Copyright Laws and Illegal Downloading

I would like to pursue this topic more thoroughly, but here is a perspectivea on how to view illegal downloading in this age. There is also an article by Christian Ethicist, John Frame discussing the nature of the copyright laws and the role of the 8th commandment.

About these ads

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Google/Blogs/Tech NEWS. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Copyright Laws and Illegal Downloading

  1. Tom Brainerd says:

    I guess I’m confused. Or hopelessly out of date. How do unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation end in anything other than a ‘taking’ of that which is not yours. whether airspace, money, assets tangible or otherwise?. A breach of the 8th Word is a breach of the 8th commandment, regardless of what euphemism you wrap it in.

  2. Uri Brito says:

    Three issues at stake:
    One, penology. How should those who download files on-line be treated? Would the same punishment applied to illegal downloading be applied to someone who opens your car and takes your cd collection?
    Two, Frame’s point: what is the purpose of copyright laws? How effective have they been? In many ways they have failed as much as drug laws have failed. Frame argues in a free society (fallen world) information is available to all for the sake of maturation.
    Three, is there not a distinction between things meant to be private (gold, silver) and things meant to be public (music, movies: the externalization of culture)?
    Or to use a religious example, should the Word of God be made public? Modern translations demand certain copyright principles (KJV exempt from this). If the Word of God is to be given for all peoples, then how about hymnody? Certain Psalmic tunes produced today? Why should the church have to pay absurd amounts to be able to sing new hymns being produced? The questions are endless.
    A civil theory formulated on the basis of the 8th commandment would have to consider all these questions. Frame and North would be good sources to consider these issues Christianly.

  3. Tom Brainerd says:

    Point one: The car is a bad analogy. You’ve added breaking and entering to the offense of theft. Maybe shoplifting would be a better analogy. And yes, there ought to be penalties. How, exactly, is lifting a Coldplay CD off of a shelf different from doing an illegal download? I’m not just stealing a piece of plastic with some embedded metal, am I? How is it different from stealing a pair of jeans or a hot bikini? How, exactly, is it different from acquiring and using sixteen digits that happen to open up your wallet to me? Isn’t that just another form of intellectual property? I mean, I’m just stealing electronic thousands from you, instead of $10, right?

    Point two: So the ox who treads the grain of the Gospel is the only one we don’t muzzle? And there is a drastic difference between the broad ‘information’ and something that someone does as their livelihood. Hard to argue that Twisted Sister or 50cent are for maturation, BTW.

    The reason that drug laws have failed is the sinfulness of man…not that they’re a bad idea. Since when did we start making concessions on morality (of which laws are representations) because people didn’t obey them?

    Point three: To answer a question with a question…in context, is the ‘mind’ (whatever that is) of the producer not the analog of the ‘field’ in the OT economy? Is the intangible property not the ‘yield?’

  4. Phil Walters says:

    I think one thing that needs to be ironed out as part of the conversation is the phrase “illegal downloading” versus “illegal viewing” versus “sharing” a file that has been previously purchased. For the sake of conversation, if “Joe” purchases the NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV and streams it online and lets me watch it on my computer, is that any different from Joe inviting me over to his house to watch it? Another issue is viewing/downloading things from other countries; does the US have authority over what we view online outside of the US? The Dept of Homeland Security shut down this site (http://channelsurfing.net/) last year for these very issues. Is this really a threat to national security? Or is that the issue?

