What if I believe copyright law to be unjust?

For the past few years I’ve been questioning the justice of copyright and patent law. It seems to me that intellectual property is not actually property, because both you and I can use intellectual property at the same time, without diminishing the other. This is very different from actual property, like a loaf of bread, which either you have or I have, or else we must split it and we will each be left with less than a whole loaf of bread. And so it seems that patent protections unjustly prevent people from doing with their own possessions what they think best. I think this is unjust even if the people using someone else’s invention is making a profit out of doing so. In the same way, it seems to me that copyright law unjustly prevents people from doing with their own possessions (their paper, their computer) what they think best.

Because of that, it seems to me that intellectual property laws are unjust on principle (unjust in and of themselves). It seems to me that they also have negative social consequences. For example, big tech companies have the power to monopolize their inventions through patent law, so that the price of such technology is kept high and poor people are priced out of technology.

Now, Catholics are called to follow the law unless the law is unjust, in which case the law is not law at all. We are called to work through the political process to change unjust laws and engage in civil disobedience instead of violence. To fail to follow a just law is to commit sin of grave matter (potentially a mortal sin).

So I have three questions:

*]Assuming I’m right about intellectual property, is this the kind of unjust law that we are permitted (and perhaps called) to disobey?
*]Are there any Catholic/Christian concepts or declarations that I might be ignoring in my argument against intellectual property?
*]Is it a sin to break or cooperate in breaking a law that one strongly suspects to be unjust, but is not sure?

I do think I might be trying to justify my own actions by asking these questions, since I do feel that I might have done something wrong by breaking copyright law. At the same time, I do sincerely doubt the justice of intellectual property law, and these questions will help me get out of limbo and onto one side of the fence. It will either help me stop questioning myself when breaking copyright law would be useful, or it will help me stop myself when breaking copyright law would be useful. :slight_smile:

Hmm, I don’t assume that you are right about intellectual property. Should authors not retain the rights to their work? Should they give their books away for free? It would be a hard way to make a living.

It is already.

But there would be no new books, or music or software, etc, if copyright did not protect the right to make a fair profit. Whether one uses his hands or his mind, or both, they have a right to a part of the wealth they create.

Copyright has been abused, for example, when the heirs of a writer try to stop a spoof of their work that they disagree with. Copyright is not intended to be used for censorship.

But we do not get to define individually whether a law is unjust or not, or to ignore it.


I’m not going to argue the existence of intellectual property rights as a general principle. That is a lost cause. If you think authors have no rights to receive the rewards earned by their creations, feel free to pirate them, but be prepared to suffer the consequences. Quite frankly, that is not a hill that I am prepared to die on – especially since I just published a novel.

However, I wonder if things shouldn’t be different within the Kingdom of God. In my pre-Catholic days I had close contacts with both the Russian Baptist culture and the Arab Baptist culture. Within both of those groups, poets and singers freely shared their works without any thought of copyrights or the expectation of royalties. Interesting, no?

You are very wrong about intellectual property. Your first assumption holds no water.

Putting aside your argument, let’s focus on unjust laws. You as an individual are not the arbiter of what is an unjust law. The Church is. Unfortunately for you, the Church recognizes the rights of copyright holders. In fact, the Church is a copyright holder.

Therefore, one cannot simply assert that such laws are unjust.

A lot of research needs to be done to decide what is fair and just. All assumptions have to be investigated to determine if they are true.

Patent law: If a company develops a new drug, device or vehicle, it requires a great deal of time and money. The more complex they are, the more trained experts are required. Usually, millions of dollars are required to bring a new drug to market. It often requires years of testing and careful monitoring of test results to determine if it may harm you and me. Then it needs to be approved by the FDA. The final cost of the drug has to factor in all the money paid for research and development, along with the purchase/rental/lease of any specialized equipment and facilities needed to carry out development and testing. Plus payment of monies to all the professionals involved during development and testing. The patent owner retains the exclusive rights to make the drug for a given period of time. After that time is over, the drug can be made by anyone in a generic form but they have to pay for materials, manufacturing and packaging. Samples have to be checked to ensure the composition, dosage and purity are the same. That takes money.

