I downloaded a lot of things for 16 years I guess.I now understood this is a form of stealing.And i decided to delete my downloaded content.But some material is not found in my country,or if i order them it takes too much hassle to get here or the material is for educational or self improvement purposes.And i never intended to steal.But still it was not respecting other people's work.With those intentions is it still bad karma?Is it still wrong if it is really really essential?

It's actually about the NEED to the material.Like i want to learn speaking english and i need a book or a listening material which is not found in my country.And i really need it.And if I learn english or other things it will be beneficial to me and my environment EDIT : Look what I found. Totally coincidence. Synchronisity ☺. https://youtu.be/xMj_P_6H69g

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    This question is very similar to Does illegal downloading or viewing of copyright material violate the second precept?. Perhaps this ought to be closed as a duplicate, if the answers to that question answer this question? The main difference is that that question asks whether it's "stealing", whereas this question asks whether it's "bad karma".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 11:12
  • I could'nt write a comment under that question because i am a new member. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 12:00
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    Even though it is very similar to the other question I would like to see this remain open. The downloading for education gives it another dimension. The other question was broader and also took in downloading for entertainment Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 12:17
  • @positivist83 my understanding of Karma is that it's based on intent. As such, asking about the karmic consequences of an act is missing the point. The question should be tied to the intention behind the act.
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 15:43

5 Answers 5


Legally, unlawful downloads would probably be more akin to trespassing than stealing, as nothing was taken, but the legal rights to control property was infringed upon.

Considering the precepts, however, the issue isn't really about theft but about "undertaking the training to avoid taking things not given". Thus, it's a little more broad than theft. Instead, one should avoid even the perception of theft. Think of it like in a store where the "free samples" box is behind the counter and not easy to reach. To follow the precept, one should ask first and take if allowed.


There're lots of free legit. contents on the internet. If it's software, there're lots of high quality free open source programs at GNU, Apache. If it's educational material, there're lots of free education sites like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, etc. When all else fail, there're always wikipedia and youtube, which are also legit. and free..

  • Yer the ones I found are better how about that Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 18:58
  • Well then you'd have to make choice: download high quality but illegal contents and facing potentially negative kamma OR download decent quality and legit. contents and thus free of negative kamma. As the saying goes, you can't have it all..
    – santa100
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 1:43

Downloading someone else's hard work and using it for your benefit without compensating them to me is a form of stealing in my opinion. Some other Buddhists think its only 'copying' and hence not stealing. That's a discussion which is continuing on another thread.

For arguments sake, lets consider it stealing for now. We then realize that people are sometimes compelled to steal. Does a war prisoner who is starving commit negative kamma by 'stealing' an apple from his well fed prison guard?

Sometimes in samsara people end up in dangerous places and situations, where people have to break the precepts just to survive. In such instances someone who has come into contact with the dhamma has to accept that they are doing is unskillful, reflect on the dangers of that unskillful act, as well as the dangers of coming into existence which led one to such a situation. If we justify the wrong doing and say that it is right, we then fall into even graver negative situation of perpetuating wrong view. For the Buddha says that all that who have attained to the path leading to Nibbana do so with right view.

So understand why you are doing it, what compels you to do it. Are there alternatives? Can you prevent doing it in the future? Can you 'cover up' the wrong deed by doing good deeds? Say once you learn English and improve yourself, use that knowledge to help others. Perhaps later once you are able make a donation to the company or person from whose material you benefited from.

I also highly recommend the Sankha Sutta which explains how positive skillful kamma can negate past negative unskillful kamma.

Hope this helps.

  • Don't talk to me like ordering.you don't have any right to punish me Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 18:57
  • It was not my intention to order or punish you. I have amended my reply. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 3:08
  • @KaveengaWijayasekara the analogy to stealing a physical object is flawed. For instance, let's say X steals bread from a store. The store loses what it paid for the bread along with potential profit. Now let's say X illegally downloads an image of bread. There's no physical product being taken and as such, no loss except for potential profit. Even that loss only exists if X would have bought the product had the piracy avenue not been open. I'm not endorsing piracy, just pointing out that it's a different phenomena than physical theft.
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 15:41
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    @R.Barzell. I understand what you are trying to say. However, copying software, books, etc, should not be done with impunity and taken lightly. IMO one should not justify and rationalize such acts, and know that someone somewhere has put time, effort, spent money to put that material together. Stealing in Buddhism is 'taking something which was not given'. At the very least one must acknowledge one's predicament to having to steal, and be grateful for those who made that object available. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 6:00
  • @KaveengaWijayasekara I'm not justifying piracy, just pointing out that the moral status of piracy should be argued based on the facts of piracy and not based on traditional theft, since piracy does not share a key feature with traditional theft, a key feature that implies a great deal of the immorality of the act.
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 13:28

Your desire is what makes the difference. If you learn for the sake of learning but not to make a living nothing is wrong in it. Stealing implies that you have taken something that belong to others. Knowledge is collective and therefore should be free for all. It is just that we live in capitalist era where people try to monopolies and tend to make profits disproportionate to their efforts. If you earn some bucks you can pay them later too. There is kamma involved if your intentions are bad. Do it if you have to but intentions should be to give it back to the guy at some point.


I've seen the arguments that copying it isn't wrong because it's not a physical product or that it harms no-one. This simply isn't true. If an author of an e-book spent 150 hours of their time creating a guide to learning English, they need to sell a substantial number of copies of their eBook to enable them to pay their bills. By downloading such an eBook illegally, it robs the author of the value of the sale. If the e-book was $5, then illegally downloading it is effectively stealing $5 from the author.

Perhaps providing good quality training for free from your own expertise could help to balance the bad karma accrued through such actions?

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