How would someone convince someone else there is no Biblical prohibition on eating dogs? How would someone convince someone else that eating a dog is not immoral? As per celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:
It’s an artificial construct of our society, a cultural decision, to make pets out of dogs and meat out of pigs. Both animals could be used the other way round, although pigs probably do make better meat than dogs and dogs better pets than pigs, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
The statement might be at first, appalling, but is it true? In order to address issues like these, it is important to set aside culturally based beliefs. In China, dogs are often on the menu. In the United States, the practice is outlawed in many States. Who is right and who is wrong, and how would one convince the other?
To those who care more about tradition than morality, it does not matter that God himself commanded us to eat dogs:
Act 10:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Act 10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
Act 10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
Act 10:15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
When God abolished the Kosher food laws, this included the prohibition on eating dogs. Paul follows this up by saying do not let people judge you in what you eat (Col 2:16). If using the Bible as the source for right and wrong, eating dogs is definitely not wrong, despite the inclinations of American culture.
In order to address concepts from a neutral point of view, it is important to isolate and remove cultural prejudices. In regards to copyright, the same must be done. When the Bible talks about stealing, we cannot just assume this applies to intangible concepts in addition to physical property. We cannot just assume when the Bible talks about workers and what is owed, it applies to those who create art and other media who have no agreement with the end user. We cannot assume that when the modern world includes copyright violation in their definition of theft, that is also applies to the Biblical concept of theft. We cannot assume that which we are trying to prove.
Starting at the ground up, the proponents of Intellectual Property rights have a lot of work to do. They first need to define Intellectual Property. This is an impossible task in and of itself. They then need to show that there is such thing as concepts, patterns, or processes which can be owned. This is a concept foreign to the Bible. The Bible is replete with references to inventions, songs, and artisan works which today would be deeply copyrighted. Paul, himself, carries around books and was a tentmaker. The psalms in the book of Psalms are both poetry and songs. The Israelites created works of art (such as the golden calf and the Ark of the Covenant), they created writings and songs (as evident from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible), and they used innovative technology (such as Iron).
Iron is a particular example of Intellectual Property because for a long time Israel did not use or have access to it, and that fact impeded their military efforts. Genesis records the first (recorded) teacher of the art of Ironmaking:
Gen 4:22 And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.
Tubalcain might or might not have invented Iron Working, but he definitely did not invent the myriad of uses of it. The Canaanites eventually figured out a way to apply it to their chariots and were able to overcome Israel:
Jdg 1:19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
Other nations figured out how to craft iron weapons such as swords and arrow tips. The Philistines used iron to overcome Israel. They had a monopoly of the sources and manufacturing techniques of this metal. The Bible records in Judges how the Israelites lost wars and were oppressed due to lack of iron technology:
1Sa 13:19 Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:
Jdg 5:8 … was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
Israel had to eventually adopt the practices of their neighbors to become militarily sound, definitely violating some individual’s “Intellectual Property” in the process. Once Israel started using Iron, it never went out of use. In Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions the author uses arrow tips as an example. The Israelites did not invent iron arrow tips or iron chariots. They “stole” these technologies from their neighbors.
If someone wishes to argue that the Canaanites first stole the technology and then Israel stole it from them, this is precisely what proponents of Intellectual Property wish to stop on P2P technology. Those hosting the files are not the original “thieves” but are well down the chain. Secondary stealing, such as if a stranger steals my car and then another stranger steals it from them, does not give the second person any right to my property.
The point of all this is that Israel adopted many customs, processes, and intellectual properties of their neighbors. Did they pay the originators? Is there any hint at owning someone something for adopting their ideas? Intellectual Property is just not found in the Bible, despite consistent references to technology, innovation, and art. This becomes even more glaring of a problem for proponents, when one considers that over 600 rules are listed in the Old Testament, none of which hint at anything approximating Intellectual Property.
