As a kid I used to download a lot of softwares and movies using torrents. Even if something illegal is done, it doesn't necessarily mean that it violates a precept. But can this be considered as stealing in Buddhism? How can this be explained according to the Buddhist view?

  • 2
    I think it's time to delete all the comments on answers to this topic. If you disagree with someone's answer then you think there could be a better answer -- so post an answer of your own. In your answer, explain what you think right view and wrong are; but please don't criticize other people by name.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 5:00
  • 2
    If you want to disagree with my comment above please do that on the "Meta" site, not here.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 5:58

11 Answers 11


No, it does not. In order to steal, something has to be misappropriated from the original owner.

Copying is not theft, even according to modern jurisprudence; copyright is an artificial "right" granted to the "owner" of a specific intellectual activity to prevent the "copying" of the product of said intellectual activity. "Intellectual property" is likewise an artificial construct.

The presumption that someone has a right to restrict the copying of their ideas is suspect at best, but it should not be confused with the right to restrict the use or appropriation of one's physical property, since the latter involves singular, rather than identical, entities. You don't call it stealing if someone breaks into your house, copies down the way you set your table and goes and does it the same in their own home.

It is important to understand as well that the question of whether copyright infringement is unethical hinges not on whether the owner doesn't want you to copy, but on whether they have a right to forbid you to copy. It is not unethical doing something just because you know someone else doesn't want you to do it; otherwise I shouldn't have become a Buddhist.

The misunderstanding comes from our acceptance of copyright as a tool for monetary gain. We have come to accept that because certain people want to be able to market their ideas, they therefore have a right to do so, whereas it was previously understood that only one's potential at coming up with good ideas (i.e. their value as a person) was marketable. It is not the case that just because someone wants to be able to make money through a certain means therefore they have a right to society's protection in so doing; otherwise, pushing rocks up a hill would have to be paid proportionately.

The main reason we tend to think that copyright is an actual right stems from the massive propaganda machine of the entertainment industry (and mara, I assume) that has managed to equate people who copy the ideas of others with bloodthirsty sea-faring mercenaries (a.k.a. pirates).

Furthermore, though it's now outside of the realm of your question, a person's insistence on controlling copyright may be arguably considered unethical from a Buddhist standpoint; it can be seen as selfish (since it costs nothing to allow others to copy one's ideas), invasive (since it is not really any of your business), and hypocritical (since everyone copies just about everything they come in contact with throughout their lives from the time that they're born). Again, just because we want to be able to make a living in a certain way, doesn't mean we should be protected in it. Theft, on the other hand, does cost the owner, is the owner's business, and expecting protection against it isn't necessarily hypocritical.

tl;dr: copying without permission and theft are two different concepts; whether copying without permission can be considered immoral is suspect at best, but at any rate is not directly related to the second precept.


Doesn't the second precept deal with more than just misappropriation?

No, like all the precepts, it really only means what it says. Anyway, if it was interpreted more broadly, where would you draw the line? Copying someone's words without their permission is stealing, but distributing pictures of them without their permission isn't? Or distributing pictures of them is, but looking at them isn't? There is no clear definition available, except the clearly bogus one of "not doing what other people don't want you to do".

Isn't intellectual property the same as real property?

First, let's get one thing straight; copyright infringement isn't theft; the law doesn't look at it as theft, the RIAA doesn't look at it as theft, no one considers it to be theft except the public who have been misinformed as a part of ongoing propaganda that it is a kind of theft (or piracy, which is really silly). It is actually more like a kind of breach of contract. To explain: the law doesn't concern itself with the physical entity that houses the information; it concerns itself with the fact that something has been copied against the wishes of the copyright holder. The issue isn't that a new copy exists, it is that a copy has been made. It is the act of copying that is illegal.

But the question remains, whether the person who has put all the work into creating a piece of intellectual property doesn't have the same rights as a person who puts work into a physical creation. The thing is, intellectual property isn't like other property in that it can't be given, sold, bought, etc. It can only ever be copied. When you tell someone a secret, you have created a copy of the information. When you publish a book, you are not selling the book, you are selling the right to a copy of the information it contains. So when a person makes money off of intellectual property, what they are actually selling (and this is how the industry really understands it, afaics) is a license; you can't actually sell information. So when concerning ourselves with the poor victims of intellectual property theft, what we should ask is "what gives someone the right to license their ideas?"

The difference is driven home when you consider that a person who creates a physical item of value is able to sell it once. They are only able to sell it because someone else wants to own it; if there are cheaper versions elsewhere (patent and copyright laws notwithstanding), their customers are free to go elsewhere.

A person who holds a copyright over information, on the other hand, holds their creation hostage, pimping it out repeatedly and ever retaining sole ownership over it. They do no extra work for each payment obtained and can, in cases where demand for the information is high, expect to receive payment massively disproportionate to the original work performed to obtain the information (which, incidentally, most likely involved copying information from others).

In short, the real question should be, "what exactly do real property and intellectually property have in common?" The answer is: "not much."

Isn't copyright infringement breach of promise?

In cases where you promise a sentient being of something and then break that promise, yes. Clicking on an EULA isn't a promise because you are communicating with a machine. When you buy a book, if you clearly communicate that you promise to use it in a certain way, then yes, you would be breaking your word if you used it in a different way. If you download software from the Internet, you make no such promise at any point.

Isn't it a cause for mental defilement to go against the wishes of the copyright holder?

Potentially; the situation is that you are being requested not to do something that is otherwise within your rights to do by the owner of the copyrighted work.

You have to weigh whether that request holds merit or not. If your friend asks you not to performing some action, you have to ask yourself whether performing said action is important enough to upset your friend, keeping in mind there is nothing unethical about performing said action. There is nothing unethical about copying other people's work without their permission (assuming, of course, that you properly attribute the works to the correct author and don't try to take credit for other people's work); there is something potentially problematic about upsetting people, especially friends. By the Buddha's words, we can see that upsetting others should be done carefully, but is not necessarily outside of what is wholesome.

As to whether wanton downloading of entertainment is a cause for mental defilement, I don't really think that has anything to do with the argument at hand, since it has nothing to do intrinsically with the matter of permission to do so.

Doesn't copyright infringement hurt a valid industry/artist?

Anyone who thinks this should really brush up on their history of "intellectual property". Specifically, I recommend reading anything by Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, or Richard Stallman. At the very least this would give a look at the other side of the propaganda war waged by the entertainment industry. Honestly, a lot of what these guys say sounds more Buddhist than some of the opinions of the card-carrying.