  5. Uri Brito says:

    Yes, Phil. That is correct. The conversation is much more complex.
    To Tom’s points, first, I think it should be noted that I am interested in how Christian material (music, lit. etc.) is used. That is the context for my maturation statement. The discussion about secular lit. etc. is not what I am focusing.
    Even if Tom’s points were valid–and I argue they are fundamentally misconstrued–this will be a mute point in a few years in the Christian community. John Piper’s ministry has now made their entire book/sermon ministry available for free on-line. This is inevitable. Chalcedon Foundation (Rushdoony’s ministry) is now almost completely free on -line.
    On the topic of downloading, the car analogy is very accurate if one is familiar with how the downloading occurs. First, one has to download programs (entering), then one must see whether a certain file/movie/song is available for download. Thus, entrance, discernment, and downloading.
    Further, he has not shown the difference between something meant as private (money on-line, gold, silver, etc.) vs. things that are exclusively made to be public (music, movies, books, etc.) The private vs. public distinction is crucial.
    Also, my discussion on the the public nature of the Bible has not been dealt with, and I think it deserves further consideration. Should the Bible be made public? should we pay fees to translation committees for adding large portions of it in book, etc.? If not, then what about hymnody? The reality is the majority of churches–especially small ones–completely overlook these rules on a Sunday by Sunday basis.
    Another point, is that in Ruth the field was open for gleaning. Some gained more (Ruth) because of the goel, but others did not have the same privileges, though they were still allowed to glean. As in Acts, where all things in the body were shared freely, what would hinder churches from coming to agreement on these matters?
    As for the drug laws, I would be curious to see someone make a biblical case for the government to persecute and prosecute marijuana users who consume with little frequency, and who do not cause any harm. The Drug Laws themselves are immoral, and furthermore in this country, they are also discriminatory. Suffice to say, Portugal has abolished the drug laws and the number of drug users have decreased.
    Finally, I agree with Frame that we need to honor those laws to a certain point (see Phil’s observations), while fighting and rationalizing a more appropriate, common sense, and reasonable re-writing of the entire system, which is fundamentally infantile in this age of the kingdom. Christians should offer a more informed alternative, as many have.

  6. Tom Brainerd says:

    First, one has to download programs (entering), then one must see whether a certain file/movie/song is available for download. Thus, entrance, discernment, and downloading. It’s not illegal to walk down the street with a tire iron in your hand. When you break the car window, then you have committed the felony. Likewise, it is not illegal (as far as I know) to have the particular software on your computer. going to ‘look to see if what you want is there’ is no different from walking into the store, also not illegal. The download, like lifting the CD off of the shelf, is the immoral and illegal act.

    John Piper’s ministry has now made their entire book/sermon ministry available for free on-line. This is inevitable. No it’s not. And if that is the measure, let’s take it to a logical conclusion. Rick Warren apid back to Saddleback every dime they ever paid him as compensation. Do I take it by extension that Providence is about to clawback your comp? DG has made a choice to make that available free of charge. The one who does this as his livelihood, let’s take Jay Adams (just for grins), may or may not choose to make their ‘field’ available for free. If you go in and ‘harvest’ without permission it is unlawful. And the ‘gleaning’ provisions have not a blessed thing to do with this. That is the ‘social welfare’ system of the OT, for those who cannot pay for the basic necessities of life. The ‘illegal download’ structure has virtually nothing to do with day-to-day sustenance, an inability to pay, but with an unwillingness to pay.

    Further, he has not shown the difference between something meant as private (money on-line, gold, silver, etc.) vs. things that are exclusively made to be public (music, movies, books, etc.) The private vs. public distinction is crucial. Nonsense. And the ‘gleaning’ thing is an excellent example. The field is no less public than the stuff available online. To go into the field and harvest is theft. The existence of the grain on the stalks is the result of my efforts with God’s goodness just like that electronic whatever online. If you can afford to buy my grain, then there is no Scriptural warrant for you to glean, much less to harvest. If you can afford to buy the intellectual property represented electronically, same thing.

    The reality is the majority of churches–especially small ones–completely overlook these rules on a Sunday by Sunday basis. My church does not overlook those issues. And, frankly, they are not expensive issues to take care of. If nothing else, there is enough public domain Psalmnody and Hymnody out there to last anyone to virtual eternity. For those who skirt these issues it comes down to those basic thing again…it is generally not inability to pay, but a desire not to pay; not the same thing. Shame on those who scoff at these issues.

