Is There a Copyright Law in Islam?

Islam, the true religion of Allah, respects both the private and the public ownership. It doesn’t sanction any violation against people’s rights, whether material or intellectual. Therefore, it does not allow that the propaganda or the efforts of others be taken away from them or be exploited without their consent. In order to explain this problem, we should first ask ourselves why do authors, tape producers and computer program devisors resort to register their copyrights. The fact is that some unscrupulous people are always ready to make pirate copies of these and sell them at a profit of which they give no share to the author. What someone has produced after putting a great deal of effort is thus used to bring financial gains to others who do not even bother to ask his permission. When a person knowingly buys a pirate copy, then he is aiding such people whose piracy is certainly prohibited in Islam. To be an accessory to piracy is also censurable.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states: “It is correct that the knowledge is a common property. But it does not mean that people cannot sell books or own books. It does not mean that people can go and steal books or take over other people’s labs and libraries. It means that all people should be free to learn. No one group should have monopoly on knowledge.
The Hadith of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, about wisdom as a lost property of the Believer is an authentic Hadith. It is mentioned by At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. But this Hadith also means that the Believers should be open-minded and should learn from all sources. They should be more concerned about what is being said, not about who said or from where they receive the message. `Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, is reported to have said, “Take wisdom and it would not harm you from what bag it came.” (see Al-Sakhawi, Al-Maqasid Al-Hasanah, p. 192).
Thus the meaning of this Hadith is to seek knowledge from all sources, not to take over other people’s possessions. Islam encourages Muslims to learn, but it also respects the laws of ownership. Plagiarism, piracy, misquotation, taking other people’s property etc. are all nothing but theft, and deception. People have right to their material property as well as intellectual property.
Just like there are rules in Islam for the use of material things, so there are also rules for the use of intellectual property. Computer programs are governed by the contracts that the owners or sellers make with the buyers. Allah says in the Qur’an, “O you who believe, fulfill the contracts.” (Al-Ma’idah: 1) Also, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Muslims must abide by their agreements, except an agreement that make Haram (unlawful) what is Halal (lawful) or make Halal what was Haram.” (At-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 1272)
It goes without saying that it does not make any difference whether the contract is made between Muslims themselves or between Muslims and non-Muslims. Such programs should be used according to the terms of agreement or what is customarily accepted as a `Urf (common custom) among the people of that business.”