As I've said above more than once, though, those people dependent on copyright to make a living (really this is only the entertainment industry bigwigs; the majority of content creators could do better if they adopted a more crowd-friendly approach like Cory Doctorow) are suffering from the same problem scribes had when the printing press was created; they were expecting to be rewarded by a system that was no longer necessary to society. Thoreau put it best when he said:

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve us?" Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off- that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed- he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

Walden, Ch. 1

It's okay to make baskets, but to force people to buy them when other means present themselves is silly. If your reason for doing something is to make money, then the onus is on you, first and foremost, to ensure that your product is valuable; copyright is just an artificial means of placing a monetary value on something (information) one cannot otherwise.

But the question remains, whether we would lose valuable content if there were no copyright laws. The answer depends on what you understand as "valuable". If, by valuable, you mean "marketable", then of course the answer is yes, we would lose a lot of marketable content. We would also lose a lot of addictive content, since the logical outcome of encouraging and protecting monetary gain through copyright ownership is content that is primarily designed to encourage demand (i.e. addictive). The entertainment industry would stop stooping to the lowest common denominators of sex, violence, and absurdity in bringing pleasure to others. I for one could live without that.

If information were free, as it really should be, there would be no powerful incentive to encourage addiction to intellectual property; there would be a reversion to the days when, at worst, one propagated information as a means of promoting one's own value as an individual. Maybe people would stop writing books and making movies on film, but really, haven't we shown already with YouTube and the Internet that these are outdated mediums? It doesn't really cost millions of dollars to create any more.

  • 3
    If you disagree with the answer please comment on the answer itself, not disparage the person answering.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 9:27
  • @ChrisW What does "disparage" mean? I took it back... but Chris, with the logic you use shouldn't the moderators of the world arrest the poor monk using "worldly law" or is this a case were Dhamma trumps worldly law?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 22:43
  • 2
    @MettaforBullies "Disparage" literally means "regard (or represent) someone as worthless"; I use it as a synonym for denigrate. I don't understand what you were saying about my logic. I think my point is that if you disagree with an answer, it's more polite to discuss or comment on the answer, than to say that the person is wrong. As moderator I think it's my job to allow people to answer questions (and perhaps comment on answers) but minimize ad hominem criticism of the people who are participating.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 23:09
  • Sounds good, will try to do better next time :)
    – Lowbrow
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 0:29
  • 1
    To correct a central misconception in this answer, it is not possible to copyright an “idea” or “information.” A book, film, song, or anything else that is copyrightable is not mere “information” or an “idea” to be taken without compensation - it is the finished product of one or many people’s hard work, time, passion, training, expertise and financial investment, as well as the source of their livelihood and their legal property. To take this without permission, against the creator’s rights and to his/her detriment, is indeed unethical and a violation of the second precept in word and spirit.
    – K_M
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 5:00

From Mahayana perspective, illegally downloading e.g. a movie is definitely a breach of precepts, for three reasons:

  1. because this entails acting out of desire for pleasure,
  2. because this upsets, not gladdens, the minds of whoever conceive themselves as the owners, and
  3. because this involves the parasitic attitude of getting something for nothing.

Firstly, what counts most in Mahayana is your state of mind. After all, the five precepts are training rules. They are about taming your mind by suppressing impulses that originate from Obsessive Desire, Aversion, and Confusion.

What is my state of mind when I illegally download a movie? I want to please or entertain myself, to experience pleasant sensations (in this case emotional and mental, rather than physical, but because of non-duality all sensations are ultimately of the same nature). From Mahayana perspective, acting out of desire to experience pleasant sensations is a downfall. Instead, we should be acting for the long term benefit of ourselves and others. And the best benefit to strive for, is attaining complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. This noble aspiration is known as Bodhicitta, or the motive of the Buddha.

Second, we must consider the owner's state of mind. (Whether owner is truly an owner or only believes to be such, is of no relevance in this context, because all ownership is ultimately a fiction anyway. It is the state of mind that matters). Would owner be glad if he knew I downloaded a copy of the product of his effort? Would the Three Poisons subside in the owner's mind as a result of my act, or would they increase? Clearly, the minds of the owners of the movie will not be exalted, if they went as far as to put a restrictive license on their content. They did not want us to take it, they told us they did not want us to take it, and they are upset now that we have taken it. How is this not "taking what is not given"?

Third, at the core of the act of illegally downloading a movie, is a perverted attitude of getting something without doing anything! This is the same attitude as is behind fraud, gambling etc. "I don't want to make an effort to entertain myself through doing something creative. Instead, I want to receive positive emotions for free, by taking advantage of someone else's effort." -- This is an attitude of a parasite. Even the begging monks back in Buddha's times were paying back their alms (food) by giving Dharma lectures to the lay people! This spirit of making effort towards positive states of mind is at the core of Buddha's teaching.

To summarize, from Mahayana perspective unauthorized download of copyrighted content is a breach of precepts because it is an activity based on (and therefore sustaining!) wrong motivation, lack of compassion, and perverted attitude -- resulting in a negative long-term effect.

  • Meditating in the sun is both pleasurable and getting something for nothing, yet it is good. And the guy who says he owns the beach even though he only put mattrasses on it to prevent other people from coming is still being upset, no? :)
    – bbozo
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 9:25
  • 3
    Sunbathing could be indulging in laziness or it could be dzogchen meditation. Picking a fight with the guy at the beach could be the habit of your quarreling mind, or could be a practice of wrathful yidam. This is called transformation of precepts, the definition of "good" changes as we mature spiritually. On "hinayana"-level we expect rules to simply work. In mahayana, we get more wise.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 14:03
  • 1
    This answer seems perfect both for Buddhists and musicians and film-makers.
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:23

Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami "Abstaining Taking of what is not given" that is very simple and does not give an, not any place for pretending and rationalization.

Best to start to release from general confusion: Stealing and taking what is not given, understanding that it is about ones own actions, intend.

To understand rationalization here in two ways:

Modern sociologists have identified five basic strategies that people use to avoid accepting blame when they've caused harm, and it's noteworthy that the Pali teaching on moral responsibility serves to undercut all five. The strategies are: to deny responsibility, to deny that harm was actually done, to deny the worth of the victim, to attack the accuser, and to claim that they were acting in the service of a higher cause. The Pali responses to these strategies are: (1) We are always responsible for our conscious choices. (2) We should always put ourselves in the other person's place. (3) All beings are worthy of respect. (4) We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. (Monks, in fact, are required not to show disrespect to people who criticize them, even if they don't plan to abide by the criticism.) (5) There are no — repeat, no — higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behavior. Reconciliation, Right & Wrong

The circumstance that even Monks bend this simple precept is, because they are themselves not able to stick to simple precepts and still breaking it, because they have certain other aims (no 5.) and task with which they justify stealing and even encourage others to do so.

How they normally justly such is in ways like this. They even do not hesitate to steal form the Sangha in making the Dhamma, for example, public domain, which actually means that it is owned by a certain group of people and no more Sangha property. Of course they could not righteously by in means of common law they did.

