The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by DNS » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:35 pm

Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma
Could you provide a source for this statement? I am aware monks have rules regarding how they acquire requisites and how they should teach lay people, but I am not aware of any rule or teaching governing how lay people should teach each other. The teaching on right livelihood for a lay person doesn't say anything about teaching.
The source Bhante provided, plus:

"The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts" (Dhp.354) implies that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold.

All that is requested from those hearing the Dhamma is "respect and attentiveness" not any fees (AN V. 347).

And the fact that in the Buddha's time there were upasakas and upasikas who were very devout and knew the Dhamma and did teach, but did not make it their principal livelihood, more like Goenka, on the side for no charge.

The remainder of the teachings (almost all) were done by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who basically live with almost no possessions and no income.

But I admit that times have changed and in the interest of spreading Dhamma and providing more views and insights from upasakas and upasikas, there may need to be some charges as long as they are not excessive.

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Individual » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:37 pm

It's important to separate three issues here: first, whether people have a "right" to own copies (whether violating copyright is theft), second, the ethics of actually producing copyrighted material, and third, the efficacy of using copyright for dhamma materials. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the BPS, PTS, etc., all do good work, motivated by goodwill; they aren't thieves, motivated by greed, to the best of my knowledge. However, this doesn't mean that ignoring or opposing copyright is "theft," when the second precept seems to only apply to physical items of material value, not ideas or information. Violating copyright may be unskillful (it's not difficult to see how downloading music, movies, etc., illegally can be unskillful), but not "theft" in the sense of the second precept.

And even though copyrighted material can be easier to produce when a person has a publisher, with financial backing to support further publishing and translating, it is not impossible for translations to be done without a publisher or financial backing (it was done in primitive times with far less resources), and in the long-term, public domain translations provided for free are more beneficial because they proliferate more widely, can be cross-checked against one another, and combined with study materials or commentaries.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Individual » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:43 pm

TheDhamma wrote: The remainder of the teachings (almost all) were done by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis who basically live with almost no possessions and no income.

But I admit that times have changed and in the interest of spreading Dhamma and providing more views and insights from upasakas and upasikas, there may need to be some charges as long as they are not excessive.
Times have changed: Now, instead of having to chant the Tipitaka and write it on palm leaves, we have computers.

It is now much easier, not more difficult, to produce and publish translations.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by DNS » Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:29 pm

Individual wrote: Times have changed: Now, instead of having to chant the Tipitaka and write it on palm leaves, we have computers.

It is now much easier, not more difficult, to produce and publish translations.
:thumbsup:

I look forward to the day when the whole Tipitaka can be downloaded in one single PDF. Imagine how great that will be -- you could do a word such for anything, for example, upasaka or householder and then the search will show you every sutta, every line where "householder" shows up and what they were talking about.

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by jcsuperstar » Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:43 pm

TheDhamma wrote:
Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma

And the fact that in the Buddha's time there were upasakas and upasikas who were very devout and knew the Dhamma and did teach, but did not make it their principal livelihood, more like Goenka, on the side for no charge.
i think it'd be cool to have a thread about this to see examples from the suttas etc.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Jun 11, 2009 11:50 pm

TheDhamma wrote:
Peter wrote:
TheDhamma wrote:The Buddha did advise against profiting off the Dhamma
Could you provide a source for this statement?
"The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts" (Dhp.354) implies that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold.
It does not imply that at all. During the Buddha's time, sandalwood was considered a fine gift. Does that imply that it was unwholesome to sell sandalwood? Today if I gave my friend a new car that would be considered a fine gift. Does that mean it is unwholesome to sell cars? All that statement tells us is that if you were to give someone a gift, the gift of Dhamma is the best gift you could give. That says nothing regarding the wholesome or unwholesomeness of selling Dhamma materials.
- Peter

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Ben » Fri Jun 12, 2009 12:27 am

Over the last ten years I have been replacing and expanding a Dhamma-book library I gave away.
If I have the means, I am happy to pay for copies of the Vissudhimagga, and the Wisdom's 'discourses of the Buddha' series which have cost upwards of $AUD90 each.
Having had some experience in the publishing sector, I can assure you that the cost of publishing a book, of which printing is only a fraction, is extraordinary. In my mind, publishers such as PTS, Wisdom, BPS do a great thing by making Dhamma Books available.
Metta

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“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Sylvester » Fri Jun 12, 2009 2:12 am

Individual wrote:It's important to separate three issues here: first, whether people have a "right" to own copies (whether violating copyright is theft), second, the ethics of actually producing copyrighted material, and third, the efficacy of using copyright for dhamma materials. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the BPS, PTS, etc., all do good work, motivated by goodwill; they aren't thieves, motivated by greed, to the best of my knowledge. However, this doesn't mean that ignoring or opposing copyright is "theft," when the second precept seems to only apply to physical items of material value, not ideas or information. Violating copyright may be unskillful (it's not difficult to see how downloading music, movies, etc., illegally can be unskillful), but not "theft" in the sense of the second precept.

