When is Stealing Unethical? This is a real stumper… At the NYT

I occasionally read The Ethicist column in the NYT.  I think I read the first few because I was fascinated that they just got some guy who seemed a bit more honest than the rest of the people looking for a job at the Times to write the column.  I’m not kidding, but if you ask me to pay money to get the introductory column, you are SOL. Since then, I think I’ve answered the burning question that everyone should ask when reading the New York Times: does anyone there know what honesty looks like anymore?  I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourselves.

Back at the ranch: I read Randy Cohen’s column only occasionally and unfortunately I get that “restaurant judgment” feeling about it.  If you have one bad experience at a restaurant, you usually don’t go back.  Since reading the Ethicist is unlikely to cause violent retching (I read Frank Rich for that) I still stop by even though I often don’t appreciate his nuanced take on ethics.  The last time I read it, he counseled someone who had fired a pilfering employee not to turn him in to the police because he would be thrown in jail and lives would be ruined.  The questioner didn’t want this guy to get another job and victimize another employer.  Who do you think has a better sense of ethics, especially when you factor in the unlikelihood that a first-offender petty thief would do any jail time at all?  In an update, it turns out the questioner ignored Mr. Ethicist’s advice.  Maybe he should write the column.

As for today’s column, all I can say is, what about “Don’t deal with people who steal.”  Is it OK to accept a ring that fits from someone who stole it because you didn’t like the one you bought from the same place?  Oh, I see- intellectual property is different.  And the fact that the second-hand stealer can’t wait a couple of weeks-months-years to download a Stephen King novel to avoid stealing.

I have a friend who is a copyright attorney- I know she’s going to weigh in.  In fact, she should be writing this column.  Randy, move over.  Time to call in the pro.

Update: Do you suppose the editors went to Randy to work through the MoDo incident?

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