Ownership does not end with material things. Think for example on land. Is the land gone or taken when somebody holds the right on it and deprive one from his/here use? You can still walk and lock at it. Is your life your own? Nobody can take it for him self. Is body your own? So its merely silly to argue "because" one can not take it with him/here its not stealing. What about water right? A monk would not be able to even drink form a lack, knowing that it has an owner. And in read of going into the forest and taking what one whats, that is the way of villagers and also not the way of people who are living on the alms of the country.

And the strange argument that something aside of material things it is not really own-able on a metaphysics level would make even material things declare being not ones own.

There is merely the fact that especially this copyright and taking via internet is the most thieving going on in the world and if anybody would say that such things are not based on simply greed without one conscience and concern he is far away form anything that can be called virtue or even Dhamma.

What ever is not given, is simply stolen. There is nothing to argue.

The most usual situation, since people today are not even capable to give conscious, is taking on trust.

Taking on trust, if it has its reasoning, would not count as stealing:

To rightly take an object on trust, Mv.VIII.19.1 states that five conditions must be met:

a. The owner is an acquaintance.
b. He/she is an intimate.
c. He/she has spoken of the matter. 
(According to the Commentary, this means that he/she has said, 
"You may take any of my property you want.")
d. He/she is still alive.
e. One knows that he/she will be pleased at one's taking it.

The Commentary to this rule states that in practice only three of these conditions need to be met: the fourth, the fifth, and any one of the first three. As the Vinaya-mukha notes, there are good practical reasons for adopting the Commentary's interpretation here. There is also the formal reason that otherwise the first two conditions would be redundant.

If anybody would like to tell that others would be happy with there downloads or have given it explicit to do so, he/she would not be aware of what he/she is saying, if such has not been given in that way.

It also shows fine that, in regard of precepts, taking something the owner died (certain laws give older things for public), such is actually not possible to take, especially if it is then owned by the public (which is also an ownership of a group, and in cases of monks and those having left society, not their.)

As for monks, where thief is even a Downfall precepts (and therefore there is a lot of nonsense taught), it is very simple:

Should any bhikkhu, in what is reckoned a theft, take what is not given from an inhabited area or from the wilderness — just as when, in the taking of what is not given, kings arresting the criminal would flog, imprison, or banish him, saying, "You are a robber, you are a fool, you are benighted, you are a thief" — a bhikkhu in the same way taking what is not given also is defeated and no longer in affiliation. BMC1

That means if something is done (here explicit also a matter of judgement of law!), which counts as thieving in a certain society, is a downfall and actually there is no reason that one would have the need to do such.

Which normal person would feel save if monks think in ways they to here and there. If Atma would be a person who still holds ownership on anything, Atma would try to keep them far away for house and farm. A danger for every society and nothing as approach like stone age communists take on to "liberate" the folk. Such ideas are very dangerous and are sometimes only seen if the backward hit one self, even only later. What they call for is actually dispossession in large, like this group which calling their dispossession acts even central, a known notion of communist ideas.

Atma can only urge you, 1. to keep the law and/or trust simply roles and you will have the best and righteous results.

The fact that most do wrong does not limit the results of deed. Poverty has its cause and one does good to reflect how wealth he/she really is and how much of that was amassed righteously and with own effort.

In fact stealing of intellectual property can cause one even to be executed, thinking on military things and state security in some countries and that thieving of intellectual is the biggest common crime and takes dimensions of Billion of Dollars makes it merely a joke when so called Monks tell that such is no breaking the precepts.

If one wished to give something for everybody that is fine and good, but to demand that everything should be/or is every-bodies property, that is what Buddha called the biggest thief in the world: The thief of truth.

Is your girl friend/ boy friend your own? Would people kill for something that is in reality (according the Dhamma at least) not their own?

So forget such silly thought and run away from people with strong wrong view and no virtue. One does not need to study and learn laws, if simply staying by 5 precepts, which are all about stealing, at least. And lying is the most dangerous taking what is not given and destruction of welfare for many.

As for leaders and also monks and to understand in which ways the Buddha formulated his rules in regard of certain thing which can harm a lot if people adopt it, Atma likes to share one story of book "Protection for living beings"

Stealing Beauty

There was a beautiful princess from the Wei dynasty who liked to dress up fancy. She had an embroidered gown with feather on it. The sparkling shine made her look like a fairy. One day, the king saw her in this dress and spoke to her in a serious tone: “Take off this gown right now and never wear anything with a feather.” The princess laughed and replied: “How many feathers do we need for a dress?” The king said: “You are the princess of the country. I am afraid that the royal families will all take after your example. Even more, the common people will do the same as well. The merchants will do anything they can to catch birds for the feathers as long as there is money to be made. If so, the countless lives would be taken because of you. The sin would be unimaginable.

Atma is not sure of how those "sin"full people will ever get out of there confusion, but to confess and to change his ways will be good done. It will be a lot of work that they will fill up all the pitfalls they had made all over the net. At least is encouraging others to take what is not given, the same as one would act for him self. So there will be less cases where the act is actually not fulfilled in this or that way.

Atma also needs to add that although Ven. Bhante Thanissaro in normally more discerning and wise, he absolutely failed in regard of his "modern interpretation" in his BMC1 and it would be good to inform him if one has the possibility.

At least, don't forget that there is such as taking on trust. Although you are very heedful and conscientious, it could happen that your taking on trust was a fail or different as you thought. Such is not really a breaking of the rule. How ever, its good to make such undone, confessing it and make others have no damage from it.

Many things that feeds such Companies like SE here, actually live form people how have good intentions but are not so informed, yet such companies try to give the responsibility to the user and at the same time they make his/her share their own or change the boundary marks of it. So please be careful, since most think "Doing Evil Knowingly and Unknowingly" is not a matter. You are even more in troubles for your self, if you do things unknowingly.

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

Practical and simple (in later addition)

As it seems that there are still growing "Chris.-Like" thoughts about stealing (and killing), like righteous stealing (killing):

There are hundredths and thousands of laws dealing with "taking what is not given", in normal language is "not stolen" defined by certain agreements = common stealing. The different between common laws and common agreement and Dhamma is, that simply "taken what is not given" means "taken what is not given" and there is no space. One would know it exactly for one self. As for the Vinaya, it deals much about the weight of offense and of course it has adopted certain flavors, since it turns also a boarder on the value.

But as from the Dhammic aspect and the meaning of this precepts, which is of course "A Training", there is actually no break and rest, till one is absolutely free of greed, desire, that one could not even take what is given. It's said that a Streamwinner gains certain virtue of this kind.

That means, aside of laws, which are a communal and community thing (whether state, group or monastic Sangha), the training precept is simply formulated, so that there is no change to corrupt it: "Not taking what is not given (with body and language)"

It is usual and happens everywhere, when people see that they are not perfect now, rather to put an effort be become perfect, start to argue and seek for ways to gain a good conscience by lowering the borders to their common ability.

