A few days ago I came across a site called...Buddhist Torrentshttp://buddhisttorrents.blogspot.com
Without a doubt, this site contains links to many downloadable resources... the free distribution of which would be clearly in violation of copyright laws. However, it seems as if the owner believes the actions are justifiable on the grounds that the Dhamma should be free, and that the benefits arising from this unauthorised distribution exceed the negative consequences.
What do you think?
I consider copyright to be a state-sanctioned violation of the second precept (theft). Information is free by nature; it is a public good, not something that can be "possessed". Being immaterial, the question of "Is it freely given?" does not apply, in the same sense that liberating slaves from slavers is not stealing (freedom is as immaterial as information). A person making a copy does not actually "take" anything away from the original producer. Moderate copyright benefits the public by encouraging ingenuity, but then it's wrongfully called "copyright" (as if there is a legitimate right over copy) rather than more correctly called, "ingenuity encouragement" or "regulation for the advancement of the arts & sciences". In addition to this, it should be clarified that with both music and literature, 90% of the profits from copyright go to publishers and record companies, which are mere middle-men that have nothing to do with the creative process but simply exist because they are propped up by the government, a sort of legally-sanctioned mafia or monopoly.
Also, take into account how copyright stifles ingenuity, because derivative works cannot be so easily created... An inventor can't improve upon an existing patent, unless it's a big improvement... A writer can't use copyrighted characters to make a neat story, unless it's a parody.
Considering that early Buddhists were capable of publishing and translating Buddhist texts without modern technology, it baffles me why Buddhists today are largely incapable, with modern computers, where one translator with a computer, working constantly, can finish lengthy translations in a very short time (there are new translations published commercially, from time-to-time, like the PTS' president's recent anthology). The earliest text ever published was the Diamond Sutra, published by a Chinese monk whose text indicated that it was to be put into the public domain.
If these authors were creating new content -- like new commentaries -- then you might have a point, but in this case, sutta translations, most of all, is stolen material that is then granted a false title of ownership. It's bizarre, for instance, that I could write a piece of music and then, centuries later, somebody else plays my music, and they own the recording
. What ethical principle grants them this exclusive authority?
And lastly, I think it's good to look at the history of copyright law, that is, the length of copyright protection. The chart below is for America, but the general trend applies to different countries:
You might also look at some of the political proceedings that went on, such as in the last copyright extension, where the deceased Sony Bono was held up as a symbol to extend copyright, whereas Mickey Mouse was held up as a symbol to not extend it.
It has nothing to do with protecting anybody's rights or encouraging ingenuity; it's to protect big business. If a person uses an image from somebody's Deviantart or Flickr account for their website, very little can be done. On the other hand, if somebody gets a screening copy of the next Hollywood film and uploads it before the movie is released (in theaters or on DVD), then a team of FBI investigators get involved... There's a bit of a discrepency there, hmm?