In the light of development theories that show how the poor are doomed to remain poor under the status quo, is it morally correct for poor people to buy pirated copies of books? Original books cost around triple the price of the pirated one. If yes, how would one define 'poor'?

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    If you can afford to buy pirated copies, you can afford to buy used books or go find one at your local public library. It's important to maintain your morals despite being poor. "Poor, but proud." Beyond that, most books that are copyright-protected aren't worth the paper they're written on, and they're just a burden on the environment, making scammers rich. There are free websites with extensive libraries of old books (including some of the best texts ever published), where poor people can read to our hearts' content.
    – Bread
    Mar 22, 2019 at 10:39
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    i think people have a right to education (and health) over and above property rights. you could narrow the question down by asking about a specific framework (marxist, kantian, etc.)
    – user35983
    Mar 22, 2019 at 13:56
  • i would use the word 'permissible' rather than 'excusable'. anyone who thinks that people who pirate books should be punished by god or the state is just an imbecile, imo
    – user35983
    Mar 22, 2019 at 15:06
  • We can't define 'poor' with the given data, 'Triple the price of the pirated one'. 3, 30, 300 are 1, 10, 100 tripled respectively. How could we define poor in terms of these numbers? (I mean a poor man pays $1 instead of $3. Another man pays $10 instead of $30. And yet another man $100 instead of $300.) It is difficult to define poor on the basis of affordability like this. Mar 22, 2019 at 16:32
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    I'd think that buying pirated copies would be the worst of all evils given the choice to download free pirated copies exists as well. Oct 11, 2019 at 3:49

4 Answers 4


I would argue that it is never morally correct to steal. I think Kant's categorical imperative exemplifies the reasoning behind this belief. He says, "Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." By this he means (please correct me if I am wrong) that you should live according to those ideas which, if everyone adopted and implemented, would improve the general quality of life for society.

My point is, if everyone stole because they were poor (no money) then this would degrade trust among people, and society would breakdown. This idea may breakdown is extreme circumstances such as violent dictatorship, but I think its generally a good rule to follow.

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    This answer is missing something. If you purchase pirated copies of books, what are you stealing?
    – H Walters
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:45
  • I should say, downloading a pirated book is not explicit theft. It would not technically be stealing, but it would make you complicit in the theft. I think if we took this to its logical conclusion and assumed a world where all books were free or, discounted because they would be pirated anyway, it would disincentive people to write books. Most people who work in publishing are trying to make a living. In a world where people offer their labor in exchange for money, and services we cannot rely on altruism as the source of goods and services. Downloading a pirated incentives other to steal Mar 24, 2019 at 15:17
  • There are more subtleties here. Stealing is deprivation. Nobody is deprived a book; the publisher may be deprived a sale; the author is typically already out of the picture. But it's not necessarily a loss, and even if it were we allow this to some degree (e.g. First sale doctine). Also in this case, nothing is free... the pirate is selling the book (which to me sounds worse); we essentially have a publisher and a pirate competing for sales. Debating this, though, isn't the point; I'm looking for you to improve your answer... you just jumped straight to stealing in this answer.
    – H Walters
    Mar 24, 2019 at 16:41

According to a consequentialist ethics, more poor people would have access to knowledge. Therefore pirated copies of books would be acceptable once this practice promotes diffusion of things commonly enjoyed by rich people.

  • Spelling grammar corrected. Anyways +1 Oct 11, 2019 at 3:37

if you use pirated copies you are infringing on people's rights. Infringing on people's rights is wrong. And being poor does not change the logic.

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    This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – christo183
    Mar 22, 2019 at 6:11
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    Even when the "other people" are billionaire 0-tax multinational corporations? (If you can't answer in comments you can still edit the post) Mar 22, 2019 at 6:17
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    @Rusi the logic does not change, so Mar 22, 2019 at 7:05
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    Consider how you would answer a similar question like: If persons A and B both buy pirated copies of the same book. Person A, being poor, did so in order to be able to continue their studies. The wealthy person B merely needed to complete an unused library. Which person should pay a greater penalty?
    – christo183
    Mar 22, 2019 at 11:03
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    @christo183 You don't think infringing on people's rights being wrong is a completely uncontroversial opinion or at least widely accepted? It sounds like you're being a little unreasonable.
    – Cell
    Mar 22, 2019 at 11:27

Is it morally excusable for poor people to buy pirated copies of books?

It depends on several factors.

I believe your question is whether it is morally excusable; not what should the poor to purchase an important book. If it were so, there are several possibilities according to the situation. Here the person who exploites is comparatively/morally worse than the buyer. So I treat your question this way....

Though poor people's purchase of pirated copies is excusable if it is for a good purpose, selling is not so excusable if the pirated-copy-sellers are making big profit from the pirated ones. Sometimes very rich people may be buying from them.

Another thing is, you say that the original book costs triple the price of the pirated one. That means the actual production cost is very less. So the authors are cheating people and this should be brought to light and make them humble to the society (only if the profit is by looting people).

Again, if the book is a vulgar one, the pirated-copy-seller is helping to propagate bad or wrong ideas. This is wrong indeed. If so, it is not excusable. They should be given the same punishment given to the authors. On the contrary, if it is a good book that leads people to become good, IMO, it is a praiseworthy deed.

There would be so many reasons behind every man's poverty. Among them the rules/laws of the past or present govt would be there. Most often it is man-made rules / laws that make people poor or rich. It is not because of our own effort we become rich. Actually if we ponder over the great work of nature we would never shove the poor and downtrodden in disdain. Basically as they are human beings, the poor also have equal rights to live on this earth.

Suppose 'A' conceive an idea and writes all the things for a book and B, C & D make effort to make it into printed form and E, the seller. Don't forget that through a book the writer is trying to spread a good idea. It must never be bad. A printed book is for the idea; not as a material. Even if B, C, D & E are not there, some other agency would do it for A...if the content is good. If A's objective is just spreading his good ideas, we cannot deny it if it is through pirated-copy-sellers. That is why I said it is praiseworthy. (You should connect this to the above para to get the apt meaning.)

My protest is against exploitation; not against making profit.

If the question were as I mentioned first, my answer would be different; without changing the above sentence.

Victor Hugo had said the same thing in his novel, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables

"Blessed are the merciful." This can't be wrong especially in this case.

how would one define 'poor'?

Let me ask a counter question.

Suppose a poor seller is selling something at moderate price. Two men (one poor and the other rich) approaches (not at the same time) for buying the thing from him. Who would you treat as poor......The poor man who readily buys the thing from that poor seller without bargaining? OR The rich man who buys after bargaining with that poor seller? Economics will certainly say that the first man indeed is poor. But the seller wouldn't say so. Can't we call those misers who behaves like this, poor? .... at least in some occasions?

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