Piracy, a Christian’s perspective

How piracy, copyright and Christianity relate

Not bound by the usual rules of engagement pirates who flew the Jolly Roger aimed to frighten victims into surrendering without a fight. Author: WarX, edited by Manuel Strehl. License.

Important to Liezl and me is living out our faith before our children in a meaningful way. Something we do is look to Scripture, identify a principal and put it into practise in our daily lives.

A guiding principal, easy enough to identify, is “Do not steal.” Well in all fairness it’s really more of a command isn’t it? As we’ve thought how to live it out we’ve made conscious decisions with respect to piracy laws. For many years we’ve only kept original movies and music in our home.

A short while ago I got a bunch of audio books. I knew they were probably copyrighted but I justified listening to them because I wanted to “try the medium out”, “see if I enjoyed it” and would “buy into it if it was a fit.”

Well 20 hours of listening later I’ve realised I’ve crossed an invisible mark in the ground. I’ve listened to Tolkien’s The Hobbit (DTW, you read this blog?), Pratchett’s Sorcery, Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, Tzu’s The Art of War… and the list goes on.

Definite hypocrisy on my part as this is something I’ve spoken against before to others with a degree of fervor. And here’s the thing, I’d be hard pressed to explain to my kids why it’s not right for them to watch Noddy Goes Bananas but dad can listen to Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

I read Deuteronomy 6 yesterday while thinking of this. Straight after declaring the 10 Commandments to the children of Israel Moses records this:

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

“Arrr! Shiver me timbers matey”, what are the guiding principles that you live by (that was my best pirate voice)? This sound a bit Pharisitical to you? Is not copying movies and music and stuff a bit weird for you? How do you live out your faith? Ever read James 2:17? Read My solution to copyright infringement for a follow up to this post.


28 thoughts on “Piracy, a Christian’s perspective

  1. This piracy article is magnificent and very challenging. The skull and crossbones image you used: edwardengland.png Did your draw it? Or do you have permission to use it?

    With few copyright laws in China goods are reproduced cheaper and faster all the time, and they are copying ideas willy nilly, patent or not. As I look around my desk almost everything is from China and so our company and I have supported this. Hooray for the Chinese! Am I a thief?

    Can man copy and patent idea’s from nature and own the ideas? Our structures seem to allow that?

    If I were to gain moneys from or sell copyrighted items for personal wealth then I’ve crossed the line, but your tale is challenging in the sense that you brand yourself a thief! If we contact Tolkien etc. and tell them you had a copy of the Audio book The Hobbit would they care? If we contacted the Agent who controls the rights to that book, Would they care? I guess if there were not folk like you in the world there would not be a need to copy then! So there is a strong point here. That said if the Audiobook was cheap and fast there wouldn’t be a need either!


    • Hi Merry Helper,

      I’m rolling on the floor laughing. I had to go and check. The image is available from here. It’s published under the GNU:

      Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License”.

  2. I got this from your link:

    This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license

    This licensing tag was added to this file as part of the GFDL licensing update.

    under the conditions that you appropriately attribute itunder the conditions that you appropriately attribute itunder the conditions that you appropriately attribute itunder the conditions that you appropriately attribute itunder the conditions that you appropriately attribute itunder the conditions that you appropriately attribute it.

    I’m being an ass, twas a clear and good article thanks!


  3. I used to write software. I was the no. 2 Christian Shareware author in the world (Phil Kapusta was no. 1). It was estimated at the time that more than 90% of my software was pirated. However, using the <10%, I took a journey to the other side of the world. It seems there's really nothing to be done, but one can be thankful for the people who are honest. In fact there was a local Christian magazine which published bits of my copyrighted material in their magazine. Perhaps the best is to do as Edison did, and market your own products. Some people might remember Software for Saints in South Africa. I sold the business eventually, and it was continued by others.

  4. I think I would like to respectfully disagree with you on this post Mark. Let’s assume a book was written, the audio book was made, and 10 copies are to be sold.

    The author was paid, the voice actors were paid, the publishing company was paid, the physical copies of the audiobooks which will still sold are in no way damaged; therefore the end company gets paid.

    What exactly was stolen, if you were able to preview a copy before deciding to buy it?

    How can you say something, that is not tangible, in the physical, “I had to cat-burglar-it to have it”, sense of the world can be stolen?

    I think what Christian’s need to do is stop looking at the corporate world and believing that they are people. You do not have to defend corporate interests as a Christian. Sony is not a person, Microsoft is not a person, Warner Bros is not a person. Anything they produce, the people involved get paid. Any company, that decides to distribute and or showcase the “intellectual property” gets paid.

