What is the penalty for downloading stuff illegally?

Downloading music, movies, books and stuff illegally is considered a cyber crime because it violates the rights of producers. Some say that it is same as stealing. It is indeed a kind of stealing, yes but, what should be the penalty for this crime? Should it be the same penalty with that of theft? I had downloaded some stuff illegally several times in the past. Should my hand be amputated?

The penalty of hand amputation (Al-Maida 5:8) which is determined against “qualified theft” is not a penalty for all kinds of violations against personal assets.

One of the conditions of qualified theft is that the stolen property should be somewhere preserved and hard to steal from. Downloading illegally is something that everybody can easily accomplish, which makes this crime an example of “petty larceny”, not mentioning that the copyright of downloaded property should be reserved by a natural or legal person. Works that are not protected by copyrights cannot be subject to a violation of right.

The penalty for this crime should be determined based on the general principle of equivalence which is expressed by the phrase: “The recompense of an evil act is an evil one equal to it. (…)” (Al-Shura / The Consultation 42:40). Thus, the penalty should consist of (1) returning the calculated economic value of stolen property to its rightful owner, (2) paying the same amount as a Fine to common good, (3) deprivation (forfeiture) of internet usage due to the misuse/abuse.

We can give an example like this: Jack illegally downloads an e-book and shares it with 9 friends. The price of the e-book is 10$. That makes the economic loss of its rightful owner 100$. In this situation, Jack should pay 100$ to the book’s rightful owner, and 100$ fine to common good as a penalty for violating the public right of peace, and he should forfeit the right of internet usage until he shows good behavior.

Crimes that are committed for commercial intentions should be fined severely according to the economic damage done against victims. In these situations, the criminals should forfeit the right of business additionally to the right of internet usage until their good behavior is observed. These types of penalties can easily be adopted and executed considering the technologic possibilities in our day.

Suat Erdoğan

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Date: Feb 26, 2013