Software, Music, Movies: To Copy…or Not?

Posted: 22 September 2011

Last week I reached the conclusion that in order to save a life of regular chiropractic visits, I could no longer carry around my large, heavy laptop, so I bought a new netbook (a mini laptop). I was telling my housemate that the netbook came with a simple version of Microsoft Word and Excel and that I would probably need to buy the full version in the future. His immediate suggestion was that I could get a copy of a friend’s full version to save me buying one. It did make me think … would that be ok? Could I just ask a tech savvy friend to upgrade my computer at no cost?

To say that media piracy is a large industry would be an understatement. Five years ago, media piracy was estimated to be worth over $50 billion per year and that was when most of it was through CDs and DVDs. With the growth of online file sharing, all that is needed now is an internet connection. With the ease that a person can now obtain free copies of the latest software or movie it does not seem like media piracy is coming to an end anytime soon. I have heard it said, though, that media piracy is a victimless crime and some go even further to claim that such corporations deserve to lose sales because they are greedy and charge the public too much for their products.

But … even if movie tickets do cost too much and even if Windows does advertise a new upgrade every 12 months, does that justify piracy? At its most basic, piracy is taking something that does not belong to us. The average citizen would not go into a department store and take a shirt or a microwave without paying for it, yet piracy is the very same act of taking something that one does not own.

Most people who have heard of the Ten Commandments know that in there somewhere is something about not stealing. In fact, you probably didn’t need the Ten Commandments to tell you that stealing was not a good thing. Thanks to our fallen natures, though, most of us still manage in varying ways to convince ourselves that in certain instances it will be ok to break (or maybe just bend) certain laws. But is this really a way to live, by the letter of the law?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ set a radical challenge when he said, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). This means that those who genuinely want to call themselves followers of Christ are called to live a radically new moral vision, one that begins in the heart and spills over into the way they live and act in the world.
So, while the Ten Commandments were given to a people who needed the law because they desired to break the law, Christ calls for a change of heart so that the first question is not ‘how far can I go before I break the law’ but, rather, ‘how much can I show love in all that I do’? Christ calls His disciples to not begrudgingly follow copyright laws to avoid getting caught, but, rather, open their hearts to love their brothers and sisters who have created these goods for the world to enjoy and so use them justly and in fairness to all. Genuine faith cannot be about rolling up to Mass on Sunday, singing loudly from the hymn sheet, but going home afterwards to listen to music we illegally downloaded the night before on a computer powered by software that we never purchased. If a Christian really looks to Christ and looks to live justly, then piracy becomes something that stops them being an example of holiness.

It may be tougher (and it will be more expensive) to buy what we need instead of taking it but we must grow in our desire to do what is right in all things and to set an example to our own family and friends. Sometimes, we have very good motives; we may want to help out a friend by lending them a program to copy that they cannot afford, but we cannot do an evil even if a good may come from it.

Admittedly, it is a big step to throw out those copied movies and clear our computer of pirated software but this is part of the radical nature of belief. Best that we get to the gates of eternity having never upgraded to Windows 7 than have St Peter accuse us of theft.