    I have never heard of a case where a company went bust, because 1 person or 1,000 people got their hands on a “pirated” copy.

    The issue here is do Christians have the right to support corporations that bring in billions of dollars with or without them.

    I do not think that the bible when it says, thou shalt not steal was speaking of digitally copying something where everyone was already compensated fully for their work. It was about taking someones money bag or physical goods that took physical labour to extract and/or make.

    • Hi penultima,

      That’s an interesting perspective. You’ve given me pause.

      What about the public shareholders of Sony, Microsoft and Warner Bros? Sony might be an faceless corporate but Joe Blogs who’s invested his retirement into the corporation isn’t. He might be sitting in the pew next to you on Sunday.

      Are you advocating no requirement to observe laws in the country that aren’t in conflict with our faith?

      Thanks for stopping by. It was good to hear from you again.



      • Hi, Mark.

        (I would like to stress that this response deals specifically with things that can be digitized and shared freely between peers.)

        I do not believe that shareholders, public or private, have the right to extract from the public, via a company/corporation (which gives access to intellectual property at cost), the *maximum* amount of profit possible.

        Shareholders and their corporations have first crack at distributing their product. After this initial period is over and money has been made, I do not believe it is right, for them, to ensure that they can continue to make money by prohibiting people who wish to share and or mimic the work. Therefore, if a movie comes out and is in the theatre for 3 months, for example, and it has been released to dvd and six months have passed it is fair game, share and share alike, for the shareholders have made their money (and it is likely that I will be so impressed by there work that I will recommend it to others, therefore supporting future works from this company).

        (As a side note, if we got rid of this idea prevailing, companies and corporations that made good products would have a reputation associated with their name and it would allow for repeat customers.

        Companies that allow for people to pay as much or as little as they want for a product or that sell a product and then later give it away and allow free duplication still make the same amount of money as companies that prohibit this practice.

        For example, the bands Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Lil Wayne [and I am not advocating this music but rather suggesting an example] gave away their music for free and allowed people to copy and distribute freely BUT ALSO put the cd’s on the self and millions of copies were STILL sold. The shareholders got their money both in this way and other revenue avenues such as concerts and etc related to the album)

        So, as an example, this is how it should work. I am a company and I say I have written a great book and you choose to invest in it and allow me to produce 10 legit audio books. I hit the market with advertising and the 10 books get bought and on the last page it says, share this with others freely.

        Now because of this these 10 people ensure that at least 10 other people hear of and or fully read this book via word of mouth. Now we have 100 people who know of us.

        Now I go back to you and say I have written a sequel of great quality and you recognize that instead of just 10 audiobooks we have the potential to release 100; therefore, your profit margin increase by a factor of 10.

        You enter the deal fully aware that you are liable even if no one buys the sequel. And eventually 70 audiobooks from the sequel gets sold and that gets shared to approximately 700 people. And then you can try again or create another book series.

        Do you see how business **can** function this way? In the current method, the people in charge say, “NO! We will make our 10 books and that is it! And once we make our profit we are going to pull out all of our money and if we make a sequel it will be for another 10 books” (instead of the 100 in the example above).

        I said it lightly, but I am going to repeat it, shareholders, today, knowingly invest with the understanding that their money may not be returned, and this is EVEN IF no one distributed any thing digitally and copied it. The shareholders are liable for the companies losses already.

        Now for your question on whether I advocate that Christians should not be required to observe the laws of their country if it is not in conflict with faith.

        There are a lot of Christians that run to Rom 13 and other passages which tell us to submit to government because God appointed them to be rulers.

        That is correct, in a certain sense, but Christians have to realize that the government has become infected by corporate ideals and no longer reflects a state where it actually has the best interest of the people in mind.

        We live in a world where sony, microsoft, and etc can lobby the government, successfully, to create a law saying that you can not duplicate their work digitally and give it to a friend to test. Now does Rom 13 et al. apply in this case? Do we recognize corporations and their edicts when they make government laws?

        On another note, we have to realize also, that the laws that you speak of are really statutory acts, which by definition, are only laws to the people who agree to be governed by them.

        So, if you are a Christian and you have been brought up to believe (by watching the news or all those fbi warnings before movies on vhs and dvd) that you should not copy their work, digitally, and that that message applies to you, then you probably should do what they say and keep their system running. You should buy the book, the dvd, a copy for your ipod, and when you move up to bluray get a copy for that too. (I mention this extreme example because in the country that I live they are actually trying to pass “laws” that say this: If i buy a dvd I can not put a copy of it on any another media device that I use, I have to use it in its original form and buy addition forms if I wish to use it elsewhere.)

