amazon and Barnes & Noble and whoever else can remove the text from your account without your approval- it’s a bit different than physical books.

But as a student, too, I hear your concern about textbook prices.

Is an ebook rental an option for you? Many publishers are now doing this. Often you can set how many weeks/months you need the e-book for and they’ll quote you a prorated rental price.

Might be something to look into, if you haven’t already. I’ve found ebook rentals to be cheaper than any other option.

Best of luck to you.


Hmm, I think the potential seller-in-question said that he would send me the pdf of the ebook. Amazon and others would have no control over it.


It might be. I’ve never done it. Why kind of platform do you rent from? (Does amazon do this?)


Doesn’t that answer your own question, then?

The hard-copy parallel would be someone offering to make a copy of the book and then sell you the copy.


Which I believe is illegal under copyright laws?


Amazon definitely does this, for both ebooks and physical texts. That’s who I use.

I’d imagine that other platforms, and possibly the publishers directly, would also offer this.


Cool, I’ll look into it! Thanks


I doubt they are destroying the original. If you see them do that, I suppose.

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