Here, for your reading pleasure, is The Ethicist's response:
"An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod."
The article goes on for several paragraphs justifying his answer based on the idea that "Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform."
Right. Fine. "Should be." I'm not here to discuss whether or not I agree with the idea that books, music, movies, etc. should be available for free or for a nominal cost on additional platforms.
The point is, they're not free on additional platforms today. Want the hardcover? You buy it. Decide you want the e-book? Then you buy that, too. Like the cover of the paperback when it comes out? Guess what? Gotta buy that one, also. That's how the world works right now, whether or not we agree with it.
Let me give you an analogy of my own: I love movies. I like to watch my favorites over and over. Back in the day, I had quite an extensive collection of VHS tapes*. Cue the choir of angels, along come DVDs! And later--HD DVDs! BluRay! Lo, what will I watch next? So, since I'd bought those VHS tapes way back when, should I have been able to go into Best Buy and just steal the DVDs of those movies? Just put that DVD right in my pocket and walk out? And then again with the HD DVD? And again with the BluRay?
Of course not. That's absurd. My God, that's...that's stealing.
How about if I buy a CD and then I don't feel like digitizing it. Can I just go onto the internet and download an illegal version for free? Because I think that's a more accurate analogy than what The Ethicist has offered up. The book equivalent of digitizing a CD so you can listen to it on your iPod is scanning every page of your hardcover yourself to create your own PDF or typing all the words in yourself. Not just grabbing a version where someone else has already done all the work for you.
At the end of the day, e-books are not the scraps from the print market's table. They are a product and a market unto themselves and should be treated as such.
ETA: Nathan Bransford posted very similar thoughts on his superfantastic blog here. I swear was not communicating psychically with him (nor had I read his post yet, as I get them late in the day via email).
*For those of you too young to know what I'm talking about, these were magical black plastic boxes that you put into another magical box called a VCR and then a movie appeared on your TV. At the end, you had to rewind them or you got in trouble with Blockbuster.