And even though copyrighted material can be easier to produce when a person has a publisher, with financial backing to support further publishing and translating, it is not impossible for translations to be done without a publisher or financial backing (it was done in primitive times with far less resources), and in the long-term, public domain translations provided for free are more beneficial because they proliferate more widely, can be cross-checked against one another, and combined with study materials or commentaries.
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.

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?

Even if the "substantial portion" test is satisfied to establish infringement per se, the laws typically allow certain defences. You may need to check on the specifics in your jurisdiction, but the relevant defences I enjoy are (i) fair dealing (eg for research and study) and (ii) recitation as part of a religious service. I hope this goes some way towards addressing your 2nd and 3rd issues.

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? 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.

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Ben » Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:23 am

Thank you Sylvester for your excellent post.
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Sylvester » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:10 am

You are welcome.

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Individual » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:54 am

Sylvester wrote: 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.
Sylvester wrote: 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.
Sylvester wrote: 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.
Sylvester wrote: 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.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Individual » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:55 am

gavesako wrote:Vinaya-samukkamsa: The Innate Principles of the Vinaya
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 1996–2009

Now at that time uncertainty arose in the monks with regard to this and that item: "Now what is allowed by the Blessed One? What is not allowed?" They told this matter to the Blessed One, (who said):

"Bhikkhus, whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is not allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.

"Whatever I have not objected to, saying, 'This is not allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you.

"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is allowable,' if it fits in with what is not allowable, if it goes against what is allowable, this is not allowable for you.

"And whatever I have not permitted, saying, 'This is allowable,' if it fits in with what is allowable, if it goes against what is not allowable, this is allowable for you."


--> Indeed, in the discussion about stealing copyright different monks have taken sides: It depends whether one follows the principle that stealing is removing something from its righftul owner (e.g. someone who already wanted to buy the book is told to download it for free instead), or whether we must follow worldly law (which differs from country to country, e.g. in Thailand there are few copyright restrictions).
The Buddha said that kamma is intent, so I think it's good to examine the intent involved in a particular action. For instance, the intent in downloading illegal pornography is clearly not of the same character as the intent to distribute sutta translations. What do you think, Ven. Gavesako?
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by Individual » Fri Jun 12, 2009 4:59 am

Sylvester wrote:Thank you, Bhante. I am surprised to hear that Thailand has few copyright restrictions, given its modern legal system being modelled on the Civil Law of Europe. My hazy recollection of European copyright laws is that it is certainly more "developed" than the Anglo-American systems. I wonder if Thailand is just a lax enforcer of its letters?
Throughout Asia, period, there are few intellectual property restrictions, because "property rights" is a western notion... They understand property in a reverse way: Rather than, "We shouldn't steal, because people have a right to property," it's understood as, "We shouldn't steal, because we have a responsibility not to, it harms society, and brings shame upon one's family." For the same reason, Asian governments are less capitalist and more authoritarian. Our society and culture owe their roots largely to John Locke and Classical Liberals, while they owe their root largely to figures like Confucius and Laozi.
TheDhamma wrote:
Individual wrote: Times have changed: Now, instead of having to chant the Tipitaka and write it on palm leaves, we have computers.

It is now much easier, not more difficult, to produce and publish translations.
:thumbsup:

I look forward to the day when the whole Tipitaka can be downloaded in one single PDF. Imagine how great that will be -- you could do a word such for anything, for example, upasaka or householder and then the search will show you every sutta, every line where "householder" shows up and what they were talking about.
It would cause the Buddha's real words to proliferate more widely and common misquotations, like from the Kalama Sutta, would be more easily dismissed.
Last edited by Individual on Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by jcsuperstar » Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:03 am

there are many people like me who will buy the suttas in paper form rather than reading them online.
even if offered freely i still choose to pay for the hardcopy. i dont mind and i find no problem with paying for it. i would however have a problem with someone stealing my hardcopy, or someone copyrighting the dhamma and not making it freely available to those who dont choose to buy the hardcopy. bodhi's translations are his work, and how that work is distrubited is basically up to him, the only real buddhist ethics involved are about monks working, owning a copyright, getting paid etc. even if his translations are not freely available the dhamma still is. there are other monks putting in the work and we could all just go learn pali and translate it for ourselves and others if we wanted to.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: The Ethics of Dhamma Distribution

Post by gavesako » Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:29 am

Yes, Intention (cetana) is the essence of Kamma. But Vinaya also covers worldly conventions, which may not be directly related to wholesome-unwholesome Kamma. I jokingly referred to "bodhicitta aspiration" because in the Mahayana systems, even breaking the precepts is sometimes considered OK if it helps others realize enlightenment.
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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