retrofuturist wrote:I don't think there's any ambiguity over the interpretation of the precept as it was laid down by the Buddha. As I said, "I wonder how the Buddha would have formulated this precept had he lived in the age of copyright? Would it be the same, would it be different?"
We know that he added Vinaya rules as the need arose, rather than doing them all instantaneously, so if the Buddha had come up against copyright law, notions of intellectual property and such, would he have worded this precept in the same way?
I guess it would depend on what aspect of the precepts we focus on - on the conceptualised side as in theistic religions, which operate mostly with conceptualised "things" (like property, soul, god, etc), or on the realities which can be experienced (intention, greed, hate, etc) and have to do with insight.
I mean, both physical property (like land) and intellectual property (like music) are concepts, not realities, which are treated in a certain way by a certain set of social norms. I.e. in a capitalist society, I can own both types of property. In a communist society, they would have a different interpretation of these concepts of property and would thus take (steal?) "my" land and intellectual rights away, which would now belong to the state. In a repressive dictatorship even "I" as a recognised entity/concept that has certain rights (like owning property) will be redefined and probably not be recognised anymore either. So, in that sense it would be very hard to apply the precepts, because their definition would change with changing social norms (which is what I think you are suggesting).
On the other hand, if I want to take a piece of physical property (like land) from someone, my prime mover would be intention rooted in greed. Likewise, if I want to download a song (take a piece of intellectual property), that would also involve intention rooted greed. And if I want to take something from the state, that would also involve intention rooted in greed. So, although the concept of property changes, the realities behind the action (intention, greed, etc) remain the same. Since we as buddhists are primarily interested in insight (which relates to not being ignorant of realities like greed, hate, etc when they arise), I guess the presence or absence of greed, hate and delusion would be the determining factor in understanding how a precept applies in a particular situation. E.g. if I want to get something for myself and it's greed that's motivating me to do it, well, that can't be good regardless of whether current social norms dictate that it does (not) constitute a theft.