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“Did We Do Anything Wrong?”

Yes, Nick Bilton, you did. You are an embarrassment.

Vol. 7, Issue No. 2 | January 25, 2011 By Denny Hatch
26
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IN THE NEWS

Can Your Camera Phone Turn You Into a Pirate?
Later that evening, I felt a few pangs of guilt. I asked my wife: Did we do anything wrong? And, I wondered, had we broken any laws by photographing those pages?
Nick Bilton, lead technology writer
The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2011

“Did we do anything wrong?”

Anyone that asks that question is probably guilty.

The most egregious lede I have ever seen in 60 years of reading The New York Times:
My wife and I sat cross-legged on the floor of a local Barnes & Noble store recently, surrounded by several large piles of books. We were searching for interior design ideas for a new home that we are planning to buy.

As we lobbed the books back and forth, sharing kitchen layouts and hardwood floor textures, we snapped a dozen pictures of book pages with our iPhones. We wanted to share them later with our contractor.

After a couple of hours of this, we placed the books back on the shelf and went home, without buying a thing. But the digital images came home with us in our smartphones.

Later that evening, I felt a few pangs of guilt. I asked my wife: Did we do anything wrong? And, I wondered, had we broken any laws by photographing those pages?

It's not as if we had destroyed anything: We didn't rip out any pages. But if we had wheeled a copier machine into the store, you can be sure the management would have soon wheeled us and the machine out of there.

But our smartphones really functioned as hand-held copiers. Did we indeed go too far?

Yes, you and your wife went too far.

And your tacky little iPhones’ theft of copyright wasn’t the half of it.

About Bookstores
I have a lifelong love of bookstores. In the 1960s, I was a traveling book salesman, calling on retailers, wholesalers and libraries in the East and throughout the Midwest. I knew and loved the book buyers―the gregarious Anne Udin and Richard Gildenmeister at Halle Brothers in Cleveland, Shirley Poynter in Milwaukee’s Boston Store, Ilah McDermott on Madison Avenue and Karl Kroch of Kroch's & Brentano's in Chicago.

These and dozens more were wonderful, literate people who read books and were wide-ranging conversationalists. I was a drinking member in good standing of the Association of Book Travelers (founded in 1884). We’d bump into each other in different towns and connect for dinner and an occasional poker game. I loved it!

Takeaways to Consider

  • A bookstore is not a public library.
  • It’s hard to imagine that the lead technical writer for The New York Times would turn to the cumbersome, and time consuming, antiquated research technique of looking through books when he could Google “interior design ideas” (2,970,000 hits), “kitchen layouts” (873,000 hits) or “hardwood floor textures” (316,000 hits) and get many thousands of full-color images—in seconds—without ever leaving home or office.
  • “Agonize over only one thing: hiring.” —George Mosher, National Business Furniture
  • The New York Times’ editors and HR folks have their hands full identifying writers whose personal agendas trump common sense and leave egg on the institution’s public face. Examples:
  • “Lay all Judith Miller's New York Times stories end to end, from late 2001 to June 2003 and you get a desolate picture of a reporter with an agenda, both manipulating and being manipulated by US government officials, Iraqi exiles and defectors, an entire Noah's Ark of scam-artists.” —Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch.org
  • "It was a byword for journalistic integrity, a beacon of truth and one of America's proudest institutions. Then, in 2003, The New York Times was brought to its knees. A 27-year-old reporter [Jayson Blair], one of the newsroom's brightest stars, was exposed as a plagiarist who fabricated stories and concocted quotes. The fall-out was epic: the editor quit, staff mutinied and the paper's reputation was left in tatters."  —Ed Caesar, The Independent (UK)
  • Nick Bilton was so consumed with the possibility he might be guilty of copyright theft that IMHO he failed to see he was also engaged in a form of de facto shoplifting—taking merchandise off the shelf, using it and then discarding it. This was a minor peccadillo compared to the two situations Times management had to deal with above, but nonetheless symptomatic of reporters’ journalistic tunnel vision and an HR hiring test that fails to identify flawed psyches.
  • “Media is the plural of mediocrity.” —Jimmy Breslin
  • In direct marketing, what the Biltons did is the equivalent of the catalog bandit—the woman that orders three party dresses from a catalog, chooses one to wear to the party and then returns all three the next day for a full refund.
  • The mark of a great civilization is the willingness of its citizens to obey the unenforceable.

 
26

COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Max Tollens - Posted on January 28, 2011
Using Barnes and Noble as a library is morally wrong. Sitting around all day folding and mutilating the inventory is also dead wrong. No one likes to buy a book that's been pre-fondled. Maybe there should be one copy for fondling and the rest are shrink wrapped so I can buy a pristine edition without seeing someone else's fingerprints, coffee stains, or boogers on the pages.