But if such would be the way to actually still bad conscience even on a level that it would be a base for any samma samadhi, we should simply declare everything take-able and put away precepts, so nobody would have to have trouble with his conscience.

Think about that, do you like to paint a pile of dirt golden, dancing around, singing this is "Mount Nibbana", and we are perfect as we are, or to you like to gain perfection, which, if it would be not possible, the Buddha would not have told you, that is is possible. But since it is possible, to abound unskillful mental Qualities and develop skillful qualities, he told you, that it is possible.

Not to speak that Sila and sticking with it, is always the reason for peace within a community. You would not like to get the fruits of what has been taken by you, not one minute wouldn't you like.

If you train your self, simply in more and more "abstaining from taking what is not given" according to your awareness, you will learn about your defilement and modify also your mode of live (right livelihood). And you should not, as long as you don't have a cetain trained mind, ever start to think much about certain factors and abhidhamma-concepts or even Vinaya-Commentaries, since (in regard of Dhamma) your mind would simply act like every advocate, simply trying to get the task done and slack to the formal declarations of it. Since you simply cheat your self, or give your defilement ways to cheat your mind, there will be no benefit at all. At least the path is simply unreachable, may you study what ever Dhamma you like and try what ever wellness meditation. You forgot the raw stuff and would easy become really a problem for others as well as for your self.

You are your judge to bring you on a honest and fruitful line.

So remember the different: - For the personal practice: Taking what is not given, and even the slightest, you should correct and abound. - For your community (country, Sangha...): The same, and confess it, if it had happened. So that you can be well putted back and be able to walk on. And you even have certain reputation is and be sensed as a trusted person, if you are over sensitive and ask often if that is ok or it it was a fault.

As for the vipaka, no worry, it does not haggles. And this training, will 100% cure things you never assumed to cure: The Healing Power of the Precepts

As for judging a single case and or confess it, simply stay with your admirable friend and teacher, of whom you know that he actually does not only talk but has such virtues and who is not dependent from you, so that he can be a honest and really helpful source. All that, like the keeping of precepts are simply on your own choice, so why cheat your choice and make not best use of it in every possible way.

You will not fear anything and have nothing to fear (aside of old stuff that nobody could change you), even not death, if you have trained your self to walk on the right (samma) side and your much will also grow straight, able to go everywhere.

If you still stick and think that you find arguments to justify taking what is not given, feel invited to take on the challenge. There should be no doubt, even a little, since it is the even first step into Dhamma, staring on Saddha, since you might not have seen yet. As the "freedom" (=responsibility and being aware of it without a change of disclaimer, kamma) to discuss the matter is certain limited here, your are free to share your though here: Monks on copyright material and violating the second precept or where ever you wish.

The Poison of "rights" and "licences" and Right view

Right virtue, right action has either wisdom (right view) or faith/conviction (right view as saddha, intellectual) as prerequisite. If there is no saddha, there can be no training. When the training is done till right view, having straightened virtue (incl. right livelihood), having developed the Meditation section, it becomes right view and with it the merely rites and ritual doing style of virtue is no longer needed and virtue is something natural you would even no more think about it.

If people live in countries or places where there is no more worldly right view, believe in cause and effect, seeing "there is what is given, there is what is scarified, there are fruits of bad and good actions", but start to believe in such things as "I have a right", I have the license to do this and that, and even think that they have such as inherent right, the path can no more been seen and one would even have a hard to survive to practice such. Such things like gratitude and generosity, goodness and so on are gone and everybody fights for his rights. Which means to demand something he actually has neither a right nor demand at all. To fighting for rights is also taking what is not giving and its more that sad that even monks are mostly such as leaders in such movements, calling for fruits without having given it a cause.

You should be aware, that such as thinking in "rights" is hardly against right view has nothing to do and no foothold in the Dhamma at all. That does not mean, that it is not a meritorious deed if somebody shares what he owns or looks over and give others this or that freedom. That is great. But to demand, that is wrong view. Like to demand that one mother gives one birth and nourishes one. There is no such. If she does not like, then what ever "right law" would say she needs, could not execute it. So everything since you are born, even your body, all has been given and scarified by others. So rather to go around and thing of what right your have, is to be very aware and grateful of what is given to your and its wise, when you pay back, what ever goodness has been done to you or even do such in advanced.

So please be aware of people who are trying to catch you with such stuff like "rights" or "licenses", which they mostly do not own by them self, have no power been given to do so, but simply like to earn your gratitude in advanced to be able to simply pressure and take it from others. That is cheap politic, what ever "Rights-Movement" it might be, and to run with such people means to extorting other with them and one has the same share of kamma.

Its not wrong to ask, it's not wrong to make a deal, but expropriate others, if under violent or nor or lesser bodily or verbal "non-violent" pressure (which is only outwardly different, but not form the intention and has the same kammic effect), is simply wrong actions and the world is full of such actions as it is full of gigantic taking what is not given, never have been such in this world.

Such as asking is totally unknown today. Its even so as if people feel trapped or exposed if you ask them straight forward, so strange has it grown. And most, most (from 1001 tests on field) are Buddhists most like to be even not able to ask or to answer like a normal person on a request. Not to speak that obligatorily behavior is simply something unknown. That falls under "that is not my task and not you right to request such".

Stay away from people of thinking and arguing in means of "rights" and "licenses" and give and receive righteously.

Atma can tell you that even 80% of Monks (Atma came across in modern worlds) are not able to receive something nor to give something in a way one would do, if have certain right view, certain moral, certain gratitude and goodness.

Last but at least, Atma likes to share two short Essays written some years ago, to make the matter more understandable bending it from "normal" live to way of thinking in psychologies and then turning it back to Dhamma (Atmas english is not good at all, so it might miss some nuances, but give it a try, such makes also own creativity necessary and is food for the heart):

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

  • I agree with some of your arguments. The part on 'rightly take an object on trust' makes sense.Thank you. But then, if you share a rightfully acquired film or a software with a friend does that make your friend a thief? I feel it's the same thing that's happening under piracy, you're just sharing your copy with others. If there's nothing wrong with sharing your material property with others why such a big deal with intellectual property? As an example I can't see a difference in sharing a hard copy of a book or its electronic version. It shouldn't make the borrower a thief.
    – dmsp
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 20:19
  • @dmsp One difference between sharing a book and copying its electronic version is national law (one is legal/permitted and the other isn't): sharing a hard copy of a book is legal because you're not creating a new copy of (you're not copying) the book. The copyright-holder sold you (i.e. gave you permission to have, use, lend, and/or sell) the book, but didn't give you permission to copy the book -- see First-sale doctrine.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 20:32
  • Also you wrote, "even if something illegal is done", so I take it that you know it's illegal. I think it's unsafe to argue that the copyright holder "gave you something" (i.e. permission) to do something illegal, even if they gave you the ability to (for example if I trusted you and hired you to work in my physical store, that would be giving you the ability to i.e. access to steal things from the store, but without giving you my permission to steal).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 20:50
  • @ChrisW You are arguing on the lenders point of view. I'm talking on borrower's point of view. Does that make the borrower a thief? Also, I later learned that it is online sharing that is illegal (such as in torrents), not downloading.
    – dmsp
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 21:27
  • 1
    Mr @Dmsp. For whom is a co-committer, law is normally very strict. Thinking on buying stolen things (receiver of stolen things; fence). As from a dhammic view, its a matter of knowing. One would not break the precept, since it lacks the intention to take without having been given (or happens on trust that is the gift of the giver). This area is much about being honest to one self. The Vinaya commentary in BMC says that there is never a fault to receive a stolen item, but that is not eternal correct and the certain impact can be traced easily. Knowingly matters and includes the intention.
    – user7586
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 23:54