Devices cover a wide range, from toys to cell phones to military-grade hardware for specific purposes. The people involved could be an inventor/designer or two, a design studio, or a university or corporation that specializes in making certain devices. A call for bids includes highly detailed specifications giving the requirements for what the device has to do, operating conditions, dimensions, weight and so on. The people involved have to know all the latest developments in any field that might help them come in with the lowest bid. There is usually a budget and a deadline built into the work contract. A working prototype has got to do what’s required before production starts. If the device includes propriety technology owned by the university or corporation, that will be a factor as well. New materials are being developed all the time, from conducting plastics to specialized electronics. The purchaser of the finished device can offer to buy any patents or pay a royalty to the inventor.

Vehicles can include electric cars and bikes to aircraft. The developer has to be certain that enough people will buy what he designs to recover his development costs. The more elaborate the vehicle, the fewer companies there are that would be qualified to build it. And they have to make a profit or lay people off. It’s that simple.


Let me ask you three questions about “unjust intellectual property laws.”

  1. Suppose you wrote a book and other people didn’t believe you had the right to copyright it and used portions of it in a work of their own without paying you. Would that be just?
  2. What if you spent years, time and money and invented something that changes the way the world does something. Would you think everyone would have the right to use your invention without paying royalties?
  3. What if you had a book or invention from which your family was helping to support itself and you suddenly died. Do your heirs get to continue to get money from your work or should it suddenly be put in the public domain?
    You are authorizing the theft of intellectual property because you think the laws are unjust. The property isn’t yours to take or give away. It is no different from stealing someones’ objects. They aren’t yours so don’t take them.
    BTW-If you ever do write or invent something valuable, you can choose to put it in the public domain and not receive royalties. This is what Jonas Salk did with the polio vaccine.

I have a problem with intellectual copyright law because many people can have the same idea at the same time, can be equally intelligent and have similar philosophies and ideas without knowing that someone else also has them. It can become a little to subjective.

I think we need some protection for inventions but the original intent of patents is now so misused for the benefit of those who have money, that the “poor guy” almost has no chance of making a contribution of any kind to anything. Big companies seem to “buy up all the rights” related to anything they might create or restructure so that those with similar knowledge or better ideas have no way to submit those without coming up with a cool million to submit them. That is not fair or moral.

Too much is made of “protecting” things in the name of a few people’s profit. Much of how we deal with patents and intellectual “property” is now taking truly creative and intelligent people out of the game. One area that I really think patents are causing harm (more than good) is in the medical and pharmaceutical areas. Medical care is something that should be made available to all people. It should never be tied up in international treaty battles, punching rights for a claim to fortune because one scientist or another found the same thing out at the same time.

If someone comes up with a real cure for cancer tomorrow the world should have that knowledge shared immediately so lives can be saved. It should not become something that a handful of politicians and pharmaceutical companies and scientists withhold until they get a patent or noticed. If someone invents a safety feature for the automobile it should not take 10 years to hit the market because of patent battles, or something that becomes the exclusive property of Dodge vs Ford vs GM.

Knowledge should be shared not boxed up and fought over.

Is the church then the ultimate arbiter of justice? Is that what you’re saying?

Even that is not so simple.

Medical cures are not liquid paper. They don’t get mixed in somebody’s washroom. Decamegabucks, and years of effort are invested to create them.

If patent law did not provide some reasonable hope of return on investment, the effort would not be made, and patients would not be cured.

Also, patent and copyright are two different beasts. Copyright is for the length of a human life (75 years, in the USA) and IMS can be renewed indefinitely. Patent protection is far more limited in time and scope.


There’s nothing wrong with copyright law. It doesn’t matter if copyright can be renewed and run for 100 years. The problem is understanding why it’s important. Of all the writers I know, all would like to write full time. Depending on where you live, can you make it on $30K a year? $50K? But that’s not the point of writing anyway. Most people just want to get their writing out there. Very few become million copy bestsellers. The bulk of what gets out there is pretty bad. Sure, people can get better but that requires someone who knows what they are doing, like an editor. But, for books, the common mantra is “I’ll do it my way” because my vision is more important. I don’t want some editor to change a word." Fine. You can publish your e-book right now.

If you don’t care about money, go for it. But if you do, prepare to have your e-book stolen and available everywhere for nothing. That is if someone thinks it’s any good. You can also do print on demand and just print copies as you go but that’s messy and time consuming because you’re going to have to arrange to ship it yourself or have someone do it for you, and they get a cut and/or charge a fee.

