Thursday, June 19, 2008

How About Just Because It's Not An Ehrlich Thing To Do?

A poster in YWN's forum asks about copying media:

If, as is the case in some countries, "file sharing" (such as sites like limewire and Kaza, or torrent sites like mininova and bittorent) is legal, provided that it is not done for profit. If that is the case, can somebody explain to me why their would be an issur in copying (if there is any at all), and what, when i copy a cd, movie, etc. from a disc or someone elses ipod, would i be stealing (even the "perpetual lease" to me doesn't seem like it would make a difference, b/c forsure i am allowed to copy my cd onto my ipod, and when i am taking it from the ipod, i am not taking anything from the cd). thanks anyone for the clarification

The next poster brings up the fact that there is a dispute amongst modern poskim about the halachic legality of copying.

How about this approach:

It's wrong because it's simply not an ehrlich thing to do. You know the producers of the CD you bought would object to your copying. You know that if the situation were reversed, and you put a lot of effort into producing a CD, a DVD, a computer program or a book, you wouldn't want it copied and distributed for free to everyone and their brother. Forget whether it might technically be permitted halachically for a minute and actually ask yourself if this is the right thing to do.

Whenever I find myself in these sorts of situations, I ask myself this: is my self-respect worth the $14.99? Suppose I saw a person drop $14.99 in the street. Put aside the issue of hashavas aveida for a minute and assume no one would see you take the money. Would I swoop in, grab the money and pocket it? Of course not -- I'd return it to the person who dropped it, simply because that is how I would like to be treated if I ever lose a sum of money. I know that if the person were aware that they dropped the money that they'd want it back -- I would too. As such, I couldn't fathom keeping it. My self-respect is worth more than that.

The same thing applies to copying CDs. Put aside whether it's legal. Put aside whether it's halachically permissible. Put aside everything else and just ask yourself "if the situation were reversed, what would you want the other person to do?"

The Wolf


smoo said...

Copy that, Wolfman.

smoo said...

My friend is an artist and does body painting and photography. He is absolutely offended when another friend asks him to join others to watch a copied movie. He made me acutely aware of that perspective.

Question: What if you couldn't find a song you liked? No store had it, BMG music doesn't carry that artist but limewire has it, would you acquire it that way?

Anonymous said...

And that, dear friends, is why morality has nothing to do withreligion or God.

ProfK said...

Modern poskim may be having disagreements about the copying issue but the American law is clear: pirating is against the law. Copyright protects the intellectual and artistic output of those who create things for sale. So there are three levels to be looked at here: 1)what does halacha say, 2)what does the law of the land we live in say, and 3)what does common decency and mentchlichkeit say. At least two of them say "don't copy what you don't own." And it's kind of sad that the third one is still arguing about what is right to do.

BrooklynWolf said...

To be fair, ProfK, the question did pre-suppose that the activity it taking place in a location where copying is legal. I don't know where that would be as most civilized countries respect the copyrights and patents of others, but still, the question was predicated on it's legality.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


I actually had that question about a book that I wanted but was out of print and very difficult to get a hold of. In the end, I decided to just take notes and not photocopy the book for my own personal use -- even though the book was out of print.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

> You know the producers of the CD you bought would object to your copying.

Sorry, but this is a really lame argument. Being ehrlich is a fine thing. But this argument is not about ehrlichkeit.

If I am allowed to do something, it makes no difference if the creator (or someone who a stake in my action) doesn't like what I am doing with it. Would you not wear a certain shirt because the designer thought it clashed horribly with your pants? Would you feel compelled to refrain from copying music onto your iPod because album sellers don't' want you to? Would you not give someone standing on the corner a lift because taxi drivers object to your depriving them of income?

Just because someone might lose money based on my actions, doesn't mean that I am compelled to concede to their every demand. And I'm not being less ehrlich by doing so. Record companies would love to charge you for every time you play a song, do you think it's not being ehrlich because you'd rather pay once?

NOTE: I'm not saying violating copyright law is always ok. I'm just saying that the argument you're making is totally specious.

BrooklynWolf said...


There is a major difference between the cases you bring and the copying of CDs: specifically, what is considered fair use of the item in question.

I can wear the designer's shirt any way I want to -- and the designer makes the shirt knowing full well that people are free to use his his/her shirt in any way they want... from wearing it stylishly, to having it clash with an ugly pair of pants to using it as a rag.

