Is downloading books online for free bad kamma?

Dear Helpers on the path, kind regards to you.

I wish to ask this question:
“Is downloading books online for free (which are otherwise paid and/or copyrighted) considered a bad kamma (ie stealing)?”

I have often downloaded books from websites with the intention to read and learn from it.

However, I couldnt make it out with a sure shot understanding whether its totally bad or totally neutral.

Any guidance on this would be really helpful.

Some Strong Points to Discuss:

1. Digital Property when duplicated (other word–copied) and used, doesn’t deprive the owner of its use. So is it technically stealing?

2. Kamma is said intention. So when someone is Downloading books with intention to “read and learn” and not to “steal and deprive the owner”, does it make a Bad kamma/stealing/breaking of Precepts?

3.Is there a distinction of kamma depending on whether downloaded for personal use or for making money?

These are some main really worthy questions of debate. And yeah debating with right mindset to understand the complexity of situation rather than to promote one’s view. Afterall attachment to view itself is a hindrance to Dhamma.

My question is not to increse the hindrances, but to minimise. So I hope nobody falls into extremes and nobody is offended. :pray:


Long thread in DW.

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My understanding is illegal downloads are bad Kamma. ven @Dhammanando very clearly demonstrate this in above thread.


Strictly speaking, the questioner here doesn’t specify violation of “copyright”. He could be referring, for example, to books by Thanissaro Bhikkhu – always specified by TG as for “free distribution only” that show up being offered “for sale” on Amazon and elsewhere.

Additionally, if a book is arguably genuine Buddha “dhamma”, the civil consequences could be unpleasant, but that kamma might not be of the “stealing” sort. (Taking from an original source intended as freely to be shared, where, in the meantime, it has been appropriated by someone in violation of that intention.)

As often the case, real-life kamma can involve subtle issues.

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A nice sutta to read and reflect upon in regard to the question put would be AN3.99:

The right question less about if it’s bad or good karma and more about how does it compare, align or contradict one’s endeavour into skillfulness and ultimately the development of the path.

In my professional life I often make use of ebooks downloaded for free which would otherwise cost me a fortune. If I find something really useful I tend to buy it or get my employer to buy it for me. Beside that I don’t really bother to think or worry much about it as I do my best to employ whatever understanding acquired for a good greater than my personal gain, fame or prestige.

As per the sutta above, if indeed a birth in hell is the next stop along the samsara trip, I am quite sure it won’t be because I downloaded a few pdfs on business or spiritual topics. My bets are more on the other, and much more effective, recurring bad habits and behaviours rooted in wrong view, related to lack of compassion, friendliness, generosity with those immediately next to me.


Thank you for the heads up. Edited the post to include copyright. :slight_smile:

Wonderful sharing of sutta sir. It really relates and makes us see things from en even better angle -
“How it aligns to your endeavour”

From this, can we Sir think this:
"If one makes use of these books, (the books which writers wrote with an intention to earn money and share knowledge) with an intention to gain the knowledge and use it for good means,
Then we are not actually rationalising, but we are seeing it at the roots of intention.

Afterall downloading books rarely seems to be springing from greed. At best its a desire. Desire to know, learn, get better, improve, master a skill, be more capable.

All ears to you. I have no attachment to views. Pls show me right path. :slightly_smiling_face:

Cool. Glad you liked it. I can’t help much beyond pointing to the sutta I pointed, as it is one of the key reference points I have when I find myself in doubt in regard to the topic of kamma. Maybe I could just recommend you to consider and reflect on it for a while and find your own way to aligning your choices and behaviours to what you understand your achievable best to be.
Best of luck to us all!

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What is the username of Venerable on that site? I cannot find it. Pls help. :sweat_smile:

Best of luck to us all. :slight_smile:

There are international conventions that governments have agreed to regarding what is referred to as “fair use” of intellectual property as well as intellectual property that is considered “in the public domain.”

If you are concerned about the legality of downloading materials, familiarizing yourself on the legal aspects of intellectual property would be helpful. There are detailed rules regarding “fair use” and “public domain” materials, but the basic elements can be found quite easily online. Here are two fairly reliable sources:

Once the legality of the issue is determined, then one can decide if any specific action violates Buddhist precepts.


