Rod Meade Sperry looks into the online sharing of Buddhist materials, some of which are free for distribution, some of which are decidedly not. The question is, is this kind of sharing dana, or is it stealing?
Here’s a hot potato for you, dear reader…
Last night I attended a talk by Thanissaro Bhikkhu of Metta Forest Monastery, who is also known as “Than Geoff” or “Ajaan Geoff.” Speaking at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center on the subject of “Noble Wealth,” he said many things that I found helpful (he always seems to), including the following about dana, or generosity:
“When you sell something to someone else, you’re putting up a barrier: if they don’t pay that money, they don’t get it. But if you actually give that thing… there’s a connection created. …There’s an old riddle that they tell in Thailand: ‘Suppose you catch one fish. How do you get to eat it all year?’ …The answer is, you take it and you divide it up and you share it with your friends and neighbors. And when your friends and neighbors get a fish, they’ll share it with you. This creates a society [where generosity is at the fore].”
This stirred something up for me, and I wonder how you’ll react to it, too.
There’s a blog called Buddha Torrents which shares Buddhist materials, some of which are already free for distribution, some of which are decidedly not (more on that in a bit). The question is, is this kind of sharing dana, or is it stealing? As the blog’s author writes:
“I get emails [which say that] this blog that points out the free material available for downloading, is not Buddhist. That it breaks the precepts of taking that which is not given.
“The sharing of Information, IMO, should never come with a price. Especially the Dharma. … Am I profiting off this? No. If you re-sell someone else’s work without giving back to the creator, that’s piracy and in my ethical books wrong.” [Italicized emphasis mine.]
The blog-comments in response to this post are all over the map, from “In an age where sharing/copying information costs nothing, I think it is immoral to NOT share,” to “it would be deluded to think that that is anything but stealing. Although Dharma is and should be free, all or some parts of authors’ revenues are sometimes intended for spreading Dharma among peoples less fortunate than many of us.”
Indeed, that is exactly what many of the Buddhist and Buddhist-sympathetic businesses that you (and of course, we) rely on do. And it should be said that while the society of sharing that Than Geoff describes is absolutely a worthy ideal, we’re not all there yet. Most of us live within the bounds of capitalism, and so Right Livelihood—working in ways that support or are at least confluent with the dharma—is the closest we might be able to get in terms of our workaday reality. (Though we certainly can and should all share as much as we can once our financial responsibilities are being met.)
A dedicated Buddhist publisher, for example, may be selling the books they produce, but in every case that I can think of, whether they’re formally not-for-profit or not, they’re doing it with love for the dharma, to uphold and perpetuate it—and the money taken in is rolled over into more dharma books, and sometimes even into huge and worthy projects that few others would be set up to take on. (It should be understood that, in almost all cases, making books is a low-profit-margin and generally risky endeavor.) What’s more, such a publisher is providing a service, just as much as those who freely distribute dharma materials are—they’re getting those books in bookstores, making them findable among those of us who might not have frequent access to centers and the freely distributed materials that may be available at them.
When we download dharma materials that aren’t for free distribution, aren’t we compromising the ability of these organizations (and the dedicated individuals they employ) to engage in Right Livelihood?
Is it sharing? Is it stealing?
[If you’re looking for a place to download dharma materials without guilt, you should check out DhammaTalks.org, which features downloadable talks, essays, and books by Thanissaro Bhikkhu and others.]
information wants to be free, yo
Rod Meade Sperry says
thanks, Ben! your point is a good one.
as for LK’s comment: it’s a good one, too. on some level, the very existence of the web seems to prove that information does *want* to be free.
(some readers may have missed that LK’s comment is actually made of two links, one to a wikipedia entry for the hacker’s slogan “information wants to be free, yo,” with the “yo” part as a second link to a YouTube video detournment of Star Wars III’s trailer, with subtitles rendered in hacker-speak.)
…but while information may *want* to be free, i again posit that we’re (obviously) not all there yet; there’s a system in place (like it or not) that (like it or not) can make the free distribution of materials meant for sale to appear to be stealing. the question is — given the existence of that system — is it?
Ben J Hutchison says
The need to justify it shows that there is some sort of deceit involved. There is enough free dharma info out on the internet for people to grab.
btw, I love the hot potato graphic.
Buddha Torrents disseminates lots of titles that are not Dharma books, but rather such things as academic monographs about Buddhism. The people who wrote these books spent years laboring to research and understand Buddhist phenomena better, and their ability to get a job, advance in their field, and eventually get tenure (as well as get permission from presses to publish additional informative books about Buddhist history) is in part predicated on whether the academic publishers sell a certain number of books (thus demonstrating interest in the topic and affirming the value of the scholar to the field). These scholars–unlike people in the entertainment industry–do not publish for fame and face little possibility of actual profit from their book sales. Buddha Torrents is helping to erode the possibility of a viable career for these people after they have spent 5-10 years mastering the languages, theories, and skills involved in going into the still marginal field of Buddhist Studies (usually developing sizable financial debt along the way).
