Let’s say the situation is this: you bought a physical copy of a textbook, and for whatever reason you want to view a pdf version of said book, maybe so that you don’t have to carry it around, etc., but strictly for personal use. From a cursory google search (and please correct me if I'm wrong here) it seems to be both legal and ethical to scan pictures of your own book and then use them strictly for personal use, not to be shared or distributed at all.

That being said, I'm curious about the ethical (and legal I suppose as well, but I assume this is illegal) concerns of reading a pdf scanned by another individual, or in other words, instead of scanning the book myself I use a pdf illegally distributed online.

Assuming all things are consistent between my book and the illegally distributed pdf (e.g. exact same edition of the book being scanned), is it unethical to use the illegal pdf?

My first thoughts are that it is functionally identical to what I would do if I was just slightly less lazy and did the scanning myself, and therefore ethical, but a counterargument that then comes to mind is whether or not giving the website the traffic that I do by accessing it taints the whole situation.

  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/54029/…
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 6:53
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    I could have also sworn that we already had the exact same question some time ago, but I can't find it anymore.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 6:53
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    "(and legal I suppose as well, but I assume this is illegal) concerns of reading a pdf scanned by another individual" While I am not a lawyer and also don't know your jurisdiction, I have strong doubts whether indeed the act of reading the file is illegal. (But admittedly, that might be a bit of a nitpick.) Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 7:05
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    It is as legal/ethical as listening an (illegally obtained) MP3 of an album you physically own. I say this because by looking at that problem, you will surely find more (legal) opinions. Please find them and write them here as an answer to your question, so you will help many people.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 11:23
  • Here's another viewpoint: custodians.online
    – Superbee
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


I would say that the process by which you acquired the pdf file is illegal which usually makes it unethical as well.

As you own the physical book using the pdf does not feel unethical to me. By buying the book you ensured that the people that worked for creating it were paid for their work. Whether you use the physical copy or a digital copy make no difference ethically.

Note this applies while you own the physical book. If you sell that continueing to use the digital copy becomes ethically questionable again.

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