        Mark, course I am advocating that one uses their best (God given) judgement, when interacting with the laws (and statues) of men and I hope you advocate that too.

        If it is 3am at a red light and you are on a motorcycle and your motorcycle does not activate the light changing mechanism, then you can either choose to blindly obey the never changing red light OR you can just go through the light.

        All I am doing is pointing out that these corporations will be okay if you decide to use a copy of their work to decide if you are going to buy the whole thing. They will even be alright if you decide once you have tested it out that that particular product is not for you.


        • Hi penultima,

          I like connecting with you. We might not agree on everything but it’s certainly a stretching experience for me.

          Again, I’m not going to reply immediately. Give me some time to think.

          That’s not a short response you gave :). Thanks for making the effort.

          In Christ,


          • Hi, Mark.

            I appreciate your thoughts as well, which is why I always return to hear them.

            Take your time in thinking about what I suggest. I am interested in hearing what you think about them.

            I would actually encourage you go back to the bible on this issue and see if you can find any evidence (or principles) for either of the following:

            1. That privately duplicating public ideas (where the primary parties are compensated and any shareholders agreed to the liability of their investment) is stealing.

            2. Government laws created by lobby groups (backed by multinational corporations) need to be followed, by Christians, outside of their better judgement.

            Penny Danvers

    • Thank you for your post, I really like that. My husband is in an indie band, and his father was in a popular 60’s band, so piracy is somewhat of a “hot topic” in my mind. I think I agree with your stand that these companies aren’t people; EMI isn’t a person, Apple Corps isn’t a person (The music company), Nintendo isn’t a person, Sega isn’t a person. The people who worked there got paid.
      I think the bible’s stealing meant that someone would be missing their money or object, which they needed, or which belonged to them. If you use a ROM or emulator, or MP3’s, you are just simply “cloning” the bought object.

  5. I must have one or two hundred copyrighted items out there, and I have seen all sorts of interesting things happen.

    It makes some sense, what penultima says about creators being generous with their creations, and I myself favour the more generous Creative Commons copyright, when publishers allow me that. I don’t see much in penultima’s latest comment, though, about generous inclinations in the other direction, namely in the direction of the creator, and this is important. Unfortunately, it is a vicious and rapacious world when it comes to marketable goods or ideas. In other words, the public is greedy, not just the corporations.

    The happiest arrangement I ever had was with someone who owned a bookstore, and wanted to manufacture a design of mine to which a publisher owned the copyright, but not the manufacturing rights. The bookstore owner felt that it would be right to acknowledge the creator (me) in his success, and so he generously provided me with books from his bookstore as a token of appreciation. Technically, this was not required, but this stood in such contrast to the greed of the world.

    In summary, corporations and public are equally and deeply mired in sin. penultima didn’t seem to recognise this, and so his/her comment may need a better balance.

    • Hi, Tomas.

      I wish to reply to your comment because you spoke on some of my points.

      To clarify, the purpose of the second comment, responding to Mark’s direct questions, was to suggest that even though he may have obtained a digital copy of X audiobook, the shareholders of the publishing companies probably have already received a profit and that they are not entitled, necessarily, to collect an unlimited amount of profit, until the end of time.

      And that if he bought an audiobook, he should not fret over making a copy so his wife can listen to it in her car and he can listen to it in his. He shouldn’t have to use a product in the way detailed by the seller if he doesn’t want to.

      But since you spoke to the idea of being generous to the original creator of a thing, I will briefly discuss that here.

      There is no rule that says one needs to be compensated for an idea alone or that one has to buy an idea from someone over and over and over each time they use it. Ideas are not like secret recipes that you can hide, once it is out in the open it is free, like it or not.

      I owe no one anything for “the wheel”, “I think therefore I am” or any other ideas/words they wish to share publicly. (I may have to pay them initially for them to educate me in how to understand their idea or to get it written down, but once an idea is transmitted it is free for the other person to use.)

      Large companies, because they are not people, hire personnel or buy ideas from people directly. For example, Google buying Youtube for X billion dollars and where in the music industry, musician X is prepaid for services and may receive X thousands of dollars to create songs for the company, and in this case the music creator may receive royalties later on as well.

      **This is how the original creator of an idea is compensated**

      Then the company takes the idea sells/uses it for a profit on top of which it bought the idea, from the resources of the shareholders. Everyone makes money.

      Now, when I say this, I hope that you and Mark note that I specifically am referring to very large multinational corporations.

      This does not work for, the little guy, who comes up with an idea and wishes to produce it for profit to people directly. This is a different case. I was speaking towards multinational corporations (e.g. sony, microsoft and etc) prohibiting the digital duplication of media they distribute.

