“Christian” Piracy and the Blinding Effects of Sin

FBI Anti-piracy WarningA friend notified me today about a “Christian” website where “Christians” illegally share a variety of forms of digital Christian content—from Christian music to Christian movies to Christian software. Scores of people, many of whom are in seminary training for pastoral ministry, post pirated Bible software on the web and invite others to download it, giving detailed instructions on how to unlock the software and bypass the security features. I’m blown away by how easily “Christians” can steal in order to enable them to have access to biblical resources.1 Something about that just doesn’t make sense. But that’s what sin does to us. It causes us to act in utterly irrational ways.

Take, for example, how one seminary student responds to another who shared stolen software with him: “God Bless You!” Another individual has this in his signature: “Live Hard, Play hard and let your life show WHO u live for.” Hmm. Another has a link to his website, “What Would Jesus Download,” in his signature. Good question indeed. Perhaps those downloading pirated software should ponder it a bit.

The point of this post isn’t to point the finger at others in a condescending fashion. I recall the wise counsel of Jonathan Edwards, who in his eighth resolution said,

Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

So I use this as an opportunity to search my own heart and ask God to reveal how I might be covering sin. I pray the prayer of David, both for myself and for those who use this “Christian” site.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! —Ps 139:23–24

Sin is a deceitful (Heb 3:13) and blinding (2 Pet 1:7) poison. How easy it is for our sinful hearts to justify what God abhors. May God graciously shine the light of His holy Word upon us and grant us the gift of repentance.

Footnotes

  1. I’d image that most of these individuals wouldn’t walk into a Christian bookstore and steal content off of the shelves. The fact that downloadable media and software is intangible makes it much easier to justify.

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24 Responses to “Christian” Piracy and the Blinding Effects of Sin

  1. JGons January 29, 2008 at 6:06 am #

    This has always been one of my biggest pet peeves! I really don’t understand the rationalization that goes into this. I’d like to say, “well, everyone has their weak points & struggles,” but this is so clearly a choice to continually download & use. It’s not just a fall and get up, fall and get up issue. Easier to rationalize than stealing a physical book/dvd from a store? Definitely. Does that make it any more right? It clearly does not.

    Oh, and the video you posted a little while ago of Tom Cruise made me chortle. :)

  2. Angela January 29, 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    I appreciate your posting. I work for Christian filmmakers, and when someone pirates music, or books, or films, they are, in effect, “Muzzling the ox.”

  3. Thomas Black January 31, 2008 at 10:50 am #

    I’m As mind boggled over this as anyone is. I recently read the testimony of a Christian brother who handed over his stolen Bible software to the company and then bought it. The plain truth is that God’s word will not return void. This is the very truth which has lead the Gideon’s to giving away millions of Bibles. They trust in that when people steal them from hotel rooms.

    Here’s to joining you in prayer: Search me O God and see if there be any wicked way in me…

  4. carol November 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    I personally started feeling uneasy about any sort of piracy, christian or not, since we are called to be holy because our God is holy. While I used to download most of my music off the internet, I have since stopped and have been buying all my music. I only download programmes which are free – through download.com.

    But I do have some questions – when is it okay to download something? How do we check a copyright status? What about old progammes/games/movies which are not sold anymore, and their copyright status is over? Does it make it alright?

    My housemate posed me with such questions, and for that I couldn’t find a proper reply. While I felt uneasy about it, I don’t fully know what the copyright law encompasses. Could you please direct me to any possible sources?

    • Phil Gons November 3, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

      Carol, I commend you for heeding your conscience. The secular culture has so influenced the church in ethical matters like this that it is difficult for many Christians to even come to terms with the problem. The fact that many churches don’t deal with this issues in concrete terms just compounds the problem. The church needs to tackle present-day ethical issues like these head on.

      In answer to your question, I think it is best to play it safe. If you’re not sure if something is copyrighted or not, assume it is unless you have indication that it’s not. I know copyright laws on books fairly well, but I’m not sure of copyright laws on music and software, so I can’t give you much guidance there. There’s a ton of information at http://www.copyright.gov/ that should be of some help.