For stealing to take place we can look at the definitions of pārājika 2 on stealing. The original edition of the BMC 1 declared copy theft as stealing. However this has changed in later editions. Because of this, it is controversial and should be avoided especially if one is a monk. The pārājika rule is below: (Ven. Thanissaro)

"Should any bhikkhu, in what is reckoned a theft, take what is not given from an inhabited area or from the wilderness — just as when, in the taking of what is not given, kings arresting the criminal would flog, imprison, or banish him, saying, "You are a robber, you are a fool, you are benighted, you are a thief" — a bhikkhu in the same way taking what is not given also is defeated and no longer in affiliation."

Another quote below:

"The Vibhaṅga defines the act of stealing in terms of four factors.

  1. Object: anything belonging to another human being or a group of human beings.
  2. Perception: One perceives the object as belonging to another human being or a group of human beings.
  3. Intention: One decides to steal it.
  4. Effort: One takes it. Stealing under any circumstances is always an offense. However, the severity of the offense depends on another factor, which is —
  5. The value of the object. ".

(BMC 1 pg48)

All four factors must be present for there to be theft. The 5th factor defines strong stealing specific for monks and automatic expulsion. #1 and #2 are the debatable items for copy theft, and they come together in most cases and that is where the controversy comes. The issue is on misappropriation and the laws. Most know it belongs to others, but refuse to recognize this as an object of theft. There are cases where not paying customs taxes is considered stealing. While Ajahn Thanissaro argues against using court cases to decide if something is stealing, it is in the pāli rule itself. It is important because a court of law can cover perception and define it according to the king's law. Copy theft is defined by law and enforced in the courts.

Some, monks and communities have considered copyright infringement to be a pārājika (defeat) offense for monks and therefore is stealing since that is what the rule is. There are two criteria for a pārājika defeat offence. One is money value, the other is whether a king would fine, imprison, or banish you. These criteria make a "stealing" a serious "stealing.". Money value only makes it a serious stealing, but it is still stealing and wrong if it is a small value.

Misappropriation is similar to tax evasion and Visa Fee invasion. Sneaking into a theatre and crossing a bridge illegally comes to mind. Some of these cases are mentioned under P2.

I have copied misappropriation subheading from "Copyright law of the United States" under "infringement" subheading, wikipedia 2012 kiwix. Zim file.

Misappropriation (from Wikipedia )

A copyrighted work may contain elements which are not copyrightable, such as facts, ideas, themes, or content in the public domain. A plaintiff alleging misappropriation must first demonstrate that what the defendant appropriated from the copyrighted work was protectible. Second, a plaintiff must show that the intended audience will recognize substantial similarities between the two works. The intended audience may be the general public, or a specialized field. The degree of similarity necessary for a court to find misappropriation is not easily defined. Indeed, "the test for infringement of a copyright is of necessity vague."[46] Two methods are used to determine if unlawful appropriation has occurred: the subtractive method and the totality method.

The subtractive method, also known as the "abstraction/subtraction approach" seeks to analyze what parts of a copyrighted work are protectible and which are not.[47] The unprotected elements are subtracted and the fact finder then determines whether substantial similarities exist in the protectible expression which remains. For instance, if the copyright holder for West Side Story alleged infringement, the elements of that musical borrowed from Romeo and Juliet would be subtracted before comparing it to the allegedly infringing work because Romeo and Juliet exists in the public domain.

The totality method, also known as the "total concept and feel" approach takes the work as a whole with all elements included when determining if a substantial similarity exists.[48] The individual elements of the alleged infringing work may by themselves be substantially different from their corresponding part in the copyrighted work, but nevertheless taken together be a clear misappropriation of copyrightable material.[49] Modern courts may sometimes use both methods in its analysis of misappropriation.[50] In other instances, one method may find misappropriation while the other would not, making misappropriation a contentious topic in infringement litigation.[51

Is it lying to a machine when the license agreement shows up? It is a "lock" set up by the owner. You are granted entry if you agree. If you do not agree, it does not let you use the program.

A quote from BMC I (page 45):

"Copying computer software. The agreement made when installing software on a computer, by which one agrees not to give the software to anyone else, comes under contract law. As such, a breach of that contract would be treated under the category of "deceit," described above, which means that a bhikkhu who gives software to a friend in defiance of this contract would incur the penalty for a broken promise. As for the friend — assuming that he is a bhikkhu — the act of receiving the software and putting it on his computer would be treated under the precedent, mentioned above, of the bhikkhus receiving fruit from an orchard groundkeeper not authorized to give it away: He would incur no offense. However, as he must agree to the contract before installing the software on his computer, he would incur a penalty for a broken promise if he then gave the software to someone else in defiance of the contract. "

Some comments:

  1. I have heard of people getting "busted" from sting operations that trace IP addresses. The victims of the sting who steal by downloading need to get a real lawyer and pay real fines. (a monastic friend from Germany had a friend who was fined several thousand Euros. He was able to reduce it to hundreds with a lawyer).
  2. The original Napster and other sites get banished from the internet and it was a key case in copyright laws and enforcement. Notice the keyword, "Banished"
  3. BMC 1 (original edition) declared copyright theft a pārājika. That has been changed, but it should stand as controversial and warned against.
  4. There were two personal cases listed in Wikipedia where a person went against several cease or desist warnings and again fought his right in court.

    The two large cases on Wikipedia are:

    • Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum
    • Capitol v. Thomas

About the BMC: While I have heard of monks stating that copyright does not count as pārājika (defeat), it is usually classed under "wrong use" and clearly says it is wrong. It should also be known that the pārājika rule calls for "in the village or forest" where forest is a place where there are no laws. It was because of this that Pa-auk follows copyright laws.