On the other side, the academic publishers who produce these books rarely make any substantial profit (that’s not really their raison d’etre), and in a recession many are faced with being shut down by their parent institutions. Many academic books on Buddhism sell only a few hundred copies, so any electronically stolen copies have a measurable decrease on their ability to break even. When the Buddhist books no longer sell enough copies to cover their costs, they will be eliminated from catalogs and new ones will not be acquired by editors. When the presses no longer cover their costs, they will be shut down and we will cease to be the beneficiaries of scholarly work on Buddhist history and phenomenon (is it worth pointing out that many of the scholars are themselves serious practitioners, in some cases actual ordained monks and nuns?). Buddha Torrents is helping to bring about this situation.
Wanting information to be free leads to the death of new information, because scholars (who lead much more economically marginal lives than other professionals) will abandon or be forced out of the profession, editors (who must buy books that will break even, lest they bankrupt the press and find themselves and their employees on the street) will cease to acquire new books on Buddhism, and academic presses (which generate the lion’s share of information on Buddhist history and have helped revolutionize our understanding of Buddhism past and present over the past several decades) will be shut down. These three interests live on the razor’s edge at even the best of times; today, all are in immediate danger from cost-cutting deans interested in preserving the profit-generating technical schools at their universities at the cost of the entire field of humanities.
A Buddhist view looks not at the individual who wants to get a free book and doesn’t see/care how it affects the bigger picture, but instead looks at the whole and sees that stealing academic books (which, unlike a song or two from a pop album, represent literally years worth of constant, arduous work on the part of the academic author) measurably harms real people and entire industries, and ultimately helps to harm Buddhism itself, retarding its understanding by the West.
While I’ve focused on academic publishing, the same dynamics hold true to some extent for many Dharma publishers. Did you ever enjoy or benefit from a book from Shambhala, Wisdom, Sun Lion, or Parallax Press? If you’re using Buddha Torrents to steal their copywritten works then you’re helping to ensure these presses won’t be around to offer similar information to the next generation.
"Wanting information to be free leads to the death of new information"
Yes, because we all know authors and scholars such as Nargarjuna, Chandrakirti, Longchenpa, Tsongkhapa etc. would never have put out any new information if others could access it for free. /sarcasm
Ivory tower Buddhist academia has not produced any works remotely close to those authors I just mentioned so it would be of no loss if they fell by the wayside. Monastic scholars produce more insightful work and are under no financial threat from from people sharing their works. Moreover, Dharma should be free the way the Buddha intended it. 🙂
I agree. Furthermore, the concepts of copyright/intellectual property were invented in recent centuries to help the wealthy and powerful keep or amass more wealth. It has nothing to do with helping someone look after their family, and to speculate that free downloads could lead to harming the output of dharma books or reducing the number or quality of works is ludicrous. The best dharma books will be published even at no profit and I predict that in the future these copyright concepts and their associated laws will be trashed as they deserve.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Wow. Thanks for the long (and very thoughtful!) response, Jeff.
You grabbed this hot potato and held on. It’s appreciated; lots of food for thought for everyone here.
Jennifer Holder says
It all depends on the motivation of the person who uploads, even more than the person who downloads. Someone could come across a website and enjoy the material offered out of ignorance of its right-protected status. So while the user does need to be discriminating, a lot of responsibility lies with the publisher — whoever decided to upload it in the first place. Are they aware that harm could befall the author and publisher? In the case of Buddha Torrents, I believe he/she has been made aware that there are consequences, and yet persists with some interesting and seductive arguments. But how often do we all do this? Try to march headlong through a windtunnel of feedback that what we’re doing causes pain. To me, the feedback I receive — from lots of sources — reflects my motivations. So if someone feels their content is being wrongly posted, it’s a good idea to listen to what they have to say. The karmic consequences extend into the realm of legal protection which can feel very, very painful.
I want to note something here on the Buddha Torrents site. While the digital versions of the books may be freely available the fact is that the blog has advertising. It’s reasonable to assume that someone or something is being enriched by making these otherwise costly materials available. If “information want’s to be free” as the hacker “ethic” would have us believe then why does whoever is maintaining this blog feel entitled to collect advertising revenue? Where is there an explanation of how that revenue is used or shared with the original publishers? How is this distribution model anything but parasitic? Does anyone else find it interesting that this “blog” lacks the characteristic that makes a blog a blog — namely the ability to make comments?
Everyone of Jeff’s points is well made. It seems to boil down to the old truism that you get what you pay for.
Dharma, as I understand it, is about recognizing the impact of my actions on the world around me both to the benefit of myself and others. The authors of those materials contribute to the ever-growing base of knowledge that informs us all. They do so for little compensation as it is yet they still need to, at minimum feed and house themselves if not support a family. As Jeff points out, if these materials are made freely available — and especially if their availability is supporting someone else through ad revenue — then those sources of dharmic insight will evaporate.
Perhaps the person or persons putting these materials up believes that doing this is somehow “right action” or “right livelyhood” (after all, they’re “offering” dharma!) but this is anything but “right motivation” or even simply “right”.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Doug — your point about advertising is absolutely true. And somehow, I’d completely missed that there were Google ads on the site. Good catch.
