Piracy and Other Forms of Digital Theft: a biblical perspective

The Issue

Piracy is a huge issue in our society that most people like to sweep under the rug. Let’s face it, almost everyone you know that grew up in the digital age has probably pirated something in their life. And a large majority likely make a habit of it. And why not? After all the impact of download one song or movie has much less financial impact on the distributors than buying it would have on your bank account right? And let’s be honest if you didn’t download it for free you wouldn’t have paid for it anyway so no one is really missing out on a sale here right? Even if you did stop pirating it would make little difference because after all everyone will continue. We’ve all thought or said these things along with a torrent (no pun intended) of other excuses but the simple fact is that we’re just lying to ourselves and making justifications. In this post I hope to make both a logical and biblical case for why piracy, along with other forms of digital theft such as ad blocking and file sharing, is wrong.

Note: if you don’t want to read this post I encourage you to at the very least read the last section

The effects of piracy

One good logical reason to avoid piracy is to simply look at the result of piracy. First of all consider a scenario where all consumers of digital media pirated everything that they consumed. As a result the companies who are making and distributing this content would lose money and never make anything ever again. After all how can they, it costs a fair amount of money to make a movie. My point is that if you listen to music, play games, or watch movies then that means these industries are important to you. And if they are important, you shouldn’t contribute to killing them.

Maybe this scenario is a bit unrealistic to you, so let’s look at what’s happening for real right now. Do you get frustrated at the prices of media these days? That new movie comes out and you really want it but $30 is just way too expensive. Or how about ridiculous in app purchases and the fact that you can’t play Diablo III offline. In fact these frustrations may have been what led you to piracy in the first place. You can spend all day raging at the greedy heartless corporations but the fact is that they are not the bad guy, you are the bad guy and they are doing only what we have forced them to do.

Consider a world where no one pirated anything. I don’t have any fancy statistics to work with but I imagine if no one in the world pirated media that albums and movies could be sold for a fraction of the current price for the same profit and wouldn’t have to resort to restrictive DRMs to protect their bottom line. Of course that the corporations really are greedy and evil and things would stay the same if we stopped pirating but for now the blame falls on you so stop making excuses for yourself.

Something for nothing?

I’ve heard a lot of people say that piracy and file sharing is not stealing because the victims are not losing a tangible resource. For example stealing a bike is stealing because one bike is no longer in the possession of the victim, but pirating an album is not because the record still has everything they had before the act. I disagree with this logic. The fact of the matter is that you are taking something that costs money, and not paying money for it. This means that the victim of your piracy is losing money. If you look at it another way the company really is losing something tangible; your potential as a paying customer. Before you download that album you don’t own it. Which means that you have the potential to own it in the future. Which means the company has the potential to make money off of you with a sale. The moment you download that album you are no longer a potential customer so in a sense they really do lose something.

How is ad blocking a sin?

You may be willing to concede that piracy is wrong, but ad blocking? No way man! For anyone who doesn’t know ad blocking means installing some sort of browser plugin or application that removes/hides ads from you when visiting free sites such as Facebook or YouTube. The idea that ad blocking might be wrong was introduced to me interestingly enough through a podcast called This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte. Just because a website is free for you to use, doesn’t mean it’s free to produce and maintain. Facebook, and YouTube cost tons of money to keep running and we are lucky enough to be able to use these great services at no cost to ourselves. How do you think this works? Well the truth is that these companies are almost completely funded by advertisements. That means that the sites aren’t really free, and you pay for them by being a target for advertisements. Once you realize this you shouldn’t have much trouble applying all the arguments against piracy to ad blocking. Besides at the end of the day viewing a few ads is a small price to pay for services that have become almost necessities to our lives.

What does the bible say?

Obviously the internet was not around during the Old Testament or the time of Jesus but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look to the bible for wisdom. I did a little digging and found a few verses that are very applicable.

Luke 10:7 – And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.

The main thing to focus on here is “for the laborer deserves his wages”. Pretty self-explanatory. According to this verse when people do work they deserve their wages (who would have thought) and through piracy you are withholding that from them.

Romans 13:7: Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

If you use a product that someone has made, then you owe them the cost of that product, simple as that. If a record company says “in order to own this album that we have produced, you must pay $10” and you own that album, then you owe them $10 and that’s all there is to it.

Jeremiah 22:13 – “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
    and does not give him his wages,

For me this verse hits home more than the previous 2. “Woe to him…who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing…” To me this is pretty clearly stating what’s wrong with ad blocking and piracy. When you listen to music, watch a movie or visit a website you are being served. How can you accept that service without giving the laborers what they are do?