Similarly, it's not immoral to borrow books from a library since authors know and understand when they are writing the book that libraries are legal and that people *will* borrow the book from the library, even though that means that they won't purchse it. The same thing applies with ripping a CD to your own personal MP3 player -- the producers of music know this and expect you to do it.

Copying music for public redistribution does not fall into this category.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Exactly - the point is about fair use, or rather the legal definition of fair use. It has nothing to do with what the creator or producer feels is inappropriate.

There are legal cases of people being sued because they played music too loudly (like in a mechanics garage) and it was deemed "public distribution". Is that fair use? I would think it is. The courts have sided with the record companies and said it isn't.

According to your logic, such behavior is not ehrlich. See my point?

Anonymous said...

I ask myself about the reaction of the artist/publisher/creator of whatever item I wish to use at a given time.

Would you be able to look an artist in the eye and tell them that you obtained their music without paying for it?

Copyright issues are indeed complicated.

As a professor of mine says from time to time, there's a difference between what's legal and what's ethical.

Anonymous said...

> there's a difference between what's legal and what's ethical..

What always bothers me about these discussions (and believe me, I've had plenty of them) is that people don't realize that just like there's a difference between ethical and legal, there's also a difference between something being illegal and unethical.

Shira Salamone said...

What, I’m not in enough trouble already (see comments)? :(

Anonymous said...

In fact, when lending libraries first became common, the book publishers did object to them.

Sanegor said...

Putting aside halachic side of this (which isn't very deep really), in this case ehrlichkeit is very subjectible. Is it ehrlich for the label to charge 14-30 dollars for a CD that costs $0.20 to print and not even that much to record ? Is it "ehrlich" for the people with rather limited contribution to society, such as most today's musicians, artists or sports players to belong in the top 0.001% of the income scale while everybody else languishes away ?

So if by ehrlichkeit you mean adherence to some sort of a social contract, unless one really feels that he's committing a major crime, this should be somewhere at the bottom of the misdeeds list.

Pesky Settler said...

I'm going to agree with Sanegor here...

When my mother was making my sister's wedding she used silk flowers for the centerpieces. When she asked them about aisle arrangements and chuppah flowers, the florist said they don't make them. Their reasoning?

"It costs us $Y in material and labor to make these arrangements, which are rented for $X. After Z number of times we've more than made up our losses in materials and we cannot justify charging such a large sum of money to our customers for sheer profit." (Needless to say my mother used them repeatedly until they moved out of city).

Microsoft, Adobe, Corel, Symantec all charge between tens and hundreds of dollars for their software. Often upgrades are needed after a year which most likely needs to be bought for another $20, $50, $100.

Yes, I realize the companies pay programmers and have expenses. But charging $500 for a program is a bit obscene and not very ehrlich.

ProfK said...

The question is not whether or not the manufacturers of a product are asking too much as the cost of that product. It matters not at all if the product can be produced for 1/1000 of the price being charged. The cost of the product is not an excuse for acting in an unethical manner. Everyone has a choice--either buy the product or don't buy the product. Keep in mind as well that books, CDs, DVDs etc. are optional items, luxuries that we choose to buy, not items that are necessary for us to live.

We might or might not justify the actions of the poor man who only has $1.00 and who is starving and who steals a quart of milk because he can't afford the $2.49 price tag. There is no justification for stealing copyrighted material which forms no necessary part of our lives. No one is "entitled" to CD ownership.

BrooklynWolf said...


Come on, you know better than that. When someone produces a CD, the expenses go far beyond the cost of the physical CD. You're also paying for the time and creative energy that it took to create the music that you're listening to in the first place.

Your argument reminds me of people who complain that they have to pay for drugs when everyone knows that the pills themselves cost pennies to produce. While the latter part o the statement is true, you also have to take into account that you have to pay for the research and development that makes the drug possible in the first place.

In any event, as Prof K. points out, this isn't a matter of being ehrilich or not -- it's a matter of economics. If CDs are overpriced at $15 then people won't buy them. At that point, one of two things will happen -- the price will come down or else they'll no longer be made.

BrooklynWolf said...


It's a matter of what the market will bear. If Adobe can still earn a profit while charging $500 for a copy of Photoshop, why shouldn't they? If they can't then they'll have to drop the price. It's simple economics.

In addition, consider the following: Adobe has a responsibility to maximize it's profit for it's shareholders. If it does anything less than that, they are being irresponsible. On the other hand, as a private person, I don't have a responsibility to copy files and maximize my music collection. The two aren't comparable at all.

The Wolf

-suitepotato- said...

As far as copying software goes, I'm a former programmer and from my perspective any company that sells as finished insufficiently tested product that any coder would call beta is the first offender and given that their willful negligence can go so far as to erase your entire hard drive worth of your personal data, you owe them not one cent for risking your livelihood, productivity, etc. on their slop.

Seriously, I remember when coders had something approaching ethics. Then the corporate world realized that as long as no one is holding them to standards like with aircraft engines and cars, and the market won't hold them to standards, finished was whatever the state of the code is when they get antsy and wanted to release something.

If a taxi driver is going to drive over the sidewalks and everywhere else like a chase scene out of Bad Boys 2, then I don't figure I owe him one cent for the trip. There's a certain expectation of quality involved. Sure, I get there. Maybe. Maybe I die. Sure, the video editor works. Maybe. Maybe it trashes my registry.

As for music, I usually these days go via Sprint Music Store on my cell and am considering Rhapsody with Cox Cable. I don't own an iPod and am disgusted by Apple's attitudes so iTunes is out. Seriously off the beaten path things I'll download. Some things I could download but I'll buy the album on eBay if I can find a seller just for the sake of owning a physical original.

I think I've spent way more money through online for music than I ever did on CDs and it is all due to the filesharing phenomenon forcing the music industry to slow change. Vongo and Netflix's online services are doing that for movies.

But you have to consider human nature. If you react with fascist police state responses which is what the MPAA, BSA, and RIAA have done, then you're going to inspire revolt and rebellion on the part of a population already known to take to that easily.

E-mail, Usenet, web forums, blogging, Bittorrent, the evolution of the net is towards free movement of information for the convenience of those who transmit and receive, not the profit of old-style business codgers who won't join the 20th century nevermind the 21st.

-suitepotato- said...

To clarify, I pay cash for software from companies I halfway trust.

Caligari, Symantec, sometimes Adobe depending on the product... I keep abreast of their product behavior through actual user accounts posted online.

People want convenience and what they figure to be fair prices. They hear music on the radio all day and mentally tune out the ads. They are entitled by fair use to copy the radio broadcasts and play their tapes back later. We do the same with TV on DVRs given to us by the cable and satellite companies themselves.

They watch On Demand and Pay Per View programming despite the way overpriced cost. As their network speeds increase, I think Vongo and whatnot will become more popular. The cable companies have already stated their desires to have content chosen and then uploaded to DVRs in the background and lower per program costs, but there's still a lot of hammering out to be done with content providers, many of whom can be as idiotic as the **AA.

They want convenience and low cost and if the entertainment industries which try to hook them on their content like mental crack are going to keep the prices artificially high, theft is going to ensue. Much of the popular entertainment media is like drugs for the masses, there to distract them from their daily and momentary cares.

If coke prices went up out of bounds with the value but the need remained, you'd see dealers getting ripped off by their own users more often. Hollywood movies however can be copied, so no need to mug Hollywood. Just take what they've spend millions trying to convince you that you can't live without.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see where that goes. Especially in a society suffering boredom, manic-depression, ennui, and emptiness. Oh look, a new Hulk movie! Oh but wait, the tickets are like ten bucks and the smallest candy costs five bucks and a soda is as much as a gallon of gas... Well, it looks like it's out of sight, and the movie studio says I must see it...

They set themselves up for this in a way.

ProfK said...

Sorry suitepotato but I disagree. "and the movie studio says I must see it..." Do they now? And, as mothers have been saying for centuries, if they told you that you must jump off a bridge, would you do so? No one is forcing you to see the movie or to buy a product--that is your personal choice, and blaming it all on the producers of products is a really nifty way of shifting the blame away from the culpable parties. "They set themselves up for this in a way." No, it is the users/abusers who make this statement as a way of rationalizing what is bad behavior on their part.

Sanegor said...

The economic argument of supply and demand simply doesn't work here. Copyrighted material isn't a commodity that can be reproduced and a cartel that often resorts to monopolistic tactics makes sure that their interests are over-represented in DC and elsewhere with all kinds of arbitrary and artificial legislation such as DMCA.

Big studios consider consumer to be "fair game" because what they do is legal as long the lawyers keep billing. They charge for a CD the amount that an average uninformed sucker will pay, the figure has nothing to do with the cost of production. So the consumer has full entitlement to say that they are "fair game" as well, as such is the law of the land.

