Hello. I thought I would try to clarify some misconceptions about copyrights. Copyright laws do not protect raw information or data per se, but the physical arrangement and embodiment of that data, eg literary expression, art works, translations etc etc. Subject to certain qualifiers, copyright laws will endow the holder of the copyright (typically the writer/artist or his usual assignee the publisher) with a fixed term monopoly to exclude the rest of the world from exploiting the copyright work. European copyright laws may tag on additional non-economic copyrights that survive even after all copyrights are assigned by the author.
Copyright doesn't just protect ownership over a particular physical arrangement and embodiment of information (ex: a chocolate cake), but instead protects ownership over any
particular arrangement with the same information (ex: any chocolate cake made with the same recipe). So, it is basically granting monopoly control over who can use the information.
Most copyright systems do not give the copyright owner an absolute monopoly over his/her/its work. "Infringement" of a copyright is typically founded on a legal test of "reproduction of a substantial part of the work" (at least in the English-influenced systems). Unless someone is thinking of Xeroxing an entire copy of the MLD published by Wisdom, how often will a Dhamma-practitioner actually face a kusala/akusala dilemma when copying portions of a Dhamma text?
Fair Use is a pretty narrow usage, if that's what you're getting at. They have a monopoly in the sense that they have exclusive control over such information, with few exceptions. Nobody else can use the same information for commercial purposes, unless they heavily modify it in some way that is considered beneficial to the arts & sciences.
I am not sure if I agree with the formulation of the 1st issue above, ie do copyright infringers have a right to own copies, based on the test of whether copyright infringement is theft. If you read "theft" very restrictively to the sense of the feudal tort of "conversion", then the answer must probably be no. My question is - why elect to limit the discourse to the purloining of "physical" articles?
I am not "electing" to make it sound that way. That's what it says: Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
The notion of "taking" and "giving" only applies to material objects; you can't take or give information in the same way. Information is free, non-localized, precedes the mind that cognizes it, and infinitely proliferates throughout all minds; it cannot be "used up". And although copyrights and patents can encourage ingenuity, generally speaking, the proliferation of information benefits the world more than the profit of the creator, hence the reason copyrights are limited in the first place -- limited to less than a lifetime when they were first established, but now lasting far more than a lifetime in America and Europe, because large businesses have lobbied governments to make it that way.
If the 2nd Precept is to be construed so restrictively as to mean a training against misappropriation of physical items, that leaves open a huge loop-hole for Buddhists to merrily commit all kinds of fraud without ever touching the medium of exchange, eg I could then embark on a cheating spree based on derivatives and other exotic financial products, far removed from the underlying commodity.
Any form of fraud would still necessarily involve appropriation of physical goods from one party to another, which must be returned. Whether it's a pyramid scheme, or whatever else, the fraudster is attempting to gain money or other items from a potential victim. With violation of copyright, a person thousands of miles away can simply publish a story with a character called "Mickey Mouse" in it -- using their own materials, paid for by themselves, no materials belonging to Disney, and putting in a considerable amount of work (possibly comparable to the work of the original creator), and yet, despite this, it is strangely regarded as a form of theft.
Furthermore, as I said, although the second precept doesn't apply to intellectual property, that doesn't necessarily imply the violation of copyright is necessarily skillful. The piracy of music, movies, software, pornography, etc., is certainly motivated by greed.
But the five precepts, by the way, do not cover all morality: how could they possibly delineate every conceivable skillful and unskillful behavior there is? Any act done with craving or sensual desire is unskilllful, regardless of whether it's a precept or not... which includes things that aren't in the precepts, like gambling or laziness. The belief that because something is not a precept means it's okay is a terrible misinterpretation of what the precepts are for.