    [W]hat would hinder churches from coming to agreement on these matters? Not a blessed thing. The churches are not the only ones involved.

    As for the drug laws… You’re the one who brought them up. As for immoral and discriminatory…naked assertion.

    Here’s my bottom line. You have, so far, given no useful understanding of how the Scriptures, which I suspect we would both agree support personal property rights, somehow do not apply once things get online. Why can I sell a book, a ‘single use license,’ as part of my livelihood, yet not have a reasonable expectation that the same intellectual property in digital form would proffer me the same return to my efforts?

  7. Uri Brito says:

    I think now the issue is becoming more nuanced, whether you acknowledge it or not. And this is my point. It is nuanced and filled with as much intricacies as the internet.

    Depending on the software it would be absolutely illegal, according to the Government. In fact, this is how many of these small “piracy” companies have been sued or put out of business. The software triggers certain hints for the mafia internet enforcers. You do not download these programs for the sake of “looking” for what is there…you download for the sake of possessing what is there. Once the software is downloaded, there are several “doors” to get through. There are also the dangers of getting a virus; the consequences of such actions. Does this sound familiar? Again, the analogy is clear. By the way, have you tried walking down the street with a tire iron? In downtown Pensacola it would be a bad idea.

    I am not imposing a law that people must freely give away all their intellectual property. Indeed they do have the right to do so or not. I am opposing any form of coercion. I agree with Kuyper that God does the coercion, we do the persuasion. But I am arguing that this will be inevitable in the not too distant future, and that there is a godly inevitability to it. Just as I believe wikileaks is right in making national issues available to public, so too, there should be a comprehensive google books. Even Canon Press is making over 50% of their books free on google books. That one of the largest Christian ministries in the country (Desiring God) thought it inevitable reveals much. Further, Piper is also making the gospel narrative available to a large mass, and they still receive considerable donations, which sustain their multi-million labors around the world.

    Again, the stress is not that people are going to make their material available or not, rather it is that they will not have a choice if they want to be heard. Those who charge will soon find themselves unable to self-sustain. I am arguing that there will be different trading/bargaining/economic mechanisms that will be both profitable for artist and consumer.

    There is a type of VOLUNTARY social welfare principle in Acts. Whether it be food or knowledge and wisdom, both types were shared by all. If you have wisdom, I will seek it from you, and vice-versa. There is a sense of sharing that is both gospel-saturated and demanded by God.

    The question is, should something that can be copied by the millions be a form of theft? For instance, if I take your cd that item is no longer in your possession, but if I copy your cd your original item is still in your possession. This is a crucial distinction. We are humans made to copy. We are actually copies made in the image of God. To copy among God-fearers/to imitate/to embody/to mimic is actually inherent in God’s creatures.

    Frame summarizes this point well:
    Some of us may nevertheless feel strongly that authors and artists and producers of information deserve something for their work. It does appear to many people that artists “own” in an exclusive sense the things that they produce; that is, they do not merely own the physical copy, but the right of copying.

    So does the author or artist have a “right” to control copying of his work? We in our modern society tend to assume that he has such a right. We easily pick up that kind of thinking from those around us, because nearly everyone assumes that it is so. And the assumption is reinforced by the fact that current laws appear to recognize such “rights.”

    But all this is just assumption. Here we must be careful not to become confused, and not to let ourselves be governed merely by the customs of the last two centuries in the Western World. What we think is “right” may be merely what we have become accustomed to, and what others in the same society assure us is right. That does not amount to an absolute standard. When we look at other societies in other times, we quickly see that such a “right” is not at all a universal principle among human beings. And, more important, such an alleged “right” is nowhere recognized in the Bible. In fact, by not forbidding copying, the Bible tacitly recognizes a right of another kind: the right of human beings freely to copy and use words and ideas. The argument is even stronger. Man is made so that he can imitate God and God’s copying. The right to copy is built into human nature, and it is a great blessing and privilege from God.3

    Copying is also an implication of the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). I can help my neighbor and express love to him by giving him a copy of what I own, or allowing him to make a copy.

