Copyright Violation and Restitution

Long ago, I used to illegally download music off the internet (in total about 60-70 songs). I’ve confessed this already but I’m starting to think about the restitiution aspect of it which would be about $100.

And, as a result of my slight obsession with copyright law, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve violated it hundreds of times throughout my life, and since it’s stealing, it would seem that I’m obliged to pay for the damage I’ve done, wether I knew it or not.

Problem is, I have no idea about just how extensive it is and a ball park estimate of thousands and thousands of dollars has me


I’m going to ask my confessor about this soon (although I’m not sure how he will respond. From what I can tell, he doesn’t seem to think that making hundreds of copies of lyrics for our choir is wrong, and since I’m in the choir I have to bring this up to him, but that’s for another thread)

Anyway, I’m totally stressed out right now and copyright law is the last thing I want to get involved with, but it just keeps coming back:banghead:

It seems like I’m obliged to pay what could possibly amount to my entire life’s worth of savings ( I’m 17 and don’t even have a job yet!) but it just seems so…weird.

Anyway ley me know what you think.

Hmm, that’s something close to what I’m struggling with too, except mines with fansubbed animes and Japanese dramas.

As for downloading music, just take a look at this thread:

You are not obligated to make financial restitution for all of your sins. It can be meritorious, but is not obligatory. In the case of those who are married with children, their first financial responsibility is to their family not to the stores that they stole baseball cards from as a kid. For any sin, we take it to Confession and do the Penance the priest gives to us. You don’t need to do any more than that.

Nor are you required to calculate the hypothetical cost incurred from possible copyright infractions. The sin in breaking many copyright laws is the failure to obey legitimate authority, not that there is something inherently sinful in violating copyright laws.

Also, you’d have to go to law school and specialize in copyright laws if you really wanted to accurately assess your copyright infractions and come up with a dollar figure. I don’t think God asks anyone to do that.

I wouldn’t worry about it that much. Stay away from the obvious things (selling copies of copyrighted works, for example), but there’s no need to live in fear that everything you do is “stealing” someone’s “intellectual property”. Many things that people think violate copyright laws really do not (there are fair use laws and so on). Not that I’m a legal expert on this, by any means!

We don’t want to fall into the trap of scrupulosity!

FYI, most parishes nowadays are familiar with their legal obligations concerning reprinting copyrighted music. Most parishes subscribe to services that give them blanket coverage in using certain copyrighted music. So don’t assume that the priest is violating any copyright laws. It is very likely that he is not.

That’s what I’m hoping, although some of the things he’s said on the subject point elsewhere.
He said something along the lines of “we’re not making money off it, not taking credit for it, it’s to worship God and to look into the spirit of the law.”

I don’t know. My understanding is that to make copies, one needs permission (I think), which can cost money. So to make copies without permission - wouldn’t that be stealing?
Not to mention the penalty for infringment can be $100,000 per copy

S_V7, you worry enough about your own actions without trying to take on responsibility for anyone else including your priest. He knows what he is doing and it is his responsibility. :slight_smile:

Years back it was common for choirs to make unauthorized copies. After several churches got hit with significant damage judgments they cleaned up their act. I think most are pretty cautious these days.

Copyright law is messed up.

Lets say that someone illegally downloads music. They get found out. Do they get prosecuted? NO! The RIAA sues them, and takes the damages and pockets them. The people who this really hurts, the artists, never see a dime!

minor rant

I thought we were obliged to make restitution. In this examination of conscience it lists willful failure to make restitution as serious matter (under the 7th commandment)

Great post. Also, current “laws” regarding copyrights and restitution are a bit of a grey area, anyways. The RIAA or MPAA favor very restrcitive laws. For example, the RIAA considers ripping a CD piracy, even though piracy may not be the intent.

First, sin is a choice. If you were unaware of the copyright laws when you downloaded the music (as it seems you were), then there is no sin. It’s possible that the copyright laws about downloading music were not even in place at the time you downloaded the music, which would make it even more obvious that this was not a sin. Downloading music has only been possible in the last ten years or so, so many of these laws didn’t exist until quite recently.

The Catechism (CCC 4212) speaks of making restitution of stolen goods to their owner. In the case of downloading music, at most, you would be obligated to delete the files from your computer.

In other cases of violating copyright law, again, the sin is not stealing but in failing to obey legitimate authority. Making a photocopy or playing a movie clip for a class presentation is not stealing. Does it even violate copyright law? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on a lot of factors too complicated to really get into here (and well beyond my knowledge of copyright law).

This is just an opinion.

The thing about stealing, it’s unjust loss to the owner. A politician steals millions of dollars from public funding, hires substandard contractors for his projects and takes the extra from the leftovers. This would be stealing especially if he was stealing from pro-poor projects and the recipients were deprived of resources that was supposed to be allocated to them.

The same would apply to shoplifting. If you shoplift, a minimum-wage employee working at the store you stole from might end up footing the bill for your stolen goods.

The bottom line, someone suffers from your stealing. That is why you need to do restitution.

It’s not exactly the same with copyright. The artist wouldn’t exactly lose anything from the song you downloaded. True, he might have been deprived of a sale but then again, you might never have bought his CD in the first place especially if he’s one you weren’t familiar with in the first place. In short, there’s no painful loss suffered by the artist.

Unless you started distributing his music yourself unlawfully over the Internet. In this case, then you might actually be hurting the artist.

However, I’m not trying to justify piracy. Like someone mentioned, you still sin from breaking a law. I don’t think you need to do serious restitution from downloading a song though. Maybe you can buy the actual CD if you feel strongly about it but I don’t think it’ll put you in Hell.

That’s a good point! I was trying to say something to that effect, but I couldn’t find the words, so thank you. :slight_smile:

The entertainment industry is engaged in a mass advertising campaign to convince us that violating copyright law is “stealing”. However, the Church does not form her moral theology based on these ad campaigns. Not to say that violating copyright law isn’t sinful. I just don’t take it as a given that the sin is stealing.

Since you feel obligated to make restitution.
When you get a job a good way to make it up is to give to the Church and the Poor.


I recommend listening to this sermon… I found out a while ago that we are obligated to make restitution for our salvation, and yes copyright seems to be included. The owner is maybe the corporation. I know that this is tough :frowning: I guess talk to a good priest if you’re in this situation (I realize this is an old thread, but just in case the OP comes back or someone else is reading with the same question :)). But it’s a valid question. Restitution should also be made in other cases for example: gossiping/ruining someone’s reputation (even if what we said is true). I don’t know what other times it should be made, that is something that could be asked or looked up.

God bless!

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