      The important thing is that you never choose to download something that you don’t have complete freedom in your conscience to do, because Scripture teaches that whatever we can’t do in faith (that it is okay) is sin (Rom 14:23). Just because you have a clear conscience doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s okay—it’s possible to sin in ignorance—but it’s never right to go against your conscience.

      Hope this helps a little.

  5. Emperor MAR June 14, 2009 at 8:55 am #

    I wonder if God abhors Christians copyrighting His word and selling it for profit. Or if God abhors Christians selling sermons which use his word for the gospel and to edify others.
    Should we be withholding the truth for money?

    Read this good article about this (written pre-web)
    http://www.ifla.org.sg/documents/infopol/copyright/decj1.htm

  6. Phil Gons June 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

    Emperor MAR,

    So do you think that every edition and translation of Scripture should be given away for free? On what basis? Doesn’t the Scripture itself teach that “the laborer deserves his wages” (Lk 10:7; 1Ti 5:18)? Doesn’t it condemn freeloaders (2Th 3:10).

    Apparently you go so far as to think that sermons in audio or print form shouldn’t cost anything. What about Christian books in general? What about Christian education—schools, colleges, seminaries? Should everything Christian be free? How do you expect Christian translators, preachers, authors, and teachers to make a living? Should they be expected to work full-time jobs and then do all of their Christian work for free? The amount of Christian material would drop off significantly, and it would be to the church’s detriment.

    • Kojo Yeboah April 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      Phil Gons
      indeed you are a man of faith, i can clearly see the spirit of God working in you,
      About the piracy thing, you know, we are called into a life of prosperity (Psalm 1:3) but the fruitfulness only comes by fear the Lord and walking in righteousness. Few days ago i was drawn in confusion about this pirated softwares cuz i needed them and in my country its very hard to get a credit card, so it was like i could only pirate them. I prayed to God and I started programming, I’m still learning the basics but trust me after a year I will programming 3D animation programs that are even greater than what is sold for that huge money. I say this because I know He who have called me is Mighty..

      • Peter May 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

        Hey Kojo. I’m a Christian who does computer graphics and programming, and I became convicted of piracy a few years ago myself too! Thought I’d send you a message as your situation sounds just like mine lol. It’s always encouraging to hear about other Christian brothers and sisters trying to live in righteousness, especially in the same areas I

        I live in the Caribbean, and the price of the professional software I used to use like Softimage XSI is 1000’s of US dollars!

        It was difficult to get myself off of dependence on them, but there’s some really good free/open source alternatives. These are the best and are popular, so you’ve probably heard of them already.

        Blender3d-3d animation/modeling/rendering

        Gimp- can do everything Photoshop can, but takes some getting used to.

        OpenOffice- great Microsoft office substitute

        I started using Linux Ubuntu also to stop pirating Windows also!

        When I mention that I don’t use pirated things, and only use free things or what I pay for, other Christians look at me like I’m speaking nonsense, to them that seems like a non-issue, as it was to me.

        God requires holiness in every area, and for me doing that is a real struggle(& I think for many others it’s not ’cause they let piracy and other sin “slide”), to try to be in Godliness, in every area of my life, but I think it’s the only way to live in this vapour of a life. I suppose that’s taking up your cross and following him!

        God bless and take care,
        Peter.

        • frederick October 23, 2011 at 12:01 am #

          hi peter
          i read your post, and it really encourages me, i’m also doing 3d, in 3ds max, and autocad, but as God convicted me regarding this piracy im starting to think and get rid with all of my pirated software but after this i don’t know were to start!! i’m really bless i read your post! cause i was thinking to quit my job and do something that doesn’t require 3d ! but this is my line of work!hope you could give me advice!! thanks!

      • frederick October 22, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

        hi kojo yeboah

        as i discover about this piracy issue i’m really struck because more or less i have 500gb downloaded file that i usually use in 3d, and i uses 3ds max and autocad that is pirated also, and i dont know if the company i’m working with is using a license software
        for now i’m really struggling what to do,Because all the software i use is very expensive if im going to purchase it!!hope someone will give me advice.

