Individual wrote:It's important to separate three issues here: first, whether people have a "right" to own copies (whether violating copyright is theft), second, the ethics of actually producing copyrighted material, and third, the efficacy of using copyright for dhamma materials. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the BPS, PTS, etc., all do good work, motivated by goodwill; they aren't thieves, motivated by greed, to the best of my knowledge. However, this doesn't mean that ignoring or opposing copyright is "theft," when the second precept seems to only apply to physical items of material value, not ideas or information. Violating copyright may be unskillful (it's not difficult to see how downloading music, movies, etc., illegally can be unskillful), but not "theft" in the sense of the second precept.
And even though copyrighted material can be easier to produce when a person has a publisher, with financial backing to support further publishing and translating, it is not impossible for translations to be done without a publisher or financial backing (it was done in primitive times with far less resources), and in the long-term, public domain translations provided for free are more beneficial because they proliferate more widely, can be cross-checked against one another, and combined with study materials or commentaries.
Hello. I thought I would try to clarify some misconceptions about copyrights. Copyright laws do not protect raw information or data per se, but the physical arrangement and embodiment of that data, eg literary expression, art works, translations etc etc. Subject to certain qualifiers, copyright laws will endow the holder of the copyright (typically the writer/artist or his usual assignee the publisher) with a fixed term monopoly to exclude the rest of the world from exploiting the copyright work. European copyright laws may tag on additional non-economic copyrights that survive even after all copyrights are assigned by the author.
Most copyright systems do not give the copyright owner an absolute monopoly over his/her/its work. "Infringement" of a copyright is typically founded on a legal test of "reproduction of a substantial part of the work" (at least in the English-influenced systems). Unless someone is thinking of Xeroxing an entire copy of the MLD published by Wisdom, how often will a Dhamma-practitioner actually face a kusala/akusala dilemma when copying portions of a Dhamma text?
Even if the "substantial portion" test is satisfied to establish infringement per se, the laws typically allow certain defences. You may need to check on the specifics in your jurisdiction, but the relevant defences I enjoy are (i) fair dealing (eg for research and study) and (ii) recitation as part of a religious service. I hope this goes some way towards addressing your 2nd and 3rd issues.
I am not sure if I agree with the formulation of the 1st issue above, ie do copyright infringers have a right to own copies, based on the test of whether copyright infringement is theft. If you read "theft" very restrictively to the sense of the feudal tort of "conversion", then the answer must probably be no. My question is - why elect to limit the discourse to the purloining of "physical" articles? If the 2nd Precept is to be construed so restrictively as to mean a training against misappropriation of physical items, that leaves open a huge loop-hole for Buddhists to merrily commit all kinds of fraud without ever touching the medium of exchange, eg I could then embark on a cheating spree based on derivatives and other exotic financial products, far removed from the underlying commodity.