Is It Right For Christians To Use Torrents?

“Even though it is technically stealing copyrighted material, I feel like if one’s intentions are not to actually steal and ruin the lives of the artist, actor, etc. then it should be fine. With that said, I do believe that making copies and distributing them for profit is definitely illegal.

Update: Okay this is a personal struggle of mine. I know downloading is illegal but I can’t bring myself to stop doing it. Partly because I don’t think it is wrong and also partly because my source of entertainment is largely from downloading.”

Thus went the post of a person who started a fierce public discussion by asking whether File-sharing, popularly known as using “Torrents”, is morally right or wrong for Christians. This post received a striking range of comments, many offering support.

One woman though, responded this way-

“If he or she (the creator of the movie or the song) has decided to offer up his or her creation as merchandise to be bought, then it may just be that to properly admire, you need to purchase” it.

Another guy was generously mean –

“Naw dude. You are going straight to hell”.

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This post is an invitation to hear just about anybody’s thoughts on this matter – you don’t have to be Christian to be downloading movies or songs using Torrents, you know.  🙂

Below are justifications from either side of the debate. I lean toward the “Copying is wrong” side. Please feel free to write in with better arguments that I may have completely missed.

1. Art belongs to everybody. Art is a reflection of society so it is a copy of what is happening in the society. Nobody has rights to the life of the society, and all artists create by copying to some degree. It’s at the edge of copying that creativity happens. It is never purely invented, it’s discovery and discoveries never belong to one person to own and make money. And that is why File-sharing is not wrong.

Counter – Let the worker decide if the work is free or not. There is no denying that art is partly creativity and partly copy. But then, no engineer, businessman, writer or singer can earn anything because whatever they do is essentially non-original. If originality should be used as the measure of earning income, how can anyone claim ownership over anything?

People are paid not only for originality but for the work put in to build on the original. Is it unfair for artists to earn from their labour? By this logic, farmers should not receive any money- because they are not doing anything original. They might improvise but even the raw material (earth, sunlight, seeds) don’t belong to them.

Just like God owns the sun, stars and the planets, it is only fair that temporary, earthly ownership be established and honoured. This is also the basis for God finally holding men accountable for their own work.

It is beautiful and gracious when artists both online and on the streets, who need to feed their children and who need to pay their bills, decide to give away their work for free- here is one Christian website that does that.

But who are we to decide for them? “Are we in the place of God”?

2. Uploading files is illegal in India but downloading is not. Why are you imposing a law of your own that we cannot download? Isn’t that legalism?

Counter – Is downloading without the owner’s consent, right in God’s sight? It is great to see when we Christians submit to the laws of the government as the Bible says we should (Romans 13:1-7). Downloading from file-sharing websites maybe legal in India, but is our right to be entertained more important that the owner’s rights to earn profits from the sale of their product- online or offline?

We need to “cut-and-paste”, not “copy-and-paste” movies, songs or TV series that are not up for mass-distribution without the director, producer or artist’s consent. Otherwise we are just stealing possible sales from an artist rightly expecting earning due to their hard work.
Since we are talking legality, this news report might be helpful- actually, shocking.

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3. I actually respect copyright laws and had intended to only buy original stuff. But recently, I bought a DVD that played well only 2-3 times. Then it started getting stuck while playing, developed scratches and now is hardly usable. I purchased a USB drive that crashed after 3 months of use. We are being sold sub-standard work while being promised great quality. Why should I not get the right-quality when I am paying for it? I might as well download a better copy from Torrents, right?

Counter – Surely, we are called to not return evil for evil? It is real. Many consumers are sold products or services that are bad quality. But such a response shows either an eagerness to get what we think we deserve at any cost, or an attitude that refuses to accept bad service even if God sends it our way. Yes, sometimes we must fight for consumer rights. Sometimes we will see though, that we can get only so much for our precious money in a fallen world.

But does this give me permission to increase the corruption this world is already immersed in? Of course, we should put our hard work in letting the artist or producer know that such low-quality stuff is being sold in their name. And who knows, we could even ask for a better product via e-mail or phone.

We need to be careful, to not believe the lie that God is not in control of the times when we get cheated by a DVD-maker. We are also telling anyone who is watching that we are unable to be content with the situations we have sovereignly been placed in.

Because I was wronged, do I have a right to now avenge myself in any way I choose? Then I may not have even properly understood the incredible Good News Jesus offered me when I was deep in sin.

“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets. (Matt. 7:12, GNB).

4. I am a student and I can’t afford the mind-boggling prices of songs and movies! I am sure God wants me to learn much from the latest Christian music artists and movies that speak into relevant matters.
Counter – Maybe God knows your needs better than you do? Some of these products are priced to create large profits. Personally, I wonder if there could be a regulatory body that could make these prices a bit more affordable across the world. But then, here is something we need to know- we live in a world that thinks possessing more stuff and acquiring more things is the right way to progress.