  7. Emperor MAR June 18, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    Phil Gons,

    Is not spreading God’s truth to the world more important than making a living off of it?

    Look at 2 Thessalonians 3 which you referenced. (v7-8)
    “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.”
    Paul is saying how he worked night and day to not be a burden to anyone and he also tells us to follow his example. Do you think Paul would have charged the Thessalonians for his letters to them?

    If spiritual is truly worth more than the physical wouldn’t we consider God’s truth to be priceless and give it away to those who need it? Instead we say “I’ve got life changing truth and I’ll give it to you but it’s gonna cost ya”

    In Luke 10 the 72 were spreading God’s word freely. Luke 10:7 says “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.”
    Whatever they give you it doesn’t say to demand a certain amount of food from them before you give them truth. God is our provider. In Luke 10 they didn’t take money with them and they didn’t know when they would run into men of peace, they were trusting God to provide for them as they share His truth.

    I’m not saying everything should be free but everything should be more than readily available to be free. Honestly if I post on the web too much scripture from a copyrighted version of the Bible like the NIV then I have broken the law for exhibiting God’s word? That doesn’t red flag to you as wrong?
    It is copyrighting that is the real problem.

    I’m going to leave you with this scripture showing that it is ok to make a living from God’s work but perhaps that is not the best way to go about it. I’ll let you decide

    1 Corinthians 9:9-19
    “For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
    But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

    But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
    Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”

    • Peter May 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      Hey Emperor MAR,

      You’ve spoken alot of truth there. I believe that while there are probably some legit uses of copyrighting, alot of it is dishonest.

      On the subject of price, I believe that the pricing of most software and digital media doesn’t use an honest method. But as Jesus said, render onto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s. I believe an honest method will be for one to be able to share and digital content that you buy with about 3 different people, as unlike physical things, digital s/w is make once, copy a baggillion times for minimal to no cost. I’ll should soon be back to working on creating video games, and that as well as any other software I produce, will be sold under that model, which I believe is the honest one.

      I also think, that alot of the digital Christian content out there, as well as secular content, can be sold under model “pay how much you can model”, that’s been proven to work by RadioHead selling their album as such. I also believe that people shouldn’t be denied hearing some gospel message because they DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY!

      I could understand in some cases, such as where the program very high quality, and is produced at a very high cost, they’ll need to charge, but I think that the core message should be available for free somehow, even if it’s in some stripped down form.

      I have to give this more thought, but I can intuitively tell that something is not right/entirely honest about digital goods’ pricing, and even more so the pricing of Christian material.

      God bless,
      Peter.

  8. Eric z February 25, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    In the Bible it says that we should not steal. So if we pirate different softwares, videos, or songs, we are sinning. I think that perhaps what Mr. Phil Gons meant by making a living from God’s works is just to make a point that they too should be paid for what they have done and they also need money to live off of and to provide for their families. Now, I indeed think that the Scripture, the translations of the Scripture and other works related should be given away for free. Especially for those people who don’t have any money and for some reason can not afford to buy a Bible or some reasons like that. So, why can’t we get to know the people who need the materials and the Scripture personally, reach out a helping hand and just buy it for them.

  9. Jake August 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    It’s actually more complicated than calling it stealing. Give these people a little more grace for their apparent “sin.” I wouldn’t be so fast to judge their actions. Everyone reaps what they sow. If they pirate something they see as “shiny and valuable” it will simply become like ash and dust to them. They won’t be able to retain the value of what they worked so hard to obtain. Yet there are still “shades of gray.” Shareware has restrictions, but freeware is free forever. Other software and media should be paid for to get the full-functionality of the program/software. Pirated copies often don’t retain the “full feeling” the “full effect” that one would otherwise value if they paid for it.

    I’m a computer geek, so I know that “piracy” online has its civil law definitions and principles meant to protect electronic media and software. The idea of “open source” software and sharing is more closely aligned with a “socialistic” view as proposed even in the book of Acts, where all the disciples were together, sharing all things, calling nothing their own. Everyone shared.

    There are new laws coming out every day to protect the developers and to try and make it harder for someone to “unlock” their work. For the computer savvy, it’s not hard to find ways around the “locked doors” to freely use what might cost hundreds of dollars on the market.

