Copyright Infringement

It is strange that people who would never ever consider stealing a single penny from others have no qualms on infringing on other peoples copyrighted materiel. Not only is it forbidden by government law and therefore included in “dina d’malchusa dina,” but it is also forbidden by halacha, because anyone has the right to sell you something “on condition,” and that buyer is bound to keep the condition of the sale.

Jewish ethics and morals certainly don’t permit people to copy computer programs, music, tapes, or books that cost thousand of dollars to produce. The rationalization that “I wouldn’t have bought it anyway” doesn’t make it permissible to steal. One wonders how people download copies of Shas on their I-pod without paying for the program or make photocopies of ArtScroll, which clearly forbids it. The “mitzvah” of such Torah study is like making a blessing on stolen food.

One young yeshiva boy says that he buys the CD’s “b’shutvos” with his friends and therefore feels that each one of the partners is entitled to make a copy only for his own use. I told him that he must have found that logic in the rule-book of S’dom, where each person only took something worth less than a peruta, and therefore felt that he wasn’t required to pay for it.

Polls taken amongst U.S. college students indicate that they see nothing unethical about downloading digital copyrighted files without paying. I just wonder what a poll taken among yeshiva students would find? Among students who say they would always download music or computer programs without paying for them, 27 percent said they regularly download software from peer-to-peer network.

A rebbi who gets permission to give his class copies of a certain page from a sefer should clearly write on it that “it was copied with permission from the publisher,” so that his students don’t make incorrect assumptions that such copying is always permitted..

Let’s remember that the sin of stealing was the straw that broke the camel’s back during the days of the mabul so let’s not take it lightly. Publishers and producers lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of copyright infringement. Let’s not do what “everybody” does. Let’s do what Noach and a G-d fearing Jew would have done!

P.S. This article is not copyrighted and you are encouraged to make copies of it and pass them out to your friends in order to be m’zake es horabim and prevent them from a michshol.

Please note that after learning the halacha, one G-d fearing yeshiva student took his entire copied tape collection and destroyed it. May he serve as a role model for all others.

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