    Artists may indeed deserve the gratitude and admiration of others. But there is more than one way in which this may take place. In some societies, people obtain prestige and admiration not by accumulating property but by giving it away for others’ benefit. The dispute must focus not on the broad issue of honoring artists, but the narrow issue of whether copying a document or using an idea is restricted. Will the government force people to pay a premium for doing this?
    END QUOTE

    You write:
    “For those who skirt these issues it comes down to those basic thing again…it is generally not inability to pay, but a desire not to pay; not the same thing. Shame on those who scoff at these issues.”

    But the question is “why must we pay?” This is the point. Make no mistake “we will pay” while the law remains the same. We follow the current laws–though absurd–to avoid an unecessary upheaval, but yet, we theologize about a more Christian alternative.God is the creator of information, which makes this a larger worldview question. I argue it is immoral to make Christian information public and demand a direct monetary compensation for it without offering alternative methods for compensation.

    Further you write: “The churches are not the only ones involved.” That is the problem. The ecclesia as the highest of God’s institutions does not have the authority it should. Churches should encourage a free society where material can be freely copy, distributed for the sake of the kingdom. Question: Would you consider a Christian in Iraq to act against God if he download a copy of the English Standard Version from an unofficial website? The answer to this question has vast repercussions to this discussion.

    Oh, the drug laws! What can I say. I despise them and find them to be absurd. How did the country survive before them? How did the country survive before Prohibitionism? This is no naked assertion. As a Christian libertarian (to use Rushdoony’s language) I have studied this issue for over 9 years, and I can guarantee you it is not just bad stewardship and unconstitutional, but immoral.

    Finally, you conclude: “Here’s my bottom line. You have, so far, given no useful understanding of how the Scriptures, which I suspect we would both agree support personal property rights, somehow do not apply once things get online.”

    I think I have dealt with the question by now. To re-phrase: “to speak of property rights imply the maintenance of things/issues. They are not copiable/irreplaceable. Items that are copiable while preserving the original no longer deal with personal property. Again, private/public distinction. Your car is private. A picture of your car is not once made public.

    I always conclude my sermons with a How Now Shall we Then Live?
    Here are a few suggestions as we move forward:
    Artists/writers, etc. should make their material available to all with a suggested donation option. Many already do this, and there is some indication that the donations are higher than the original price of items, due to the larger traffic.

    Reduce price of books. Kindle is already doing that by reducing prices almost 20%…a step forward in the digital world.

    Make book copies/commentaries available for free download to pastors/seminary students and those who wish to study particular issues with greater interest.

    In a free society where the law of love exists, Christians ought to pursue new and creative ways to receive compensation for their labors.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and I trust you find these responses at least rational, though you strongly disagree. I hope to write a short article on this topic with a friend, and yes, make them available for free.

  8. Mike Hoffman says:

    “Again, the stress is not that people are going to make their material available or not, rather it is that they will not have a choice if they want to be heard. Those who charge will soon find themselves unable to self-sustain. I am arguing that there will be different trading/bargaining/economic mechanisms that will be both profitable for artist and consumer.”

    I think this is a good assertion. Many libertarians would argue that copyright laws should be abolished altogether. At the very least, they need to be modernized.

    Also, the fact that churches have to pay for the rights to hymns, and the copyright issues involved in Bible translation just don’t sit right with me at all.

  9. Tom Brainerd says:

    Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    I think now the issue is becoming more nuanced, whether you acknowledge it or not. Oh, it is clearly nuanced. The nuancing does not remove it from the principial purview of the Scriptures.

    Depending on the software it would be absolutely illegal, according to the Government. Really? It’s illegal for me to have this software on my computer, or just a magnet for harassment? I can be charged and convicted if I have not downloaded anything? There will be no conviction if nothing is downloaded. They can suspect all they want, but I doubt t they’ll get a court to decide against one who has not downloaded.

