There are around 19 major world religions subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, in addition to many smaller ones.
Most religions have sets of rules which provide a moral framework for their followers – Christianity’s Ten Commandments is probably the most well known example.
In the West these religious ‘laws’ are often in harmony with the rules of land, in addition to providing extra moral guidance of course. Many religions have rules which cover property matters, specifically not taking that which doesn’t belong to them, the closest general notion (whether accurate or not) to the act of copyright infringement.
While there are always variations to the rule, Christianity, the world’s largest religion, declares that followers may not steal. Islam, the second largest religion, says that stealing is ‘haraam’ – forbidden by God.
But of course, many would argue that piracy isn’t stealing and indeed, when the rules for these religions were put in place, copyright infringement wasn’t even “a thing”. Fair enough, but for some piracy is still a moral issue for which their religion can provide guidance.
Instances of Christians asking whether piracy is morally acceptable proved difficult to find, but the same cannot be said about followers of Islam. And, amazingly, not only are there questions raised online by those hoping to lead a better life, but also specific responses from some of Islam’s most respected leaders.
“What is the ruling on copying computer software, movies, audio CDs and other such things, which bear the wording ‘All Rights Reserved’ or ‘Copyright’?” questioned one follower. “Does this rule apply equally to Muslim made products and those made by individuals and or companies which are not Muslim?”
The answer, provided by none other than Ayatollah Sistani, is clear.
“Copyrights must be respected,” he said. “It is not permissible to copy a product, if it is against law.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly there are other interpretations within the same religion, as can be seen here on a page listing Islamic financial issues.
“Abiding by [publication rights] is not obligatory, but it is preferable to seek permission, especially from the author,” the note reads.
But of course, copyright throws up plenty of other dilemmas, as a question to the Ayatollah from another follower illustrates.
“Can I use cracked CD software?” he asked. Apparently, no question is too obscure for this religious leader.
“If someone else has cracked the software, you can use it,” says Ayatollah Sistani, “but you are not allowed to copy or burn it into another compact disc.”
Some other fascinating interpretations of what is and isn’t allowed can be found in a question and answer session (YouTube) with Zakir Abdul Karim Naik, an Indian public speaker on the subject of Islam and comparative religion.
Dr. Naik begins by saying that generally piracy is forbidden, but not always. It all depends on whether the company selling the official product is acting in a fair manner.
“There are some items of software which many of the companies themselves [encourage] piracy of so that [the software] becomes famous,” Naik explains.
Small companies buy pirated copies for small amounts of money, Naik says, but this “buzz” means that large companies who can afford it go on to spend large sums of money on legitimate versions of the same software.
“So, for using pirated copies of this software, Islamically there is no problem,” says Dr. Naik.
But for me this is the most interesting question. One individual asks Dr. Naik whether the same rules apply for software spreading the Islamic message. He says that if that software is for sale in a country or city and people are only pirating it in order to save money, then that is forbidden. However, there are exceptions.
“If that software is not available, if it is software created abroad and no one locally has it [for sale] and the intention is not to save money but the intention is to use it for knowledge, then [piracy] is fine,” Naik says.
“But then, if you take that software and sell it, that is forbidden. If you make a copy and then give it free to your friend, then that is a gray area, but OK.”
In short, Dr. Naik says that if the product you need is not available in your area legally, then piracy is allowed as long as it is in the pursuit of knowledge. Doing the same for business purposes is not allowed.
But despite the wealth of information and rulings online, followers of the Muslim faith appear happy to pirate even during their most religious experiences. Currently the holy month of Ramadan is underway, but apparently that’s only making the piracy situation worse.
According to a report in the JordanTimes, sales of pirated movies and games increase by about 30% during Ramadan compared to the rest of the year.
Exactly why isn’t clear, and the law certainly doesn’t encourage it. Jordanian Copyright Law bans illegal downloading and copying along with prison sentences of between three months and three years.
When those kinds of punishments fail, along with the inevitable fires of hell for sinners also not making an impact, it’s clear that not even God himself can bring an end to piracy.
Finally, try not to kill each other in the comments section. Enough people have died in the name of religion, we don’t need any more casualties.