Making photocopies via your phone is simply copyright infringement, just like loading the book onto a copier's platen and running off copies of pages to take home. Who needs to buy a cookbook if you can simply snap a picture of the recipes you want while in the store?

Our society is constantly devolving in terms of morals and values. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" has been replaced by "If it feels good, do it." It's no wonder we have so much trouble in the world.
Carolyn - Posted on January 27, 2011
Nick and his wife are thieves. They should go back to that bookstore and purchase three to five books, minimum.

Nick is an embarrassment to the NY Times!

Great article, and good for you for writing it.

BJ van Look - Posted on January 26, 2011
BJ van Look (vanlookb@firemtn.com)
01/26/2011 at 11:13 AM
Mr. Bilton feels vilified and attacked. Understandable, though lamentable. He has chosen to rely on his legal team, when he might have gotten better results re-evaluating his ethics. He believes he's "attempting to discuss" author's rights in a digital world. Except that discussion has been ongoing for over a decade under the label of "Google Books." You can...Google... the various permutations that discussion has taken over the years, even up to the issues of international copyrights under a myriad of countries' intellectual property laws. Most of us have likely been aware of the issue of book-scanning that Google does to make Google Books searchable and the "fair use" issues surrounding it. If Mr. Bilton is not, yet he is an author, he needs to be more proactive in learning about -- and protecting -- the rights of his own intellectual property. If he weren’t researching interior design for his house, perhaps he'd devote more time to researching for his job. As the discussion of intellectual property rights has been going on for years, most of your readers have rightly called "BS" to Mr. Bilton's assertion that he is "attempting to discus" the issue. Your readers have, instead, rightly moved to the issue behind it: the ethical issue of stealing intellectual property. Because that is exactly what Mr. Bilton has done. And he has compounded the issue by bragging in the Times about how clever he and his wife were: getting around the system, getting something for free, stealing someone else's ideas and expertise. If Mr. Bilton doesn't think it's important, I should like to encourage people to steal his column and use it as their own writing. Then we shall observe whether he shall "attempt to discuss" the theft of intellectual property when the property that's being stolen is his own.

Tim McCreight - Posted on January 26, 2011
Nice post Denny. I read this yesterday and chose to ponder it for a day before posting.

Let me start by saying I don't really approve of sitting and photographing stacks of books. But 'browse before you buy, come and sit awhile' is at the heart of the B&N superstore model as several other folks have noted. The idea though is to eventually buy. Retail at heart is about selling. No sales, no retail and no books to photograph.

I grew up with sisters and when they wanted a new hairstyle they bought a magazine with a picture of what they wanted and brought it to the beauty shop. Nick Bilton is essentially doing the same thing with the obvious difference that he feels no compunction to buy the book.

That is, I fear, becoming normative behavior. It's also somewhat absurd behavior in an economy that derives more value from intangible intellectual property than from transformation of matter from a raw to a finished state. Copyright laws, some say, are outmoded and should be adapted to the technological landscape. Perhaps.

The real issue, it seems to me, is this: capitalism is a moral system that explains economic relationships. Strip out the moral element and your left with 'maximizing utility.' That's fine for an individual but I think can be quite destructive to the larger community.
Scott Edwards - Posted on January 26, 2011
The only satisfying aspect of this was that the snotty response showed that this was not some sort of aberration, but rather a manifestation of a lousy attitude by what seems to be a lousy journalist. Who thought a staff writer proving their own stupidity and crassness was "fit to print" in the first place? Perhaps he had an inkling of the irony that his job is at risk because people can access news and articles without paying and without even as much effort as he put in to ruin perfectly good books.
"Have a nice day" indeed!
Wash Phillips - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny,
Apparently Mr. Bilton didn't get it. And from the arch tone of his reply, he didn't seem to want to.
Richard Whitney - Posted on January 25, 2011
Good for you! I had a similar reaction on reading Bilton's article. Sadly, one reason I often hesitate to buy books at Barnes & Noble is that they do often feel used -- presumably an outcome of the ambiance created by B&N's coffee-shop ambiance.

Which is not to excuse the Biltons' behavior, which was really rather inexcusable by any normal standard of good behavior.
Doc Greene - Posted on January 25, 2011
We are now in Gen 3 of a Godless society. No one prays in school. If there is no God, then why are your rules any better than mine? What we now call "Ethics" used be called Conscience. The Conscience was formed based on a biblical standard of right and wrong. Without God all things are possible. Ask Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Sal Alinsky.
Davidka - Posted on January 25, 2011
The following quotation you include, apparently with approval, is so preposterous it can not be left without comment::

"It [NY Times] was a byword for journalistic integrity, a beacon of truth and one of America's proudest institutions [until the Jayson Blair fabrication, when]the paper's reputation was left in tatters."