      If I may speak briefly on “the little guy” you are absolutely correct that the world is a mean place and people are greedy.

      But why are people greedy? Is it because multinational corporations make claim on ideas, natural resources, medicines, foods and etc and force people have to participate in a system (if they want to live) where from the top down the whole purpose is to be as greedy as possible?

      Think about that question again. Do I want more money because I want more money OR is the system set up to rob me of the wealth and money I already have (so I seek to spend less and make as much money as possible all the time)?

      The “little guy” has to become creative to let alone survive the large multinational corporations than worry about Mark Penrith.

      The little guy has from his ideas inception, the news of the idea spreading and deconstruction of his idea by others to come up with a new idea or to better the old one. The little guy who is the creator of a thing has a time advantage on all imitators and the initial resources from early sales to push his brand to more customers and if it gets to a point where the market can not sustain him he should move on, not lobby for laws to stop people from moving in on his idea (and potentially bettering them).

      Trust me, if I were to create some amazing thing and spread it in the community a majority of the people would want to support me in whatever way they could.

      I mean how generous does one have to be to the original creator of a thing anyway? How do you define that and who should define that?

      But ya, I hope I clarified my second post.

  6. P.S. Every time I check into Amatomu, I read the line “Because He Lives”, bobbing around there in the top ten. It’s because of this that I can’t get the chorus out of my head. How may I be re-programmed? :-)

    • Start humming “Crown Him with many Crowns” :).

      You spent some time in PE? Not sure if I asked before but do you know my dad? Robert Penrith?

      I subscribe to your feed via RSS. You’re prolific :).

      Are you Methodist or non denominational or what? I’ve been reading your blog for a while and haven’t figured that out yet.

  7. I’m pleased you didn’t say I’m profligate. ;-)

    Was your mother Gill? If so, it was due to my spiritual ministrations that they turned out a wonderful son named Mark. And if so, it is Gill that I remember vividly, due to a single, strange incident. I visited her in hospital when she was still partly under anaesthestic. But that is another story!

    I minister in an independent Church which is governed by the members. It is Congregational, although Congregational not so much in the sense of being identifiable with a particular denomination or stream of Congregationalism, but Congregational in polity. Over the years, we have absorbed Christians from a wide variety of Church and cultural backgrounds.

  8. Thomas and Penultima, wow, some thick scripts, thanks for that, Iv’e converted all my Original Audio CD’s to mp3’s about 7 years ago and was, and am, at peace with that. Infact I know many folk that have copied old vinyls to tape and tapes to CD’s and CD’s to MP3’s and MP3’s to Mp4’s as the ease of Newer tech takes over. Same for Beta VHS etc.

    Penultima can you have a code for corporates and another code for the little guy? Methinks this will damage your mind. Tis best to have one liberal code [me] or one hardline code [Mark] saves on you having to judge too many things, what do ya tink?

    Mark found a freeware site, all legal and above board? Do they contract the Chinese to read the texts? Hahahahaha!!!

    Blessings Brothers

    • (Note to Mark, I am hoping that I am not hijacking your post, again, but since Merry Helper asked me a question I would like to answer their question.)

      Hi, Merry Helper.

      You asked, can there be one legal code that could offer a solution to this problem?

      I think if we stopped recognizing corporations as people the problem would go away. And the problem would go away because the creator/developer of an idea would create/develop the idea in a way where it either can not be copied OR it can only be used in a certain way.

      Let me give you an example.

      Microsoft’s Windows Operating system was designed to run on any pc machine. There was nothing stopping you from obtaining/building a pc and putting a duplicated copy of the operating system on there.

      Apple’s Operating system was designed to run on expensive proprietary hardware and even if you obtained a duplicated copy of the software you could not get access to the hardware required to use it and you couldn’t (originally) force it to run on a random pc that you obtained.

      Now, Microsoft, even though many people run with duplicated versions of their software, has generated millions, if not billions, of dollars to their name. Way more money than Apple. What Apple did to survive was it specialized its Operating system to perform certain tasks well and focused on a unique hardware set; therefore, ensuring its market place space.

      I suggest that the little guy needs to take the path of Apple. Market your product/idea in a way where it can only be used in a certain way and can not be applied/used in ways not specified and do it better than previous/other ideas.

      Now, even in the way that I referenced Microsoft and Apple, in my example, it sounded like I was talking about people (first name, Micro, last name, Soft).

