Legal and Ethical Aspects of eBook Downloading


By Maryna Polishchuk


The media, courts, and public opinion have thoroughly debated the moral and legal concerns of downloading music and films illegally. Nevertheless, media piracy persists. The piracy of books is an often disregarded aspect of media piracy, particularly when compared to music, films, and television piracy. Book piracy has become considerably more feasible with the emergence of “e-books,” or digital copies of publications that can be read on computers or other specialized electronic devices.

Millions of individuals steal digital material instead of purchasing e-books or other digital products. The president of the Society of Authors, Sir Philip Pullman, is offended by this, along with thirty-two other authors, including playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, historian Sir Antony Beevor, and screenwriter Malorie Blackman from Doctor Who. He has signed a joint letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark. Not only is e-book piracy common in the US, but it’s a worldwide issue. A recent research on online copyright infringement by the Intellectual Property Office found that 4 million e-books, or 17% of all e-books read online in the UK, are pirated. In this article, you will discover whether it is legal to download e-books and how to download e-books without violating ethical standards.

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Is It Legal to Download E-books?

As the trend of reading in digital media becomes more and more popular, the question of downloading e-books legally becomes more relevant. It is okay to download e-books, but if you do it from reputable websites or store them on your gadget. It is essential to remember these tips while downloading e-books:

  1. Never download eBooks that are pirated. Purchase digital material and books only from reputable sellers.
  2. Some e-books, unless they come from a reputable seller, could have harmful software that infects your computer with viruses, spyware, and malware.
  3. Unless authorized by the author or the firm, do not distribute e-books. Copyrighted content distribution is illegal and is known as piracy.
  4. There are fraudulent websites that give away best-sellers. These websites may not first seem suspicious. However, they are distributing copyrighted content without authorization. Even if this material is pirated, it is often not free. Numerous .pdf, .epub, .zip, and .exe files are infected with malware that may infect your computer, install spyware to track your online activities, or load adware onto it.
  5. Make sure you have trustworthy security software to stay protected.

Is It Ethical to Download E-Books from Online Sources?

The main goal of libraries is to enable public education as a kind of social good, not to profit writers and publishers. In such a scenario, the moral line separating using a library from downloading illegally becomes less apparent. It essentially boils down to your preference for the author’s impact over your convenience. Libraries minimise the impact on writers while maximizing the benefits of reading for the general audience and the public domain. Suppose one is going to ignore the author’s permission. In that case, one has to consider the qualitative distinctions between book piracy and library borrowing.

It is reasonable to assume that most librarians are deeply driven to provide the best possible service and are dedicated to ensuring that knowledge in all its forms is widely accessible. Librarians want to make it simple, dependable, and fast for users to get the material they need or want via e-books. They have to operate under some constraints, however. Libraries must respect the terms and agreements they choose to engage in when deciding to access specific information because publishers are interested in preserving intellectual property, and they acknowledge the significant contributions made by writers and publishers. This is particularly true in the present setting, when many conflicting use guidelines may be an enormous challenge for readers and librarians to get beyond.

Librarians may struggle to balance the rights holders’ and readers’ interests when dealing with e-books. For instance, to meet the demands of a customer, a reference librarian can feel pressured to go over some of the restrictions meant to safeguard the interests of publishers and authors. On the other hand, a library can decide to put author rights ahead of customer service. Even if using some e-books is morally and legally acceptable, a reference librarian may determine that using them is too much work. Instead, they point a client towards a less suitable or inferior resource since it is simpler. Maintaining a good balance is essential.

The Importance of Respecting Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights

Ethical decisions: A reference librarian may decide to:

  • Utilise e-books to their fullest potential while abiding by the terms of contracts with e-book distributors and publishers, even if the limitations are sometimes rather severe.
  • Explain to users the rationale behind the several procedures now required to access e-books.

Collaborate with e-book distributors and publishers to provide more approachable options for academic libraries’ users.


Piracy of e-books is ethically unacceptable. If you couldn’t afford a book or didn’t want to pay, you wouldn’t just stroll into a secondhand bookstore or bookshop and take it. The same holds for digital theft: theft is theft. If you steal anything, you are inherently immoral.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.