The NY Times was a despicable paper many decades before Jayson Blair, who was neither the first nor the last of countless fabrications at both a low level and a high level. Among the NYTimes' low points:

Its methodical whitewashing of the Stalinist horrors (for which it received a Pulitzer Prize which it has never had the decency to disavow);

Its outrageous promotion of Castro and gushing treatment of countless other leftist thugs (e.g., its worshipful treatment of Arafat while spiking any story about his appalling corruption and personal thuggishness);

Its methodical burying of information about the Holocaust.
"Beacon of truth?" NOT!







David - Posted on January 25, 2011
The Biltons' behavior was, as you say, despicable. Strikingly, they probably thought it clever, and publicized it for ratification of their behavior. However, this sort of behavior--- exploiting a retailer, perhaps even harming his goods, with no intention of buying, has been going on for years. E.g., people visit furniture retailers to choose what they meant and then buy from wholsale companies in North Carolina; people try out golf clubs and get advice at a pro shop, then order the clubs online to save money. By the way, such behavior--- burdening the retailer when you have no intention of buying, is specifically forbidden by Jewish religious law (the "shopkeepers rule"), which suggests it was a problem even in ancient times! I don't know what other religions say about it, except that it certainly violates the Golden Rule.

Bob - Posted on January 25, 2011
Terrific piece, Denny. I'm with you all the way. The behavior displayed by Bilton and wife is deplorable in my view. What really gets me is this guy is an author himself. You'd think he'd have a little more respect for the intellectual property of others. What's really troubling is that if someone in a position of relative power, with presumably a decent education feels this is acceptable, one can only imagine what the masses are thinking. Yikes!
Reginald Doherty - Posted on January 25, 2011
Good morrow to you, Denny…

Bilton sure missed the mark! However, after numerous trips to B&N, et alli, I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I’ve seen with piles of books doing their “homework” and having no intention of buying anything, save, perhaps, a latte from the coffee bar. Which they spill on the books???

This is, I feel, the fault of the bookstores in allowing this to happen. You can’t go into a restaurant and sample the food without paying. So, taking along a smartphone for pictures is just one step further along in converting bookstores into libraries. – However, libraries, also in trouble, don’t have all the latest titles! Enter the Electronic Age of Books!

Bookstores and buggy whips I see occupying the same space. I for one embrace the change, but no change is painless, just a bit awkward. Amazon’s Kindle sales for last year were simply amazing. And I was one of them with a gift for my Joyce… who’s thrilled with it.

I wish you a excellent day, Denny

Reg

Reginald J Doherty
Personal Development Coach
Bright Ideas / For Better Ways
610.695.8899 Direct
Rob - Posted on January 25, 2011
This is hardly egregious. First of all, there is no way Bilton would have bought all those books, so the iPhone clicking did not supplant purchasing. Second, this is part of B&N's business model. Bilton may have bought coffee or a snack there, which is high-margin revenue for B&N. Perhaps on another day he could have bought something else there too. It's true that if too many people rely on bookstores for browsing and the internet for buying, the bookstores will fail, but that is as much due to some online and bricks-and-mortar retailers selling books as loss leaders as it is freeloading consumers.
Jon P - Posted on January 25, 2011
Rather than a legal issue, this seems more like another symptom of the general rudeness and self-entitlement that makes life less pleasant. The claim of copyright infringement seems specious, since it was not his intention to publish or plagiarize the content of the books. Although he probably left them in a condition which would dissuade others from buying them. The phrase 'lobbed books back and forth' strikes me as especially arrogant.

This fraying at the edges of integrity and lack of thoughtfulness is probably more insidious than the intellectual property issue involved here. It's the 'Broken Window" theory as applied to the rest of life. Once it appears that no one cares about others' rights, or their feelings, then life becomes a free-for-all to see who can take the most advantage. The problem is that everyone else suffers in some small way every time we make that decision.

BTW, I'm not claiming to be 100% innocent of these transgressions myself. So I try to remain aware if what I'm doing is making life just a bit harder or duller for someone else. Perhaps Nick Bilton should ask himself that question along side the abstract legal question he posed in his piece.
Thorin McGee - Posted on January 25, 2011
I think Sam Bell, above, has a key point: B&N encourages customers to do exactly what the Biltons did. I spend a lot of time at B&N's, my wife has worked at B&N's for the better part of a decade. They encourage customers to relax and browse the books, even read them cover-to-cover (and Borders does the exact same thing). I believe that the store was fine with what the Biltons did in every regard except perhaps that they took photos (which the store management likely was not aware of), and the store would prefer they had done it at the cafe over a $5 Starbucks Frappaccino.

