Second Precept and Internet Piracy

The second precept
Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not freely given.

Conditions Under Which A Violation is Considered to Have Occurred
Object: Anything belonging to another legally
Knowledge: The perception of the item as belonging to another
Intention: The thought/intention of stealing
The Act: The action of taking the item
Consequence: Thinking of the object as our own, Owning the object

According to the precept, is it a violation to download a content (Virtual things: Articles, Books, movies, softwares, games) which is originally not free in the internet.
In this case:
The original auther or the owner does not really own the content when someone download it from another source, and the content is free from the source that he is downloading.
Virtual content can be copied unlimitedly, therefore downloading never dislocate the content from the original site (from the owner).
Literally the owner is losing something does not belong to him.

However, in vinaya there is a case not paying taxes lead to defeat(parajika) of a bhikku.
This may already have discussed here.

Please give your opinions on this issue


This topic belongs to the Discussion category. It is not a Q&A topic in the sense it does not contain a specific question for which there will be a specific answer. It may however be explored as a Discussion topic of people seek to share perspectives on how EBTs can help us addressing the issues presented. Could we move it?


Done, Thanks for the suggestion.


On the other hand, if you were to copy and then remove someone’s access to the original, this would constitute as stealing. Simply downloading a file, say using a torrent for this case, would not be stealing. The person hosting the file may have bought it himself and wishes to share it with others. What constitutes as stealing and what is copyright law are two different matters.


Two studies on the matter by Ven Pandita and Ven Varado


My sense is that one must look at the ethics of the action. If someone purchases an article, and then posts the article on a site and makes the download by third parties of the intellectual property free, without the consent of the author, a wrongful act occurs. The action of downloading the freely offered text may not be a breach of the 2nd Precept per se, but the precepts are ethical training rules. Downloading content that deprives the original author of their right to compensation is ethically dubious.

Going back to the precept, the article ( or song, or blueprint, or code) we assume is not freely given by the original author. If it is freely given by the first purchaser of the album, or blueprint, or website theme, it is also clear that the author or designed did not intend that his/her work be shared by the first purchaser. Most often, purchasers of the author’s works make the purchase under the condition that the item not be resold or republished.

In this sense, the Buddha was not a lawmaker. While the Vinaya and the precepts are framed as rules, at the end of the day, Buddhist practice should not be reduced to rules or laws. The Buddha taught a system of ethics and cognitive/behavioral education. In making kamma a product of intention, we inherit bright or dark kamma by the intention of our acts. If we know we are doing wrong, looking for loopholes in the language of the precepts is not skillful behavior by those seeking to follow this Path.


I’m not sure how it fits into the Vinaya rules, but I think piracy of copyrighted materials would be equivalent to receiving services without paying for them. Since mendicants aren’t supposed to be buying things, I’m guessing it’s not really covered in the Vinaya, unless there’s a rule about lay donors neglecting to compensate a service provider.

I’ve seen monastic communities that took great care to not infringe copyright due to fear & respect for potential parajika (defeat) error, and also monks from other communities who considered the possibility absurd and freely shared whatever copied material they wished. I remain uncertain, so I try to be careful yet not obsessive.

Recently when wanting to share a comic on SC, I looked up the copyright page of GoComics, the corporation that holds rights to that comic strip, to make sure I wouldn’t be “stealing”. They made it clear that they expect to be paid for the use of a comic. Oh. For that reason, not wanting to trespass (even though enforcement seems highly unlikely), I linked to the original comic rather than copying it onto SC.

(Here it is: Buddhist cartoon fun/ wisdom)


Is it ethical to accept the gift of anything given freely if we know that the giver, or the person they got it from, was in receipt of stolen goods?


Yes, however, not stealing.

