Intellectual Property morality?


Does the Church have a teaching on whether intellectual property is valid? Or is this something that faithful are allowed to decide for themselves?


The Church is sacred and has many sacred aspects. I am not sure if they’re trademarked or patented, but I am def sure they would not want someone to recreate them or steal them. Like Martin Luther. Just takes sacred scripture and totally ignores parts of it for his own doing.


That’s not what I meant. I meant, does the Church have a teaching on whether it is stealing to make copies of other intellectual work, assuming that you are not passing this work off as your own? I looked in the catechism and I couldn’t find anything about it.


What work? Like Vatican 2? Or one of the doctors of the Church? Or the Catechism? Without proper citation one could commit plagiarism.


I don't think there is any teaching on intellectual property as such, but there are teachings about following the legitimate laws of your country.


The concept did not exist until the 18th century. The idea of patents and copyrights began in narrow contexts in England, but was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. After that, the idea spread.

However, I am not sure there truly is a natural law argument to support such constructs, and I can easily make arguments against them.

That said, if your nation has passed laws against it, and there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the law, then I think you have to obey it. In some cases, I don’t think such laws are at all moral, but in most circumstances, passing laws which prohibit you from copying a song rather than purchasing it only exist to create a government-facilitated market for “products” that are not necessary for your life. To me, that seems like an ambiguous situation and could easily border on sin if, assuming you suddenly discovered you have some performing talent, would expect others to purchase your music rather than copy it.

When it comes to issues like academic research, medical research, pharmaceuticals, etc., then I think these laws are highly unethical and personally feel there exists a duty to violate them when not doing so results in human suffering and death. Still, most of us do not face such a dilemma outside of discussing the problem.

If you ever become a health minister of a small African nation, then I encourage you to thumb your nose at these treaties and laws, and violate pharmaceutical patents with abandon. If you are worrying about whether your copying music is a sin, then I would suggest just purchasing the music and keep your conscience clear.


You might also want to consider the Golden Rule.


The way the laws are supposed to work is that Intellectual Property Law is both to prevent
theft of trademarked items AND (through non-competitive monopolistic practice) to prevent
one company from owning any one kind of intellectual property. In practice, it seems that
monopolies must be broken up by going to court.

I think that the Church has teachings against extreme capitalism and communism (state owning all property).


This is the answer in a nutshell.

The articulation of “intellectualy property” is relatively new in the history of the world. There is no formal Church teaching on it. But like Wanderer says, we are to follow the just laws of our country.

If you do a site search of the Vatican website for “intellectual property”, it does turn up a few hits (like this one), but they are mostly addresses from this or that Vatican official. There’s nothing official.


NOt works of the Church specifically, but just any writing that someone else wrote, like a book or a song.


I’m not worrying about whether or not I should illegally download music. I don’t do that anymore, because I don’t want to risk sinning. Actually I have to write an essay, on whether I would keep intellectual property laws if I were a benevolent dictator and why or why not, for my advanced economics class. I want to make sure that nothing I write is contrary to Church teaching.
Thanks for your post. What you said makes sense, and should help with my essay, (I’ll link to this thread as a source). :slight_smile:


Good for you! And it makes sense to write in support of the Church’s teaching since it is well supported by facts and logical argument.

The area of intellectual property rights isn’t within the realm of my expertise, so I can’t offer specific comments. In general, it sounds like the concept is rather broad and complex, so breaking it down into its main components might be useful for CAF posters as well as for insuring your excellent grade on the paper. As a professor myself, I always look for students to display their knowledge of the concept as a way to introduce and explain their position on a given topic. One way to do that is to break it down into fundamentals.


The biggest problem with it, if you want to avoid all the bad effects of such policies (which everybody can see for themselves), is that information does not exist within the same framework as material things. For material objects and assets, property rights make a lot of sense. There are scarcity issues which drive prices for such products. Even services which require the consumption of some physical fuel (including food to manually do something) have an intrinsic relation to the concept of property.

Property implies ownerships. Who can use a piece of property and the terms under which they can use it all depend upon ownership.

Information does not really have an implication of ownership. Instead, information exists within a framework of private and public information. What intellectual property supporters want to do is create a third category of information which is public information only with a few attributes of private information arbitrarily tacked on for their financial benefit.

For example, one might point out that your personal medical records are private and any unauthorized use of that information is deeply unethical. If somebody were to render that information public, it would still be unethical for another person to use or copy that information. Likewise, the sourcecode for a wireless network base radio controller is private information. In fact, it's called a trade secret. If a bad employee were to copy it and dump it onto the internet, it would be unethical for competitors to use that information to their advantage, or the victim's disadvantage.

On the other hand, there are pieces of information that some people wish to maintain as private which ought to be public. This includes evidence of crimes and conspiracies (like an organized crime racket).

But in the context of music, what these recording industries are trying to argue is that they ought to be given a third category of information which is inherently public, but with the additional attribute attached to it (from the category of private information) that it be unethical for anybody to make copies of that information.