As has been said in this space before, the whole business of publishing for retail is off the rails. If the retail store owner condones the behavior, why should the Biltons not sit there for 2 hours browsing the books? The disconnect is not between the publishers and the customers, it's between the publishers and B&N. How can you hold the customer responsible for your retailer "partner's" policies?
Mat Weller - Posted on January 25, 2011
There are many separate issues wrapped up here. The question at hand was: did they do anything illegal? No. What they did is highly immoral and deeply deplorable. But the cops aren't going to break down the doors today. The regrettable fact is that they care about the legality and don't seem concerned about the morality. You should ask if they're looking to expand their circle of friends since there are so many mortgage brokers and investors with the same ethics who are deeply in need of friends since they crashed the world economy with no compunction.

That being said, there are a lot of reasons publishing as we know it is in the burning stage, and the phoenix stage is going to look completely different. Chief among those is an antiquated business model and belligerently stodgy industry leadership, not anything to do with people not able to buy $600 worth of coffee table books. Frankly, it's necessary and publishing deserves it. The music and movie industries were obvious precursors that publishing willfully ignored. Television is starting the same crisis now. You'd have to be a drooling idiot to be in any branch of media and clinging on to the way it's been for the past hundred years.

I'll stop. I could go on for hours.

Saddest about the whole thing is what you mentioned: a Google image search would have yielded the same results faster and without the moral or legal quandary.

"The mark of a great civilization is the willingness of its citizens to obey the unenforceable." It's very true. It's also the chief reason it's easy to see America is not on the rising side of the civilization bell curve.
Carolynn Van Namen - Posted on January 25, 2011
The issue of copyrighted material is hardly "nascent," as stated by Scott Howard. The whole realm of intellectual property is up for grabs as a result of the easy availability of copying devices, whether phone cameras, office copiers or Internet plagiarism. Is there really such a thing as intellectual property or is everything becoming public domain? Who is going to wage that war against blatant violation of the whole concept of intellectual property? Your quote about a great civilization's hallmark is spot on: as in so many other aspects of 21st century living, greatness in integrity and obeying the unenforceable has become devalued currency. The demise of local bookstores is just another nail in the coffin of a robust intellectual community. No industry is inured to the damaging effects of price deflation and and the rampant consumer practice that anything and everything is price-driven: how cheap can I buy this? It's all about the commoditization of every type of consumable product.
Sam Bell - Posted on January 25, 2011
As Bilton specifically stated that he was in Barnes and Noble, I'm not sure that his abuse of the books was wrong. I think it may be the company policy to offer something closer to a library. I am a Nook owner and regularly take my device into my local B&N to get the free "more in store" specials and content. One day while looking up a free sample of a book I was interested in, the offer popped up on my Nook that I was able to read the book for free while in the store. The "read in store" feature allows any Nook owner the ability to read any book available on the device for free for one hour each day, after that hour the book becomes unavailable, but I can read another book or come back the next day to continue where I left off. This was advertised as a way to bring the digital and the bookstore experience together. It seems that Barnes and Noble is perfectly ok with people reading with no intent to purchase.

I don't bring this up because I approve of any of this though. When I go to a bookstore to purchase a new book I want it to be exactly that. If I don't need a pristine copy of the work, I will just go to my local used book store. At least there I don't have to pay full price and I support local business.
Kevin Nielsen - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny, you feel deeply and you love the book trade. Express that seething with passionate pen rather than let it drive up your blood pressure; we wouldn't want to lose you!

I'd be curious to hear Barnes & Nobles' reaction to the Bilton's of the world. Their store environment, with numerous chairs, reading areas & Starbucks, is staged to encourage consumers to linger, browse and test the merchandise.

The tectonic shifts you reference have the very concept of copywright law in play. When the NYT opened their website a couple years back, I found myself for the first time logging in to catch what people like Friedman, Brooks and Krugman (uffda) have to say. The Times has never collected a dime of subscription from me and I'm not sure they will when next month they revert their site to paid-content. I bear not an iota of conscience over accessing what was made freely available to me.

I agree, Bilton crossed a line. The conversation about where that line belongs, the market forces that are upsetting prior norms, these are timely and relevant issues.
Bart Foreman - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny: Great piece. Love it. Stay passionate. You are correct in stating that the retail book stores are becomming obsolete. The big question is whether they can reinvent themselves. The struggling independents may have the best chance because they are local and can be more flexible. Let's hope for the best.
Scott Howard - Posted on January 25, 2011
His response was funny. Still oblivious to some of the very real issues here. "Nascent" copyright issue? Hardly. The issue could have been written about in 1975 regarding the use of Polaroids in bookstores. Alas...a former general advertising/brand creative director. Not a lot more to say.
Bob Martel - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny,

Thanks for shining a light on the state of (and fate of) the bookstore industry...

