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Unavailable Resources & Ethical, Legal Concerns


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#1 Brent Hobbs

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 08:00 AM

I've got a question that I think I know the short answer to, but wanted to hear from some of the Accordance staff particularly about. This is prompted by the removal of P. T. O'Brien's commentaries on Col (WBC), Philippians (NICNT), Ephesians & Hebrews (Pillar) for academic plagiarism. I give O'Brien the benefit of the doubt that it was unintentional and due to a faulty research process. While I understand those works are compromised from a scholarship & documentation standpoint, there's no doubt many pastors have found them to be some of the most helpful works on each particular book.

 

I have all of those works in print form, so I don't ask this out of hope for personal gain. Here's my question:

 

When a work becomes unavailable from a publisher with no indication of republication and unavailable for sale, why shouldn't it then become treated as a public domain work? 

 

I fully understand the importance of intellectual property law and support its purpose. If we could just copy resources for our friends, authors, publishers, and software developers like Accordance would go out of business. So if I want an available resource, I should pay for it. No argument there. It's necessary and good.

 

Ethically speaking, when a resource is no longer sold, no one stands to make any money from it and you could argue that no one is harmed by its free distribution. So if I have a friend or church member who wants the best available resource for understanding the book of Hebrews, what would be the ethical concerns with sharing a digital copy of O'Brien's commentary. (I don't own the digital copies, don't have them, and don't plan to do this, so hold the arrows, I'm asking theoretically.)

 

Now what's ethical and legal aren't always the same, so I understand the licensing agreement likely bars this practice, and thus it becomes, strictly speaking, unethical to breach the license agreement, simply due to that fact. 

 

Am I correct that this practice of sharing digital resources no longer available is actually illegal from a licensing perspective? Is it also a valid point that, apart from the license agreement, there would be no real ethical concerns with sharing resources like this? And if the only obstacle to being able to do this is a license agreement that likely didn't take into account this particular circumstance, is there any hope the license agreement could be updated to basically allow works like this to become public domain?



#2 Solly

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 08:44 AM

I suspect that in addition to licensing agreements, the usual intellectual property right laws and copyright laws apply. One purpose of the copyright law is to give the copyright holder the ability to control distribution of the copyrighted product. In the open source community, documents are sometimes copyrighted to maintain such control, even if provided to users at no charge. It is not always about profit, but it is about control, and thus enters ethics. Is it ethical to control such intellectual property? Present understanding is definitely yes. My son is currently teaching a course titled 'Law and Morality' which tackles this fascinating, contentious, and timely topic. Oh, answers to the question, "Are laws moral?", vary, as one may expect—but the logic of the variable answers is where people of good intent lack convergence.

 

Shalom,

Joseph


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#3 R. Mansfield

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 09:24 AM

Joseph is right. Ultimately, a text belongs to the copyright holder, regardless of whether it is in print or not. In this particular case, the copyright holders for O'Brien's works specifically do not want the offending titles distributed any further; and legally, that's their call as the owners. 


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#4 Timothy Jenney

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 10:36 AM

One additional piece of data: generally publishing agreements are contingent upon the publisher keeping the work in print (unless the original work was "for hire," rather than "for royalties." If the work is out of print and out of stock for a specific period of time, the publishing rights are then canceled and the rights returned to the author. The author can then decide whether to seek another publisher or not.

 

These days this agreement has been sharply modified, as publishing houses can make print on demand and digital copies available at little to no cost to them. This procedure means that the work never really goes out of print, so the title remains under their control.

 

In this case, all publishing (digital and print) has ceased, which probably means the work is back under the author's control. That is very different than being in the public domain.


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#5 Ιακοβ

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 11:06 PM

The copyright issue is a great reason why Christians should probably get together and create open source commentaries. Given that commentaries typically involve sharing and engaging on past commentaries and scholarly comments, there is no reason why we couldn't have an online method of sharing and engaging on scholarly comments in a collaborative manner. It's something I have been thinking about kicking off myself, but its not clear to me how much traction such a project could attract (on the contributor side I mean—certainly from a user perspective, knowing there is a website with all the recent references and debates associated with a verse would become extremely popular.)



