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 Post subject: Pirated dharma texts.
PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 1:42 am 
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Here is a question worthy of discussion.

Does scanning dharma texts and distributing them online without the author/translator's consent constitute theft?

Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

http://buddhisttorrents.blogspot.com/

In some jurisdictions, I think it qualifies as copyright infringement and might indeed be called theft.

However, it has always been considered meritorious to copy and distribute dharma texts. Whether by hand or with woodblocks and now scanners, Buddhists in just about any country have copied and distributed sutra, sastra and other Buddhist works.

On the other hand, translations are usually copyright works.

I think this raises a lot of questions. Particularly how we define and identify theft. If theft in a general Buddhist definition (there are always varying opinions) means conceiving something belonging to someone else, having the will to steal it and actually removing it, then copying books (or anything else) doesn't qualify because nothing is being physically taken away and there is no intent to steal. Stealing a book from the library is physically removing something, but scanning the whole thing into a neat .pdf file is not.

So what do you think? Is distributing .pdf files of Buddhist texts a meritorious action or is it theft?

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 2:20 am 
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Greetings Huseng,

Huseng wrote:
So what do you think? Is distributing .pdf files of Buddhist texts a meritorious action or is it theft?

Or is it both those things? Need they necessarily be mutually exclusive?

Metta,
Retro. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 3:37 am 
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Quote:
Or is it both those things? Need they necessarily be mutually exclusive?


Now thats an interesting question. Does one break a precept to persue meritorious action?

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:38 am 
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The definition I recall is "taking what is not given". So unless the text or object etc. is given or made available without conditions, it is stealing. If given or made available with conditions; ie, payment, library card, copies only for Sangha members etc., then if the conditions are fulfilled, no stealing.

On the other mind - there is motive - which we rarely know; so I will stick with above lines.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 8:38 am 
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As said, copying something is not theft in Buddhist definition. If copying were theft, well, we could as well neither lend nor talk about a book. Copyright is a modern legal term which of course has its use. But what is moral and what is legal may not always be the same. Legally there is no problem with cheating one's spouse, morally there is. Legally it is not an issue to say I'm a buddha/arhat/tulku/..., morally there is. Legally it is a problem to copy texts protected by copyright, or not, depends on local laws, but morally it is not theft. Also see the "Pirate Party" movement.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:59 am 
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Will wrote:
The definition I recall is "taking what is not given". So unless the text or object etc. is given or made available without conditions, it is stealing. If given or made available with conditions; ie, payment, library card, copies only for Sangha members etc., then if the conditions are fulfilled, no stealing.

On the other mind - there is motive - which we rarely know; so I will stick with above lines.


The definition of stealing goes beyond just "taking what is not given".

There are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled. Here is what Ven. Master Sheng Yen outlines the six conditions in his commentary on precepts 戒律學 on page 104:

1) It belongs to someone else.

2) You know it belongs to someone else.

3) You have the thought of stealing.

4) You devise means to achieve your goal of theft.

5) It is worth more than five cash (he notes this in Buddha's time if one stole something worth more than five cash one would be put to death).

6) You remove it from its original location.

So, a scanned book that is copied and distributed satisfies no condition at all. The book itself in someone's possession does belong to someone else, yes, but the .pdf scan of it is just data on computers. Unless you hack into their computer and take it away without them knowing, there is no thought of stealing, nor are there any means utilized to achieve that goal. Finally, nothing is being removed from one place and taken elsewhere.

So, according to these conditions, there is no violation of the precept and we cannot even call it stealing.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 22, 2010 12:01 pm 
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Astus wrote:
As said, copying something is not theft in Buddhist definition. If copying were theft, well, we could as well neither lend nor talk about a book. Copyright is a modern legal term which of course has its use. But what is moral and what is legal may not always be the same. Legally there is no problem with cheating one's spouse, morally there is. Legally it is not an issue to say I'm a buddha/arhat/tulku/..., morally there is. Legally it is a problem to copy texts protected by copyright, or not, depends on local laws, but morally it is not theft. Also see the "Pirate Party" movement.


Slightly off topic, but I learned recently how with the development of woodblock printing in China they actually did devise something like copyright protection. It was usually just a statement on the cover of the book stating copyright assertion. When woodblock printing became common in China they had issues with pirated books. It became easy to reproduce another publishing house's works and sell it as your own. Just carve up a few boards and make your prints. :rolling:

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:25 am 
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Huseng wrote:
Will wrote:
The definition I recall is "taking what is not given". So unless the text or object etc. is given or made available without conditions, it is stealing. If given or made available with conditions; ie, payment, library card, copies only for Sangha members etc., then if the conditions are fulfilled, no stealing.

On the other mind - there is motive - which we rarely know; so I will stick with above lines.


The definition of stealing goes beyond just "taking what is not given".

There are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled. Here is what Ven. Master Sheng Yen outlines the six conditions in his commentary on precepts 戒律學 on page 104:

1) It belongs to someone else.

2) You know it belongs to someone else.

3) You have the thought of stealing.

4) You devise means to achieve your goal of theft.

5) It is worth more than five cash (he notes this in Buddha's time if one stole something worth more than five cash one would be put to death).

6) You remove it from its original location.

So, a scanned book that is copied and distributed satisfies no condition at all. The book itself in someone's possession does belong to someone else, yes, but the .pdf scan of it is just data on computers. Unless you hack into their computer and take it away without them knowing, there is no thought of stealing, nor are there any means utilized to achieve that goal. Finally, nothing is being removed from one place and taken elsewhere.

So, according to these conditions, there is no violation of the precept and we cannot even call it stealing.


Most excellent post.

The Tibetan lamas would pretty much say the same thing with slight variations. For example, even borrowing something and neglecting to return it, then at some point further down the line thinking, "oh it's ok, it might as well be mine now" is theft too. The five cash notes I have not heard of, but usually it was one unit of local currency, which of course varies wildly according to currency but the idea being enough cash to actually buy something, however small.


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