Wikipedia lists this under "Fair Use", under a subheading of "Common misunderstandings"

Common misunderstandings

Noncommercial use is invariably fair. Not true, though a judge may take the profit motive or lack thereof into account. In LA Times v Free Republic, the court found that the noncommercial use of LA Times content by the Free Republic Web site was in fact not fair use, since it allowed the public to obtain material at no cost that they would otherwise pay for.

My own opinion is that it is difficult to judge copy theft as stealing or not stealing but to present the information that is out there and to promote abstinence when coming to copy theft.

I prefer to apply the information below:

We should follow the King's law and put it as sīla as a factor in addition to the law. The law comes first. Whether the king is righteous or not, we need to follow his ways and make it a habit. A king can make one's life very difficult and destroy a calm mind for most people. He can torture people all the way up to the death moment. From there it is likely that a hell realm will be next even though the king was wrong for doing it. Life is not fair and neither is rebirth. So it is best to follow the King's law as the top level rule.. Unless of course he has rules that would cause one to kill, etc. like requiring one to participate in the armed forces. Usually one can get around that legally by doing other services. Habitual Kamma followed today will also help to be a habit of the future. This is common sense in the Law of Kamma and cause and effect. Samsara should always be an issue in doing anything. This is the proper way of looking at things. It is the Buddhist way of looking at things.

This is important for habitual kamma and for one's well being in the future.

Therefore if it is seen as wrong by others one should not do it.

The Dasadhamma sutta says:

Kacci nu kho me attā sīlato na upavadatī?” ti
“Can I myself find no fault with my virtue?”

pabbajitena abhiṇhaṁ paccavekkhitabbaṁ.
[4] one who has gone forth should frequently reflect on this.

“Kacci nu kho maṁ anuvicca viññū sabrahmacārī,
“Will my wise companions in the spiritual life, after testing me,

sīlato na upavadantī?” ti
find no fault with my virtue?”,

pabbajitena abhiṇhaṁ paccavekkhitabbaṁ.
[5] one who has gone forth should frequently reflect on this.

The last line for the reflection on food can set a precedent for all craving objects.

yātrā ca me bhavissati, anavajjatā ca phāsuvihāro ca.
[2] and I will carry on, being blameless, and living comfortably.

Greed is the main factor. Copy theft is a form of action related to greed. It also disturbs others who own the intellectual property. This can cause kamma in the future.

Samsara is so dangerous. Therefore one should not take chances in acting in greed. One can do without or settle for open source or creative commons media. To protest these laws by making freely available media and software is the best solution. When that happens, other companies will need to compete in a different way. Ven Yuttadhammo has created some free software and books as a proper way of protesting. Ven. Thanissaro has done the same with his books. Someone recently gave a donation so PTS would release a creative commons noncommercial licenses to their entire Mula English Translated Texts. Ven. Anandajoti arranged donors to help buy back his rights from BPS so he could publish and give away his book for free. The last one is not so fair, but he complied with the laws and perceived ownership.

It is certainly controversial among monasteries and individual monks. I have never heard of it being completely free from wrong up until reading an answer here on stack exchange. I bring up the "change in opinion" of the BMC to show how serious it is. It can be changed back and then many monks would worry. However, Ajahn Thanissaro is only a single monk and not a sangha council. There are things in the BMC or elsewhere that many would not agree with:

  1. Co-signing checks, accepting checks,
  2. Eating of dark chocolate or cheese, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea as medicines to cure a disease.
  3. The BMC also counts juice as a seven day medicine if it is pasteurised where fresh unheated juice is clearly said to be only allowed for one evening.

Patents: Patents help a company get exclusive manufacturing rights so they can recoup their investment in R & D.

Some mention "medicine.". This is based on patent laws which is different, but also under "intellectual property.". I am not sure, but I think most countries allow for personal use of patented stuff. Commercial manufactures are another story. I think the U.S. has a clause against personal use... certainly for software patents. That would make VLC and "usable" Linux, like the standard Linux Mint illegal in the U.S. even though it is not copied. Most other countries allow this but a few others do not like this. Mint has a special download for US citizens. Basically, one would need to tolerate such inconveniences and pay Fluendo the patent fees or do without.

Monks should not teach people to do things that would "upset" another. This is in the Metta Sutta.

Na paro paraṁ nikubbetha, nātimaññetha katthaci na’ kañci,
No one should cheat another, nor should he despise anyone wherever he is,

byārosanā paṭighasaññā nāññam-aññassa dukkham-iccheyya. [6]
° he should not long for suffering for another because of anger or resentment.

One should not cause mental or physical suffering especially if society accepts the laws. Early in 2001, when Pa-Auk was learning about this world view, it obtained a donation of an education version of PageMaker which was a grey area for a monastery with 600 "students" at that time. They were prepared to pay the difference under P2 exceptions ( bhaṇḍadeyya ) while I wrote to Adobe. I wrote to Adobe and asked them if an education license was considered stealing for a large monastery that "educates.". I also asked what we should do if it was not OK. They said it was "stealing" referred me to their piracy web page which said so and also said "they do mind" but gave permission to continue using it. Pa-Auk took a very strong policy after that letter was received.

Conclusion: One must have a "stealing mind" in order to steal. One must have all four factors listed at the top of this answer for stealing to occur. Perception is key, but it seems as though acceptance of the copyright rule is more of the issue. Acceptance and perception are different and should not be confused. A person who believes the speed limit should be higher and drives fast anyway may feel he is not "speeding" and justified. However, he knows what the law is by perception. Lastly, it is considered wrong whether it is seen as "stealing" or not and the copyright owners usually do mind. One should ask them to be sure. One should always take the safe side of controversy.

Loving-kindness and respect for the king's laws will always be your friend.


  • Although many suttas are referenced in the context of what bhikkhus should do, one who is not a monk would apply this advice just as well for their own practice, benefit and protection.

  • All pali translations are by Ven. Anandajoti. All non-vinaya pāli is simply from a daily chanting book. All vinaya quotes are from the BMC. Original BMC is not available for quoting.


Unless someone is giving away their work then to take it without paying for it does break the precepts. It doesn't matter whether the goods you are acquiring is tangible or intangible.

I would also say that the legality of copyright in your particular country is immaterial. If the person wants to be paid for their work then you should pay even if the country you are in at the time doesn't recognise their right to be paid. The person wants to be paid, you are capable of paying so pay. Or don't take their goods.

But this is my interpretation of the precepts. I would say the important thing to do is not follow the precepts slavishly but work out what they mean and why they mean it. They are training principles and your relationship will change with them over time as you practice. If you have doubts about an action then I would say that you probably know already that it is an unskillful action. Stop doing it and see if you feel better about yourself.


We should not take what has not been given, how does it apply to downloads?

If you have the TV channel in your house (when you download a tv show) or if you have the CD (when you download a song from that CD), you are not creating a problem for the industry, the songwritters, the actors etc... it is ok to download it, because you paid for the CD or you can watch the show for free in the television.

