(p. 23) I am a public-school teacher with a limited budget for supplies. Is it unethical to illegally download copyrighted instructional materials for use in my class? BEN L., BROOKLYN
It is not. In fact, it’s sometimes not even illegal. In 1976, Congress created copyright exceptions for educational purposes. Copyright law allows “face-to-face” exhibition and presentation of a copyrighted work, assuming the purpose is academic. There is also the doctrine of fair use, which states that copies “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
Now, it’s worth acknowledging that these guidelines were implemented before downloading a textbook was even possible. And even in an educational setting, using an entire copyrighted work, and thereby diminishing its market potential, might constitute a violation of fair use. But in my opinion, the principles are the same, even if you do violate copyright law: If your sole motive for downloading material is educational (and there is no free or low-cost equivalent that serves your purposes equally well), there should be no problem.
For the full commentary, see:
Chuck Klosterman. “THE ETHICIST; Piracy 101.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 30, 2014): 23.
(Note: italics and bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 28, 2014.)