      Microsoft is no longer a brand name only; it functions AS a person. If this was changed so that it only was a brand name, the ideas would reside with the people (with living souls) that created them and these creators would license the ideas to Microsoft to use at a profit for the shareholders.

      If Microsoft wasn’t a person it couldn’t amass money to itself but rather the people who worked for Microsoft would recieve the money. Once you remove Microsoft (the person) you would only need one rule or one legal code (if you even want one, as I have suggested a way for someone to create and distribute an idea where the content of the idea is kept hidden and proprietary in nature, therefore it can not be copied).

      But let’s say it is something like words or music and not computer code or a unique design that can be hidden or difficult to replicate. If you bring your words or music into the public arena for the public to digest and use once it is in their private space they can do whatever they want with it. No legal code is required, all you have is a time advantage on future innovations.

      But if you wanted to create a legal code that the little guy must follow (and note because there are no corporate people there only IS the little guy) you could have a law that says, “if a person registers their idea it is there sole idea for one full year” and then after that year it (in this example) it is fair game.

      Now, keep in mind, MH, that this is all well wishing and not going to happen. The corporate world IS the world now and they are not going ot just dispand for the greater good. But I am glad in your ‘liberal’ case you had no qualms duplicating your private purchased (or borrowed) property because I feel that you (as a living breathing soul) have more of a right than those cold steely people called corporations.

      Thanks for the question Merry Helper and thanks again Mark for allowing me to post this comment.


      • Hi penultima,

        I wrote the post because I had something to say but also because I like to listen to other people. In general I like people who disagree with me, it sharpens my own thought.

        One point though. I know MH and how his mind works. If you read his comment again I think you’ll notice he advocates your case. He disagrees with mine. The thought he’s trying to bring to the party is be liberal or be conservative don’t try and be in between, wishy washy, because there’s no consistency in that argument, it’s far too subjective.

        On that I’d agree.


  9. Alo Alo

    Has anyone ever read the Licensing doc you agree too before any installation, yip the one where you must check agree before you can go on. Hhahahaha!!!

    Penultima I think that a lot of your words are the reality of the world today. It’s not formalised as such but the law makers and the Coporates understand it as such and try to use it too there favour. There is a Noble spine to Marks post that I can’t quantify yet.

    In the Land I live, Abortion is accepted, I think it is murder. Not sure the law of the land is a good Litmus.


  10. Great article Mark…

    Talking about the ten commandments, we are going through the Truth Project from Focus on the family in our bible study and the presenter had something interesting to say. What if God had decided that stealing was OK. The command He gave was “Thou shalt steal” making it pretty much a requirement. Is this possible, the presenter asks. No, is the definate answer. God did not decide on the ten commandments. He did not lie in bed one night and think, “You know those Israelites have really gotta have some respect for me. I think I will give them some near impossible rules to follow tomorrow.”

    The ten commandments are a summary of God’s very nature, His characteristics, put down in a way that the Israelites and us can understand. “Thou shalt not steal” does not exist because God wanted it to exist, it exists because God CANNOT steal.
    We should forget about the laws of the country, the rules placed upon us, or anything like that. And make the ten commandments the very essence of our lives. Why don’t we copy a pirated movie? Not because it is wrong, or against the law. Not because the movie makers deserve their profits (albeit sometimes more than we would like to pay). But because stealing is a violation of the very essence of who God is, and who we want to be as Christians.

    • Hi, I am a New Zealander, and we also struggle in this nation to obey the law. A few years ago I was convicted that my illegal material was not what Jesus would be honoured by, and deleted all of it. Looking at the law, I now follow the law of the land, because of the verse: Romans 13v1-7.

      JMR, I like your perspective of the 10 commandments, and we must also remember that ‘who we want to be as Christians’ can be flawed. We should submit primarily to God in His Word, and Romans 13v1-7 is enough to make me sure that I can obey the Lord, Psalm 50 v16-23 is what concerned me even more that this is wrong!

      If anyone would listen, read Psalm 50v16-23, and ask yourself again, is this honoring the Lord?

      In the Saviour


  11. Hi Mark

    glad to read your article… i came accross to your article after browsing the interet just to find sources for the research proposal i am thinking for the past days and i am drafting now.

    Guess what? unexpectedly we have the same theme or title what a co-incident. my propose title Piracy and Christian’s perspective… since i am connected in regulating optical media (including piracy of media products) and also a christian i want to know the point of view of christian regarding patronizing pirated prodcut. I have identified so many secular sources and law here in my country. So i now i am browsing the net to check sources from christian views and i got your article…. wohooo. thanks for what you have written… I will be using that as one of my source. I hope it will be ok… no flagarism? i will acknowledge your work.

    God bless


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