Granted, it’s hard to make more than pennies from these Google ads; it could be that they’re used just to re-coup the costs of running the site. (As the “proprietor” of theworsthorse.com, I can tell you that running a site often does involve some costs, and for most people all of them are paid out of one’s pocket…) But your point is an interesting one. Though I can’t say that I feel that the person maintaining Buddha Torrents is looking to harm people; I feel confident that the site’s mission is one undertaken with consideration and care for the dharma; from there, it’s just a matter of who does or doesnt agree with how said mission is executed. At any rate, no one’s going to see much money (much less get “rich”) from that site! …but then, that’s not necessarily pertinent in this discussion.
Thanks to you — and everyone — for all your comments. Keep’m coming!
There are some difficulties in this discussion when working back and forth across the line of “present system” and “future system.” Both of those systems are already in place.
Jeff makes a strong argument that has one possible fatal weakness. One could also argue that the “free” distribution of obscure academic texts may indeed free them from remaining obscure or vanishing. As a grad student, one of the best applications of my fees and tuition is my access to an astounding number of research data bases that I would otherwise be unable to afford. That is a lot of very obscure hard to find information, even with access to the data bases, on the Dharma that I use daily. I download and print. Suddenly the info is in play in my community and no longer obscure but in service as intended. Additionally, the author is suddenly less obscure and will be cited in my work.
So the problem is both the old and new systems where some work is published in only a few hundred copies by small publishers with no way to really make the jump to big/fast/micro-trend distribution on the web. And does the “leaking” of a few works by an author of publisher really threaten their lively hood so much? The music industry has been tell us that for years.
I know that when I begin publishing Dharma based works, soon I hope, that I will expect a certain amount of it to float freely around to be of benefit to all sentient beings. I also hope a certain amount of money will come my way in royalties or dana so that I can pay off the student loans that made the work possible. Money is a funny thing to work with in the world of Dharma. The Buddha carried a begging bowl in a culture that honored such things. Here in the west it seems we have a desire to have our Dharma work and our Volvo too. I’m guilty of that too.
I don’t have the answer. Nor do I feel fully qualified to pass judgment. I don’t know how to balance the benefits of breaking info free from the constraints of small distribution systems against the harm of old system of trading money for printed information.
I do know that information I use again and again I buy when possible. I like books more than pdf.
Solve this problem and you have one of the keys to the new economy.
Maybe it is just membership to an access organization that pays out some royalties. That’s how libraries used to be. You got together, chipped in your money, and bought some books to share.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Well, well, well! How lucky we are. I just got a very helpful message from Than Geoff himself, who writes:
“There’s a difference between wrong action and wrong livelihood. Copying copyrighted material is not a case of stealing, for you’re not taking anything away from the owners that they already have. Thus it’s not wrong action. But you are taking away from their anticipated income in a way that is less than respectful to them. Thus it’s a form of wrong livelihood.
“This distinction comes up in the rules for monks. Stealing is an offense that carries a heavy penalty for monks–if the item is worth more than approximately $20, it means expulsion from the monastic sangha for life. However, doing something that leads to material loss for a lay person is an action that opens you to the possibility for censure by the other monks. If they decide that your actions were unfair and harmful to the Dhamma, you have to undergo a period of probation. This penalty comes under the heading of wrong livelihood. Notice that there’s no hard and fast rule as to what the penalty for the action might be: in some cases, the monks might not even see that it’s worthy of a penalty. (For a full discussion of this point, see the discussion of Parajika 2 in The Buddhist Monastic Code, volume I, on Access to Insight: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ )
“So the theft of copyrighted material falls into a gray area where it’s not really stealing, but it can–as in the case of academic writing–harm the legitimate interests of the publishers. As people trying to practice the Dhamma in all sincerity–‘seeing danger in the slightest fault’–it’s not a wise practice to engage in copyright infringement, even though such infringement is not really theft. Information doesn’t want to be free; it doesn’t want to be sold. It just sits there. It’s the people who do the wanting, and as Dhamma practitioners it’s a good idea to make sure that our wants have integrity.
“And there’s plenty of valuable Dhamma information out there that’s already for free, so we can leave the copyright holders alone.”
Big thanks for this, Than Geoff!
Rod, thank you for the reminder regarding the likely intentions of the site’s creator. I perhaps sounded too strident. I too have difficulty imagining that they intend harm. Perhaps it’s best to say that this approach lacks skill.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Hi Doug. Yes — while I don’t recall (knowingly) communicating with the site’s creator, from what I’ve gathered he or she has their reasons for what they’re doing, and the Intention there is Right.
RJ Eskow says
Rod, the question seems complicated because it touches on more than one issue: On is, is it right to distribute the work of others without paying them? Another is, is it right to charge for dharma teachings?
I thought about the whole issue of “charging for dharma” a great deal, as I’m sure others have. But while that’s a related question here, it’s not the central question, in my opinion. Profit isn’t even the central question.
The real question is one of permission, wchich stems from the more basic issue of living by the precepts. If somebody has created a work in one medium, it is respectful and courteous to ask their permission before distributing it. If you do not do so, then in my opinion you are straying from the precepts. Dharma cannot be successfully transmitted in such a manner – the behavior drowns out the content of the words.