Your profile does not indicate your location, but depending on where you live there may be libraries and/or educational institutions that allow you to borrow digital materials for free for a limited amount of time that can be downloaded to electronic devices for a specified amount of time.


I like to think of kamma as being bright or dark, vs. “good” or bad." First the question might be "am I taking something that is not being freely given?. In other words, what is the intention of the author, and what is my intention in downloading something that the author did not intend for general downloading. Then, the question becomes, in my own mind, what is my intention? I am unsure of the act, or am I in a gray area where I am trying to make justifications for an act that may or may not be skillful and ethical.

Or kamma, then, is our volitional actions that result in an effect. What that effect is over the long term,and on the general condition of our accumulated kamma, is impossible to know. So, the cultivation of bright kamma seems to me to be a case of mindfully examining the facts, and examining our intention, and then making decisions based on wanting to cultivate the brightest kamma possible in our lifetime, and avoiding the cultivation of darker kamma.

We may not always get it right, and we may choose an act that is not bright with the idea that we will work each day to do better. The aggregate effect of our kamma? Who knows? Absorb the Dhamma, and try to live your life as mindfully and as ethically as you can.

We are not sinners or saints, but practitioners on a Path, trying to get it as right as we can.


Hello Metaphor.

It is legal to kill animals and make leather out of their skins.
It is legal to drink alcohol.
It is legal to marry more than once.
It is legal to have one night stand with consent.
It is legal to gamble (horse racing and casinos).

(So Killing, intoxication, sexual misconduct are in a way legalised.)

Legality of an act seems to be no measure of kamma.

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Brother books are just the ‘thoughts/ideas of the author’. How to determine whether thoughts are given freely or not.

And moreover how to find a grey area in act based on motives of Learning.

In today’s world even Dhamma books are sold with a price tag. If someone downloads them with an intention to understand the dhamma and walk on the path, I want to know would that be grey/black kamma at all.

Well, except in this situation the precept involved is the injunction against stealing. Whether or not downloading intellectual property is stealing or not depends on the laws governing intellectual property.

As I noted previously, there are a multitude of country-specific laws and international conventions involving intellectual property rights. The advent of digital media and the internet has forced governments and international organizations to clarify the laws and agreements covering this issue.

If someone knows the law and intends to violate it by stealing, that would seem to violate Buddhist principles. If one is unsure of the laws one must examine their intent and determine if they intend to steal intellectual property or if they are acting in good faith given the complexity of the laws and conventions governing intellectual property and the existence of ambiguity over what falls under “fair use” and “public domain.”

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OK, one guide might be whether the work has a copyright or license restriction on it. Then, you at least know the intention of the author or owner. I don’t agree with copyrights for Dhamma, nor for any translations of Dhamma, but if the work is protected I feel that one must be mindful of that restriction, regardless of whether we feel it is rightful or not.

Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami might be the guiding precept here.

If someone downloads them with an intention to understand the dhamma and walk on the path, I want to know would that be grey/black kamma at all.

If I am hungry, is it skillful for me to steal a sandwich from the Starbucks? Again, I feel that kamma has a lot of nuance, and the brightness of kamma depends on many factors, including the intention of the actor, and the effect on the victim, if there is a victim. You seem to want a black and white response, but I feel that kamma is often not a black and white concept.

What is your heart and mind (and the Dhamma) telling you about any act that you contemplate?

No, because there is no property moved from one to another.

IMO, it’s not a bad kamma/stealing if your intention is not to steal.

Perhaps yes, because the working of kamma is not as simple as good and bad.

Hmm… This was a way big realization. Made me restless and worried for a long time now. :sweat_smile:

But anyway, kamma done is done. Cant be undone now.

For future, yes I might be still using many of these downloaded dhamma books which are actually paid. It includes the Nikaya collection translated by Venerable Bhikku Bodhi, and many other dhamma books by Venerable monks and nuns, as well as few by lay practitioners.

Apart from this, no more downloading. I am going to take tough but right resolute of strengthening the Sila.

(only exception: instances where as part of college work, one has to, like research pprs)

In past, out of ignorance, potentially we all have broken this precept. But now we have a choice and the conscience too.

Thank you friends for putting your thoughts here. I appreciate the help given here. :pray: :pray:

Metta to ALL. :slight_smile: