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IslamQA: Islam and downloading cracked software (piracy)

Assalamu alaikum. What is the rule for using a free-downloaded software from the internet? Do we have to buy the original software from the publisher so that we don't violate the copyright?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I have seen no intelligent juristic voice on digital piracy, so I decided to do my own research on the matter. The result is my essay Why Digital Piracy is Ethical and Necessary.

My conclusion is that pirating a product when a person cannot easily afford it is morally justified until copyright laws are reformed and publishers abandon the pretense that digital products can only be hired rather than sold. My reasoning relies on the following:

  • Digital products are zero-reproduction-cost goods (it costs nothing to copy them), therefore the concept of stealing does not apply to them.
  • Creators of these products have a moral duty to share them for free with those who cannot afford them, since this costs them nothing while benefiting others.
  • Creators should support libraries that offer their products for free to those who cannot afford them. But instead they are immorally fighting such libraries and preventing them from being created.
  • The digital piracy scene is simply a library for using digital products for those who cannot afford them. Therefore this library and its use are both morally justified even if creators dislike it.

Muslims should therefore try to support the original creators whenever possible. If they can easily pay $500 for a software product then they should do so. And if they cannot, their piracy is excused. When it comes to things like books, it can actually be the superior moral choice to get the pirated version then pay the creator (for example by making a donation). In this way we can bypass the immoral system that publishers have created while supporting creators.

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And God knows best.
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