A 100 year copyright hurts nobody. George Lucas didn’t have to invent robots and spaceships for Star Wars, he just had to make sure they didn’t look exactly like somebody else’s. Go ahead. Do your own Star Wars science fiction. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Trust me. I have to come up with ideas all the time and have no trouble doing so because I’ve spent years at it.

So, if you want to make money doing e-books, let’s deal with that. You don’t have to file a copyright but you should. Someone could take your book, make a movie out of it and you could be in trouble. Without filing a copyright application, the judge will ask your lawyer for proof that it was you who published your e-book in 2014. You can pull up a file but that’s it. The thief can produce a registration form dated the same year and claim he owns the rights. It’s all based on evidence. Even if you and your friends say otherwise.

Copyright simply means right to copy, and distribute. The copyright owner decides how his original work will be published: digital, paper or both and where. It’s a fact that some books are translated into other languages. The author can go with Amazon or set up his own web site. I find it very funny that others in my niche of the publishing industry are all for copying anything digital. It should be a right!!! Strangely, they are the same ones who get upset when they see their work on a pirate site. Why? That’s irrational.

Then some people make the irrational comparison between stealing a real car and stealing a real book.You still own the book, right? No. Not if somebody else can copy it and give it away for free. Say I have an online movie streaming business called NetFlix and for 5, 8 or 10 dollars, I’ll stream a movie to your computer for one-time viewing after I send you a password. Why bother? Just go to a pirate site and see it for nothing. After all, you didn’t steal a loaf of bread, you copied a file owned by somebody else and deprived them, and Hollywood, of some money. But who cares? Hollywood is richer than you’ll ever be.

Again, Intellectual Property is real property. Everything from comic books to movies. Since I know people in the comic book business and monitor it almost daily, the FACT is if those writers, letterers, inkers, colorists and artists don’t get paid, the company shuts down. Very simple.

The same goes for software.


And electronic games.


Hope this helps,

Infringement cases are real. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. And if it takes years to settle, then what’s the problem? Safety features for automobiles require a lot of testing with prototypes. All factors have to be considered. The feature has to be safe. Not “Hello, my client was injured by your device and we’re going to sue for millions.” GM or Ford don’t want that. It may involve redesigning the device, which takes time and money, or putting it in a different position, Usually, the answer or fix does not happen overnight. Heck, I saw a notice in a store telling customers that a baby crib that was being sold was found to be unsafe and if they have one to stop using it.

Knowledge? Wrong word. Ideas.

And what’s wrong with anything being the exclusive property of Ford or GM? How does that hurt you? Or ANYONE?

Cure for cancer? Sure, but who is responsible if the cure is immediately rushed to hospitals without proper trials and tests and the patient dies? Sure, the patient may die anyway but do you think you, the inventor of the cure, is off the hook? There are drugs that can cure cancer and kill the patient at the same time, right now. Is that a good idea?

And after spending millions of dollars on developing a new drug, you will be out of business the next day if you can’t pay your bills.

How many billions of dollars did George Lucas have before he sold Star Wars?


Where doe this “cool million” nonsense come from? My company was started with a few grand and grew and grew. How? Hard work. A lot of hard work.


Intellectual Property is certainly NOT like physical property. Copyright is basically a legal convention created originally to promote the creation of new works of art and so forth by giving the author a monetary incentive. It has since been abused by corporations with the money to bribe and buy their way into extending and perverting the law to their benefit, not society’s and not the original author’s.

I DO believe in copyright law. I DO believe in its original intent, being noble and good for both individuals and society. I would be very upset if I published a novel I had been working on for years only for it to be copied and profited from by other entities. I would also be upset if no more quality works actually made it out because authors couldn’t justify the time and cost to produce those works.

That said, I firmly believe that the current state of copyright is unfair and unjust. It is not the result of a truly democratic or constitutional process, so I pay it little heed. Why should I have to abide by laws which were passed via immoral and illegal practices? I know that’ll get a lot of complaints, but I think I am on firm moral ground.

HOWEVER, it’s VERY EASY to fall into the trap of “I don’t believe in the current copyright law, so I’ll just download everything and not feel the slightest bit guilty!” I think this is the wrong attitude that will bring you to sin. Instead, why not stay away from unfair copyrights as much as you can? Use open-source instead of pirated commercial software. Support good authors instead of giant corporations.

