DOWNLOADING AND COPYING MUSIC
QUESTION 76: DOWNLOADING AND COPYING MUSIC
I argue with people about the ethics of downloaded music files from
the Internet. I say that downloading songs or copying your own songs
to give to someone else, without a copyright owner's permission, or
not compensating the owner, is stealing. What do you say about this?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl said that it's not permitted to copy
any item that is being sold by the creator of that item. Every
time you copy it, you're taking away sales from him. Anybody who
downloads it, copies it, or does something else is really just
turning someone else's money into ashes. And that's really the bottom
line. It's taking something from someone else.
This is one of the areas where people say, "Everyone does it, and
it really should be mutar (permitted)". People copy tapes and
download from the Internet. Everything becomes "public domain".
There's nothing private. People just download it and copy it and
they'll wipe the owner out.
But even if everyone does it, it's wrong. You're taking away
something from someone and you're harming him.
Sometimes people object to this argument and say, "Well, in that
case, I'm probably not even allowed to copy down a shtikel (piece
of) Torah that I heard." But that's not true - the Shach says "Ein
gezel b'divrei Torah (there's no stealing when it comes to Torah)",
that is, if you copy it down for yourself.
The guideline here involves whether or not what you're doing is
taking away a sale from the owner. One might say, if asked this
question, "Oh, I would never have bought that anyway." But in fact
you shouldn't say that. You do like it ... and you would have bought it.
However, if you buy one and make a copy for yourself so that you can
have, say, one in the car and one at home - that kind of copying is
permitted. No one buys two of something for such a purpose, so copying
the merchandise in this case doesn't take the place of a sale. If
you told a person who wanted one copy for the house and one for
the car that he had to buy two, then he wouldn't buy two. He would
figure a way to carry it back and forth each time.
Since buying two copies for such a purpose is never done, then
making a copy for yourself for two locations is not taking away
Is copying music a different type of stealing than any other type
of stealing? Or is it just like any kind of stealing? Is there a
principal that stealing is stealing and there are no distinctions?
Is it just like walking over to someone with a gun? In this case
we're talking about intellectual property. So is that a lesser
degree of stealing?
The concept of 'stealing' intellectual property has limitations
because in certain cases it is permitted to copy an idea. For
example, if someone comes up with some idea about how to sell
something, that idea is probably not subject to being copyrighted
or patented. But a song is copyrighted, and people do business
by selling records or tapes with songs. This is an item that
brings a livelihood to people. Therefore, if you're taking it,
you're taking away the livelihood of a person.
That's very important to remember. Someone sweated nights and
invested money and time in order to create a certain item that
the public is interested in, and then he's ready to sell it.
And then it turns out that some Napster type of enterprise gets
its hands on it, and people end up paying zero for it.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 77: LEAVING MAGNETIC STRIPE PARKING GARAGE TICKET
The municipal parking meter requires that you add money to a
magnetic stripe ticket for as long as you expect to stay. If
I'm ready to leave, and there is still time left on my ticket,
can I leave the ticket in or near the machine for the next person
to add money to it, so they can use the money I have left on the
ticket? Or is that stealing from the city?
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