More importantly, however, the Bilton's story raises some questions for me:

1. Whatever gave the Bilton's the notion that what they did was acceptable behavior?
2. Who even enforces (flagrant) copyright infringements anyway?
3. What about 'ethics" and the morale compass that teaches us that this was wrong? (it's wrong is a library as well, isn't it?)

The store manager should have put an end to the behavior and/or tossed them from the store. But they would have faced a lawsuit from the Bilton's for public humiliation, right? (The store should have stopped the photography and acted to protect the authors' copyrights!)

The customer is NOT always right, and the Biltons should have questioned their own behavior before breaking the law. I wonder, did they do the right thing and delete the photos?

Who goes into a bookstore and sits on the floor for two hours?

We can only hope they text their photos to their contractors while walking into a mall fountain!


Chet Dalzell - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny, I've only read your column, and don't know (yet) the entire context of what may have transpired since then. Curious -- shouldn't the editor at The New York Times have read this lede on the submitted copy and then sent someone down to the bookstore to purchase one and every book that Bilton and his wife pilfered -- in advance of publishing the article? Or better yet, the editor should have ordered Bilton to go back to the store and buy them all himself. I honestly am shocked if that hasn't happened. "NYT Condones Copyright Theft" is the headline that screams at me. Correct me if these steps already have been taken. Otherwise, I think a letter to the Times ombudsman may be in order here.
Jerry Butterbaugh - Posted on January 25, 2011
After reading your article, and Nick Bilton's response, it is rather obvious he misses the point entirely about retail theft. It is also obvious in my opinion that he is just plain "cheap" in a not very good way. Poetic justice would be if his ideas get ripped off the same way with no compensation to him as he did to the retailer - publishers - writers - designers - artists that he stole from.

Max Bendel - Posted on January 25, 2011
Nick is at the NY Times. What did you expect? The paper is dying and apparently is scraping the bottom of the barrel for content.
Ross Turney - Posted on January 25, 2011
This is shoplifting and perpetrators should be treated as such.
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Max Tollens - Posted on January 28, 2011
Using Barnes and Noble as a library is morally wrong. Sitting around all day folding and mutilating the inventory is also dead wrong. No one likes to buy a book that's been pre-fondled. Maybe there should be one copy for fondling and the rest are shrink wrapped so I can buy a pristine edition without seeing someone else's fingerprints, coffee stains, or boogers on the pages.

Making photocopies via your phone is simply copyright infringement, just like loading the book onto a copier's platen and running off copies of pages to take home. Who needs to buy a cookbook if you can simply snap a picture of the recipes you want while in the store?

Our society is constantly devolving in terms of morals and values. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" has been replaced by "If it feels good, do it." It's no wonder we have so much trouble in the world.
Carolyn - Posted on January 27, 2011
Nick and his wife are thieves. They should go back to that bookstore and purchase three to five books, minimum.

Nick is an embarrassment to the NY Times!

Great article, and good for you for writing it.

BJ van Look - Posted on January 26, 2011
BJ van Look (vanlookb@firemtn.com)
01/26/2011 at 11:13 AM
Mr. Bilton feels vilified and attacked. Understandable, though lamentable. He has chosen to rely on his legal team, when he might have gotten better results re-evaluating his ethics. He believes he's "attempting to discuss" author's rights in a digital world. Except that discussion has been ongoing for over a decade under the label of "Google Books." You can...Google... the various permutations that discussion has taken over the years, even up to the issues of international copyrights under a myriad of countries' intellectual property laws. Most of us have likely been aware of the issue of book-scanning that Google does to make Google Books searchable and the "fair use" issues surrounding it. If Mr. Bilton is not, yet he is an author, he needs to be more proactive in learning about -- and protecting -- the rights of his own intellectual property. If he weren’t researching interior design for his house, perhaps he'd devote more time to researching for his job. As the discussion of intellectual property rights has been going on for years, most of your readers have rightly called "BS" to Mr. Bilton's assertion that he is "attempting to discus" the issue. Your readers have, instead, rightly moved to the issue behind it: the ethical issue of stealing intellectual property. Because that is exactly what Mr. Bilton has done. And he has compounded the issue by bragging in the Times about how clever he and his wife were: getting around the system, getting something for free, stealing someone else's ideas and expertise. If Mr. Bilton doesn't think it's important, I should like to encourage people to steal his column and use it as their own writing. Then we shall observe whether he shall "attempt to discuss" the theft of intellectual property when the property that's being stolen is his own.