From BMC
“The international standards for copyright advocated by UNESCO state that infringement of copyright is tantamount to theft. However, in practice, an accusation of copyright infringement is judged not as a case of theft but as one of “fair use,” the issue being the extent to which a person in possession of an item may fairly copy that item for his/her own use or to give or sell to another person without compensating the copyright owner. Thus even a case of “unfair use” would not fulfill the factors of effort and object under this rule, in that—in creating a copy—one is not taking possession of an item that does not belong to one, and one is not depriving the owners of something already theirs. At most, the copyright owners might claim that they are being deprived of compensation owed to them, but as we have argued above, the principle of compensation owed does not rightly belong under this rule. In the terminology of the Canon, a case of unfair use would fall under either of two categories—acting for the material loss of the copyright owners or wrong livelihood—categories that entail a dukkaṭa under the general rule against misbehavior.”

Ethical, no, is it an offense or breach in the precepts, also no.

Also from BMC:
Receiving stolen goods. Accepting a gift of goods or purchasing them very cheaply, knowing that they were stolen, would in Western criminal law result in a penalty similar to stealing itself. However, neither the Canon nor the commentaries mention this case. The closest they come is in the Vinita-vatthu, where a groundskeeper gives bhikkhus fruit from the orchard under his care, even though it was not his to give, and there was no offense for the bhikkhus. From this it can be inferred that there is no offense."


@anyatama, yes, but your description is the kind of verbal gymnastics that lawyers perform (says the lawyer now writing this). “Fair Use” is defined as a very limited use, for means of research, or commentary, or review or parody, for example. Fair use is a legal defense. I believe Ven. Thanissaro’s explanation of “fair use” is too broad, and is incorrect. Copyright law doesn’t afford users of the intellectual property a “fair use” of the property, or a liberal use. 'Fair use" is a legal term of art, used as a defense to a theft or infringement.

Taking the discussion from the BMC page, he argues that if monks receive stolen fruit from an orchard, there is no offense. Yet, if a monk knowingly took fruit he knew was taken by the groundskeeper without permission, isn’t that a severe indictment of the action? This example is another where the conduct is judged neutral by the BMC (or at least Ven. Thanissaro’s interpretation of it) and yet is ethically wrongful and possibly illegal by common law.

Monastics can review the BMC and decide if the code makes some modern conduct sanctionable. At the end of the day, monastics (and all of us, for that matter) would be better served if they looked into their hearts and minds, and decided if the conduct was ethical, skillful, kammically bright, and the kind of conduct that would be praised by the lay and monastic Sangha.


Yeah, I can see both sides of this.

Here at monasteries in Thailand, there are times when it’s simply impossible to know if a lay person is dumping stolen goods on us. It would simply be too rude to question every donor about the origin of their gifts… and yet, this plausible deniability is also used as a cover for monastic-involved laundering schemes.

A reasonable middle ground might be found by looking at the rules on meat. You know for a fact that an animal had to die for this meat to be given to you. Yet the Buddha did allow monks to accept meat, as long as you didn’t kill it yourself, tell someone to kill it, and don’t have reason to believe it was killed specifically for the Sangha. Perhaps there’s a similar “middle way” with respect to accepting stolen goods?


Bhante, at least in my sense, the “middle way” is simply the intention (or what is called “scienter” in the crim. law world) behind our agreement to accept, by way of example, the questionable goods. If a lay person is a known criminal dumping stolen goods at a wat, in exchange for merit, an ethical monastic might refuse such goods. I recall Ajahn Chah refusing to accept a car at WPP from a wealthy donor, even though some of his monks felt the wat really needed a vehicle.

On the other hand, there may be cases where lay folks in business might be taking advantage in their vocation, such as a landlord overcharging tenants or shopkeepers. In this case, it might be OK to accept the dana, with the idea that even slumlords, gamblers or loan sharks need to make merit, too.

Kamma is a tricky thing. Every wat will set its own standards. Some wats will be liberal in these matters, where the greater good is to have resources to care for the Sangha, and have resources to survive. My guess is that a strong sense of ethics in these matters is the overall best policy, over the long term. Ajahn Chah’s refusing a new car was painful for some at WPP (so the story goes), but the ethics of this act has born kammic fruit for many decades.

