Sunday, December 30, 2007


As another new year rushes in, it's time to reassess the past 12 months, and in particular to reconsider a handful of columns that made some readers wonder, "What were you thinking?"

Four columns in particular drew responses that prompted me to revisit some issues. Links to these columns can be found in the text below.


I advised Carla Hamilton of Orange County, Calif., that I saw no ethical breach if she took advantage of gift cards that pharmacies offer if she switches her prescriptions. (See THE RIGHT THING: A DRUG ON THE MARKET?)

A deluge of pharmacists responded: "Very bad advice."

What I failed to acknowledge, wrote Elizabeth Bolser, a registered pharmacist in Columbus, Ohio, was "the extraordinary care that pharmacists provide in reviewing their patient's medications and drug-to-drug interactions."

If a patient goes from store to store, she and others pointed out, "no one pharmacist has the opportunity to see the patient's complete drug profile."

Ernest Boyd, the executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association (OPA), says that the average pharmacist finds three prescription errors per day.

"One-third of them would have caused injury or death," he writes, "had the pharmacist not caught it."

He believes that people should choose their pharmacists as carefully as they choose their physicians.

Boyd is right. My ethical advice was sound, but on the practical side I should have stressed the importance of providing any pharmacy with a complete drug history when you bring it your business.


I told the story of Brian Hurley, a reader who, on a redeye flight home from San Francisco to New York, was kept awake by a mewling cat brought on board by another passenger. Not every nuisance registers as an ethical lapse, I wrote. (See THE RIGHT THING: THE CAT THAT STOLE MY SLEEP.)

"I couldn't believe the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of your answer," writes Suzanne Kaszar of Worthington, Ohio.

It's not simply the incessant meowing that's an issue, writes Kaszar, who -- like many others -- is extremely allergic to cats.

"Please do not give your readers the green light to engage in such unethical and dangerous behavior," she writes "Thanks to you, I now feel that my health might be compromised every time I board a plane."

The point is well-taken. The ethical picture changes when health issues are involved. Passengers should try to find alternative means to transport their pets, and airlines should make an effort to alert fellow passengers if for some reason a cat has to be on board.


I sided with a college student who had argued with her father about whether it's OK to circumvent copying procedures to get her legally purchased music onto her Apple iPod. She said yes, he said no. (See THE RIGHT THING: BURN, BABY, BURN!)

Readers didn't disagree, but Bill Kirkpatrick of Granville, Ohio, thinks that I should have chastised the record companies who make people jump through such ridiculous hoops to get their music onto their iPods.

"You need to call out those who would take away our fair-use rights, eviscerate the first-sale doctrine and lock us into monopolistic proprietary systems," Kirkpatrick writes.

Perhaps it's the fact that I've recently had to jump through some ridiculous hoops to copy music from my wife's PC onto her recently purchased MacBook that makes me inclined to agree. Regardless, he's right. Recording companies and technology companies should stop the nonsense.


Finally, there were some occasions when readers hoped for a little bit more than what I dished out.
For example, I wrote about paying up for a piece of shareware that enabled me to repair an MSOE.dll problem with Outlook Express e-mail. (See THE RIGHT THING: PAYING UP EVEN WHEN I DIDN'T HAVE TO.)

Jim Carney of Orange County, Calif., points out that the column lacked one thing: the address of the site from which I purchased the software.

Excellent point. It's

I trust that I can count on my readers to do the right thing by continuing to share their wisdom with me as the new year progresses.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

I read today's column with interest. It is good to go back and see what sort of comments are posted in response to various comments. Everyone has a different perspective about every issue.

I feel that I need to make a comment about the copyright issue in the column "Burn Baby Burn". As a photographer the coyright issue is something that is extremely important to me. Everyday I see my earning power from my profession being erroded to the point where many photographers are being forced out of business and into finding another way to earn a decent living. Since the advent of the digital age more and more people are using their computers to listen to music, copy music, copy photos, store photos...the list goes on an on.

What I keep hearing from people who complain about how hard it is to download or copy music, or who want to put their professional photos onto their computer, or who want to copy movie DVD's for their family, is a stack of excuses for not wanting to pay a fair price for the goods. If you need a second copy of a photo you need to buy it from the photographer, that is how he or she earns their living. If you want to make 20 copies of a CD of music for your friends you need to buy 20 more copies of the CD to give to them, that is how the music industry earns their living.

Whether or not you think the price is fair doesn't really come into the equation because this is a free market society and everyone is entitled to charge what they think is a fair price. If people don't purchase the items because they think the price is too inflated then the demand goes down and the prices go down too. If the price is higher that is because the demand is higher and there are people willing to pay the higher price for that item. This is economics 101.

If the music industry is making it hard to make copies or move your music to whereever you want it it is a direct result of having been ripped off by too many people not willing to pay for the product. The hoops you jump through are in place to try to protect their product from being stolen. If you want it to be easier to get more copies of the musice then you need to police your friends and family and make them do the ethical and lawful thing by not stealing the music. Safeguards are in place because they need to be. Just like when you go to a clothing store and find you have to go to the checkout to get the anti-theft tag removed and you have to walk through detectors to get out of the store. Stores who have been stolen from had to put those anti-theft procedures in to try to keep from being hit by theives as much. Don't like it? Then get people to stop stealing. Guess what, that is an impossible task so you will have to deal with the hoops!

For my part there are no good hoops to put with my product. Once a photo leaves my studio I no longer have control over it other than hoping I have ethical clients who will call me to purchase additional copies of an image for their friends and family rather than scanning it into their computer and makeing illegal copies for everyone. Judging from my swift decline in extra sales I would say that some of my wonderful clients are not as ethical as they should be. But I'm just guessing that. But that is just one part of the problem with professional photography today, and that whole subject is far to big to include here!

This is just my two cents worth.

Happy New Year everyone!


Jeffrey L. Seglin said...

Penney's points are very well taken. In the column I've written regularly about the importance of honoring copyright whether it's of musicians or photographers.

One of the columns from last year that received the greatest reader response was about a wedding photographer in the Midwest who discovered at a reception that her photos had been used without permission. You can read it online at

When someone is trying to download or upload music legally, however, that's a different story. In such cases, where there is no copyright violation, the providers should not make it any more difficult than necessary for those who make the purchase to gain access to what they've bought.