Tim McCreight - Posted on January 26, 2011
Nice post Denny. I read this yesterday and chose to ponder it for a day before posting.

Let me start by saying I don't really approve of sitting and photographing stacks of books. But 'browse before you buy, come and sit awhile' is at the heart of the B&N superstore model as several other folks have noted. The idea though is to eventually buy. Retail at heart is about selling. No sales, no retail and no books to photograph.

I grew up with sisters and when they wanted a new hairstyle they bought a magazine with a picture of what they wanted and brought it to the beauty shop. Nick Bilton is essentially doing the same thing with the obvious difference that he feels no compunction to buy the book.

That is, I fear, becoming normative behavior. It's also somewhat absurd behavior in an economy that derives more value from intangible intellectual property than from transformation of matter from a raw to a finished state. Copyright laws, some say, are outmoded and should be adapted to the technological landscape. Perhaps.

The real issue, it seems to me, is this: capitalism is a moral system that explains economic relationships. Strip out the moral element and your left with 'maximizing utility.' That's fine for an individual but I think can be quite destructive to the larger community.
Scott Edwards - Posted on January 26, 2011
The only satisfying aspect of this was that the snotty response showed that this was not some sort of aberration, but rather a manifestation of a lousy attitude by what seems to be a lousy journalist. Who thought a staff writer proving their own stupidity and crassness was "fit to print" in the first place? Perhaps he had an inkling of the irony that his job is at risk because people can access news and articles without paying and without even as much effort as he put in to ruin perfectly good books.
"Have a nice day" indeed!
Wash Phillips - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny,
Apparently Mr. Bilton didn't get it. And from the arch tone of his reply, he didn't seem to want to.
Richard Whitney - Posted on January 25, 2011
Good for you! I had a similar reaction on reading Bilton's article. Sadly, one reason I often hesitate to buy books at Barnes & Noble is that they do often feel used -- presumably an outcome of the ambiance created by B&N's coffee-shop ambiance.

Which is not to excuse the Biltons' behavior, which was really rather inexcusable by any normal standard of good behavior.
Doc Greene - Posted on January 25, 2011
We are now in Gen 3 of a Godless society. No one prays in school. If there is no God, then why are your rules any better than mine? What we now call "Ethics" used be called Conscience. The Conscience was formed based on a biblical standard of right and wrong. Without God all things are possible. Ask Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Sal Alinsky.
Davidka - Posted on January 25, 2011
The following quotation you include, apparently with approval, is so preposterous it can not be left without comment::

"It [NY Times] was a byword for journalistic integrity, a beacon of truth and one of America's proudest institutions [until the Jayson Blair fabrication, when]the paper's reputation was left in tatters."

The NY Times was a despicable paper many decades before Jayson Blair, who was neither the first nor the last of countless fabrications at both a low level and a high level. Among the NYTimes' low points:

Its methodical whitewashing of the Stalinist horrors (for which it received a Pulitzer Prize which it has never had the decency to disavow);

Its outrageous promotion of Castro and gushing treatment of countless other leftist thugs (e.g., its worshipful treatment of Arafat while spiking any story about his appalling corruption and personal thuggishness);

Its methodical burying of information about the Holocaust.
"Beacon of truth?" NOT!







David - Posted on January 25, 2011
The Biltons' behavior was, as you say, despicable. Strikingly, they probably thought it clever, and publicized it for ratification of their behavior. However, this sort of behavior--- exploiting a retailer, perhaps even harming his goods, with no intention of buying, has been going on for years. E.g., people visit furniture retailers to choose what they meant and then buy from wholsale companies in North Carolina; people try out golf clubs and get advice at a pro shop, then order the clubs online to save money. By the way, such behavior--- burdening the retailer when you have no intention of buying, is specifically forbidden by Jewish religious law (the "shopkeepers rule"), which suggests it was a problem even in ancient times! I don't know what other religions say about it, except that it certainly violates the Golden Rule.

Bob - Posted on January 25, 2011
Terrific piece, Denny. I'm with you all the way. The behavior displayed by Bilton and wife is deplorable in my view. What really gets me is this guy is an author himself. You'd think he'd have a little more respect for the intellectual property of others. What's really troubling is that if someone in a position of relative power, with presumably a decent education feels this is acceptable, one can only imagine what the masses are thinking. Yikes!
Reginald Doherty - Posted on January 25, 2011
Good morrow to you, Denny…

Bilton sure missed the mark! However, after numerous trips to B&N, et alli, I’ve always been amazed by the number of people I’ve seen with piles of books doing their “homework” and having no intention of buying anything, save, perhaps, a latte from the coffee bar. Which they spill on the books???

