Technology can enable a great deal of things. The processing power of what used to take supercomputers can be found in our pockets. We can watch every season from an old TV series on our phones. We can communicate around the world instantaneously. We can edit videos and photos in nearly indistinguishable ways.
Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it. It can feel like a bit of a puzzle to solve, cracking an expensive software title or video game or downloading a TV episode that we missed the night before. If you consider digital piracy simply stealing, that is addressed in the Ten Commandments: You shall not steal. Somehow, we try to make it more complicated than that while our culture says that we should not have to do without. We should be able to have anything we can get our hands on.
As usual, the Bible teaches contrary to that message from society:
Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)
Submission to Governing Authorities
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
If you do not give the Bible any authority, this means nothing to you. If you do hold the Bible with authority in your life, the message is pretty clear. To paraphrase verse 7 in Romans chapter 13, it says “Give to everyone what you owe them: … if revenue, then revenue…”
This means that if you wish to consume something, you should pay for it. If you do not or cannot pay for it, you should do without. This is an unpopular way of thinking in America but it is fair. If you are unwilling or unable to pay the $17.99 per month for HBO through your TV provider or $14.99 per month for HBO Now, then you do not get to watch Game of Thrones until you go buy, borrow from the library, or rent the DVD when it is released. If you do not want to pay for the higher costing cable package, then you can’t just watch an illegal stream of a sporting event. Putting it in perspective, these are clearly “first world problems” but they are also problems of obedience if you believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
Things get even worse for those stealing content (torrents, downloads, cracks, “acquiring”, Usenet, leaching, streaming, copying, or whatever your source) and have had that nagging voice from the back of the head saying what they are doing is wrong. However you justify it (“They should make games cheaper”, “They shouldn’t make it this easy to steal”, “I only need Adobe PhotoShop for this one project”, “The DVR messed up the recording”, “I disagree with the CEOs stance on X”), the next chapter of Romans makes it clear. If you act against your convictions, then you are committing a sin.
Romans 14:22-23 (NLT)
22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
We are not alone. Hebrews 4:14-15 says that Jesus was tempted by all of the same testings that we experience but he did not sin. Does that include temptations to download cracked games, software keygens, and bootlegged movies? Perhaps. Perhaps Jesus was not tempted by those actions specifically and instead he was tempted by the contemporary equivalent. I don’t know but I think the message is clear enough that I wish to stop distancing myself from God through my actions.
What can we as obedient Christians do moving forward? Repent. Recognize the sin committed and the guilt. Stop pirating, delete the ill-gotten goods, and turn towards God, accepting his forgiveness and mercy.