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