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Islam's view on copyrightNow, if only this position would have been taken from the Kamasutra, then it would have been interesting, alas it is not. In Turkey the top religious organization (the Religious Affairs Directorate) or Diyanet has arrived at the decision whether or not downloading copyrighted material is permissible (halal) or not. According to the latest ruling (fatwa), it is not. What a surprise…not!

If you understand Turkish you may read the information yourself in the Risale Haber searching for "Diyanet'ten telif iakzi".

VALIDITY WHERE ARE THOU?

Let's begin by stating the obvious. Copyright issues are legal and not moral issues. This is so because the very basis for the concept of copyright originates on civil laws and not on religious precepts. In the vast majority of countries around the world laws are created by strictly civilian bodies and the concept of copyright was originally created by civilian "authorities" not religious ones.

As such it is ridiculous to ask religious leaders about civilian laws. If religious precepts would have contained the concept of copyright to begin with then we would have known about it long time ago. Alas, we did not. To ask religious leaders to express their opinion about copyright issues must necessarily assume first that the very concept of copyright is valid. If this concept is not valid then any rationale about it is flawed. Yet, this is exactly what happened in Turkey. The Religious Affairs Directorate (aka Religious-Bureaucrats-R-Us) jumped to conclusions. Instead of taking the time to analyze if the very concept of copyright is valid they assumed it is and that Intellectual Property (as misunderstood and misused by Copyright laws) does indeed exist and it is valid. This is clearly and patently ridiculous. There are many theories about Intellectual Property rights out there and many reach the conclusion that IP's are nonsense. As it could not be otherwise, we also have our own (see Intellectual Property Compilation).

Basically, it is OK to ask religious leaders their opinion about the moral validity of copyright laws but it is not OK for religious leaders to overstep this prerequisite, accept mainstream copyright theory at face value and then side with it.

WORK OF OTHERS

According to the Diyanet the work of others should be recognized as of great value and therefore "unjust enrichment" from such work should be opposed.

To begin with the value of other people's work is a purely subjective issue to be determined by the free market at every transaction (see for example Austrian Economics For Dummies - Scale of Values). Speaking about "great value" makes no sense whatsoever. What is "great" for person A is garbage for person B. This is clearly reflected in the multitude of opinions about TV shows, movies and music. Every downloader will assign a different value to the downloaded work of art. Think about it. How many horrible, horrible TV shows, movies and songs do we have to endure?

Secondly, we have the concept of "unjust enrichment". This concept is patently nonsense. First at all the level of "enrichment" in a free market is determined by sellers and buyers; it is the process of price discovery in a win-win situation. As by definition every voluntary economic transaction is win-win, there can be nothing "unjust" about it. Only socialist market managers and politicians believe that there is such a thing as an "usurary" interest rate or "enrichment" rate.

Now we can take a step forward and ask ourselves the meaning of "unjust enrichment" in a copyright download situation. What is most puzzling is how exactly a person becomes "richer" by downloading a work of art that is essentially and literally free! If you pick up a piece of garbage from the street are you richer? Of course not! You may like it but that's it! This is so because nobody wants to pay for it. It is a non-exchangeable good or service. It has no price and therefore it has no economic value. Remember we are talking about the pirated copy, not the original which did have and probably has some value to studios and TV channels. The copy you download has no economic value whatsoever precisely because everybody is downloading it for free. But if what you are getting has no value, how can you possibly become "richer"? Unless the Diyanet uses some sort of mystical math where adding zeroes amounts to something more than zero, the normal math applies and it says this is nonsense! But if you cannot become "richer" by downloading, it is impossible to become "unjustly rich" by so doing!

PAYING FOR LABOUR

The Diyanet also said that “The Prophet also stressed the importance of paying for one’s labor on several occasions”. Fair enough. The idea being that people should not cheat other people out of their labour. It is obvious that a work of art does indeed require labour and downloading such a labour would seem as not paying for it. But there is a problem with this concept. A copy of a work of art did not require the original artist to spend any labour on it.

If Mahmud hires a gardener to tend one backyard and pays for this labour but then somehow cheats him to tend other backyards not paying for this extra labour, that would be within the parameters of Diyanet's argument. But the extra labour that the original artist expended on a copy is exactly zero. The original artist did not work, at all, to create that extra copy. And if this is the case, why should anybody pay for labour that was never performed? Actually when viewed from this perspective the artist is a scam artist who demands payment for labour that was never performed!

An extended argument can be made that the copy does contain the product of the artist's labour although it is true that the artist did not labour for said copy. Because of this reason, the artist's labour should be paid for.

But let's go back to our gardener example. Let's say that Mahmud pays the gardener to tend one backyard. The gardener is paid for his work and leaves. But then Ishmael sees the floral arrangement in the backyard and arranges his backyard in the exact same manner. Was the gardener cheated out of his labour? Of course not! The gardener was paid in full. If the gardener does not like what he earned then the next time he should demand more money! It would be ridiculous for the gardener to go to Ishmael and demand payment for his "labour". The most important concept here is that an idea is not labour. And idea is an idea. Art is an idea expressed in a physical medium. But if we copy that medium using our resources, those resources remain ours because they were ours to begin with! There is no extra artist labour involved in the process.