Problems arise when you start to download things you haven't paid for or has not be given to you for free, for example: A movie that is on theatres or a pirate ebook copy. In these cases you are taking the work of other people and not paying for it, you are somehow taking what has not been given, so this is where we should draw the line. In fact, you may be contributing to destroy an industry you like!

Think like this: Would you like someone to steal your hard work? Imagine you spent months or years writting a book and you need to make a living, would you like people to take it for free? So, think about it.

  • 'steal your hard work' -> Depending if it was really your hard work, or created by bunch of slaves who got paid some virtual digits, because they were forced to do in order to have something to eat and survive. This work could be so called yours only because so call 'law' says and you just initialized the whole process. The truth is, you don't own anything, you're borrowing minerals from Earth to made things. Btw. Linus created Linux and he wanted people to take it free, even this was his hard work. So it also depends if the person is selfish or not. Sharing should be pleasure.
    – kenorb
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 12:16

No, it does not break the second precept. It's similar to you getting a cheap chinese replica of an iPhone. You didn't steal anything. You just got it from a shop.

In any case, whether it breaks the precepts or not, keeping to the law of a country is something that Buddhism encourages as long as it's not immoral. In case of the use of pirated software, the consequences are obvious, if it's illegal in your country.


You ask, "But can this be considered as stealing in Buddhism?"

The text of the 2nd precept is, I think, more literally to "abstain from taking what is not given".

So even if ignoring Copyright isn't exactly stealing (and it isn't "stealing", according to national law), it's taking what's not given (and is breaking a different law, i.e. copyright law rather than law against theft).

For what it's worth there are various exceptions and exemptions to national copyright law (and these details of national law may or may not imply 'given', 'not given', 'allowed', and so on in Buddhism).

Samana Johann's answer quoted a definition of what "given" means, from the Mahavagga. It seems to me that probably precludes downloading without permission. You could try to justify "illegal downloading" by arguing that an intangible copy isn't property (e.g. that the book is yours but that I can make my own copy of the book), but I suppose that's a matter of personal opinion at best (or a matter of greed and harm at worst), and the fact that it breaks the law ought to at least give a person pause.

Vaguely similar issues come up when writing software, by the way. Are we allowed to rewrite software that's already been written? That's secret or been copyrighted or been patented? It's a bit complicated.

One topic people might agree on, is that, even if somebody has translated Dharma and copyrighted their translation, other people are (and/or should be) still allowed to make their own translation.

I'm not aware of someone (e.g. the Sangha nor the Buddha) having a copyright on Dharma. Samana Johann's answer writes "owned by the public" and I don't know what the Buddhist law is in that case. FWIW I think that national copyright law would tend to call that, "in the public domain", because so much time has passed since it (by "it" I mean the Pali or other original/antique version, but not a recently-translation English version) was written (and copyright only lasts for about 100 years or so).

  • There are hundredths and thousands of laws dealing with "taking what is not given", in normal language is "not stolen" defined by certain agreements = common stealing. The different between common laws and common agreement and Dhamma is, that simply "taken what is not given" means "taken what is not given" and there is no space. One would know it exactly for one self. As for the Vinaya, it deals much about the weight of offense and of course it has adopted certain flavors, "to drink water form the lack with an owner, would not count as stealing in some c...." how ever, the act is still clear.
    – user7586
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 13:35
  • Having some familiarity with copyright infringements in the US for digital content, technically, AFAIK even accessing a site is infringement of copyright law, i.e., one needs express permission to obtain a copy of the site, meaning, to download it from the server and view it on one's browser -- the fact that "the site is there" or "google links to it" is insignificant. What is significant is that there was an unauthorized copy (e.g. of copyrighted html, images, etc) from site to personal machine.
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 23:08
  • @ThiagoSilva Are you writing to me? Are you talking about any (specific) site, that's on the public internet and not behind a login but which doesn't give the public permission to access it? Are you suggesting an edit to my answer or pointing out something in it that's wrong?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 23:17
  • Just an ordinary remark. I came to learn that some judges would not consider intention to copy, rather just sticking to the mechanics (the fact of a copy) to understand if there was a copy violation. In that sense, pointing the browser to any site whose html/images are copyrighted constitute an infringement if there was no express permission (since the mechanics of site access requires copy of content from server to personal machine). Regardless of barriers such as login
    – user382
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 23:22

As a kid I used to download a lot of software and movies using torrents. Even if something illegal is done, it doesn't necessarily mean that it violates a precept. But can this be considered as stealing in Buddhism? How can this be explained according to the Buddhist view?

In Buddhism we are told to take oneself as the example, so if you put effort, hire others to create a movie or software, and then someone copies it without compensating you, would you like that? If the answer is no, then don't do it.

When many people copy SW and movies, it is a disincentive for people to produce newer and better SW/Movies. It also discourages others as well. For example in countries where people could download SW/movies with impunity, their own SW/movie industries never progressed. Also it creates a culture where people are creative leeches instead of being creative. That is why countries that value and protect IP (NA, Europe) are also the most creative in SW, Pharmaceuticals, movies, literature, etc. Open Source SW and free visual entertainment on YouTube are alternates, also initiated and promoted by people in countries that value and protect IP.

I am rather surprised to read some answers above rationalizing the illegal downloading of SW/movies. On those terms industrial espionage is also justified, where its ok to spy on one's competitors and steal their intellectual property instead of developing your own. So according to those answers industries that depend on patents, IP, copyrights like knowledge industries (e.g. lynda.com, udemy), pharmaceuticals, entertainment, publishing, etc are open for exploitation from Buddhists. I think not.

Remember that the factors that constitute theft is given in the commentaries, and back then IP, patents and copyright were not defined as well. In the Viskhauposatha Sutta we read the Buddha's definition of the 2nd precept:

"'For all their lives the arahants dwell having abandoned taking what is not given, refrain from taking what is not given, they are takers of what is given, those who expect only what is given, themselves become clean without thieving; so today I dwell, for this night and day, having abandoned taking what is not given, refraining from taking what is not given. I am a taker of what is given, one who expects only what is given, by myself become clean without thieving. By this practice, following after the arahants, the Uposatha will be entered on by me."

So yes, by downloading SW and movies you have "taken" the creative efforts of others without such items being properly "given" to you. You have "taken" something, which was not "given". As Buddhists we must respect the property rights of others, including their creative efforts. By illegally downloading SW/Movies, the chances are you acted out of greed, desire (loba), ego. Now it is one thing to do something wrong and know its wrong, but its another to do something wrong and think its right.


Copyright violation is the unlawful taking of that which does not rightfully belong to oneself, to the detriment of the owner, and as such violates the second precept. Because this type of violation is widespread and usually involves a digital download rather than a tangible CD, DVD or printed book, people tend to thoughtlessly dismiss it, but the OP is right to take the Buddhist approach of examining an issue closely for its physical and ethical consequences.

