The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby gavesako » Thu Jun 11, 2009 5:40 am

Vinaya-samukkamsa: The Innate Principles of the Vinaya
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 1996–2009

Now at that time uncertainty arose in the monks with regard to this and that item: "Now what is allowed by the Blessed One? What is not allowed?" They told this matter to the Blessed One, (who said):

"Bhikkhus, whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is not allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.

"Whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is not allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you.

"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.

"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you."


--> Indeed, in the discussion about stealing copyright different monks have taken sides: It depends whether one follows the principle that stealing is removing something from its righftul owner (e.g. someone who already wanted to buy the book is told to download it for free instead), or whether we must follow worldly law (which differs from country to country, e.g. in Thailand there are few copyright restrictions).
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby gavesako » Thu Jun 11, 2009 6:18 am

Here are some relevant articles about stealing:

http://sites.google.com/site/wikivinaya ... -on-vinaya
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Sylvester » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:06 am

Thank you, Bhante. I am surprised to hear that Thailand has few copyright restrictions, given its modern legal system being modelled on the Civil Law of Europe. My hazy recollection of European copyright laws is that it is certainly more "developed" than the Anglo-American systems. I wonder if Thailand is just a lax enforcer of its letters?

I suppose the Parajika question would need to be examined in the historical context of the economy from which the Vinaya sprung. I imagine the only form of "property" (ie the legal ability to exclude others from its use) recognisable by ancient Indian jurisprudence would probably have been no different from the limited types of real property and chattels that filled the universe of the feudal English legal system. Copyrights developed much later as a form of "monopoly" granted by the Crown in England, and the rest is history. Is this historical accident sufficient to sustain the argument that "property" and theft can only be applicable to tangibles, instead of intangibles such as copyrights?

If we are to assert that "property" or "rights" can only subsist in material things (rupa?), then why bother regulating and protecting human rights, mental distress in torts, privacy and confidentiality, freedom of religious belief and association etc? For that matter, debts are not material, but they can be assigned and are protected by law as property. Should we jettison the entire notion of banking based on immaterial debts, just because its cousin copyrights is also immaterial?
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Dmytro » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:51 am

Hello,

Thai laws regarding intellectual property have indeed been quite simplistic for a long time, and largely did not protect the rights of the intellectual property owners, but this situation has changed:

Brief Notes on Copyright protection in Thailand
http://www.itd.or.th/th/node/427/


In the times of the Buddha, Dhamma was an 'intellectual property' of the Sangha.

"4. Should any bhikkhu have an unordained person recite Dhamma line by line (with him), it is to be confessed.

This is an offense with two factors:

* 1) Effort: One gets a student to recite Dhamma line-by-line with oneself (which, as we shall see below, means to train the student to be a skilled reciter of a Pali Dhamma text).
* 2) Object: The student is neither a bhikkhu nor a bhikkhunī."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... h08-1.html


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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Sylvester » Thu Jun 11, 2009 9:30 am

I might prefer to call the Dhamma the intellectual "capital" of the Sangha, rather than intellectual "property". "Capital" because it is for the Sangha's growth, rather than "property" because that would entail too many implications of "ownership". But that's just me possessed by the Mara of legalese.

Anyway, reading Ven Thanissaro's notes on the origin story of this rule, I get the feeling that the injunction was not motivated by the Buddha trying to reserve the Dhamma and its recitation to the Sangha as its right or privilege. Rather, it was to avoid situations where the lay disciple or novice spotted a recitation error on the monk's part, and thereby losing confidence in the monk.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Jun 11, 2009 2:32 pm

TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Could you provide a source for this statement? I am aware monks have rules regarding how they acquire requisites and how they should teach lay people, but I am not aware of any rule or teaching governing how lay people should teach each other. The teaching on right livelihood for a lay person doesn't say anything about teaching.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Dhammanando » Thu Jun 11, 2009 3:42 pm

Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Could you provide a source for this statement?


A text sometimes cited in support of this opinion is the Jatila Sutta, though to me it seems a bit of a stretched reading to take it as implying an injunction against commercial publishing of Dhamma books etc.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.6.02.than.html
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Jun 11, 2009 4:16 pm

TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Since major publishers of Theravada material (PTS, BPS, Wisdom) are NON-profit organisations this is not an issue...

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Jun 11, 2009 7:34 pm

Dhammanando wrote:
Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Could you provide a source for this statement?

A text sometimes cited in support of this opinion is the Jatila Sutta, though to me it seems a bit of a stretched reading to take it as implying an injunction against commercial publishing of Dhamma books etc.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.6.02.than.html

Thank you Bhante. I can see how the very last line, taken out of context, could seem to support such an injunction. But it seems to me unwise to take a line out of context like that. The way this line seems to me, when seeing it as linked to the rest of the sutta, is an injunction against making a living by imitating ascetics. :spy:
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:28 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Since major publishers of Theravada material (PTS, BPS, Wisdom) are NON-profit organisations this is not an issue...

Hi Mike,

Correct, those publishers are non-profit, but the upasaka / upasika authors . . . well some of them make profit.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:35 pm

Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

Could you provide a source for this statement? I am aware monks have rules regarding how they acquire requisites and how they should teach lay people, but I am not aware of any rule or teaching governing how lay people should teach each other. The teaching on right livelihood for a lay person doesn't say anything about teaching.

The source Bhante provided, plus:

"The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts" (Dhp.354) implies that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold.

All that is requested from those hearing the Dhamma is "respect and attentiveness" not any fees (AN V. 347).

And the fact that in the Buddha's time there were upasakas and upasikas who were very devout and knew the Dhamma and did teach, but did not make it their principal livelihood, more like Goenka, on the side for no charge.

The remainder of the teachings (almost all) were done by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who basically live with almost no possessions and no income.

But I admit that times have changed and in the interest of spreading Dhamma and providing more views and insights from upasakas and upasikas, there may need to be some charges as long as they are not excessive.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Individual » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:37 pm

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.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Individual » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:43 pm

TheDhamma wrote:The remainder of the teachings (almost all) were done by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who basically live with almost no possessions and no income.

But I admit that times have changed and in the interest of spreading Dhamma and providing more views and insights from upasakas and upasikas, there may need to be some charges as long as they are not excessive.

Times have changed: Now, instead of having to chant the Tipitaka and write it on palm leaves, we have computers.

It is now much easier, not more difficult, to produce and publish translations.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:29 pm

Individual wrote:Times have changed: Now, instead of having to chant the Tipitaka and write it on palm leaves, we have computers.

It is now much easier, not more difficult, to produce and publish translations.

:thumbsup:

I look forward to the day when the whole Tipitaka can be downloaded in one single PDF. Imagine how great that will be -- you could do a word such for anything, for example, upasaka or householder and then the search will show you every sutta, every line where "householder" shows up and what they were talking about.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:43 pm

TheDhamma wrote:
Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma



And the fact that in the Buddha's time there were upasakas and upasikas who were very devout and knew the Dhamma and did teach, but did not make it their principal livelihood, more like Goenka, on the side for no charge.



i think it'd be cool to have a thread about this to see examples from the suttas etc.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby kc2dpt » Thu Jun 11, 2009 11:50 pm

TheDhamma wrote:
Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma
Could you provide a source for this statement?
"The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts" (Dhp.354) implies that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold.

It does not imply that at all. During the Buddha's time, sandalwood was considered a fine gift. Does that imply that it was unwholesome to sell sandalwood? Today if I gave my friend a new car that would be considered a fine gift. Does that mean it is unwholesome to sell cars? All that statement tells us is that if you were to give someone a gift, the gift of Dhamma is the best gift you could give. That says nothing regarding the wholesome or unwholesomeness of selling Dhamma materials.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Ben » Fri Jun 12, 2009 12:27 am

Over the last ten years I have been replacing and expanding a Dhamma-book library I gave away.
If I have the means, I am happy to pay for copies of the Vissudhimagga, and the Wisdom's 'discourses of the Buddha' series which have cost upwards of $AUD90 each.
Having had some experience in the publishing sector, I can assure you that the cost of publishing a book, of which printing is only a fraction, is extraordinary. In my mind, publishers such as PTS, Wisdom, BPS do a great thing by making Dhamma Books available.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Sylvester » Fri Jun 12, 2009 2:12 am

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.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Ben » Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:23 am

Thank you Sylvester for your excellent post.
Metta

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Postby Sylvester » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:10 am

You are welcome.
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