PROPERTY RIGHTS

The Diyanet also expressed that “[property] rights violations [are still common] as technology develops and human labor has started to appear in more diverse forms.”

Again here the Diyanet shows its own ignorance. The idea that property rights can be violated when referring to Intellectual Property is ridiculous and we expanded in this subject at length in A New Theory Of Intellectual Property Rights. Basically when it comes to Intellectual Property we must differentiate two completely different elements. One is the idea itself which originates in the mind (the Intellectual Property itself) and the other one is the means of transmission of such idea (regular properties). Property rights only apply to properties. For as long as an idea remains in the brain, it is the absolute property of the owner. However, the second this idea is placed on a transmission medium it becomes fair game because there is no known physical way to ascertain whose property is this idea transmitted as information to begin with. It is simply not possible to label an idea in such a manner as to the property label to be placed on the Intellectual Property itself. Therefore the second the idea is transmitted its owner cannot be determined and it is thus un-owned. But if something is un-owned it belongs to nobody and nobody has property rights over it. And so copying an idea is not breaching other people's property rights but simply collecting a virtual object that has no owner. Furthermore, as copying involves the creation of a different transmission medium than the original, by definition we are leaving the original medium intact and therefore we are not breaching any standard property rights either. Again.

The Diyanet added that “Such unfair acts [such as downloading pirated software] not only usurp the individuals’ rights,". Again, as we have explained above if the rightful owner cannot be determined then something has no owner and it is fair game. But if it is fair game cannot be "unfair"!

PUBLIC RIGHTS AND DISCOURAGEMENT

The Diyanet expressed that [downloading] "discourage people who work in those sectors from creating new products, turning the matter into a public rights violation in a broader sense,”

Let's talk about the concept of "discouraging". Since when is "discouraging" illegal or even immoral? We know of no religious or ethical discipline where "discouraging" is morally punishable. Let's be clear. We are talking about discouraging without interacting with a person at all. If we blackmail or threaten or perform similar acts to "discourage" a person, then yes, these acts are morally reprehensible. However, copying is exactly morally neutral between the person copying and the author. Both people do not interact with each other at all. There is no communication whatsoever. As a matter of fact the copier would go to great lengths not to communicate with the author. The copier is not forcing the author to cease to perform a task or process. There is no morally reprehensible behaviour here. If it would be then meteorologists and their weather forecasts would be morally reprehensible. Think about it. A meteorologist develops a forecast for a wage but then a company transmits this information. If the forecast announces that there will be a storm, the meteorologist is not attempting to "discourage" you from leaving your house during the storm. To leave or not to leave your house is entirely up to you.

Furthermore, there is no scientifically valid proof that copying decreases the profit of authors. On the contrary. Copying has demonstrated to be quite a successful marketing strategy for good products. For bad products, on the other hand, spells doom. But this process is exactly what religious leaders refer to when they speak about the greater societal good. Basically, people creating good stuff for society are rewarded, people crating garbage are punished. Copying works precisely in this manner. It is a try-before-you-buy scheme and it works! The only ones that should be afraid of such scheme are those that crate garbage and expect to be compensated handsomely for a disingenuous label.

And then we have the preposterous concept of "public rights violation". To begin with and even in the most Spartan of copyright laws, the public has no rights whatsoever when it comes to copyrighted objects other than being allowed to copy the object (or part of it) under very restricted conditions. How exactly is "illegally" copying a copyrighted object violating the right to copy the same object -under restricted conditions- by the public? Furthermore, the whole concept of copyright (at least the declared one) is to prevent copyright holders to retain their copyrights to perpetuity for the betterment of society! The ultimate stated goal of copyright laws is to allow people to copy freely! How exactly is copying an object under copyright "violating" such legal principle? This makes no sense whatsoever!

QUESTION

Which leads to a simple question, who owns the Quran's copyright? And while we are at it, where the rightful "owners" of such copyright ever compensated? Considering that Muhammad had 13 wives and 7 children it is to be expected that there should be no shortage of "owners". And if they were not compensated or Muhammad did not bother mentioning this in the Quran, what does this tell us about God's wishes when it comes to copyright? Furthermore as Muhammad never formally (i.e. legally) relinquished his copyright rights over the Quran, this means that the Quran is not in the public domain. Yet, religious leaders have been copying the book like they will be running out of ink ever since. They are very clearly in breach of copyright!!! OMG!!!

CONCLUSION

As is to be expected, religious leaders have demonstrated yet again to be clueless when it comes to worldly affairs. These arguments presented here may seem a little farfetched, but you must remember dear reader that Intellectual Property is not normal property and as such normal rules do not apply. The fact that reasoning using "normal" rules when applied to intellectual properties arrives at ridiculous and contradictory propositions is simply the result of applying un-applicable rules. Let's be clear; IPs as understood by copyright laws are garbage.

But then again, you may be a religious person; a true believer. We congratulate you on your choice and we fully acknowledge that you are free to behave in any religious, moral or ethical manner that you may see fit. However, here is where we draw the line. You are not us. You may impose on yourself whatever rules you may see fit but we will not tolerate any attempt to impose your rules on us. You have been warned.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

PS.: we should update the article Intellectual Property Rights Are Dumb with this information. This is so because that article states that there are no definitive religious rules regarding copyright and this is no longer the case. But we are lazy. We will just add this article to our Summary Of Intellectual Property.

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