Downloading Music From Library CDs? Free Music?

Hello there!

When going for a long run, I like to listen to music. Ideally, I do so using an app like Spotify, where I can stream music for free as I go.

Unfortunately, my family lives on a very tight budget due to some crushing student loans and I have the smallest data plan possible.

So would it be a sin to download music from CDs I get from the library? While I know copying the files is illegal and immoral without purchasing those rights first (allowing for “personal use” downloading), my wife argues that the entire reason the CD is free (effectively on an unlimited basis due to liberal renewal policies) is because the CD was purchased via taxpayer dollars.

So would downloading music from a borrowed library CD be theft, or was the creator already fairly compensated for that right by taxpayers? Is downloading music from a library CD to a smaller device morally different than running with a (now outdated) skip-free CD player with the library CD inside?

Does any of this apply to free music on the internet?

Thanks in advance. I’m sorry if this is a “tired” topic, but I’m wrestling with it. I know it’s bordering on ridiculous, but I’ve gone to confession a few times in the last month and want to stay true to my intent to avoid sin.

May the peace of Christ be with you all.

No sin in playing what was borrowed, that copy was paid for. Copies should be paid for, although the amount of only one is not grave matter, it can add up and them become, at that time, grave matter of accumulated theft.


When it’s a question of making a copy for personal use as opposed to selling it for profit, people reach different conclusions based on factors such as whether they think the copyright laws are fair and just (especially when it comes to different copyrights for different formats, artist compensation, and, if you’re in the USA, the extensions of the Sonny Bono Copyright Act), whether the copy made is as high quality as the original, whether the rights owner is likely to enforce their rights or is even interested in enforcing their rights, whether the media is actually available for people to buy (not out of print), etc.

On this forum, you will likely get told by most if not all posters that for you to rip copies of tracks from library CDs is theft, because you didn’t pay for the CD or the individual tracks.

I would suggest that if your conscience bothers you about this, you look for free music downloads that are available for your use under Creative Commons license. You can also get people to gift you music downloads for holidays. Or, you can just continue to rely on Spotify, which is a moral issue in and of itself but not the topic of your thread :slight_smile:

Edited to add, this page has a list of websites that provide free music for personal use under CC license.

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I would say not to do it because it’s theft per se, which is against the 10 Commandments and thus a sin.

Agreed. The option to make a copy of a library item is so tantalising as there doesn’t seem to be an immediate detriment to the copyright holder. But this is more of a legal (and perhaps an ethical) quandary about the nature of copyright in a digital world. The moral injunction for Christians is relatively unambiguous: do not steal.

Or listen to radio, which is what I do when away from an internet connection.

Would copying be stealing, by natural law, even if it is allowed in the civil law?

No, because if copying was always stealing by natural law, we wouldn’t be able to have more than one copy of any book and thus we wouldn’t even have Bibles because each Bible is a copy of the original work of the original author or translator.

Society recognizes that it is necessary to make copies for the dissemination of information. Copyright is a man-made law created to control the copying of works and the distribution of copies, originally intended to protect and compensate authors. Over time it has evolved into a mechanism for economic gain accruing to people and entities who are often not the authors.

I note that in the pre-digital world, it was perfectly acceptable to take a library book and make a photocopy of significant parts of it, or even all of it if you wanted to stand at the copy machine all day putting in money, for your own personal use. Or you could have taken it home and copied it by hand on your typewriter or in longhand in a notebook. You weren’t allowed to make 20 photocopies of it and give it out to your school class or study group, and you weren’t allowed to present the work as your own (like plagiarize it), but you could personally use the copy you made through your own labor (it was indeed a laborious process) and no one thought it was a sin. The perceived sinfulness of digital copying today appears to be related to the ease of making a relatively high quality copy (compared to standing all day at the copy machine or spending hours writing out all the chapters of a book) and the likelihood of disseminating it widely via file sharing or torrent or whatever.

But I agree with you that the easy answer for most Catholics is “it’s stealing, don’t do it.”

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I would argue that it is probably sinful. Have you checked to see if your library has a subscription to Freegal? If they do it has monthly allotments for streaming and three downloads a month per library card. While it has a somewhat limited selection, it is both free and legal.

Also, can you try Spotify student if you qualify? It gives you a significant discount for offline streaming, which will save you data.

Thank you so much for your reply and the Creative Commons list! This was very informative. Do you have an IP law background? You seem very knowledgeable. I worked for an IP law clinic in law school and enjoyed it a great deal!

No, I’ve never heard of it! But I will check that out!

We do have something called Hoopla, which lets you download music to your phone so long as you’ve taken it out from the library. When the CD is due, the downloads disappear!

I’ve done this in law school myself–photocopying large portions of expensive books that I needed but couldn’t afford, take out, or stick around long enough to cite.

Another thing to confess, I guess!

Thanks for your response!

Yeah, IP law is how I eat and pay the Internet bill.
Because of my background in IP law + music industry experience + former engineer, I see IP “moral” questions a little differently than Joe Average Catholic. I don’t want to lead people astray though, or be self-justifying, so I decided a while back it was better if I stick to the simple perspectives for purposes of this forum.

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So, since you went to law school, did you study copyright law? I ask, because one clear aspect of copyright law is that one cannot use copyrighted material (here, an artist’s song) to make money (e.g. as a DJ) so if a DJ is being paid to provide music at a venue, they are expected to pay for the right to use the music.

However, it is my understanding that if I want to have some friends over, put on some music and have a dance (no charge - example, a wedding dinner/dance) I am not required to pay for use of the music. Presumably I paid a copyright fee (indirectly, up the financial chain) when I purchased the music, but listening to the CD at the dance would not require an additional copyright fee.

Moving from that to library possession of the CD, I do not pay for the right to listen to the CD; and from there, if I burned a copy of the music from the CD from the library, and am only using it for personal use - not making money on playing it - where is the difference?

Or did I go off track somewhere?

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That makes sense! I could tell from your response. You simplified it well, though. It’s a fascinating field.

I did study copyright law, but only in my 3L year, and it’s been a bit since then. I think in the dance example, you’re fine because of an implicit license to listen to the music in private capacities like that. I think the issue comes in when a copy is made, as in the library scenario.

However, I definitely get the impression @Tis_Bearself might have a better grasp of this question.

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