If you agree with this interpretation, then whether or not the other party is using the income to spread more dharma becomes secondary.
So does the “information wants to be free” argument. Steward Brand originally used that phrase in a larger sentence, by the way – one which ended “and it wants to be expensive.” Here’s the full quote, which somehow seems apt here as well:
“Information wants to be free — because it is now so easy to copy and distribute casually — and information wants to be expensive — because in an Information Age, nothing is so valuable as the right information at the right time.”
Rod Meade Sperry says
All good points, RJE. It seems we could talk about this for eons. I feel lucky to have so many people chiming in (including Than Geoff, who did so in a comment I left, above), so thanks for joining the fray.
I think it should be said that while Brand might have meant his phrase to remain in context, the hacker/free info movement has knowingly taken it out of that context. “Appropriate misappropriation,” if you will. (At least that’s how I understand it.)
It would seem to me that the act of taking isn’t defined so much by the Dharma itself as by the culture in which we live. We happen to live in a culture which defines taking to include acts of copyright infringement. While that culture itself is thrashing violently right now in an effort to adapt older versions of taking to the new technology which is available, the central idea — that you can have rights in an idea or in a written work which someone else can violate, is not vanishing.
The argument that the Dharma needs to be free, and therefore, it isn’t a taking to transmit Dharma works, with or without permission, is sophistry.
It sometimes feels like the argument is “the original publisher isn’t a ‘good enough’ Buddhist, as they are not transmitting the Dharma for free, therefore I will do so, since they would, if they only understood the Dharma the way I do.”
The culture you’re in might not agree — and much more importantly, the people from whom you are taking might not agree.
All of this is still splashing about in the pool of whether or not information should be free to transmit. To my mind, there is a most basic principle on which the act is wrong action. Do we not seek to avoid causing unnecessary suffering. When we steal from someone, as they understand it, do they not suffer? How can that be right action?
Rod Meade Sperry says
well said, William. the note you end on seems to me a key one, and it seems to me that this quote is, too:
– It sometimes feels like the argument is “the original publisher isn’t a ‘good enough’ Buddhist, as they are not transmitting the Dharma for free, therefore I will do so, since they would, if they only understood the Dharma the way I do.” –
i personally know of people/organizations who have been assailed for not making their dharma-work free, with little mind paid to all the positive and ambitious things they were in fact doing with the money that their work generated — even when those things were perpetuating the dharma…. and certainly, the people i’m speaking of werent getting wealthy; they were just engaging in Right Livelihood within the reality of our financial system. to be assailed for that… well, it doesnt seem right to me.
RJ Eskow says
Rod, I agree on both counts: We could go on forever on this topic, for one thing.
And for another, yes – Brand’s quote has been appropriated by the liberate-all-intellectual-property movement.
I guess famous quotes want to be free, too.
Rod Meade Sperry says
First, I’d like to respond to a few statements above. (Sorry for the point-by-point format. It might be neat if SunSpace could have threaded comments; I think WP2.7 supports this out of the box). Here goes-
@ben: “There is enough free dharma info out on the internet for people to grab.”
-When it comes to information, how do you define “enough”. For me, I don’t think there can be enough.
@rms: “there’s a system in place (like it or not) that (like it or not) can make the free distribution of materials meant for sale to appear to be stealing”
-be the change you want to see
@jeff: “Wanting information to be free leads to the death of new information”
-hmm, sounds familiar
@jeff: “If you’re using Buddha Torrents to steal their copywritten works then you’re helping to ensure these presses won’t be around…”
–There’s just something about a dead tree book, isn’t there? It’s nice to pop into the airport news stand and pick up a novel. It just is.
@Doug: “If information want’s to be free as the hacker “ethic” would have us believe then why does whoever is maintaining this blog feel entitled to collect advertising revenue?”
-How does having an ad next to it restrict the flow of information? Additionally, “free” primarily means libre, not gratis
@Doug: “How is this distribution model anything but parasitic?”
-When people write about dharma, and make their livelihood selling it, they are basing this on others’ works, standing on the shoulders of giants. Does Siddhartha collect royalties? Is that why he taught dharma, to get royalties?
@Doug: “The authors of those materials contribute to the ever-growing base of knowledge that informs us all.”
-And also the distributors do. Think of the history of distribution, only oral stories for many years. Think of those who dedicated their lives not to writing ‘new’ info but simply to transcribing, translating, distributing. Countless monks to be sure!
“This distinction comes up in the rules for monks”
-The rules for monks were given for a purpose: to help a monastery survive and function well. The monastics order (and its rules) were created for the purpose of distribution and dissemination, for the survival of truth. The rules for monks are just that, rules for monks. There are not universal moral absolutes – this is not Catholicism with a central and detailed catechism of the church for all members. In fact, its not about members but about all sentient beings.
@Geoff: “And there’s plenty of valuable Dhamma information out there that’s already for free, so we can leave the copyright holders alone.”
-Hmm, you realize that copyright is an artificial construct created by the governments of the world, no? In America, the founders intended for copyright to last 14 years, and then all works would be public domain. It has been expanded in the US to be author’s life + 70 years! (This is because of the Disney Corporation and others.) There is not copyright law in Laos, so any dharma book written there are instantly public domain! So consider how when copyright is a geographic and government construct how this applies to universal ethical claims.