    I am not imposing a law that people must freely give away all their intellectual property. That has been at best unclear until this point in your arguments. And you seem ready to cross back and forth over that line freely.

    . I am arguing that there will be different trading/bargaining/economic mechanisms that will be both profitable for artist and consumer. Also not stated until this point.

    There is a type of VOLUNTARY social welfare principle in Acts. Whether it be food or knowledge and wisdom, both types were shared by all. If you have wisdom, I will seek it from you, and vice-versa. Even then this did not work so seamlessly as you imply. Otherwise, Paul would not have had to admonish the non-muzzling of the ox that treads the grain. And the one who takes what he has no permission to take, particularly when it is a taking of what they do not need, proves by their actions that they have no intent of the quid-pro-quo you imply, now don’t they.

    For instance, if I take your cd that item is no longer in your possession, but if I copy your cd your original item is still in your possession. This is a crucial distinction. You bet it’s a crucial distinction. If I allow you to copy it, I have given you something I have no right to give. I have a license to use it, which includes a right to transfer all of my rights, including possession of the CD. But not a right to give a copy away. And, frankly, it should not matter if this is governmentally-enforced or not. If I, as a private individual, sell you a CD and say “This is a single use license and you can’t give a copy away”…if you do, then your yes has not been yes and your no has not been no. All the copyright laws really do is codify equity.

    . So does the author or artist have a “right” to control copying of his work? We in our modern society tend to assume that he has such a right. We easily pick up that kind of thinking from those around us, because nearly everyone assumes that it is so. How is an individual’s right to possession and control of the yield of their labors changed because it is intangible versus tangible? The yield of my field is mine. You are not principially extending the teachings of the whole counsel of God.

    And, more important, such an alleged “right” is nowhere recognized in the Bible. In fact, by not forbidding copying, the Bible tacitly recognizes a right of another kind: the right of human beings freely to copy and use words and ideas. The Bible EXPLICITLY forbids theft. God is the creator of information, which makes this a larger worldview question. God is the Creator of wheat, too.

    And, more important, such an alleged “right” is nowhere recognized in the Bible. In fact, by not forbidding copying, the Bible tacitly recognizes a right of another kind: the right of human beings freely to copy and use words and ideas. This is where the principial failure really comes into play. You are absolutely correct. The Scriptures are silent on this this point…in one way. Since there is no direct application to a digital/information in the time of OT or NT, I would not expect them to address illegal downloading as such. The do support a basic premise that the yield of a man’s labor is his. They set out principles that deal with that yield, including how it is used to support those in the covenant community. Take those principles and apply them.

    Uri, in one sense I actually agree with you. With regard to things peculiarly Christian, we are where we are because of the great and sinful failure of Christ’s church. We have let our structures become entangled with those of the world. My concern in this regard is that, so far, I see the problem in what you put forward that I see in the agrarian philosophers. They hate the concept and reality “New York City,” want it to just go away, but don’t offer any real alternatives. As far as I can tell, you don’t want to admit it, but you have a similar antipathy for “Copyright Law,” and, effectively, any ownership of intellectual property, and want those to just go away as well. I don’t think it is a position sustainable in light of the whole counsel of the Scriptures. And just saying “tomorrow these structures don’t exist anymore” isn’t really going to solve the problem.

    There is a time in the future, a day or tens of thousands of years, when these issues will get ironed out. That, too, is in the leaven. That, too, is in the seed cast. That, too, is in the clear heat of sunshine and cloud of morning dew. And we will be surprised at what it looks like.

    Christ’s blessings on you, family and flock.

    Tom

  10. Uri Brito says:

    Grace and peace, Tom.
    A few points to conclude this conversation:
    a) I concur that nuances do not replace what is the true principle, but it does inform us that some issues are not black and white. Even Greg Bahnsen agreed with this premise. For instance, how do civil laws (and the equity thereof) apply as principle in the 21st century? A robust and detailed conversation needs to occur. The 8th commandment varies in application depending on the circumstance.

    b) It is true that very few get caught for downloading programs (Limewrire, etc), and it is true very few get caught for file-sharing. However, these are the types of statistics that allow these programs to be banned and shut down. Downloading these programs provide operators with IP addresses, which once caught now become possession of the Federal Government. The reality–of course–is once it is shut down, it is then modified and thrown back into the market with a different name. It becomes more and more sophisticated.

    c) I am a libertarian. I am not seeking to impose laws, but rather to offer a moral argument against the prohibition of copying. The free market can then choose to provide alternatives. Some may choose to develop software where file-sharing is not possible. Or coded songs that make it impossible to be shared. Hopefully, few people would pursue this…and if they freely chose to pursue this technology, I would deem it foolish for their career, but still a necessary aspect of the free market. My point has been that once something is made public and is copiable, then no one has the right to disallow the copying of the original.

    d) Finally, you imply that people have a right to their possessions. I concur: To their original possessions. The distinction here is between copiable vs. non-copiable. God made us to copy one another; and to reflect one another’s words; to one another one another’s language; to pentecost with one another. He has not created us to steal from one another. In a Christian society, Christians give each other credit for their words. We esteem others, but that information is always available, so that we may esteem one another. Please, consider this argument. It is strong, and as of yet, you have not addressed it directly.
    The yield of a man’s labors is his, but the fruit of his labors has communal implications. To take your point to its logical conclusion, then tithing would not be a necessity; your position would lead to a Randyan utopia. On the other hand, what the Christian produces– and should the opportunity occur to benefit, mature, instruct, etc.– is no longer only his, but the Ecclesia. The argument could even go beyond this to apply to tangible matters. What does a theology of hospitality imply?

    I have no hostility towards agrarian philosophers. In fact, it was an agrarian society that produced our biblical code. At the same time, I have no problems with the city philosophers. In the end, both models need to consider the implications of being image-bearers. Yes, I think copyright laws are anti-imago dei theology. They destroy the principle of mutual reflection and Christian sharing. They privatize faith, and establish an elite Christianity.

    Though I am realistic, and see this as an inevitable distant future reality, I also offer several ways of applying these principles in the day to day. Christians set an example now, because Christians are in charge of the future. Shalom.

  11. Tom Brainerd says:

    I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Totally ignoring the City of Man, as opposed to the City of God (ecclesia)…

    If you bring all of these structures and activities that support the Body of Christ into the church, and then form some sort of economic structure within the church that somehow mirrors the rewards in heaven for good works (which I assume would take into consideration things like training and value, sacrifice, you name it), then I guess you’re OK. After all, mirroring heaven as much as we can on earth is the goal, right? Gives new and scary meaning to the phrase “decently and in good order,” now don’t it?

    The real job, as it always has been, is in changing hearts, now isn’t it. The hearts of those who currently use what others have done without concern as to whether those who produced have been adequately compensated (and if they are not adequately compensated for it it is still theft, no matter what face you paint on it). The hearts of those who produce, that they may be content with adequate compensation, as opposed to also desiring to be the ‘Elite Christians’ you identify. The hearts of the ecclesia at large, to coem to grips with their responsibility to sustain the whole thing economically. Not to mention the hearts of those who must have the solomonic wisdom to split this baby right down the middle.

    It really always gets right down to the same things, doesn’t it? Look to the heart, and the life will follow. If the hearts are not changed, then all the rest of this stuff is just clanging brass, now isn’t it. And without the changed hearts, then what you propose is an absolute train wreck.

    And, no, nothing I have written does away with the tithe. As I have asserted repeatedly, failure to fairly compensation for yield is theft. The tithe is structured to support certtain things, including you. Without the tithe, you would not be fairly compensated, now would you?

  12. Uri Brito says:

    Blessings, Tom. You have the last word. Thanks for the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s