بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
As technological developments has been progressing in an exponential rate, it is become easier and easier by the day to gain all kinds of knowledge. One just needs a computer, an internet connection, and lots of patience and self-discipline. However, with this growing ease of access to knowledge, has come a trial. That trial is that of self-control.
The internet doesn’t have an inbuilt information filter to ensure whatever information we are accessing is halal. We need to install that filter in our own hearts and minds, and so spend some time first verifying legality of what we’re doing. We need to ask ourselves, is it really a good idea to visit sites where I’m likely to encounter filth? Do I really have the right to download or use this file?
It’s much easier to control oneself when dealing with physical objects – we don’t have to exert too much self-will in order to stop ourselves from stealing another’s phone when no one’s looking. But it’s much, much easier to use a pdf or jpg file which we don’t have the right to access – just because it’s there – available for download, within our reach. Do we apply the same rules as regards that phone? Do we take it, just because it’s there?
What makes it harder to keep ourselves from becoming pilferers is the fact that there are so many (intentional or unintentional) thieves who upload those contents without permission in the first place, and it’s so tempting to just download the thing which is one click away, instead of spending time and effort in verifying its legality.
In fact, the problem is that we don’t realize the gravity of this matter. We don’t have the knowledge to talk about the fiqh of virtual copyrights. But we can use our common sense and sense of empathy.
Imagine you are a graduate from an Islamic University. After graduation, you spend 3 years researching a particular topic of your choice, say the tafsir of surat al-Qiyamah. Then you write a book on surat-al-Qiyamah.
But in those 3+ years, you could have got a job with a good salary, say 20k dollars a year. Your opportunity cost* for writing the book is 20k x 3 = 60k dollars. Also, if you had got a job, you would have earned a promotion, perhaps more than one, in 3 years’ time. But that’s not a problem, because you spent the time for the sake of Allah. And now that you have your book ready, you can give it to a publisher, and expect an earning with which you’ll support yourself and your family in the future, and also have enough free time to write more beneficial books.
But tragically, after your book is out, some overenthusiastic seeker of knowledge, in order to help his brothers and sisters gain more beneficial knowledge, scans the whole book and uploads it in a public domain. The result is that your income is cut by half, perhaps more. The uploader hasn’t got a clue that, in the process of doing a good deed for the sake of Allah, he has encroached someone else’s property right. Not just that, since your income is now insufficient to support yourself and your family, you abandon writing more books and get a nine to five job. Thus the uploader is further responsible for closing the path to future authorship. We haven’t even considered the casualties to be paid by the publisher, who has spent time, money and efforts in editing, designing, printing, marketing, storing, and transporting all the copies of the book.
Can we now imagine what sort of damage we’re doing by downloading books etc. without permission from the owner? Is it just to save a few dollars? Is it really worth it? Is the knowledge we gain through such means likely to bring any barakah in our lives?
Stealing, no matter in what form, is one of the gravest sins. The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam said (translation),
The believer is the one from whom their (people’s) wealth and lives are safe. [Ibn Majah 3934]
And, and when somebody steals, he is not a believer at the time he is stealing. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
* Note: According to investopedia.com, opportunity cost is: ‘The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. Put another way, the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.’
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