Conclusion

Well I know piracy is a hot topic and there are lots of issues I didn’t cover here but hopefully I got you thinking a bit more about the issue. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject so please leave a comment below 😀

p.s sorry there are no pictures

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10 thoughts on “Piracy and Other Forms of Digital Theft: a biblical perspective

  1. Kyra says:

    this is great! I never put much thought to the reasons before, and this gives much better reasoning than the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ ads.
    *prices of media these days*?
    *way *too expensive
    *all there is *to it.

  2. Mary says:

    I have recently re-dedicated my life to the lord and this is something that is I have been thinking about. I will not download anymore things but my question is it stealing if I have a software program that I am only learning from. When I do get a better computer I am going to buy this software program. Do you think it is stealing if I am only using to learn right now and I am going to purchase it when I start doing things that I might get paid for.

    • mjholtzem says:

      In all honesty unless the company who makes the software gives some kind of written permission to use their software for free for educational purposes it’s still illegal. This sort of thing is always tough when dealing with expensive software like adobe products but “borrowing” is still stealing.

  3. Fred Bristow says:

    Interesting how people often do “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel”. Someone recently called me a thief and accused me of stealing because I use adblock when viewing my facebook page. Sure, using adblock may deprive Facebook from some income but accusing someone of being a thief when that person had no intention of stealing (the Facebook EULA says nothing specifically about adblock) is enormously hypocritical. I think we should take things in proper perspective rather than be mindlessly legalistic.

    • mjholtzem says:

      Well whether or not using adblock makes you a thief is largely dependent on your definition of thief. I’m not sure how someone calling you a thief makes them hypocritical though unless they do it themselves

  4. Brian says:

    If I have an idea for building a chair, and somebody sees that idea and builds his own chair, modelled after mine, did he steal from me?

    When I download a movie from a torrent site, it is because some other person bought a file (a list if ones and zeroes), and then copied it. Then I copied it from him. When I download a file, I am copying an idea. Intellectual property is nothing more than an idea.

    Thr film industry makes plenty on box office sales. Musician make plenty on concert sales. The second you upload a file to the internet, you are making that file part of the public domain. PERIOD. It is a violent use of force to stop people from reproducing an infinitely reproducible idea.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good read. Thank you!

  6. Yulex2 says:

    I know it’s a very late reply, but I have another perspective that may interest you. I concede that piracy for the sake of not wanting to pay is sinful, but what of those who can’t pay? I’m young, and currently in a position where I can’t get a job, so the producer of that thing wouldn’t have gotten money whether I had pirated it or not. Furthermore, I plan to legitimately pay for the things I’ve pirated once I have the means to, because as you say, I do owe them that money. What do you think of my stance?

  7. Mr Mike says:

    ” The fact of the matter is that you are taking something that costs money, and not paying money for it.”

    But it’s not costing any money to make the copy. And also, if someone gives you say a dvd, or cd for nothing, you’re also in your words ‘taking something that costs money, and not paying money from it’

    ” the company really is losing something tangible; your potential as a paying customer.”

    But we are all the potential customers of basically everything we don’t buy. And if someone wasn’t going to buy it anyway, then there was no potential. If of course, they were possibly going to buy it, then you could say that.

    “If you use a product that someone has made, then you owe them the cost of that product”

    Well not really, if I borrow someone’s car or something else, I don’t think the manufacturer expects me to owe them anything.

    “If a record company says “in order to own this album that we have produced”

    But no one ‘owns’ it. They’d be the first to say we don’t ‘own’ it, we simply have a licence to use it. If people ‘owned’ albums from the first record they bought of it, they should be allowed to download it for free off the internet with that argument, because they own it already.

    ” To me this is pretty clearly stating what’s wrong with ad blocking and piracy”

    It’s not stating that, in fact the bible has literally nothing about piracy, because in those days, such a concept was impossible to know. Of course if god was real, he could have talked about it, as one would have thought he’d have known about it.

    “How can you accept that service without giving the laborers what they are do?”

    Well how can anyone borrow a book or movie, or buy it second hand in that case?

    I fully appreciate the problem here…if no one buys anything, then people can’t afford to make the digital products. I understand that supporting companies by buying things means they can continue to make more things. I’m guilty of watching pirated movies and listening to pirated music before…I also have bought many thousands of dollars worth of digital content I could have otherwise pirated…

    I’m simply saying it’s not black and white, and that no one has a 100% ‘correct’ answer on this, and certainly not the bible.

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