#6 ukfraser

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 07:06 AM

A sort of scripturepedia?
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#7 Daniel Francis

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 11:49 AM

I am not sure what will happen with the WBC volume, because I was under the impression it was in the process of being revised when the original was pulled. One would hope all defects could be corrected in the revision process, it could be seen as too tainted to reintroduce which in my opinion would be a shame as it is a good work.

-dan

Edited by Daniel Francis, 29 January 2017 - 12:08 PM.


#8 ukfraser

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 12:06 PM

My impression was that he wasnt referencing his sources enough in the text so attributing more accurately is required. I agree with you that it is a good work and certainly dont think of it as tainted, just a pain having x instead of y wbc volumes and sets which is a bit of a clutter, why didnt i get hard copies? So much easier!

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#9 Ιακοβ

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 12:51 AM

A sort of scripturepedia?

 

Im sure we could come up with a better name for it than that though. I wonder.....



#10 Ιακοβ

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 12:55 AM

In this case, all publishing (digital and print) has ceased, which probably means the work is back under the author's control. That is very different than being in the public domain.

 

Assuming this is correct, there is still another problem. Even if the rights to publish it return to the author, the fact that the works are incorrectly cited, would make attempting to 'republish' it legally problematic. Depending on where you live, distributing the text, even with all of O'Brien's copyright claims removed (public domain) may not be possible, because perhaps the publishers who accuse copyright infringement may claim their work is being illegally distributed.  (U.S. Copyright laws are so strict, and so complicated, I think you would need a lawyer to work this one out)



#11 A. Smith

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 10:11 AM

I don't own Pillar, TNTC or WBC in accordance, but does this mean that for those that do, those titles have been removed from
Their libraries?

Anthony Smith
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Atlantic, IA


#12 R. Mansfield

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 11:26 AM

I don't own Pillar, TNTC or WBC in accordance, but does this mean that for those that do, those titles have been removed from
Their libraries?

 

No, we don't remove titles that you have rightfully purchased. We do have to restructure the sets, though, without the "offending" titles. The titles that have been pulled are usually made as separate modules or you can just keep the module you already have. 


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#13 A. Smith

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 12:47 PM

That's good to hear. What ultimately lies behind my question, obviously, is who actually owns the modules that we have purchased. I'm glad to know that they are rightfully ours and we are not, in some sense, renting them. Thanks.

Anthony Smith
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#14 R. Mansfield

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Posted 16 February 2017 - 02:22 PM

That's good to hear. What ultimately lies behind my question, obviously, is who actually owns the modules that we have purchased. I'm glad to know that they are rightfully ours and we are not, in some sense, renting them. Thanks.

 

You own what you buy (although the copyright holder owns the intellectual property). We don't rent titles :-)

 

Think of it like this: if you bought a commentary in print that a publisher later withdraws for whatever reason, no one is going to come into your home and remove it from your bookshelves. We're not going to do that with electronic texts either. 


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Rick Mansfield

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#15 Ιακοβ

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 12:29 AM

You own what you buy (although the copyright holder owns the intellectual property). We don't rent titles :-)

 

Think of it like this: if you bought a commentary in print that a publisher later withdraws for whatever reason, no one is going to come into your home and remove it from your bookshelves. We're not going to do that with electronic texts either. 

 

 

Although one suspects that publishers would really like to have this sort of control of our books (physical or electronic), I suspect publishers would be reticent to attempt to enforce such a move, as it may trigger legal action that challenges the status quo, resulting in a legal precedent that tilts things more towards the customer.



#16 Jordan Gowing

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Posted Today, 09:02 AM

This issue (and Accordance's way of handling it by creating the text(s) in question as separate modules) seems to illustrate the value of having individual texts be individual modules in the first place, does it not?


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