@RJ Eskow: “Is it right to charge for dharma teachings?”
-I think if you can get someone to generously give you money because they appreciate your work, that’s fine. But don’t expect to be able to control information once it exists.
@Eskow: “Steward Brand originally used that phrase in a larger sentence”
-Try not to get caught up in what the meaning of a phrase was to one man and what it means now for many. Its five words, and they can mean different things just like the three words ‘I love you’ can mean different things and have been used by many.
@William: “We happen to live in a culture which defines taking to include acts of copyright infringement.”
-Actually, in the US, legally, copyright infringement is not theft. Yet.
@William: “the central idea — that you can have rights in an idea or in a written work which someone else can violate, is not vanishing”
ahh yes, intellectual property. This idea is not vanishing? That you know of. Consider this your introduction.
with regards to stealing or not… i recall reading a pretty specific teaching which plainly stated:
if it’s not offered, don’t take it without asking first.
plain and simple. such basic stuff. you’d think we’d all get it by now.
Rod Meade Sperry says
that may be, kikumasamune, but it’s worth considering that some vistors may not realize that what some blogs and sites are “offering” isn’t necessarily theirs to offer… so they can consider that and weigh it against what you’re saying here.
Leaf Dharma says
Let me clear up a few of the issues raised in this article and state the facts. Let me apologize for disjointedness of my writings.
Firstly, I don’t upload the material presented in this blog. Smarter people than myself can confirm that by tracing the IP’s of uploaders. In today’s law’s uploading is still illegal. What my blog does is point to the links that are already present. By last estimate there are 200 million Blogs in operation, and a fair number of them devoted to file sharing of various topics. Websites like Mininova and The Pirate Bay and are in the top 100 most visited websites on the web. This blog has grown to proportions where searches for material now link to the blog.
This weekends Globe & Mail had an article on Ebooks and ebook readers and added the stat that less than 3% of a Publishers profits are from ebooks. Ebooks are horrible, I always buy the printed version of what I’m interested in. To me an ebook is like a preview. Like flipping threw pages of a book in book store. I could sit in Chapters and read the whole book if I wanted too, is that theft?
Yes there are Google ads on blog. They were put there only this month after one year. They were set up in hope’s of generating income for a charity I support in Nepal, you can see the article on the blog. The ad’s generate practically nothing and place the blog in a slightly hypocritical position which I am aware of.
Which may soon be removed.
I started this blog to compile torrent links that were already present on the internet. Torrent inks are ephemeral, they dont last forever. My intentions of creation were born out of sharing not harming. I have been contacted by filmakers who used the blog but didnt want there material listed in it. I always removed the link, however that does not remove the uploaded material which is almost always searchable by other means.
Ethically the whole matter is in the grey. I do not subscribe to Capitalism. If you give it any thought you will see that this system we all live and work in is part of the deluion we are trying to escape. My philosphy follows a more socialistic outlook. Free healthcare should be as universal as free dharma.
The Dalai Lama himself is a Marxist.
It is impossible to justify any position fully. In todays world the exchange of free information has never been easier and copyright laws, corporations and individuals who profit from control are struggling to keep up with it. Lawsuits and criminal punishment will not make it go away. They are the implements of those still trying to hold the system together. If I was afraid of being sued or imprisoned for my blog I would have never started it. I’m sure Gandhi would have never left his house if he knew what was ahead of him. Am I Gandhi? No. Am I fighting a system of control? In a manner of speaking, yes.
I dont want to get to deep into my manifesto. I’m a Buddhist, but I’m also an activist. There are a lot of lost people out there, especially on the Internet.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Leaf: thanks for checking in. It’s good to hear from the horse’s mouth what your intentions are. I had little doubt that they come from a good place in your heart — in your words, “sharing, and not harming”; it’s just a very interesting area to explore because, as you say, the matter does seem to be in the gray. (Certainly the Dharma organizations who rely on funds for their work will have a different point of view, and will hope that the world at large will, too…) But between your comment, Than Geoff’s, and all the others’ participation here, this has proven to be a matter worth discussing and ruminating upon.
Leaf Dharma says
PS, In response to Jeff about academic publishers. Those books are all found on another website called Avaxhome. Too me books that deal with academic Buddhism are pretty worthless, I’m more into practical teachings. But some times I dont find any material to post so I use those. I rely on others, like The Worst Horse, to provide the content for my blog.
Alexandre-Jean Reill says
very interresting arguments, all of you.
Here are my thoughs.
I “may” be diminishing revenus from the distributors.
Now as you see I make here an enormous differenciation between authors and distributors.
Since technology has made the reproduction and distribution so cost effective, distributors have kept asking for higher prices.
In my opinions distributors are the thieves.
I have a very low income. When I can, I pay for the distribution of the information, I seek.
Everytime, and I do mean “every” time I can pay directly the author, bypassing any distributors, then I do.
But when I can’t afford the work of the author, then I get on the internet and get it freely (as in free speech).
Now as to Buddha Torrents, that blog brought to my attention some information I would never have known otherwise.