To address a common misconception I see in this thread, one cannot copyright or patent an “idea” or “information” (https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html) If you have an idea for a film, book, invention, etc., you cannot copyright the idea or the general information it will convey. You must use your training, expertise, passion, labor and financial resources to create a finished work, and then it is this unique expression that you copyright. The reason for copyright is obvious – so you can actually make a living from your labor. Imagine a photographer who wants to make a photography book about glaciers to bring more attention to global warming. He spends money on a research assistant, and they both labor hundreds of hours researching where to go and how to get there. He spends more money on several trips to the locations, and utilizes thousands of dollars of photo gear and years of training and passion to capture wonderful images. He then publishes the book – which, in violation of copyright, is immediately scanned and distributed widely on the internet. People who would have bought his book instead download it for free. Rather than earning a living, the photographer ends up in debt and cannot afford another such endeavor.

In place of a photographer, substitute a musician, filmmaker, author, software engineer, etc. – the main aspects are still the same: someone (or many people) put their time, labor and resources into creating a work because that is their livelihood; and that livelihood was diminished by sales dropping due to illegal and unethical copyright infringement.

Some people may say, “Well, I don’t want to hurt the small-time artist, but big record companies or film studios won’t really be hurt by me downloading this file-shared song or film.” There is a practical response to that and an ethical response. The practical response is that every music album and studio film employs thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on sales, and lost revenue due to copyright infringement will of course impact a company’s ability to grow, hire more people, raise wages, etc. The ethical response is that, especially as Buddhists, we should not fall for the delusion that our small unethical act does not matter if we are just one of thousands creating the damage. This is a mob mentality that allows for anonymity and a false sense that it’s OK because “everyone is doing it.” Buddhist examination allows us to see through such delusions and excuses and get to the heart of the second precept – do you have an intention to take what does not rightfully belong to you? Are you indeed taking that which does not rightfully belong to you, against the wishes and to the detriment of the rightful owner? If so, then you are certainly breaking the second precept.

I respect Yuttadhammo and how much time he takes to share the Dhamma. When it comes to this topic of copyright violation, however, there are many inaccuracies in his post, and incorrect premises lead to incorrect conclusions. Respectfully, I will point out a few inaccuracies in hopes of encouraging more understanding of the issue.

“The presumption that someone has a right to restrict the copying of their ideas is suspect at best, but it should not be confused with the right to restrict the use or appropriation of one's physical property” This gets to the heart of a misunderstanding of copyright. As stated above, a copyright does NOT protect against copying an idea, it only protects a finished creation, which legally IS the author’s property. By defending a copyright, an author is literally defending their property and their livelihood, not a mere “idea.”

“Copying is not theft, even according to modern jurisprudence.” Copyright infringement, fraud, forged checks, counterfeiting, leaving a hotel without paying the bill, etc. all have specific penal codes and are most certainly illegal and punishable. None fit the exact jurisprudence definition of theft, but they are all shades on the same theme of the intentional, unlawful appropriation of what does not belong to the taker to the detriment of others, and thus each is a violation of the second precept. Here is an interesting article on the legal history of the issue: http://www.copyhype.com/2013/09/why-copyright-infringement-is-theft/

“The main reason we tend to think that copyright is an actual right stems from the massive propaganda machine of the entertainment industry” Copyrights existed for centuries before the rise of the entertainment industry, and they protect creators large and small. We do not say, “You can’t steal from that poor person but you can steal from that rich person.” Actually, this is the exact justification – and indeed “propaganda” – that many people use, the Robin Hood defense that they are only stealing from the rich. As pointed out above, that notion is a delusion (you never know how many employees will be affected by copyright violations) and ethically bankrupt.

“The thing is, intellectual property isn't like other property in that it can't be given, sold, bought, etc. It can only ever be copied.” Again, an incorrect view of intellectual property, as obviously books, films, music albums, etc. are sold and bought all the time – and illegally copied.

“So when concerning ourselves with the poor victims of intellectual property theft, what we should ask is ‘what gives someone the right to license their ideas?’” The continuation of a tangled distortion. To ask “What gives someone the right to license their ideas?” is to actually ask “What gives someone the right to earn a living from their creations?” Again, the licensed work is not simply an “idea,” it is a specific creation born of expertise, hard work and investment, and it is being sold so the creator may earn a living. This is not just legal, it’s the basis of worldwide commerce large and small.

“A person who holds a copyright over information, on the other hand, holds their creation hostage, pimping it out repeatedly and ever retaining sole ownership over it.” It is incorrect to diminish artistic creations to mere “information,” and it’s unseemly and deeply unfair to say artists are holding their works “hostage” and “pimping” them out. Under this interpretation, once a studio sells a single ticket to a film they lose all right to be the sole seller of more tickets, and anyone who wants to take the film and resell it cheaper or give it away freely may do so. Only one person need buy a book, or a song, everyone else gets it for free. The obvious outcome of this extreme would be the immediate end of the film industry, the publishing industry, the music industry, and the majority of full-time creators, since every project would be a massive financial loss.

“Clicking on an EULA isn't a promise because you are communicating with a machine.” Incorrect, you are communicating an agreement with a company through a machine. When we send an email, are we communicating with a machine or the person on the other end?

“It's okay to make baskets, but to force people to buy them when other means present themselves is silly.” No one is being “forced” to buy a basket – if someone doesn’t want a basket, they can freely walk on. But if they do want a basket, it would be unethical to take one without paying, even if “other means present themselves.”

“[If intellectual property laws were abolished] maybe people would stop writing books and making movies on film, but really, haven't we shown already with YouTube and the Internet that these are outdated mediums? It doesn't really cost millions of dollars to create any more.” Incorrect, it absolutely does cost millions of dollars to hire the hundreds of people needed to make and distribute most films. Not all stories can be told by one or two people with a YouTube channel. And if we want artists who are trained, dedicated and creating quality work, then we must pay them for their time and effort. Think of how many hundreds of thousands of people just in the US make their living through the arts that we love – filmmaking, music, writing, photography, painting, architecture and on and on. There is a societal contract (as well as a legal one) that they make the arts and crafts that they’re passionate about making, and if we like the works then we buy them and allow these people to make a living and continue their art. To undercut that on a small or large scale by changing the deal to “make something and if I like it I’ll take it without compensating you” is terribly short-sighted as a society and, I have argued, deeply unethical and a violation of the second precept.


For stealing to happen the following conditions should be fulfilled:

i) An article belonging to another legally and blamelessly.

ii) Knowledge that the article belongs to another.

iii) There must be the intention to steal.

iv) Action must be taken to steal.

v) By the action, the article must be taken.


In copying something the article is not taken but copied. Therefore the conditions for stealing is not fulfilled. But though breaking the law is not encouraged even it does not break the precepts.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .