Can mortal sins vary by country?


So, is it possible that two people perform the exact same action, but one be committing a mortal and another not be sinning at all because of where they are standing?

I will give you an exact example:

Many people on here say that piracy = stealing = breaking one of the ten commandments = mortal sin.

Now, assuming that logic is sound.

In Canada copyright is life + 50 years, and in America it is life + 70 years.

So, right now, a Canadian citizen could go to a website and download The Screwtape Letter by C.S. Lewis for free. This is completely legal, as the copyright has expired in Canada.

If I go to the exact same site from where I am in the USA, and download the exact same file, at the exact same time, I would be pirating it by US law.

IF it is a mortal sin (as opposed to something venial, like speeding), then a given government has the power to decide what is a mortal sin for the Catholics of their country.

This seems completely insane to me. I will agree that we should avoid breaking the law, and that piracy is illegal in many countries. I am not arguing that, but that would seem more like a speeding type crime than a 10 commandment crime.

If piracy is a mortal sin, I think it would be not matter where you are. So, if I copy your book, even in a country without any copyright law at all, then it should still be a mortal sin on the moon as much as in America. If that was the case, then what is God’s copyright term? Which is to say, while many countries have long terms, I don’t think any are forever. I can download Dante almost anywhere and that is okay. So, how long before God thinks a work is in the public domain and thus not stealable?

So, for those of you that feel piracy = mortal sin, please explain how it can vary from country to country, and what it means when a country has no piracy laws, etc.

If it is a venial sin, then it, much like speeding, does not need to be confessed unless it was somehow grievous (not sure what this would entail), I assume.


Yes, it is. For example, if you are driving on a road where the speed limit is 25 MPH and are going 65 MPH, you would be (possibly) guilty of the mortal sin of endangering the life of a child (supposing a school is nearby). But if you are on the freeway, and the speed limit is 65 MPH, then you commit no sin by going 65 MPH (provided the conditions are safe).
So in both cases you are performing the exact same action of going 65 MPH. But in one case it is a sin, whereas in the other not. Different circumstances can change the morality of an action.


Well if it is public domain in your country than you’re not stealing.


But this would mean a sin is based on whatever particular law man/ secular authority has set in place…that does not sound right to me…??


The sin is breaking the local copyright law.

Now, for nations without copyright laws, I personally believe it would be sinful for anyone to steal a book from a living author.

But in regards to a dead author, if you live in a country without copyright laws, and the book is in the public domain there, I think it’s ok to publish and sell provided the following:

  1. you recognize the original author(s) and anyone else who deserves credit.
  2. you only sell the book in nations where the book is in the public domain. Meaning, if the book is still under copyright in Canada or the United States, you do not sell it there.

Copyright laws (dead authors) identifies who has the rights to publish that book in a particular nation. But in my humble opinion, a living author should have universal rights to his/her work.

I pray I’m making sense.

God Bless and Happy Easter.



For example a US Catholic who fails to assist at Mass on December 8 is objectively sinning by missing a Holy Day of Obligation.

An English Catholic who fails to assist at Mass on December 8 is not – The obligation is abrogated there.



I think in this instance the sin is of breaking the law, not downloading a book. We are instructed as Christians to be obedient to those in authority. Laws might change from country to country, but our requirement to be obedient to the law does not change.


I think in this instance the sin is of breaking the law, not downloading a book. We are instructed as Christians to be obedient to those in authority. Laws might change from country to country, but our requirement to be obedient to the law does not change.

This is where I am coming from. The sin would be breaking the law, I am tracking there. That being said, unless someone is in serious danger, as a result (ie, 70mph in a 15mph school zone), breaking the law would generally be a venial sin and not a mortal sin.

I brought this up because I was looking at a Knights of Columbus “how to go to confession” pamphlet and when they got to “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, they asked if one has pirated anything. So, it seems in the pamphlet writer’s mind, piracy = theft, but that is just dumb.

A book will eventually go into public domain sometime after the author’s death, but I am not free to go grab the Mona Lisa (theft!) and take her home. I AM free to take a picture or paint a copy (infringement, if under copyright). It seems rather obvious that these two things are different.

I think the only reason we pretend they are the same is because big lobbyists have pushed government to pretend they are the same. Of course, there are tons of things the government says are true and we don’t believe it. There are even laws that Catholics refuse to comply with because they don’t agree. So it goes.


Well, I don’t really go for the “victimless crime” argument. When you pirate a book or a movie, you are taking money from someone else, often from the artists and staff directly involved with the creation of the book or movie. I firmly believe that people should be paid for their work. If you don’t think it’s worth the money to purchase, then rent. If you are unwilling to rent, then do without. Perhaps it’s “only” venial- I’m not a good judge of what is mortal and what is venial - but we should be striving for sainthood, not justifying sins on a sliding scale.


This is an interesting question because my examination of conscience lists violating copyright laws under “mortal sins”. It has separate lists for mortal and venial sins.

As a homeschool parent, and a volunteer catechist, I am extremely careful to read and to fully understand, to the best of my ability, the copyright explanations on all of my materials. Which makes it really hard when a curriculum material is advertised in such a way as to lead me to believe that I will be able to photocopy certain sections for a student to reuse, and after I pay for the materials and they are delivered and I read “all rights reserved” and “no part of this material may be reproduced in any format”, and I feel like I just wasted my money. Because there is no way I meant to purchase that material to only be able to use it for one single lesson. :shrug:

It seems like in the USA, copyright laws protect EVERYTHING and generic language is just slapped on an entire package, even when the whole point of the thing is just to make sure that every household purchases a personal copy and doesn’t just make copies for others.