This light that it brings, has a value. Not a market value, but a “karma value” so to speak:
That blogs spreads dharma.
I agree with the Bhikkhu.
1. Dana overrides copyrights in my book, since there’s no act nor intention to profit from the sharing site. So, morally speaking, there’s no “stealing”.
2. But it’s true that the publishers may feel damage about their business. This is a conflict that arises from a new technological paradigm, that causes the obsolescence of many traditional economic models, involving creative works. Digitalization of music, texts, still and motion images, has brought cultural goods to everyone and everywhere there is a device with online access. This should be appreciated as an immense advance of humankind. It is not moral that we try to put obstacles to this access, only to protect very particular interests. Rather, we should see all together how to reorient business practices so everyone is benefited without cutting the blessing of free sharing of Dharma and of any intellectual or artistic works.
3. There are alternatives to traditional publishing methods of paperback books, like print on demand, that handles the risks. Also, paperback books harm the environment, so electronic books become not only a free cost solution for universal distribution but an environment friendly production method. This suggests that printed books should maybe become the exception and become more expensive than now, since their reason to exist becomes more and more limited.
Clara Llum, sensei
It is definitely not stealing.
Stealing is when you take physical ownership of something – you take something away from someone else.
Digital meeiia on the internet is copied – not stolen. Copied … like on a Xerox machine.
You are at a theater .. and you do not buy a ticket but you sneak in and watch a movie. Have you stolen the movie? Of course not.
According to current laws here in the US … Buddhist Torrents is not breaking any laws. He does not host the files. At the very most he is ‘making available’ but so far that is only against the law if coupled with making a profit. Currently Pirate Bay is on trial in Sweden … but only because it has advertising on its site which makes money. The ‘making available’ draws visitors which turns a profit through advertising banners. (So the legal argument goes).
At the most .. Buddhist Torrents is ‘making available’ but not for reasons of profit. So at the very most he would be required to comply with any ‘take down’ notice he might receive.
Now .. if anyone out there wants to lend me a copy of a Buddhist film or book .. I will come over your house and get it – or you can post it form me and it is lending as long as I give it back or delete it when done. Lending a copy has never been against the law.
But that may change 🙂 in as much as most laws today are not based upon what is moral or ethical but rather on securing greater profits for corporate concerns.
Of all the law suits (or out of court settlements) done by the RIAA over pirated music where the claim in court has been it deprives the musicians of due money (the only legal grounds for a law suit) not one penny ever went to any musician.
So .. what does morality and ethics have to do with it??? Nothing. Nothing at all 🙁
Try and go to a retreat for free and forget it. I appreciate Buddha Torrents for giving me what the Buddha gave freely. Screw the meditation industry and all those who would put up financial barriers between me and the Buddha’s teachings (Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, IMS, and Spirit Rock included). The hypocrites and thieves are those who charge for what the Buddha freely gave.
Rod Meade Sperry says
Joel: it could (and I think, should) be argued that many of the organizations you call “hypocrites and thieves” are in fact providing dharma as best as they’re able within our financial model — while covering expenses, they also provide many free services, reach out to prisoners and others who are less fortunate than some, and more. at CIMC the other night, free books were distributed; CIMC took no cut, as there was no cut to take.
a place like CIMC practices dana, and (I contend) we in turn will be enriched by taking the opportunity to return the practice, as it enriches us all.
As far as academic books goes, I find it difficult to imagine why publishers like Routledge and their series Routledge Curzon charge astronomical prices for slim hardcovers. There is no way I can afford to pay $150 for a 200 page book.
On the other hand, a publisher like Wisdom consistently produces high quality paperbacks for $30 or less. I put it to the authors here. Would you rather have your book read, even if it is in a digital copy that might lead to a purchase at a reasonable price, or would you rather 60 major libraries each own a copy and restrict access to your work?
What about people that can’t afford to buy all these books? Buddha Torrents does good work in distributing them to people who may not have had access to such information otherwise and also making them aware of books, videos etc that may not be available in the usual manner and, as regards the more academic books, the years of research and work put into them by the author is reaching a wider audience- and surely that is the main object.
I personally don’t like to read books off a computer screen and always buy a copy if I like the look of it-but most of the videos on Buddha Torrents I can’t get elsewhere. I make copies and give them to friends which is spreading the word and doing good work-surely it is better to awaken souls than to make profit. But I actually think that if someones interest is awakened they will go on to buy books and dvd’s etc that they wouldn’t have otherwise-which has happened quite a few times in my experience. So in the long run the authors benefit.
I know of some organisations that hand out books free because they refuse to take money for Spiritual Teachings-maybe not practicable in all cases, but the motive is spot on.
But my main point is that I don’t think that Buddha Torrents affects book sales at all and I am sure it generates the interest to increase them as it has with me. I have been led to buy books by several authors I have first encountered on Buddha Torrents.
I think it is important here to understand Buddha Torrents does not STORE these files, it is just a blog that highlights torrents that are already out there.
I have no problem paying for media (audio, video, written word) but as someone else put it I would rather give that money direct to the author.
