What Are The Ethics Of Scanning And Posting Old Books?

I have a question and need some education, so I’m looking for input. What are the ethics of posting digitized versions of old books online? Is there an ethical difference between a book that is still under copyright, but is impossible to find, as opposed to a book where the copyright has run out? I realize there are legal differences, but I’m interested in the ethics.

I’ve spent more than 25 years chasing down old books on bushcraft and wilderness living. Some of them from my collection have been digitized by others and are available online for free now. Many of the more obscure ones are not.

People on our courses always ask if they can have copies of the ones I’ve scanned, and I have given them away via external hard drive, but have always stayed away from posting them. Partly because I don’t want to get sued, and partly because I don’t know the ethics.

I have immense respect for the authors who wrote them. I wouldn’t want to do something (like post their work) that would negatively impact them or their descendants.

But I know there are people out there who are hungry for the knowledge, and who would benefit from the time and money I spent searching out these old books.

Obviously if it’s in print, or out of print but easily found, it doesn’t count for my question. But what if it’s out of print 20 years and the few print copies available are hundreds of dollars?

What do you think?

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