Stealing is used often. It is used both figuratively and literally. In both uses, it is never used for Intellectual Property. When the Bible states “thou shalt not steal”, it is referring to tangible goods that can no longer be used by the owner. The Hebrew word for “steal” is used in the Bible as follows:
Cattle – Gen 30:33, Exo 22:1
Idols – Gen 31:19, Gen 31:30, Gen 31:32, Gen 31:39
Humans – Gen 40:15, Exo 21:16, Deu 24:7, 2Ki 11:2, 2Ch 22:11
Money – Gen 44:8
Stuff – Exo 22:7, Exo 22:12, Jos 7:11
Bones – 2Sa 21:12
Water – Pro 9:17
God’s words – Jer 23:30
Figurative: To win over – 2Sa 15:6
Figurative: Carry Away – 2Sa 19:41, Job 21:18, Job 27:20
Figurative: Sneaking – Gen 31:20, Gen 31:26, Gen 31:27, 2Sa 19:3
This list is fairly exhaustive, only excluding general statements without indication of item being stolen. The only reference that can conceivably be linked to intellectual property is the one about God’s words. This is referencing false prophets parroting God’s prophets. In this case, is this a literal or figurative use of the term? Can it be applied to works such as novels and paintings? The verse alone is not a compelling argument that God has copyrighted his words and that others can do the same. Instead God is concerned about plagiarism and misattribution. It seems people were taking God’s words, maligning them, and vulgarizing them. To settle the question of Intellectual Property, we might ask “would God be for or against these false prophets repeating the words of Jeremiah and sourcing Jeremiah?” If the answer is no, this is not about Intellectual Property.
The fact that any of these “stealing” verses do not apply to Intellectual Property is compounded by the prescribed penalties for stealing. The penalty for stealing, in the Bible, is paying back a multiple of what was stolen:
Exo 22:1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep…
Exo 22:7 If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double.
How does this apply to Intellectual Property, which can be multiplied at whim? If one person copies one mp3, do they have to send 3 mp3 copies back to the owner? The payments are always “in kind”, sheep for sheep, ox for ox, and money for money. The penalties for theft just do not apply to Intellectual Property. Notice also, the restitution is based on current value, not future projected value and not guestimated losses in projected earnings.
It should also be noted that stealing implies loss of the original to owner:
Oba 1:5 If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough?…
It is telling that the Hebrew word for Robber, literally means “destruction”. The Hebrew word for Thief is from the Hebrew word for Steal, literally meaning “to carry away”. Both these imply a loss. A robber does not steal a chair and then leave the chair at the house for the original owner to use. Something must be taken or destroyed for theft to occur. Ideas, concepts, and words cannot be lost. A physical book might be carried away, but if someone memorizes the Bible (imagine if the King James copyright did not lapse) then they are not stealing away the words.
It is often claimed that copyright violations, such as printing off a book or duplicating a song, are defrauding a workman of his wages. But this is not a solid interpretation of the verses. Let’s view one claimed in support of copyright:
Jer 22:13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;
The Jeremiah verse deals with using a neighbor’s service without wages. This is in direct context of “building his house”. This is not about getting tangential benefits from someone else’s work. If my neighbor cuts his lawn and repaints his house, my house’s value goes up. Do I then owe him anything? No, he is doing a job from which he should not expect any compensation from others. He is not working for me in any sense of a contract. I never agreed to pay him and he never agreed to work. If I then proceed to paint my house and mow my lawn to increase my property value even further, I do not owe him anything for the idea.
If he takes it upon himself to come over to my house and mow my lawn, again I do not owe him anything (think of the news story in which a robber cleaned someone’s house and left them an invoice). In Jeremiah, it is implied that there is mutual consent or some sort of agreement. Working on your own does not entitle you to someone else’s money, no matter how much it benefits them.
Take then the music artist whose mp3 is downloaded for free. Some might argue that you are building up your standard of living by consuming free entertainment, and that you are defrauding your neighbor who provided that entertainment. But imagine I visited a tourist destination. These places are filled with street performers. They dance or do tricks for money. If I stop and watch them, am I now obligated to pay? By the nature of their work, they have no expectation of compensation. There are natural spill-over effects of art (including software development, painting, and music). People, because they have thinking minds, will catalogue, reproduce and modify their experiences. People have the right to their own perceptions. It is unreasonable to use the state to then force payment between individuals for these effects.
It is likewise immoral to have the state use theft to enforce copyright restrictions. Remember, real theft involves taking or depriving use. If the state says that there are only certain data arrangements of 1s and 0s that someone can have on their computer then this is tantamount to theft. People no longer have full use of their computer. If the state confiscates a contraband football jersey, again, real theft is taking place. Ironically, supporters of copyright support theft of real property.
The Bible does not teach intellectual property. Copyright and patents did not exist in ancient Israel (or the rest of the ancient world). Instead they are a modern conception, forced into the Bible by modern Christians who think that their ways are higher than God’s. Instead of defending property rights, they destroy property rights to further their need to control people. They are like the Pharisees who built man made laws on top of God’s laws. Let Matthew 15:8 be the warning:
Mat 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
Mat 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.