Are Copyrights Valid As It Relates to Islamic Content That Benefits Muslims, or Can We Freely Download and Share It?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: I am writing this in response to the unreasonable fees that some Islamic companies charge for audio cd’s.  To purchase some cds with educational and inspiration religious content, one must at times pay  as much as $80. I question the reasoning behind the outrageous pricing of these products. I feel that we should take some steps to make important knowledge of Islam available for all. These cd’s and lectures of prominent scholars should be available for anyone who wants to learn their religion better. I personally have many lectures available in mp3 format. I would be willing to share them with others. It is time we distribute the knowledge of the deen to all who may need (which is the majority of the Muslim ummah).

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Walaikum assalam,

The vast majority of the fuqaha of our times, and certainly those who actually understand the issue, have declared that copyright laws are absolutely binding, for many reasons.

The most basic is that in our times intellectual property is the most valuable of assets in society, and not considering its worth has great societal harm.

Secondly, in the socio-economic dynamics of our times, copyright laws do not hinder the spread of knowledge; rather, they encourage it, as they enable people to be duly compensated for their time and efforts. In the past, scholars and authors were supported by the rulers and through a powerful system of religious endowments (awqaf) that enabled them to devote themselves to their pursuits without concern for providing for themselves or for their families. Now, this is not the case. The scholars say, “Whoever is ignorant of their times is not a person of knowledge.”

Thirdly, it is the law. Muslims are duty-bound, by their religion, to obey the law in everything that is not absolutely against the Shariah.

Fourth, when it comes to matters of halal and haram, it is the duty of believers to seek the guidance of knowledgeable scholars. The scholars hold copyright to be binding. Many of the most brilliant minds of our times, including Shaykh al-Buti, Shaykh Zuhayli, Shaykh Taqi Usmani, Shaykh Sunbuhli, and others, including the major fiqh councils, have declared it sinful to break copyright laws.

Fifth, anyone who knows about the cost of producing quality Islamic literature and materials, such as those Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Allah preserve him) and others have struggled so hard to produce, understands that such projects are major undertakings. As such, we, as concerned Muslims, should encourage everyone and their aunts to go out and buy this stuff. We’ll buy new Nike shoes for $100. We’ll get a pair of jeans for I don’t know how much… But we won’t pay a reasonable amount for something that will transform our lives for the better in this world and the next?