This selfish line of thinking is probably at the heart of consumerism. We have assumed that having 200 artists and possessing 150 GB worth of Christian music is normal and essential for our sanctification. Last time I checked with the Bible, Jesus preached something completely different (Matt.16:24).

Does our God know about these expensive albums? Yes. Does He need these songs to make His church holy? No, He doesn’t.

Mr. X is an upcoming Christian singer who felt called to create good Christian music. His earnings support his wife, four children and two missionaries in Cambodia. Mr. X could have sold 10,500 more copies of his latest album but was affected financially by his own fans and fellow Christians who downloaded that many copies of his album from file-sharing websites, instead of buying them.

Is he more popular because of those downloads? Yes.

Are more Christians encouraged because of his powerful songs? Yes.

Will his daughter be able to afford an education this year?

I really hope that decision won’t be hindered by his fans’ download history.

“Like all other segments of the music industry, our album sales have been affected by the ongoing music piracy committed by consumers

“If you download music using the Internet without paying to do so, you are robbing its creators of the right to make a living-and that includes every artist nominated for an award tonight”.

– Gospel Music Association President, John W. Styll.

4 Replies to “Is It Right For Christians To Use Torrents?”

  1. Thanks for the article, Aravind!

    I’ve always been in the dark whenever it came to making decisions I thought would please God and keep me holy.

    But of late, I’ve realized one thing : when a person is closely knit to God and the scriptures, when he communes with Him daily and walks closer and closer as the days go by, something wonderful begins to happen – God starts making him more and more sensitive to sin. And that is a really, really good sign.

    What is considered “okay”, now, may have been an obvious “NO-NO”, a couple decades back. And for a child of God, it’s a reverse-process: what he considers “okay” now, will, in time, as he grows closer in his walk with God, reveal to him that it only glorified his self and not God, and hence counts as sin. It is a VERY humbling feeling when it occurs to a person that the things he always did thinking nothing was wrong, were something that never brought any glory to God.

    Sensitivity to sin is directly proportional to one’s knowledge of God.

    I remember a preacher who, in his seminary days as a young student, had gone with his friend to borrow a book from the library. There were two copies on the shelf. This preacher reached out for both and saw that one had it’s binding and pages coming out a little. He gave it to his friend and took home the good-looking copy. That very day, God laid such a burden on his heart that he started weeping uncontrollably for what he’d just done. He then phoned his friend, called him home, confessed to him what he had done, and gave him the good copy.

    That, is nothing short of a work of God in the heart of someone He really, really loves. 🙂

    1. Paritosh man!! What a bolt from the Bengaluru? 🙂
      Thank you for writing in bro!
      Wow, i love what you share here because i bet it’s true. And that illustration of the guy who exchanged the books in repentance, amazing how Jesus works in the unseen but causes upheaval.
      You are right, you and I need to be extremely careful to heed our thoughts and act in integrity toward what we have been taught by the Lord from His Word.
      Until a few years back, I had NO idea using Torrents would be dishonouring to God.
      And here we are today. May your convictions lead you to quick action! Godspeed- keep writing in!

  2. There seems to be an assumption that if someone downloads an album then somebody has lost money out of it.. well, if I download an album I had no intention of buying then they have not lost anything. More to the point, music piracy is a convenient attempt to shift the blame from music company owners who rip off artists on to the consumer. Also, I can think of nothing more sinful than capitalism. Remember “my God shall supply all your needs”. Does God give artistic gifts to Christians for Gods glory and to bless the Church or to become rich?

    1. Hi Darren,
      Thanks for reading and responding!
      I don’t think it has to be either “use gifts for God’s glory” OR “earn money using God-given talents”. Push that logic further and soon, Apostle Paul and missionaries today would have had no right to get paid for doing missions, which I am sure you agree, is unbiblical. If lawyers and doctors can use their profession to earn money, why can’t musicians? Is theirs alone a wrong act?

      Also, if it is true that downloading songs without permission is equivalent to stealing (the definition of piracy), then it does not matter if you’ve been using them or not. Push this logic to its natural end and a thief might say “I stole the car, but it’s been lying untouched in the garage, therefore I am innocent!”.

      I agree with you about music companies to some extent. Some copyright laws are downright ridiculous 🙁 and I yearn for the day all artists will have enough to freely share their creativity. My collection of music comes from artists who willingly give away their music. This does not mean they do not OWN that music. Therefore, whether music companies deserve the money or not, the Lord expects me to pay ALL dues as the law of the land prescribes. Not just the law, even the artists themselves in our country have openly appealed to not download their songs but to buy it. No one has the rights to steal someone else’s bread & butter!

      Finally, I am not sure why you would call capitalism the worst sin when the Bible or Jesus does not make that statement. It is our hearts that makes stuff sinful. It’s we who corrupt capitalism and we who corrupt socialism with our selfish ways.

      Thank you for writing and helping me think through these matters,

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