But to the original question, yes, I think mortal sins can vary based upon location, because it has to do with obedience to legitimate authority.


Well, this has been a decently fun topic I think. I feel what you are saying, and I like the way you are saying it. Let me touch on a few interesting thoughts.

I would say it is victimless for me to download a C.S. Lewis book and put it on my phone for quick searching, especially because I already own it on hard copy.

Tons of software for older computers sits on floppy disks that are decaying and it has been abandoned by the authors or no one can even be sure who owns the rights. (Think of things that were based on a movie, and the software development house went out of business and the movie company has been sold a few times, things get complicated) For much of this software, this art, this history, it only exists in any usable form thanks to piracy.

The BBC destroyed the tapes holding many Dr Who episodes in the 1970s. They then tried to find copies to release on VHS/DVD and found they did not exist. They found some and reconstructed others based on audio sources that were recorded by fans from the TV. There would be nothing if not for this piracy.

One of my hobbies is restoring old computers. No one is selling the software, so no one is hurt when I make a copy. Sometimes the copy is cracked too, which breaks yet another law. My living room PC is running Linux. It has no officially licensed way to play DVDs, but I use open source software that lets me play them anyway, and I often rip the movie from the disc, put the disc in the closet, and watch as I please. There again, I have copied without permission and opened and encryption without permission. I put my CDs on my ipod and my phone, no permission. I alter my ipod, phone, playstation, etc, (devices I payed for and own), to allow them to run custom software and operating systems. Do do this I often have to break the encryption, modify and copy the system software.

Above is a large list of things that break the law, but I can’t imagine any of them as being bad, hurting anyone or being a sin at all, cept for the legality of it, which feels about like jaywalking. The fact that people have preserved art and culture that would have been lost forever even seems to make some instances a moral good, at least in my book.

My point is, it seems far from cut and dry. Not only can there be some cases where it is victimless, there are plenty of cases where everyone wins.

This is not to say we should not pay for such things. We need to support our artists, art and culture. I just think the way our laws are setup is rather broken, and it seems silly that we should support broken laws, when instead we could be preserving things for the future.

Again, this is not in all or even most cases (I hope!), but it does happen and is worth considering, before labeling all infringement as some sort of slight against God and man.

Joke (please don’t take it as a real argument):
Remember, Jesus did set the example by copying the wine, bread and fish. I am sure there were some merchants those days who did not feel those miracles were victimless.


Copyright law is a good example of how an action can be sinful or not according to the laws of one’s country, because we are obliged to obey (just) laws.

However, I don’t think it’s a good example of a mortal sin, because despite your “examination of conscience” list, I wouldn’t rate the piracy of a small number of items as a “mortal” sin. The sinfulness of stealing depends very much on how much is stolen, from whom, and the circumstances - ie. the total damage done. The downloading of a book which is out of copyright in one county but not another is low on this scale. It would only be a mortal sin if done on a very large scale.

Following on from this, I agree with the OP’s sense that the laws of a country do not, in general, create mortal sins in one country but not another. To break a just law is, in general, only a venial sin if the matter is minor. eg. not wearing a bicycle helmet in a country where it is required. To me, the sin can only be mortal if the actual matter is grave, and a violation of natural law. In that case, it would be a mortal sin whether it is legal or not. E.g. the age of consent varies from country to country, yet to have illicit relations with a 16 year old is always a grave sin, regardless of whether it is legal.


Interesting stories and I agree with your summing up!

The Dr Who videos remind me of an important incident in the recent trial of Rolf Harris (Australian entertainer convicted of sex offences in England). He rejected one allegation that he had assaulted sometime in Cambridge on the grounds that her had never been to Cambridge in his life. A member of the public produced a home tape of a variety show produced in Cambridge in the 70s starring Harris! I guess that would have been illegal by the letter of the law. :slight_smile:


I’m surprised everyone is focusing on the pirating and not the actual command. The catechism addresses this. It falls under the command of honor thy father and mother. Because the government is an extension of that command so long as the law is just. ( that does not mean you have to think it is the correct law or agree with it but that it does not command an evil.).

So yes, you can sin in one country and not another, quote mortally as well.
Starting at 2238


I reject the notion that violating copyright is stealing. It is not at all like stealing, though the profiteers of copyright make it out as such. Stealing deprives a person of a specific actual good. Violating copyright law is merely creating a reproduction using your own material resources. It is breaking the law and we have a general obligation to obey the law.


I disagree with your examination of conscience regarding this. Copyright law is a ridiculous mess. There is the concept of a Fair Use, which allows you to make use of things despite copyright language seeming to prohibit it. Many times boilerplate copyright language is slapped on products. It is also against the law to make false copyright claims. So some of the claims made by IP owners should be prosecuted as crimes. But you’ll never see that. The government only exists to prosecute one side of the copyright law.

Personally I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to decipher the asserted copyright of each and every material. You might be better served by researching Fair Use. I would think under that most of what it sounds like you are doing is permitted despite any untrue claims on individual products.


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