I've come across people who claim piracy to be a theft that breaks one of the Ten Commandments (a sin against God). Yet, I've considered the matter and opined the following.

1) Equal Opportunities: It is a given, taking into consideration poor countries like India also, that not everyone is in a position to earn as much as his fellow brother, be that due to being born in poor circumstances, in the schooling privileges given him, in mental gifts given him, as in intelligence, ability to learn, ability to carry out work. Everyone has differences in this regard. There is also the point of what he can afford given the economic status of his neighbourhood, wealth and health of his families that he must earn for too.

2) Taking note of the above, Unfair Pricing and Class Distinction: It always amazes me when a person who is well above his means wants to force a doctrine of morality on others, in that piracy is a theft. I will just say, let pricing be governed according to class. Let the poor pay one thing, let the middle class pay one thing, and let the rich pay thrice the amount for his every need than the poor. And let's see if the "fairness" of the hearts of the rich is willing to still cope with such.

3) Is piracy immoral: The Bible does mention that anything that is kept away from you unfairly, you have the right to take it. What I think of that, I will not say, but I mentioned it as it might be related to this.

What does the Church think about the morality of piracy?

  • On your 3rd point you forgot to mention Luke 6:30 if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Mar 13 '14 at 22:45
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    possible duplicate of Is breaking copyright law a sin? Mar 14 '14 at 1:47
  • Welcome to the site! This next is just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? Mar 14 '14 at 1:47
  • @AaronKorn Uh, why should we not demand back our stolen possessions? Mar 14 '14 at 3:25
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    @AaronKorn that has nothing to do with whether the taking is wrong - just what should be done afterward.
    – Ryan Frame
    Mar 14 '14 at 15:12

The Catechism is explicit.

1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

1756 It is an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

Theft of food in order to sustain life is not a moral act and cannot be justified by circumstances, even though responsibility might be diminished by starvation. That is, although the act is wrong, culpability is reduced and punishment might be mitigated because of the extreme circumstances.

"Piracy of information and media" is not essential to the preservation of life.

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    in some cases, I don't understand how piracy is considered theft? I this scenario... Mar 14 '14 at 4:01
  • 1: Jolly and Jim both own a shop. Jolly sells keyboards. She has 1 keyboard left, and its price is enough to make profit + be able to buy 2 more. Jim writes and sells his own music. He has 1 song to sell. One day, a stranger walks into Jolly's shop and steals her last keyboard - leaving Jolly with no more keyboards and not enough money to buy more stock. If business does not improve, Jolly may need to close up shop. This same stranger then walks home, Mar 14 '14 at 4:01
  • 2: plugs the keyboard in and searches for Jim's song on a torrent website, finds and downloads it for free. Jim is unaware that his song has been downloaded (freely) 1 more time. Why? Because he is not missing any stock. He still has what he is selling. Jim may also be suffering from financial burdon, not earning enough to feed him and/or others. He may even be in a worse state, financially, as a result of not earning enough income. But that's not the stranger's fault, because 1) Mar 14 '14 at 4:02
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    My answer answers all of these questions. Theft is never permitted (and "virtual" theft is still theft), although theft in case of dire need [eg stealing food to stay alive] is less culpable. Mar 14 '14 at 7:11
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    @Spike - the chatroom would be better for these discussions than a stream of comments.
    – Ryan Frame
    Mar 14 '14 at 15:14

To Sell is to Transfer Full Ownership

These anti-piracy laws seems to oppose private ownership / private property.

If I buy a CD, I should be able to copy it, lend it, etc., because I own it.

To charge the owner extra to use something he owns or to charge for how he uses it is a form of usury, which the Church has always condemned (cf. Pope Benedict XIV's Vix Pervenit), because usury "is to sell what does not exist" (St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica II-II q. 78 a. 1 c.).

Another question is: Is "intellectual property" even property? N. Stephan Kinsella's Against Intellectual Property (free audiobook) is an excellent treatment of this and related moral questions.

A Doubtful Law does not Bind

The Internet's Own Boy—the free documentary on Aaron Swartz,* who was famously (some contend unjustly) prosecuted for automating the downloads of thousands and thousands of articles from JSTOR, using MIT's subscription—begins with this quote that is reminiscent of the Catholic moral principle "lex dubia non obligat" ("an unclear law does not bind"):

Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?
—Henry David Thoreau

*Swartz, who died at 24 years old, was the driving force behind the creation of RSS, OpenLibrary, Internet Archive, Reddit, and Creative Commons licensing. He even had a project that aimed to make all court records available online.


As is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, evil is never morally acceptable. But, the culpability can depend on the circumstances and intention of the act.

However, your concerns are represented by on another qualifier found in the CCC: Some actions that can appear to be theft are not true theft.

The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing... ) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others. CCC 2408.

Whether there exists anyone in a circumstance wherein digital piracy is that person's only practical means of survival, or wherein the IP owner would knowingly consent, or wherein refusal would be contrary to reason or the universal destinations of goods 1, I couldn't definitively say. But, I would stress the importance of making such a decision, especially as the "pirate", with an informed conscience.

1. The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race to enjoy and be stewards of. Ownership of private property must be subordinate or in service to the common good of all.

  • It can be argued that though the goods in question mayn't be strictly necessary for bodily survival, it might just be necessary for psychological well-being, and may be compared to a child living in front of a bakery and not ever able to access an item like a delicious cake while he sees hundreds of people flocking in and enjoying such and coming out with smiles on their faces. Is piracy then immoral in all circumstances, especially when someone has not the means to pay the price. It, then seems, contrary to reason? Maybe the Catechism needs to expand more on the subject to include this topic? Mar 16 '14 at 17:17
  • Church doctrine is deliberately vague in respects that require the ruling of an informed conscience.
    – svidgen
    Mar 16 '14 at 18:15
  • What's the relevance of the first paragraph exactly?
    – BCLC
    Feb 1 '16 at 4:16
  • @BCLC To respond to apparent concerns in the question regarding whether piracy (or any immoral act) may be morally permissible on the general grounds that "the other guy isn't playing nice." And the point of the remainder of the answer is that, by definition, it isn't actually piracy if you can reasonably presume you have the other guy's permission.
    – svidgen
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:23
  • @svidgen Where did OP say anything like that?
    – BCLC
    Feb 1 '16 at 18:57

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