You have to apply the golden rule to what you decide. Would you consider it just for others to give away your work, which took much time and effort, for free? Would you consider it just for others to profit from your work?

I personally would not mind somebody that couldn’t afford my work anyway to view it for free, especially if its educational in nature. A poor kid in the ghetto for instance, or a struggling student. Let them have it! I just hope they remember me when they’re better off! I would greatly mind if others profited from my work, however, or if people perfectly capable of paying for my work just decided to copy it without payment.

This is my personal ethic. I am not saying you should base your moral code on my personal ethic, but according to the golden rule, I would never attempt to profit from another’s work or pirate something I can certainly afford. However, I wouldn’t sweat some pirated software that someone needs to run his computer, media otherwise unavailable legally (from another country, for instance) or an educational book.

I really think God will judge us based on how true we were to our conscious. As a Catholic, we have to try as hard as possible to follow the church’s teaching, even if we don’t fully understand or agree with it. But it can’t be at the cost of our conscious. We have to remediate these two factors.

If the church said that eating meat was wrong, and you didn’t think it was, or really understood why, but agreed with the church’s authority and overall goodness, then I would stay away from that fillet minion. On the other hand, I would chomp it down if I needed to do so to survive. If I just couldn’t abide by this rule generally, then I’d either ignore it, while adhering to everything else (which would make me a cafeteria Catholic, not the best solution) or I’d eventually leave the church if this was such a big issue for me. But I think too many people jump the gun without exploring what the church says and why (informing your conscious).

A lot of people here will tell you rather firmly what they believe the church says. It might be a good starting point, but you need to go to the official documents, to priests blogs and figure it out for yourself.

Back in the late 1960s, I heard the anarchists and the Hippies rant against the big corporations. It was OK to steal something from them. Of course, stealing is wrong. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood. I learned early on: if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Or, you saved your money. And bit by bit, even if it took months, you bought what you needed. I used to shovel snow and cut grass for my neighbors to earn a few dollars.

The whole “power to the people” thing didn’t work in the late 1960s, and it’s not going to work now. Finding good authors - how does anybody do that on the internet? According to the news from the book business trade, many authors don’t know how to promote themselves. They may have a good book but how do they reach people who might want to read it? The Big Six publishers out there (actually 5 with a recent merger) have the knowledge and experience to promote new authors. Otherwise, you have to learn how on your own. The difference is you have the internet, which we didn’t have when we started our publishing business. None of us are wealthy but we make a living. People used to be content with that.

I don’t envy anyone working at the big publishing companies. Doing a book right takes a lot of time and a lot of research, even if you’re writing fiction.


Copyright laws are fine, if done properly, the thing is that many people i think exagrates with it.

for example if you found the cure for the aids or the cancer, and because of you being the only one who can make it, you made it in a price only very rich could afford it, then i would say that the formula should be stolen, and somehow made sfetely in other places, but the problem would not be of the copyright stuff, but because of the greed of the one making it.

now there are many copyright stuff about images and such i think they are being extremist, but saying that someone should not have rights for their work is also very extreme.

Copyright laws are needed.

When it comes to drugs, the issue is patent protection rather than copyright. Patent protection doesn’t last forever, and as soon as patents expire, generic drug makers are able to manufacture similar products at a cheaper price. But without the original patent protection, the drug might never have been developed.

You have to have some intellectual property laws. If you don’t have any laws, people won’t be motivated to put in the time and money to invent things. Some amount of laws will actually increase the rate of invention. Of course, laws that are too strict can also hamper it, so a fine balance needs to be found. I do think some of the laws are a little outdated. It used to be that people manufactured and sold their own inventions, but these days they are more likely to sell the rights to a big corporation that owns it until they go bankrupt (in which case another corporation can buy the rights for centuries). Perhaps there needs to be some limits on how long copyrights can be extended. I am not a lawyer or economist though, so I don’t know how all the pieces work together.

So are we hippies or anarchists if we take issue with some aspects of current copyright law?

And does your world-view allow for the idea that bigger corporations don’t always win out because they’re the most moral, or have the best products, but because they have the raw power to block, copy and crush the smaller guys?

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