Your eminence, the religious leader the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohamed Saeed Alhakeem.
Q1: We ask your eminence about the religious rulings about computers, since dealing with the computer programs is widespread. Many non-Muslim companies that produce them prohibit their exchange except with certain guidelines that those companies specify. However, there is a way to duplicate these programs and even operating systems like “Windows” and the like. Some people copy them into a non-original disk and sell them at reasonable prices without the permission of the production companies. The said companies consider this action as stealing the programs and violating the copyrights.
The questions about this are the following:
1. For the person who deals with these international companies directly, is this condition considered religiously binding?
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful and Grace be to Him.
Apparently the mentioned condition is a religious obligation, since it is a kind of covenant. Verses and traditions confirm the binding nature of the covenant. Almighty Allah said: “And fulfill the covenant; verily the covenant shall be questioned about”(17:34).
In the tradition narrated by Hussain bin Mus’ab that Imam al Sadiq (peace be upon him) said: “Three (things) have no excuse: returning the trust to the duteous and the dissolute, fulfilling the covenant to the duteous and the dissolute and to be dutiful to one's parents whether they were duteous or dissolute”.[i]
Similar in meaning to this tradition is the tradition narrated by Mus’ab bin ‘Ambasa. However, if the companies themselves broke the covenant by not following some of the conditions, then this condition is not binding anymore.
If the mentioned prohibition was not a condition during the transaction, then it would not be binding from the beginning.
2. Is it considered a binding duty on the person that bought the original copy not to duplicate it in the following cases:
(i) There was a specific condition to that effect.
(ii): There was a general prohibition but not a particular one directed to the person whom they dealt with.
(iii): There was an oral warning but not by the original company.
(iv): There was an understanding in the policies of the programming and production companies.
(v): There was none of the above and a prohibition was not conveyed.
It is obligatory not to duplicate it if the mentioned prohibition was a condition, whether explicit or implied, during the transaction in all the mentioned scenarios. Otherwise, it is not obligatory to bind oneself to the said conditions.
3. What are the rulings for all the previous cases based on duplicating from the non-original copy?
It is prohibited to duplicate from the non-original copy if this was part of a condition in the transaction of the original copy, but this prohibition is limited to the person who formed the transaction. Therefore, he is not allowed to let others do so.
It is not prohibited to duplicate from the non-original copy if it was done without being allowed by the person who formed the original transaction.
4. Based on the fact that a person obtained the original program or the non-original copy, is he obligated by the Sharia to find out the source of the programs or the way they were obtained before using them, although these companies sometimes advise their consumers to check the source and sometimes oblige them to do so. Is usage of such products prohibited assuming that the source is unknown? What is the ruling if the person knows that the production company does not accept such usage? It is prohibited to use them?
It is not prohibited and the person does not have to check the source.
5. All these questions were based on the fact that the companies were owned by non-Muslims. Now, assuming that the programs – whether they were computer operating systems or other kinds – were produced by companies owned by Muslims, Shias or even if the company is under the supervision of one of our scholars (may Allah protect them). The question is: what are the rulings in all the mentioned cases in the previous questions about Muslim owned companies?
There is no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in these cases in all the previous rulings.
6. If Shia-owned companies are generally satisfied regarding the usage and reproduction of their products but without declaring it, is it allowed? It is noticeable that some of the reproducers are merchandising and making profits from trading with non-original copies without giving away some of the profits to the production or programming companies or establishments. What is the ruling if we are not certain that satisfaction existed?
If they were satisfied, there is no prohibition to reproduce or trade.
7. If there are negative effects, due to duplication, on the program’s efficiency or its ability in such a way that the company’s reputation is tarnished, or if it affects the essentials of the program’s quality as a product; what is the ruling?
This does not prohibit the merchandising or the usage if it was after informing the owners of the company and getting their approval. If it was without their approval, then it is only unlawful for the person who accepted the condition of not duplicating. So he is not allowed to reproduce or allow others to do so. There is no prohibition for others, even with the existence of such a condition.
Q2: Some Shia establishments produced computer programs comprising of books to make it easier for the researchers to benefit from them. They wrote a sentence on the program stating that it is not allowed to duplicate the program or reproduce it.
A. Is it prohibited to copy the program?
B. Is it prohibited to give it to someone who wants to copy it?
C. What is the ruling in both cases if the establishment was not Shia?
If this was actually a condition in the contract of the sale or the gift, then it is prohibited for the buyer or the gift receiver to copy the program or permit others and make it accessible for them to do so, as per the mentioned condition. This ruling does not differ between Shia establishment and others since the mentioned condition is a covenant that should be binding to everyone.
If this was not a condition in the contract but was covered by the legal copyright laws of the country, then reproduction is not prohibited by the Sharia, but one will bear the legal responsibility if violating them.
[i]Wasaail Al-Shi'a, Vol. 13, p. 221.