This is, I feel, the fault of the bookstores in allowing this to happen. You can’t go into a restaurant and sample the food without paying. So, taking along a smartphone for pictures is just one step further along in converting bookstores into libraries. – However, libraries, also in trouble, don’t have all the latest titles! Enter the Electronic Age of Books!

Bookstores and buggy whips I see occupying the same space. I for one embrace the change, but no change is painless, just a bit awkward. Amazon’s Kindle sales for last year were simply amazing. And I was one of them with a gift for my Joyce… who’s thrilled with it.

I wish you a excellent day, Denny

Reg

Reginald J Doherty
Personal Development Coach
Bright Ideas / For Better Ways
610.695.8899 Direct
Rob - Posted on January 25, 2011
This is hardly egregious. First of all, there is no way Bilton would have bought all those books, so the iPhone clicking did not supplant purchasing. Second, this is part of B&N's business model. Bilton may have bought coffee or a snack there, which is high-margin revenue for B&N. Perhaps on another day he could have bought something else there too. It's true that if too many people rely on bookstores for browsing and the internet for buying, the bookstores will fail, but that is as much due to some online and bricks-and-mortar retailers selling books as loss leaders as it is freeloading consumers.
Jon P - Posted on January 25, 2011
Rather than a legal issue, this seems more like another symptom of the general rudeness and self-entitlement that makes life less pleasant. The claim of copyright infringement seems specious, since it was not his intention to publish or plagiarize the content of the books. Although he probably left them in a condition which would dissuade others from buying them. The phrase 'lobbed books back and forth' strikes me as especially arrogant.

This fraying at the edges of integrity and lack of thoughtfulness is probably more insidious than the intellectual property issue involved here. It's the 'Broken Window" theory as applied to the rest of life. Once it appears that no one cares about others' rights, or their feelings, then life becomes a free-for-all to see who can take the most advantage. The problem is that everyone else suffers in some small way every time we make that decision.

BTW, I'm not claiming to be 100% innocent of these transgressions myself. So I try to remain aware if what I'm doing is making life just a bit harder or duller for someone else. Perhaps Nick Bilton should ask himself that question along side the abstract legal question he posed in his piece.
Thorin McGee - Posted on January 25, 2011
I think Sam Bell, above, has a key point: B&N encourages customers to do exactly what the Biltons did. I spend a lot of time at B&N's, my wife has worked at B&N's for the better part of a decade. They encourage customers to relax and browse the books, even read them cover-to-cover (and Borders does the exact same thing). I believe that the store was fine with what the Biltons did in every regard except perhaps that they took photos (which the store management likely was not aware of), and the store would prefer they had done it at the cafe over a $5 Starbucks Frappaccino.

As has been said in this space before, the whole business of publishing for retail is off the rails. If the retail store owner condones the behavior, why should the Biltons not sit there for 2 hours browsing the books? The disconnect is not between the publishers and the customers, it's between the publishers and B&N. How can you hold the customer responsible for your retailer "partner's" policies?
Mat Weller - Posted on January 25, 2011
There are many separate issues wrapped up here. The question at hand was: did they do anything illegal? No. What they did is highly immoral and deeply deplorable. But the cops aren't going to break down the doors today. The regrettable fact is that they care about the legality and don't seem concerned about the morality. You should ask if they're looking to expand their circle of friends since there are so many mortgage brokers and investors with the same ethics who are deeply in need of friends since they crashed the world economy with no compunction.

That being said, there are a lot of reasons publishing as we know it is in the burning stage, and the phoenix stage is going to look completely different. Chief among those is an antiquated business model and belligerently stodgy industry leadership, not anything to do with people not able to buy $600 worth of coffee table books. Frankly, it's necessary and publishing deserves it. The music and movie industries were obvious precursors that publishing willfully ignored. Television is starting the same crisis now. You'd have to be a drooling idiot to be in any branch of media and clinging on to the way it's been for the past hundred years.

I'll stop. I could go on for hours.

Saddest about the whole thing is what you mentioned: a Google image search would have yielded the same results faster and without the moral or legal quandary.