Another interesting spin on this is the suffering part. Have we forgotten about the ‘taking that which is not given’? Well, I can honestly say I have never yet heard a tree say “Hey, cut me down and process me body into paper so you can print your written words on me and sell me for profit”. What about that suffering in the tree and taking what was not given.
We all take what was not given, directly or indirectly. Even if you buy a bag of rice, that was ‘taken’ at some point without permission. Just because a plant cannot talk does not give us the right to just take it.
One of the things that really upsets me is when people record the retreats and then expect extra revenue from the sale of the CDs. I listened to one that retails around 60 dollars. It got to one point in the audio where they were going to meditate. It then cuts to the next part of the lecture. I assume in this case maybe the meditation section is sold separately.
How far are we going to take copyrights. Is it going to be in the future when you glance at the book the person next to you is reading and immediately you are arrested for stealing that information. If I read something then does this mean I could never tell anyone about it as I would be passing on the information?
Buddha Torrents is doing nothing wrong at all.
The way I see it, it my closing comments, is if you don’t like file sharing and think its wrong then…just never go to file sharing sites. IF something was on TV that you disagreed with or didn’t like…just push the Off button. Simple as that.
Clara Llum says
“Solve this problem and you have one of the keys to the new economy.” JayhooRay http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=6923&cpage=1#comment-4279
It’s simple: get the authors paid from other sources than their “sales”. Sources like 1. Dana: free donations from the public. 2. Philanthropists that sponsor Dharma studies and teachings. 3. Commercial advertising associated to the works. 4. Grants. 5. Educational institutions. 6. Tax deductions and tax cuts applied to the authors for their releases, as compensation for their contribution to society, measuring their reach. 7. *Use your imagination.* The model whereby the user of the information pays for that use has become obsolete in the digital age.
Josho Adrian Cirlea says
I am a priest in Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition, living in Romania. I myself wrote, translated or published some books. All the books I try to sell, I also offer for free to those who can’t afford to buy. Indeed its hard to survive, earn enough money to support myself and my activities by selling Dharma books and this is mainly because people don’t buy books or those interested in Dharma books wish to receive them for free. Well, I don’t always like it, but thats ok. Although its hard, I don’t mind if I see my book shared by others on the internet, especially if the person who takes it is poor. I myself download Buddhist books and documentaries from torrents and I do this because I can’t afford to buy all the Dharma materials I need or I would like to have. My income is very low and I often have hard time finding resources to support myself, so I simply don’t care if downloading Dharma materials indicated by Buddha torrents is stealing. Yes, I steal, because I can’t afford those Dharma materials. So what…
Thank you, Leaf Dharma for your blog!
Trevor M says
Whose financial model? Why not just share the teachings without all the middle class, bourgeois trimmings? I’ve traveled throughout Asia and only in America and Europe are the teachings for sale. I reject your paradigm. There is no necessity for all the materialistic affect and for lay people to benefit financially from what the Buddha taught. No ethical organization can charge for the teachings.
Jieshi Shan says
im a big fan of this blog, and consider Leaf a good E-friend.
i visit the blog on regular basis and chat very often with Leaf.His Attitude, intention and actions are not based on any other that share the Dharma , collecting torrents and files from different sources.
his work is ok, and deserves more spread on the web.
Basically, it comes down to the money grubbers versus the selfless.
No matter how you spin it, it is not right to put a price on what you got for free. And if you paid for it, it is completely worthless.
Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati.
The gift of Truth excels all other gifts.
The GIFT. Not the thing you bought. The GIFT. If it isn’t freely given, it’s worthless crap.
The Dhamma is priceless.
While we can argue whether the Dhamma should be free or not given the economic models of a given society, one can’t really argue the nature of taking what isn’t freely given. All kinds of excuses have been given for the online distribution of movies. music, and now Dhamma materials. But in the end, if the one who has the rights to that material is saying you can’t have it for free, simply taking it doesn’t seem to be in line with the teachings.
All ownership is delusion, all ownership is theft.
Just as water flows where it flows, so too does life. However humans have abandoned life in favour of memory, in favour of taking root.
Ownership is a resultant effect of ignorance, of the obscuration by memory.
Theft, identity is theft, abdandon this misperception & clarity will be.
Crime is the system within the system which declares crime. Conform to the idea & you make others criminal, while of course excusing yourself. Self is theft, a makepiece of imitation, adaptation, the corruption.
We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, eat the same plant, ownership is delusion. Awake or suffer.
How can Buddha steal from Buddha?
max paz says
I just discovered the Buddha Torrents site.
I noted at least two books in second editions, both I already own and paid dearly for the first editions.
I also noted a book that I own and have read, that would be advantageous to carry in electronic form on my laptop. Google has it available online too….taken from SUNY library with google ads and etc.
I saw a download of a book written in 1910 that is available used from Amazon for over $90.
I also saw a link to a movie that I have been searching for to purchase and could never find.
I have spent several hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands of dollars over the decades on Dharma related books. I have spent many hundreds of dollars on academic courses and weekend workshops directly supporting those who produce Dharma teachings. I have donated hundreds of dollars to worthwhile Dharma charities.
For some reason, downloading a few hard to find books or recordings doesn't seem so anti-dharma to me!