This is a self-contradiction. A piece of information cannot both be public and also be prohibited from copying. The ability to copy something is what makes it public. If it is not acceptable to copy something, then it must be private information. Yet selling it would also be unethical.

Hence why they try to convince people that information is really like property, even though it possesses none of the attributes of actual property. There is no scarcity. There is no finite resource involved in distributing it. There is not even a limitation of use. For instance, only one person can use your lawn mower at a single time. But a theoretically infinite number of people can simultaneously listen to really bad music that is published by this industry. The reason ownership of property even arises is because there exists a limited amount of these objects, or that they can be used only exclusively; like a farm field or a tractor. Information is not like that in the least. *If material objects possessed the same traits as information, then we wouldn't even have the institution of property ownership in the first place. *


I can only approach this from my own experience as a food writer. Lists of ingredients are not protected by copywrite law, but the instructions are. So whenever I use another person’s recipe, I make sure that person gets credit. When people have asked me if they can pass on one of my recipes or food articles (not clipped out of the newspaper - that is perfectly legal) I tell them sure - but keep my name on it.

I have also Xeroxed pages from books or the Internet for use in classes. I make sure the source is listed, but I’m not sure what the legality of that is. I really do hope it’s legal!


I don’t that the info itself is the issue, but rather the work the person put into making it, such as a book or song, and the profits that they should be able to make from them. It is more an issue of the author losing the ability to make money off of it, and whether those future profits are being stolen. That’s what I’m not sure about.


But, see, there the problem is not whether the person ought to be compensated, but how they are compensated. Supporters of this government-supported market of copyrights like to claim this is the only way they can legitimately be compensated when that is not the case at all. It is the most lucrative way for them to do it. I give them that. But basing public policy upon what is most profitable to a certain group of people is self-evidently a bad idea. That’s why they will never outright admit that there exist natural ways of compensating them (without government coercion and artificially maintained markets), and that their motivation for positing this particular framework is an increased personal gain over the more legitimate frameworks we have always used as human civilizations up until about a century ago.

Mozart didn’t get paid like this. He, like most artists, were sponsored. A wealthy aristocrat, king, and sometimes even the Church herself sponsored artists for the public good. Yes, they also did it for their own private enjoyment and prestige. But this was how artists were almost always compensated since the dawn of civilization. When a musician plays his instrument, he is paid for the performance. When a composer writes a song, he is paid a commission.

Supporters of copyright might try to argue that technology rendered that moot. However, I could just as easily point out that technology has rendered the natural framework of compensation for the arts even more relevant than before. We can easily crowdsource artists. We already do this in every city in America. Walk down the street in a crowded city and you are bound to come across an artist who is performing for the public benefit. You drop coins in his hat if you can afford it and appreciate what he provides.

That’s how artists are properly compensated.

Granted, it doesn’t likely leave much room for you to become fabulously wealthy like Paul McCartney with beautiful women fawning over you until the day you die. But it provides the same kind of compensation that gave us Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Sistine Chapel, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Are we to argue that the way in which Brittany Spears is compensated should somehow trump that?


What? :confused::confused::confused::confused::confused::confused:


What do you not understand?

One can imagine a website, for example, which is a portal to artists connecting sponsors to the artists they enjoy. From there you can download music, pay what you want, or just donate to the artist you most enjoy. By becoming a sponsor, you can then receive exclusive performances, etc.

This model has already taken hold in the podcasting world where extremely interesting commentators release their works into the public domain and ask for donations -- and they make a decent living doing that.


Well then to copy someone elses writing, or rather any writing, or song, or document, essay, journal, etc for that matter is plagiarism and that’s illegal.
Pirating songs is illegal and probably a sin. Pray about it.


passing laws which prohibit you from copying a song rather than purchasing it only exist to create a government-facilitated market for “products” that are not necessary for your life.

This is wrong. It exists to allow artists to earn a living.

There are no sponsors for writing and music any more outside of the publishers. The artists earn their money through royalties.

A common misconception is that, if you hear something on the radio or see a new book in a bookstore, that artist must be wealthy. That is an extreme rarity. Most still have their “day jobs,” and of those who don’t, most are lucky to make it into the middle class. And musicians and writers all have to go on tour to promote their new works. It’s a hard life. We only hear about the excess, never about the grinding boredom and separation from family that comes with it.

I don’t grudge paying for the artists’ royalties.

And let’s not even talk about visual artists. If I sold a print for $25 in the '70s, and the owner sold it yesterday for a few thousand, I don’t get a penny of that. The visual artist gets no royalties. And if I made a print, and a “friend,” the daughter of a prominent artist, copied it, and said artist managed to get it hung in a sale gallery, and it sold, there is no law that forces her to give me any of the money. (Yes, that happened to me.)

So I am a stickler about respecting copyrights, and giving credit where credit is due. “…for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” (1 Tim 5:18) That means pirating, and making and giving away copies are both stealing.

:confused: :confused: :confused: And how does the government “facilitate” these markets? If the government did that, the Bible would be edited, removing any reference to any kind of sexual sin!

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