"The mark of a great civilization is the willingness of its citizens to obey the unenforceable." It's very true. It's also the chief reason it's easy to see America is not on the rising side of the civilization bell curve.
Carolynn Van Namen - Posted on January 25, 2011
The issue of copyrighted material is hardly "nascent," as stated by Scott Howard. The whole realm of intellectual property is up for grabs as a result of the easy availability of copying devices, whether phone cameras, office copiers or Internet plagiarism. Is there really such a thing as intellectual property or is everything becoming public domain? Who is going to wage that war against blatant violation of the whole concept of intellectual property? Your quote about a great civilization's hallmark is spot on: as in so many other aspects of 21st century living, greatness in integrity and obeying the unenforceable has become devalued currency. The demise of local bookstores is just another nail in the coffin of a robust intellectual community. No industry is inured to the damaging effects of price deflation and and the rampant consumer practice that anything and everything is price-driven: how cheap can I buy this? It's all about the commoditization of every type of consumable product.
Sam Bell - Posted on January 25, 2011
As Bilton specifically stated that he was in Barnes and Noble, I'm not sure that his abuse of the books was wrong. I think it may be the company policy to offer something closer to a library. I am a Nook owner and regularly take my device into my local B&N to get the free "more in store" specials and content. One day while looking up a free sample of a book I was interested in, the offer popped up on my Nook that I was able to read the book for free while in the store. The "read in store" feature allows any Nook owner the ability to read any book available on the device for free for one hour each day, after that hour the book becomes unavailable, but I can read another book or come back the next day to continue where I left off. This was advertised as a way to bring the digital and the bookstore experience together. It seems that Barnes and Noble is perfectly ok with people reading with no intent to purchase.

I don't bring this up because I approve of any of this though. When I go to a bookstore to purchase a new book I want it to be exactly that. If I don't need a pristine copy of the work, I will just go to my local used book store. At least there I don't have to pay full price and I support local business.
Kevin Nielsen - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny, you feel deeply and you love the book trade. Express that seething with passionate pen rather than let it drive up your blood pressure; we wouldn't want to lose you!

I'd be curious to hear Barnes & Nobles' reaction to the Bilton's of the world. Their store environment, with numerous chairs, reading areas & Starbucks, is staged to encourage consumers to linger, browse and test the merchandise.

The tectonic shifts you reference have the very concept of copywright law in play. When the NYT opened their website a couple years back, I found myself for the first time logging in to catch what people like Friedman, Brooks and Krugman (uffda) have to say. The Times has never collected a dime of subscription from me and I'm not sure they will when next month they revert their site to paid-content. I bear not an iota of conscience over accessing what was made freely available to me.

I agree, Bilton crossed a line. The conversation about where that line belongs, the market forces that are upsetting prior norms, these are timely and relevant issues.
Bart Foreman - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny: Great piece. Love it. Stay passionate. You are correct in stating that the retail book stores are becomming obsolete. The big question is whether they can reinvent themselves. The struggling independents may have the best chance because they are local and can be more flexible. Let's hope for the best.
Scott Howard - Posted on January 25, 2011
His response was funny. Still oblivious to some of the very real issues here. "Nascent" copyright issue? Hardly. The issue could have been written about in 1975 regarding the use of Polaroids in bookstores. Alas...a former general advertising/brand creative director. Not a lot more to say.
Bob Martel - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny,

Thanks for shining a light on the state of (and fate of) the bookstore industry...

More importantly, however, the Bilton's story raises some questions for me:

1. Whatever gave the Bilton's the notion that what they did was acceptable behavior?
2. Who even enforces (flagrant) copyright infringements anyway?
3. What about 'ethics" and the morale compass that teaches us that this was wrong? (it's wrong is a library as well, isn't it?)

The store manager should have put an end to the behavior and/or tossed them from the store. But they would have faced a lawsuit from the Bilton's for public humiliation, right? (The store should have stopped the photography and acted to protect the authors' copyrights!)

The customer is NOT always right, and the Biltons should have questioned their own behavior before breaking the law. I wonder, did they do the right thing and delete the photos?

Who goes into a bookstore and sits on the floor for two hours?

We can only hope they text their photos to their contractors while walking into a mall fountain!


Chet Dalzell - Posted on January 25, 2011
Denny, I've only read your column, and don't know (yet) the entire context of what may have transpired since then. Curious -- shouldn't the editor at The New York Times have read this lede on the submitted copy and then sent someone down to the bookstore to purchase one and every book that Bilton and his wife pilfered -- in advance of publishing the article? Or better yet, the editor should have ordered Bilton to go back to the store and buy them all himself. I honestly am shocked if that hasn't happened. "NYT Condones Copyright Theft" is the headline that screams at me. Correct me if these steps already have been taken. Otherwise, I think a letter to the Times ombudsman may be in order here.
Jerry Butterbaugh - Posted on January 25, 2011
After reading your article, and Nick Bilton's response, it is rather obvious he misses the point entirely about retail theft. It is also obvious in my opinion that he is just plain "cheap" in a not very good way. Poetic justice would be if his ideas get ripped off the same way with no compensation to him as he did to the retailer - publishers - writers - designers - artists that he stole from.

Max Bendel - Posted on January 25, 2011
Nick is at the NY Times. What did you expect? The paper is dying and apparently is scraping the bottom of the barrel for content.
Ross Turney - Posted on January 25, 2011
This is shoplifting and perpetrators should be treated as such.