The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Copyright and Copywrong

with 6 comments

  1. I sat in a shiur a few weeks ago given by a rising star presently learning for a dayonus semichah (ordination as a judge of Jewish civil law) in a prestigious institution in America.
  2. The handout included a diagram which he mentioned he had copied from a particular contemporary edition of a standard Jewish work.
  3. After the shiur I suggested that he should add to the handout the details of the permission given by the copyright owner for the reproduction, in order to avoid the prohibition of ma’aris ho’ayin (creating reasonable suspicion that he might have behaved improperly).  He beamingly replied that this was why he had mentioned that he had copied the diagram, because that made it okay.
  4. I had to explain that telling people where you’ve copied from doesn’t make the copying lawful: any more than it becomes lawful for me to steal money from your pocket just because I tell the shopkeeper where I pinched it from when I spend it.
  5. He thanked me politely, but I’m not sure he was convinced.
  6. And he is going to be a dayan …
  7. (Even if they hadn’t got around on the course to learning about intellectual property, you would hope that they would enter the course with enough common sense to work out for themselves that just saying where you got something doesn’t make it yours.)
  8. It’s about time that everyone got the message that any shiur handout sheet that contains a reproduction from any work that is likely to be under copyright protection anywhere in the world should be treated like poison and avoided unless it clearly states that permission was sought and obtained, and recites compliance with any conditions.
  9. (Anyone who thinks that so long as it’s only a few pages nobody will care is wrong: a few years ago Rabbi Cooper ztz’l asked me to make a few copies of the Terumah and Ma’ser Brochos from the Artscroll Siddur – I contacted Artscroll and although I only wanted to make a few copies for non-commercial use they were rightly careful to inquire into the precise circumstances, and they kindly gave their permission on specified conditions.)
  10. Tzion b’mishpot tipodeh – which roughly translates as “Until we bring up our youngsters with a reasonably instinctive understanding of right and wrong, and an appreciation of the difference between meum and tuum, we might as well save ourselves the trouble of praying beseechingly and endearingly for Moschiach to come.”

Written by Daniel Greenberg

January 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I’m pretty sure this mindset comes from the way in which Jewish texts themselves cite things. Eg “Rabbi X taught in the name of Rabbi Y etc”. Well, Rabbi Y wasn’t explicitly required to give permission for Rabbi X to transmit his teaching in the time of the gemorah, so…

    Paul Graeme Grant

    January 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

  2. It’s always interesting to me how halachic perspectives on copyright are influenced by assumptions they make as to the type of work they’re dealing with. For example, there are some opinions that there is no such thing as copyright in torah works, because we want as many people as possible to be able to learn it. An arguable view (though I think a minority one), and analogous to “public interest” concerns in secular copyright law.

    [Not, of course, to ignore the many other factors – as a minimum, dina d’malchuta would apply.]


    January 3, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    • The (minority – and wrong) opinion that there is no copyright in Torah works relates only to the question of whether intellectual property rights arise whether claimed or not: a statement in a book that rights are reserved and that it may not be copied without permission amounts to a condition of the contract between the buyer and seller, and creates a property right based on contract.

      Daniel Greenberg

      January 3, 2017 at 6:11 pm

  3. Well said and timely. There are plenty of Jewish schools that think it okay to photocopy sheets for pupils ‘ use that people have spent time preparing and publishing. The school buys one copy and pays no royalties whatsoever

    Martin Kaye

    January 5, 2017 at 1:10 pm

  4. Interesting that you have a debate going on this “safe” subject yet have attracted no comments at all on the much more humanly serious issue you raised (correctly in my view) in your previous blog of a few days ago. Maybe you are right – people don’t care what a man may (allegedly) have done, as long as the tune is nice (if you really think it is!).


    January 5, 2017 at 4:55 pm

  5. A basic tenant of both responsibility and respect (and legality) – some don’t need to be taught (it is inherent) – others do, and it is important that they are supported in this matter


    January 30, 2019 at 12:54 am

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