Would downloading a webpage, for personal use only, be a sin?

There are some articles online which I would like to read on my own time, when I don’t have internet access. I would like to download them, but have been unable to figure out if this would be breaking the copyright of the web page were I to do it without the owner’s permission. I know breaking copyright law is a sin and would like to avoid it. Would downloading the webpages, without the owner’s explicit permission, if only for personal use, be a sin? Or would it fall under fair use?

If the author has not put them in a format that is downloadable (i.e. a PDF) then the author does not intend for you download them.

So read them online.

HTML (the format of all webpages) is exceptionally easy to download. On at least one popular browser (Chrome) you can literally right click and hit “save as” to download the whole page. Most web designers and publishers are aware of this functionality, so I don’t know how sound a criterion this is.

Just ask. Some, and I mean some, websites encourage sharing their content, or downloading it for personal, non-commercial use, but that info is usually at the bottom of the page or under Terms of Use. It pays to take a minute to look.


In actual fact, one is already downloading anything you directly view onlline, such as a current webpage, although not the links. They are stored on your computer already and this is also well known by anyone who creates webpages and puts up content to be viewed. The only difference here is that someone is saving the same material so that they can access it without necessarily being online. This is a valid use of such materials for personal use and that does not depend on format.

I don’t think anyone puts anything on the Internet with the notion that it won’t be downloaded and or printed. In fact, most websites have “share” buttons, which often include print buttons.

It’s all fair game. That’s what it’s there for. Everyone prints everything. There’s no copyright issue at all.

Very much not the case. If you make or save a copy of something for your own private use, nobody is going to know. However, if you re-post copyrighted material elsewhere on the internet, or distribute copies to others, you could be liable for violation of copyright.

As to the legality/morality of saving a personal copy of a webpage; I have a hard time seeing a crime/tort/sin there. As already pointed out, your computer/internet device downloads a temporary copy of every page you visit.

Thanks for the replies guys. I have been doing some reading and it seems most web developers don’t have a problem with downloading free content from their sites for personal use. on_the_hill raises an excellent point too - downloading for personal use seems at least equal to printing for personal use, and many websites encourage that. Certainly that would be a sign they don’t mind you downloading it for yourself either?

Copyright is not a black and white thing like some people think. If you copy and sell it or steal it (Napster), you are probably going to be liable for infringement. By posting something on the internet in the open, arguably, the author gives an implied license that it will be downloaded. If not, it would almost certainly be fair use.

When in doubt, contact the US Copyright Office.



Fair Use is often misunderstood. There are websites that allow their content to be viewed but expressly deny any other rights to the viewer. The right to copy means something. Yes, for research purposes, Fair Use can be applicable, but the copyright holder’s rights need to be respected as well. Cooperation is a good thing. Asking for permission is a good thing. There are still “rights and permissions” departments that cover all media.

Licensing is an industry all by itself. The words and images have commercial value, and the rights holders can and do get paid a lot of money for their words and images, up to what the market can bear. Too often, we are contacted by people who don’t know the difference between “permission” and a “license.” Licenses cost money, while permissions can be given out for a stated purpose. We were contacted by a very large company for permission to use a few of our books in a particular media. A legal document was sent to us. Then, they changed their minds.


I believe that I have debated you on copyright before and, as with last time, I believe that we are going to have to agree to disagree. However, fair use is not as narrow as you say. Fair use is a defense that anyone can assert. If a copyright case goes to trial, the jury makes the determination of whether it was fair use or not. Under federal law:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
the nature of the copyrighted work;
the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. big factor here]
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Furthermore, in the law, licenses can very much be implied, including in copyright issues. Implied licenses result from your conduct. They are also limited by your conduct. So, if I post something online for free, I arguably give someone an implied license to download it for personal consumption but not repackage it and sell it for a profit. For an example of a case: See Parker v. Yahoo!, Inc., (E.D. Pa. Sept. 25, 2008) (“By publishing his works online with no registration required or any other access measure taken, Parker impliedly authorizes internet users at large to view his content and, consequently, to make incidental copies necessary to view his content over the internet. . .The plaintiff argues that his inclusion of a copyright notice on his website revokes any license the defendants may claim to have. The Court, however, finds that this is insufficient to overcome the implied license that Parker gives internet users to read his content by virtue of the fact that he publishes his content without any technological restriction on users’ access.”)

If it is fair use or their was an implied license, it did not violate the law. Arguably, both are applicable here.

I strongly disagree. All distributors of content understand that HTML is a downloadable format. If they don’t intend for you to download it, they’ll use DRM to protect it. Caching stuff for offline use is a regular and expected use of web-deliverable content.

Exactly my point, Mr. Bean, an implied license! :slight_smile:

Do you have a smartphone? Perhaps you could read them through Bloglovin or Feedly?

That is irrelevant.

You should read it online or ask the author of the article for permission to download it.

That’s why we have Registered Trademarks and regular Trademarks. We also place copyright notices on pages we publish online. If anything did go to court, we would have the documents and dates plus the language we added.


At the end of the day there is little I can see in the way of moral issue if all you are doing is copying publicly accessible articles for your own reading use, they are still getting “hits” from an advertisers perspective. The information is technically downloaded to your computer either way, with the difference being a matter of time and file location, and the reason the information was posted in the first play was so you could read it. In addition most content hosts, when it comes to “articles” are not concerned with users downloading or printing material for records or personal use.

Legally (and Catholic’s are obliged to follow laws) things become a lot more confusing, but if there isn’t a clear copyright warning you are more or less 100% in the clear. If there is some form of copyright then things become a lot more vague, as content holders have tendency to attempt to push the law to whatever extreme possible while courts have been known to reign it in a little when challenged. From a practical standpoint you face zero legal risk at the moment as no company is really willing risk legal action for much more egregious offenses (such as downloading a youtube music video for later use), simply because the cost (and risk of precedent set by a loss), is to high. In the end it comes down to a matter of interpretation of law that there isn’t across the board agreement on, and while I can see arguing that a Catholic should adhere to the more strict interpretation in good faith, I would not personally stand by that, especially when I find the law objectionable. (And I find the concept of legal prosecution for downloading unprotected articles for personal use extremely objectionable).

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t true at all. I’m a full-time web developer. I do this stuff for a living. It’s understood that content that isn’t protected (i.e. DRM and encryption) is fair-game for being cached / saved for offline use. That’s just the way things work.

And FYI, by viewing content in your browser, you’ve already “downloaded” it.

My understanding is that as long as you are not deriving a profit from the downloaded works you are free to read them on your own computer. The browser downloads the webpage anyway. You could disconnect the computer from the internet with the browser and webpage open. Would that be stealing? Of course not.

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