Side note: I’m not trying to preach a set of ethics from some higher place. I’d have likely agreed to any number of questionable transactions, after the international community cut off food supplies to the refugee camps in northern Thailand, if it meant food security and mosquito nets for the refugees. If Facebook accidentally transferred 30 million baht to my bank account, and I could use this money to buy rice, cooking and fish oil and mosquito nets for perpetuity at the refugee camps, I might never tell the nice folks at Facebook. It would just be a little kammic secret I’d keep. :slight_smile:


There is a story in dhamma about a thief. He was at his death penalty and his last wish was to eat an oil-cake, when he was to eat that he saw a monk from a distance on the raod, alms gathering, then he thought I would rather gift it to the monk, even if I eat it, there is no use when they decapitate me. Then he asked hangman “let me gift this oil cake to the monk”, and he allowed him to do it. Even though he was a thief for lifelong, becuase of that very merit he was reborn in heaven.
No matter who the person is, what meters is what he is thinking when he give. According to Mahatanhasankayasutta, there is a chance merited one to be reborn in hell as well as a sinful to be reborn in heaven.
As venerables, it is our duty to accept what ever is appropriate. We should help people to have a pleasant mind when they offer something to us.
However, we should avoide receiving things that are earned against the law, which might lead us to endup in court.

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In the analysis following Par 2, the Buddha directly addressed foods wrongly taken by groundskeepers or guardians & given to the monks, saying it’s no offense to accept these gifts:

7.39.1 On one occasion the keepers of a mango-grove gave a mango to some monks. Tena kho pana samayena ambapālakā bhikkhūnaṃ ambaphalaṃ denti.
7.39.2 The monks, thinking, “They have the authority to guard, but not to give,”Bhikkhū—“gopetuṃ ime issarā, nayime dātun”ti,
7.39.3were afraid of wrongdoing and did not accept it.kukkuccāyantā na paṭiggaṇhanti.
7.39.4 They told the Master. Bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ.
7.39.5 He said, “There’s no offense when it’s a gift from a guardian.” “Anāpatti, bhikkhave, gopakassa dāne”ti. #124
7.39.6 On one occasion the keepers of a black plum grove …Tena kho pana samayena jambupālakā …
7.39.7of a bread-fruit grove …labujapālakā …
7.39.8of a jack-fruit grove …panasapālakā …
7.39.9of a palm grove …­tālapak­ka­pālakā …
7.39.10of a sugar-cane field …ucchupālakā …
7.39.11of a timbarūsaka grove gave timbarūsaka fruit to some monks.tim­barū­saka­pālakā bhikkhūnaṃ timbarūsakaṃ denti.
7.39.12The monks, thinking, “They have the authority to guard, but not to give,”Bhikkhū—“gopetuṃ ime issarā, nayime dātun”ti,
7.39.13were afraid of wrongdoing and did not accept it. kukkuccāyantā na paṭiggaṇhanti.
7.39.14 They told the Master. Bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesuṃ 7.39.15 He said, “There’s no offense when it’s a gift from a guardian.” “Anāpatti, bhikkhave, gopakassa dāne”ti. #125–‍130

[Edited to add starting quote & fix a typo]

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Even modern secular law does not equate copyright infringement with theft, see for example

Dowling v. United States (1985)


You wouldn’t download a car, would you? :upside_down_face:

If I illegally download something, it’s really shameful, hiri is definitely present. So for laity, I think it makes sense refrain from it. Even if valid justifications do or do not exist about how piracy is not technically stealing in terms of real or Vinaya law.


Its not about what someone is downloading, question is about rules (ex: parajika)

Ethics and rules are two different things.

If somene violated a vinaya rule we have to treat them according to rules, and someties there are things that are really not sins but law find them as violations.