Considering all the major moral issues that demand an informed biblical viewpoint then piracy might seem minor in comparison. But life is, for the most part, made up with a series of small scale decisions for holiness and while many of us are unlikely to find ourselves tempted to murder someone then the temptation to pirate stuff is a much more ready threat.
In many respects I could clear this issue up in just three points:
1) Proposition 1: We should obey the government in everything except that which contradicts God: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13 v 5)
2) Proposition 2: Piracy is illegal.
3) Conclusion: Christians shouldn’t pirate.
There we go, job done. But while this does present a sufficient case for Christians not pirating stuff it’s worthwhile engaging in an extended ethical discussion over the issue. The first matter is to define piracy; I would say it is two things. The first is copying a piece of work you have no right to copy. The second is watching something online you have no right to watch. Going on the internet and downloading a copy of a music track, film or book without paying for it and without the owner’s permission is piracy. So is watching stuff online on dodgy Asian websites where it is obviously being replicated without the owner’s permission.
Let’s face it, we all know what piracy is! We know when we do it – anytime that we get something for free when it is not officially being given away from free. There are many things wrong with this. And we have an equal number of excuses in doing it.
Argument from the 7th commandment
“You shall not steal.” says the 7th commandment as an eternal expression of the moral law of God. And we like to kid ourselves that piracy isn’t stealing but such a view is wrong. An artist creates a piece of music and sells it through official channels where you have to pay money to get it. The act of pirating involves replicating this work without the artist’s permission and without any exchange taking place. This is theft. The replication of someone else’s property without permission or payment.
And let us be strict in our application of this principle. Copy and pasting your friend’s music collection is just as much an act of piracy as going to an internet site. Often, we like to argue the other way, that because we can copy music from friends we can use the internet. But this is the wrong way round.
There is a significant difference between borrowing and pirating. There’s no ethical problem if your friend gives you some music digitally as long as in giving it your friend does not copy it. For the theft only comes when the piece is replicated. If I sell a book I once bought online and someone else buys it then their acquisition has not created any new books, an existing book has changed ownership. I lose my use of it; the buyer gains the use instead. But if I was to replicate the book myself without permission or payment and sell copies then this would be theft. The buyer would gain benefit; but I would still have my benefit too.
In copying a piece of work illegally then you are stealing the amount you would have to pay to get the work in the marketplace. You are stealing it from the company that sells the work and the artist who created it.
It matters not if you ‘wouldn’t buy it anyway’ for such a defence could be used to justify any act of theft. And you are called to a higher standard of morality that such a petty excuse. It matters not if replication is costless, or convenient or even accepted by our peer group. Such a replication is stealing.
Argument that a worker deserves his wages
The Bible talks about this basic principle of justice in both Old Testament case law and in Jesus’ discourses: “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10 v 7). This makes sense, if you do work, you deserve to get paid for it. Such a principle is a matter of honesty and upright dealings. Imagine, if you worked a whole day in a shop and at the end of it your manager said: “Thanks for all your hard work, you’re not getting paid today.” This would be an injustice.
But it’s exactly the injustice we perpetrate when we pirate stuff. Rather than paying the artist, author or filmmaker for the work they have done then we happily steal it for no cost. We get their stuff for free and care not that we are not abiding by a basic principle of justice.
If you wish to benefit from the work of another then you should pay for it. To think otherwise is to embrace the entitled, materialistic, unethical standards of our modern culture.
Argument from the Golden Rule
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12 v 31) We know that this second golden rule sums up our duty to our fellow man, a duty of obedience to God and love to others. Pirating breaks this rule. If you were to create a piece of work, put it for sale on the internet and then have it replicated without your permission so that a good proportion of funds you deserve you never see then you would be rightly annoyed at such an injustice.
Therefore, love others as yourself.
But this works on another level too. For pirating relies on the honesty of others. If everybody pirated then the market for music, films, games and other entertainment would cease to function as no one would be able to make any money from it. Thus, pirating relies on the fact that some people are honest enough to pay for the media they consume and keep the production of entertainment profitable.
As Christians are we really happy being those who commit acts we can only commit because other people are not stealing as we are? If others freeride on us, what of it? Let us suffer in silence and for the Lord. But to freeride ourselves? That is terrible; the opposite of the suffering servant we are meant to imitate!
That’s four arguments against piracy. It’s illegal, theft, unjust and unloving. When has anything holy been those four things?
What to do if you do pirate?
The first step is to repent. Your theft and selfishness are covered by the cross of Christ. Praise be! But it is not enough to repent, biblically speaking, you should also seek to make restitution. Remember the example we have in Zacchaeus who showed that his repentance was genuine by offering 4x what he had stolen back to those he stole it from. Jesus commended him for it!
The path for the Christian is clear. Stop pirating and either pay for what you have already pirated (and really, you should add more money on top of that!) or delete your pirated stuff, wipe it from your harddrive and mp3 player. If you ‘repent’ and don’t delete or pay then you are still unlawfully benefitting from your sin of theft and have not repented at all!
Obedience is joy. Jesus commands us to be holy and commends holiness where he sees it. Set this before you and joyfully turn aside from pirating and to honesty, love and generosity. I know this battle well, it took me many months before my conscience and the Holy Spirit won out. My excuses were a multitude: it’s convenient to pirate, free too, but no sin is free, all sin is slavery and obedience is worth the inconvenience.
Jesus said: “If you love me; keep my commands.” (John 14 v 15). If you love Jesus: don’t pirate.