Sharing, Stealing… they are all state of minds from people afraid of losing something that is not theirs to lose.
People should be concerned with cleaning their own house before judging others.
Doing tricks with words to justify greed and a narrow view will lead one no where, that is way the world the way it is.
Rescuing slaves was illegal. Transporting them to free states was theft. Who were these laws protecting?
Rangjung Gyakchen says
The business of Buddhas is to make Buddhas.
Buddha's teachings, in any media, have only that as their aim.
All intellectual formulations are empty of self nature: no thesis, antithesis, blog, net or etc.
View, big as the sky; actions, small as mustard seed.
Work out YOUR means of enlightenment with diligence, awareness and gratitude.
thank you for this long and interesting discussion. In my view the only answer to this question is for each to look within and carefully watch the complex interactions going when considering the question, and any possible actions or non-actions. The only one who can truly know your mind, your motivations, is you. (might take a hell of a long time to figure that out though!). When I see that link to "Doing time, Doing Vipassana" is the corresponding surge in attention born from greed (hah! I can get that at no cost to me!) or something less defiled?
With regard to the argument that acquiring a copy of copy-restricted work without payment lessens the income or livelihood of author, publisher and/or distributor: this is only true if that copy *supplants* a pay-for transaction.
If the acquirer would not have paid for it anyway there is no damage. There can be myriad reasons for this, from simple poverty to the item just not being available in accessible stores to something else I don't have the imagination at present to summon forth. If nothing is taken away, neither a physical thing or potential future manifestation, then nothing is stolen.
However, to look more deeply, there is no damage to the *originator* (author/pub./etc) in this situation, but there may well be harmful effects to the *practitioner*. What is their state of mind during this transaction? In their innermost centre are they in aware concentrated balance or in denial and turmoil?
Lets discriminate the dharmas (Dharmapravicaya)
I see wisdom, tradition, translation and publication.
Torrenting dharma is bad for publishers, translators, and scholarly traditions.
Now this phenomena is here, so what are the effects:
The range of wisdom's manifestation has increased – the profundity / depth is likely to decrease.
The dharma has been exposed.
The scholars protect it in the institutions, and the yogis will dance naked in public, and everyone else will scour the Internet for a middle way.
The earth supports, the sky inspires, and seeds unfold in many ways.
I fail to see how sharing the Dharma, no matter what form it takes, is bad? Yes we are mired in a complicated system of economic interdependence but not all have means to purchase said truths. Publishers and writers have a right to earn a living but no one owns the Dharma, no matter how much you refashion it and stamp your own name on it.
Is it stealing to be exposed to harmful images daily on the television and in the newspapers? What is stolen from your being when you are taught that it is a violent world?
It is a fact that it cost someone money to produce the videos, audio files and books. The money they didn't earn back is money that can't go to pay for potentially worthy tasks such as producing more dhamma materials, maintaining a dhamma center in some way, teaching people of lesser means, etc.
There is a large group of meditation centers that operate all over the world, including the U.S., on donations only. This enables the people who have the time but not necessarily the money ( people out of work, students, the poor, etc ) to have access to those things. At the end of the retreats a very subtle, non-coercive talk is given on how the center survives and what their expenses are. No pressure.
Maybe it is time that people who produce Dhamma materials begin thinking like Thanisarro Bhikku, at least a little bit. Make those materials, but letting people that donations are appreciated and that the donations will go to something good.
I believe that by hosting a site that either offers downloads or links to free downloads is by it's very nature "giving".
If it (knowledge,love,compassion etc.) is not given it cannot be maintained within one's self.
If one chooses free downloads yet contributes of their time money or other gifts when they are able as the opportunity arises then are they not spreading the principle of selflessness as they view it ?
I am a novice on Buddhism but without these downloads I do not believe I would encounter such a vast deposit of teachings, views, and guides anywhere in my physical location.
– “Is it sharing? Is it stealing?” –
I think it is sharing. Stealing would be the stealing of the physical book. Or stealiong would be selling copies to third people.
The free copy has been the common transmission of Dharma across history, and Buddhism avoid the price to sell or to get Dharma. Ethics of this capitalist system is impermanent and provisional (very provisional) and it is not a superior ethics for the world than Dharma, in any way.
Can be inmoral the business with Dhamma teaching by selling books?. I think not while sellers respect the Dhamma and they don’t exercis an active oppresion when they see the copies for personal use travelling outside their benefits.
Also, our capitalist laws allow the personal copy therefore the copiers without benefit are not against the society laws.
Today still everyone wants to have a good book in paper. Now publishers can try to improve the quality and the selection of their titles.
In the future, maybe only the digital format would be available and it can be the end of the paper publisher industry. But our task is not protecting this or that industry like if we would be gurus of Wall Street.
If we want to help those people then maybe they can start to think in a diversification of their business for the close future.
If some day monks and nuns cannot publish their books in a publisher, then they will do it in internet and
Dhamma will survive without any problems because a good monk or nun don’t think in money benefits. So there is no problem to get Dhamma teachings in the future.
Sharing is a virtue called Daan (दान) http://collectiveconciousness.info/