Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:
The modern world contains many forms of ownership and monetary exchange that did not exist in the time of the Buddha, and so contains many forms of stealing that did not exist then either. Here are a handful of cases that come to mind as examples of ways in which the standards of this rule might be applied to modern situations.Infringement of copyright
. The international standards for copyright advocated by UNESCO state that infringement of copyright is tantamount to theft. However, in practice, an accusation of copyright infringement is judged not as a case of theft but as one of "fair use," the issue being the extent to which a person in possession of an item may fairly copy that item for his/her own use or to give or sell to another person without compensating the copyright owner. Thus even a case of "unfair use" would not fulfill the factors of effort and object under this rule, in that — in creating a copy — one is not taking possession of an item that does not belong to one, and one is not depriving the owners of something already theirs. At most, the copyright owners might claim that they are being deprived of compensation owed to them, but as we have argued above, the principle of compensation owed does not rightly belong under this rule. In the terminology of the Canon, a case of unfair use would fall under either of two categories — acting for the non-gain of the copyright owners or wrong livelihood — categories that entail a dukkata under the general rule against misbehavior (Cv.V.36). They would also make one eligible for a disciplinary transaction, such as reconciliation or banishment (see BMC2, Chapter 20), which the Community could impose if it saw the infringement as serious enough to merit such a punishment.Copying computer software
. The agreement made when installing software on a computer, by which one agrees not to give the software to anyone else, comes under contract law. As such, a breach of that contract would be treated under the category of "deceit," described above, which means that a bhikkhu who gives software to a friend in defiance of this contract would incur the penalty for a broken promise. As for the friend — assuming that he is a bhikkhu — the act of receiving the software and putting it on his computer would be treated under the precedent, mentioned above, of the bhikkhus receiving fruit from an orchard groundkeeper not authorized to give it away: He would incur no offense. However, as he must agree to the contract before installing the software on his computer, he would incur a penalty for a broken promise if he then gave the software to someone else in defiance of the contract.Credit cards
. The theft of a credit card would of course be an offense. Because the owner of the card, in most cases, would not be required to pay for the stolen card, the seriousness of a theft of this sort would be determined by how the thief used the card. NP 20 would forbid a bhikkhu from using a credit card to buy anything even if the card were his to use, although a bhikkhu who had gone to the extent of stealing a card would probably not be dissuaded by that rule from using it or having someone else use it for him. In any event, the use of the card would be equivalent to using a stolen key to open a safe. If the thief hands the credit card to a store clerk to make a purchase, that would count as a gesture telling the clerk to transfer funds from the account of the credit card company. Because such operations are automated, the clerk's attempt to have the funds transferred would count not as an act of deceit but an act of taking. If the credit card company's machines authorize the transaction, then the theft occurs as soon as funds are transferred from one account to another. The seriousness of the theft would be calculated in line with the principle of the "prior plan" mentioned above.
In a situation where the funds, if transferred, would entail a paaraajika, then if the machines do not authorize the transaction, the bhikkhu trying to use the card would incur a thullaccaya for getting the clerk to attempt the transfer. If the clerk, doubting the bhikkhu's right to use the card, refuses to attempt the transfer, the bhikkhu would incur a dukkata in making the gesture of command.
Similar considerations would apply to the unauthorized use of debit cards, ATM cards, phone cards, personal identification numbers, or any other means by which funds would be transferred from the owner's account by automated means.
A forged check drawn on a bank where the scanning and approval of checks is fully automated would fall under this category. If drawn on a bank where an employee would be responsible for approving the check, the entire case would come under false dealing, discussed above. Unauthorized telephone or Internet use
would count as theft only if the charges were automatically transferred from the owner's account. If the owner is simply billed for the charges, he/she could refuse to pay, and so no theft would have occurred. This would count, not as a theft, but as promise made in bad faith, which would incur a paacittiya. If, however, the case seemed serious enough, and the paacittiya too light a punishment, the Community could impose a disciplinary transaction on the offender.Impounded items
— such as a repaired automobile kept in a mechanic's shop — would apparently be treated in a similar way to smuggled goods.
From: Chapter 4 Paaraajika
Buddhist Monastic Code I
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu