Shaykh Muhammad Baazmool on Copyrights on Translations and Research, Other Matters Related to Intellectual Property Rights in Islam
What is the ruling on what is known as “intellectual property rights” (copyrights)? I ask because I have a website that I use to publish my translations of the religious verdicts of some of the scholars and their students. I also provide a needed service to the translations by placing footnotes that refer to the Verses of the Qur’aan mentioned, the sources of the narrations used, and other comments necessary to understand the translation.
Furthermore, I only publish these religious verdicts or articles after obtaining permission from the source (ie. the shaykh or the student of knowledge himself). So do others have the right to take what I place on my website and then publish it on their own websites?
ANSWER by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Umar Baazmool, professor at Umm Al-Quraa University in Makkah
This is an example of an issue that has come about only recently in this century. It is known as “al-huqooq al-fikriyyah” or “al-huqooq al-ma’nawiyyah” (intellectual property rights, or copyrights).
What is apparent from the words of the people of knowledge, those who have studied this issue, is that this is an established right owned by the writer, translator, or the one who provides any type of service (to some knowledge). He legitimately owns the right of the work that he has done.
So then others do not have the right to quote him from the work he has done, that which he has exhausted himself doing, that which he has exerted himself in, that work he has performed and then published on his website. No one has the right to take it from his website without providing a reference to him, and without seeking his permission. For this is a kind of transgression against the rights (of others).
However, some of the people of knowledge have pointed out something else, and that is: That there should be some lenience when it comes to affairs of the Religion, affairs of the Sharee’ah, so as to benefit a larger number of people, and there are conditions to this:
a) To ascribe any point of benefit to its source;
b) To fulfill the trust of quoting someone precisely and referring to the quoted source properly;
c) To seek and gain permission (from the provider of the source material) when possible, utilizing the manner of seeking permission that is from Islam.
So the meaning of these statements of the scholars is that we should be lenient when it comes to any financial compensation regarding these intellectual property rights (copyrights) on material related to the Religion.
Actually, this position is one outlook, and Shaykh Saalih Al-Husayyin, the Executive Chairman of the Presidency of the Two Sanctuaries, has singled out this topic in a fine piece of research, dealing with the fiqh rulings on these matters.
Also, other research has been done in this field previously by Dr. Fat-hi Ad-Duraynee. He researched the issues related to intellectual property rights (copyrights). There are also a number of other things written about this issue, and all of them conclude that:
a) Intellectual property rights and copyrights are legitimate and are owned by the researcher, worker, or translator;
b) It is not proper to transgress against his rights;
c) If there is some financial benefit related to such work, then he is more entitled to it than anyone else;
d) No one may use his work except after obtaining his permission, and they must then relay everything precisely, and reference it to the owner;
e) Others may only publish it in a way that is pleasing to the owner (of the copyrighted material).
This is what I know about this matter, and Allaah knows best.
[Questioner: If someone takes copyrighted material from its owner and then places it on his website without referring to the source, or placing a link to it, or anything else, then what is upon him, and how do we deal with him when he does something like this?]
The answer to this is found in what I have already said, since this action of his is a kind of transgression against the intellectual property rights (copyrights) of his Muslim brother. And this action of his is similar to stealing, as this is stealing intellectual property rights (copyrights), and stealing as defined in the Sharee’ah is taking things that are valued at a quarter of a deenaar or more.
I say that it is upon the one who has done this action to hide this material (ie. by removing the page), seek permission from the owner, and not publish it until after this permission is obtained.
And if he has taken some liberties with this material, making changes to it, and has acted with tadlees (deception) , then this is a crime that he has committed against the owner of this material, and a transgression against the brother who did the work of translating the material and making footnotes to it, and has done an action that is not permissible.
And no doubt, the people of wara’, the people of the Religion, the people of taqwaa are keen to do things in a way to achieve (barakah) blessings. And blessings do not come in a thing done in this manner. So if information is being taken in this manner, then it will be void of any blessing.
The Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam) said about buying and selling:
“The two participants in a sale have a choice (to affirm or cancel the sale), so long as they do not seperate from each other. So if they are truthful and mention all necessary details, then they will be blessed in their sale. But if they lie and cover things up, then the blessings of their sale will be eliminated.” 
So if the affair is like this for buying and selling (everyday things), then what do you think about intellectual property rights (copyrights) associated with affairs of the Religion, affairs of da’wah, or affairs of the Sharee’ah?!
No doubt, the blessings of such actions will be deficient or wiped out completely. And the early people of knowledge, may Allaah have Mercy on them, said, as has been reported from Aboo ‘Ubayd Al-Qaasim ibn Sallaam and others, “From the barakah (blessings) of knowledge is referencing each statement to the one who said it.”
So if you gained a benefit from someone, then you say, “This benefit is something that I was ignorant of, and I learned it from So-and-So,” or, “So-and-So taught me this benefit.”
So when this is the case, what do you say about someone who approaches the hard work of another person, something that he worked on for months, for long days and many hours, and he takes this work exactly as it is, and places it on his website, even without any reference or mention of the owner of the work!?
Is this something permissible? Is this something befitting?
The answer which is apparent: It is not permissible and he has done an action that requires that he hasten to:
a) Make tawbah (repentence) from this action;
b) Apologize to the owner of the copyright;
c) Seek his permission.
And it is upon the owner of the copyright to be cooperative with his brother, as perhaps he was ignorant, or perhaps he was acting upon emotion and did not take heed of this matter. So then it is upon him to be gracious and cooperative with him.
And it is upon all of us to work hard to teach the people these affairs. And every person should respect the rights of others, so that this kind of affair does not take place, as it is a form of transgression against the rights (of the people). Islam calls to the preservation of these kinds of rights, to uphold them, and to not transgress (against others) or commit crimes like these, and Allaah knows best.
 The tadlees (deception) being referred to here is the removal of the name of the original author or translator and the claim that the one who took the material actually authored or translated it.
 An authentic hadeeth on the authority of Hakeem ibn Hizaam, may Allaah be pleased with him, collected by Al-Bukhaaree (#2079, 4/380-381 of Fat-hul-Baaree), Muslim (#3836, 5/416 of Sharh An-Nawawee) and others.
This was translated exclusively for www.bakkah.net from a cassette recording with the knowledge and permission of the shaykh, file no. AAMB080, dated 1424/08/01.
AL-MUMINUN.NET NOTE – This article was originally posted on www.bakkah.net.