Anonymous said...

It is economic, though.

The reason it's ok for the radio to play the music and you to record it, and the reason it was ok for your to make mix tapes of your favorite songs until now, was because the music producers figured the quality would be too poor to really dent their income.

Now that you can rip a perfect copy, they suddenly get worried.

And that's why copyright laws are such a mess - because they're written for the convenience of the producers.

PS: Just a reminder guys - you don't buy software, you purchase license to use it...

Me said...


Yasher Koach on a great post.

I always say to people. Take away everything else, a person knows when something is right or wrong. We all have a moral compass. Sometimes we need to just follow that.


fish613 said...

Likewise. This is one of the best perspectives I've seen on the issue.

The only thing I can add to an already fascinating series of comments is that Pirkei Avos, the tractate of the Mishna that deals with ethics, is in Nezikin, the section that deals with civil law. The point is that ethics must be seen as a direct extension of law, with the law providing a base point and the ethics taking us further. Bottom line law is not what we should be relying on. I think you made a similar point in an earlier comment.

Once again, yashar koach!

Anonymous said...

I will point out that most people who copy can't or won't spend the price asked. What that means, simply, is that the music studios stand to lose nothing by the copy, which makes it ethically kosher. So, you might be earning enough to justify adding 'music collection' to your budget, so you feel it's unethical to copy, while others don't have a budget for such and deem it ethical.

On your point of ethics, there is much to discuss whether ethics has any basis in Judaism and whether it actually means anything. The Gemora clearly states if not for government people would eat each other -- regardless of ethics. Hence, your argument is merely in theory, but has no basis in reality.

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't say that someone who can't/won't buy a house should be allowed to steal one. Why should you be allowed to do it with music? It's still 100% unethical, you only justify it to yourself because it feels smaller and irrelevant.

Of course, veohavto lereacho comoicho is clearly not a biblical reference to ethics - God must have meant it as a joke.

Those were the two worst points of the debate so far.

Anonymous said...

Your comparison to a house is very off -- there someone stands to lose while by copying CD's (note I didn't say stealing the physical media) the artist / producer doesn't stand to lose.

I won't comment on your second point -- because if you think Veohavta Lereacha Kamocha means ethics I have no idea why it's such a hard mitzva to keep to the degree that the only person it is fathomable to perform it is with one's spouse. I don't know which Rav explained Veohavta Lereacha Kamocha as such, but it definitely is not the intent of the verse nor the classical explanation by any of the contemporary commentaries.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of dragging this out...

The artist loses. Pure and simple. He produces his music on the understanding that people who want to listen to it will pay him for the privilege. Hence if you don't pay to listen to it you are taking money that should have been his.

Always go lifnim mishuras hadin. The Torah is replete with injunctions to behave ethically - I could quote hundreds of pesukim and gemoras, and I'm sure you could too. Could you really look a musician in the face and tell him what you are advocating is right?

Kol Tov.

Anonymous said...

in response to anonomys above, whether its right or wrong in todays day and age, no music artist has the "understanding" people won't copy his cd without paying....also that is what the whole halachic arguement is about, that if i wasn't going to buy his cd anyway, why is it stealing?....the artist isn't losing because i wasn't going to buy it, and its something that making a copy of isn't damaging his "goods"....second i happen to agree with the verdict of this post simply because its against the law, and you have to follow the laws of the land. But putting it all aside....if my posic says its not against halacha, why shouldn't i copy it? i'am not going to buy all 80gb of my music on my ipod.... why shouldn't i copy an old mbd??? also this is not at all comparable to someone losing a TANGIBLE object such as money...where as this guy is missing missing money that he started off with, by a cd he's NOT losing money he didn't have the money that his cd costs(an outrageous 15 dollars) and he never will even i wouldn't have copied the cd. and although it is true that if i were in the busness i wouldn't want people coping,but i would want people BUYING if they aren't going to buy it, how does hurt the singer if they copy it? how does Ehrlich play a role if i happen not to have the cash to buy EVEY cd that comes out? now the question people have to ask themselves is whether they were going to buy it or not? from my personal observation the people who would buy the cd DO even in this crazy ipod coping crazed era. and those who didn't still don't, except that even though there not too involved in music they listen to this guys music and maybe if they REALLY like it they'll buy the next album....