Printing and publication rights, copyrights, translation rights and the like, are useful things that are recognized by sharia. It is common practice that the rights of the author to his composed and innovated work are established. Hence, compensation (due to abuse of) and rewarding for it are conventionally acknowledged, knowing that customary practice is considered as one of the tools of ijtihad (juristic effort to infer legal rulings) as long as it does not contradict a sharia text or a common principle in Islamic sharia
Moreover, customary practices play a considerable role in (determining) the financial value of things. Therefore, it is impermissible to copy a book or a program except with the permission of the author in order to publish and distribute it, even if copying the book or the program is done for the sake of personal, not commercial, use. For, copyrights are guaranteed by the sharia for their owners, to whom belongs the (full) authority to dispose of their work.
The following is the decision reached by the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Muslim World League – held in Makkah Al-Mukarramah – in this regard:
All praise be to Allah alone, and peace and blessings be upon the Seal of all the prophets, our Master and Prophet Muhammad.
In its seventh session, held in the headquarters of the Muslim World League in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, from Saturday, Rajab 12, 1406 A.H. to Saturday, Rajab 19, 1406 A.H., the council has reviewed the issue of copyrights of the authors of books, researches and academic dissertations, and asks:
– Are they well-established rights, owned by the authors?
– Is it permissible, according to the sharia to receive a reward in exchange for it and to hold contracts with publishers regarding (the use of) it?
– Is it permissible or not for anyone other than the author to publish and sell his (the author’s) books and researches without his permission, on the grounds that it is lawful for anyone to use?
Following extensive discussions, the council has reached the following decision:
1. Regarding books and researches, before the invention of publishing methods in printing offices, which produce thousands and thousands of copies, and when there was no means in the past to publish a book other than hand transcription – through which a transcriber would spend years in producing a single copy of a voluminous book -, a transcriber would then serve the author through producing with his pen a copy or several copies, without which the book would have remained in its original manuscript and would have thus, remained liable to total loss if the original manuscript was damaged. Then, the transcription of a book was not a trespass against the author or a form of exploitation on the part of the transcriber, of the efforts and knowledge of others. On the contrary, it constituted a service offered to him (the author) and a means of making his knowledge and efforts well-known.
2. However, after the emergence of printing offices, the matter has become diametrically different, since an author could spend most of his life writing a useful book and then publish (and sell) it. After that, another person may usurp a copy and publish it through the modern methods of printing and copying, and sell it in rivalry and competition with the author, or distribute it for free in order to obtain fame thereby, and thus, the toil and efforts of the author are wasted. The case is the same with inventions. This, in fact, discourages people endowed with intelligence, knowledge and creativity, when they see that their efforts are going to be exploited by others whenever their work emerges on the stage, and that it would be traded in by rivals, who have exerted none of the efforts they (the authors) undertake in writing or invention. The situation has changed with the change in times and with the emergence of recent developments, which in turn represents the basic influence [difference] between what was and what is. This necessitates introducing a new perspective that preserves, for every diligent person, his efforts and rights. Hence, the right of the author or inventor should be established as regards what he has written or invented. Such a right is legally owned by him, and it is impermissible for anyone else to appropriate it without his (the owner’s) own permission, on the condition that the book or the research does not involve a call for an abomination or (religious) innovation or any other aberration that contradicts the sharia. Otherwise, it must be destroyed, and it is impermissible to publish it.
Likewise, neither the publisher who contracts with the author nor anyone else has the right to modify anything in the content of the book or change anything without the author’s approval. Such a right is inherited by the owner’s heirs and it is liable to the restrictions of international conventions and customs that do not contradict the sharia, and that determine and regulate it after the death of the owner; organizing it and conciliating his individual right and the public right, since every author or inventor makes use of the ideas and products of his predecessors, even in the field of public information, and of established methods before (the emergence of) it (his work or invention). As for the author or inventor who is hired by a publishing house or an institution to write a book or invent a device for them – for a certain purpose -, his product is the right (property) of the authority that hired him. And in this case, he follows – as regard his right – the conditions, agreed-upon between them, that fall within valid rules on holding contracts.