    I do not encourage people to learn these “computer skills” to use for their own advantage. Paying for something that is well-designed and well-produced is very kind, and right.

    I purchased this great software of the Bible called “Glo” even though I probably could have found a free copy online (or not, it’s a huge pile of CDs to install!). The same goes for most people who pay for things, even if they “know they could have stolen it and gotten away with it.” I prefer the feeling of satisfaction and virtue that goes along with paying the price. Besides, had I “pirated” this, it would have taken perhaps days just to download, and maybe longer to mount, or to try and figure out how to get it working like it was “out of the box” from the factory. Who wants to waste all that time?

    There is something so much more rewarding about having the actual disc, and not having to “work” to try and obtain something for free. Indeed, pirates do have to know what they are doing, and they have to be willing to spend time and energy trying to get a “valid” version of what they’re looking for, and be able to “unlock it” etc.

    Truly, it is not as rewarding to go through all the trouble to obtain these products freely. Typically, the software someone pirates is not appreciated – and they won’t get much joy or satisfaction out of that product. They don’t really know the value of it in its original form.

  10. Ian March 2, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    I am truly confused and bothered by such things for a very long time. I have a laptop and using it in as my personal belongings not for office work. So all the softwares Im using are pirated one. Do I have to buy an Original one for in fact it all cost maybe 4000 dollars or less for again I just use it for my learning? Am I sinning against the Lord?

  11. Ian March 2, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    One thing also like to spread the information, I think satan is luring many people not only christians to download the softwares with “CRACK” . You see, the keygen is develop by crackers with an EVIL mark, design, interface and information on it, specially the notepad says they are evil doers. I truly admit my sin and repent from downloading such things and little by little removing it.

    Can you give more information about this, is this the NEW WAY of penetrating people from very expensive software to use it easily by downloading it from illegal sites?

  12. Mate April 8, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Is it okay to upgrade my windows vista from 32bit to 64bit, since the key of 32bit home premium works on both?

  13. rean August 30, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    Get Real: The Anti-Piracy Campaign

    If you think the purchase of an original quality CD will only benefit you — you are wrong. Countless others you may not know or will never meet are impacted by your decision to Get Real.

    By Getting Real Christian music through legal means, you are privileged with the following:

    1.You strengthen the Gospel Music industry.
    2. You pay royalties or dues to the Christian artists you admire.
    3. You help songwriters continue to make a decent living.
    4. You help ministries.
    5. You provide legitimate jobs.

    Get Real and make a difference. Ask your friends to do the same.

  14. Juan October 14, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for the post. I have srarted cleaning up my PC of piracy software. I have bought alot of my piracy software. I only need to buy windows now then im done cleaning my PC.

  15. mckaule August 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    after about a year after I got saved I was convicted that pirated software is stealing. I had it on my PC and I had to install illegal software in my working place. It bothered me alot and I couldn’t sleep because of that and had no peace in my heart. Finally I bought windows 7 for my PC and changed all illegal soft to freeware I found and that was ok but then Lord showed me that it’s not enough and that I’m still doing it on my job. Finally I left my well paid job and it was a very difficult step for me, and returned to live with my parents and I know that Lord has a different plan and purpose for me. I trusted in what is written in the Bible. Now I’m planning to grow strawberry as my father does and serve the Lord and I’m much happier at the moment than I was before. I know that HE has a plan for everyone of us and if there is a conviction in your heart than it means that you are doing wrong and you have to repent and then the blessing from God will come upon you and He will lead you where you belong according to His will. HE knows best what you need. May Jesus bless you..

  16. Juan February 2, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Software piracy is unauthorized use, not stealing.

  17. Dan June 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Another interesting issue here is what about watching illegally posted youtube videos? So one uploads a Christian or any other DVD movie or music, and it is there on youtube for years, millions of people watch it. Is it a sin to watch such movies or listen to such music? You may say no. Ok, then why is it a sin when you download the same material from a website? You may say it’s helping piracy to progress. But isn’t watching youtube videos helping youtube?

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