Questioner [asking about the situation in America]: We have computer program tapes, programs on tapes [this was back in the day, then came floppies, CD’s etc.,], we buy these tapes, or, ya’ni, one or some of the brothers buy these tapes on which is written, in English of course, “All rights reserved,” [but] what do the brothers do? The brothers buy this program, for example, this computer program, they buy it and pay for it, ok? Then they have a choice as to whether they want to keep this program or return it, ok?
They buy the program and copy it, ok, and then they return it as it was, as it was when they bought it, to the vendor and they say, for example, “It didn’t suit me,” or, “I didn’t like it,” or, “It was difficult [to use],” or, “It’s not what I want,” and so on in terms of excuses which a person may invent and may lie about, and it may be that he is not lying, [but he instead] uses equivocations, saying, “I didn’t like it, it didn’t suit me,” and so with total manners and silence they give his money back to him and they take the tape.
This copying, even though, “Copyright protected,” is written on it, copying the tape … firstly, buying it, copying it, returning it to the vendor, taking the money back after having benefitted from it, i.e., let us use fiqh terminology here, i.e., you bought the determinate product [al-’ain, i.e., the product itself, the tapes/floppies etc.] and the benefit [al-manfa’ah, usufruct] to be derived therefrom, so [then] you took the benefit, you copied it, and [in doing so] the tape was not damaged at all, nothing of the tape was lost, no harm came to the tape, no deficiency, and [then] you return the tape as it was, totally as it was when you purchased it—the only difference being that you have benefitted from the tape and have saved it on your computer. Have I made it clear to your Excellency or not?
Al-Albaani: Very much so.
Questioner: Alhamdulillaah. What is the legislative ruling concerning this?
Al-Albaani: My brother, these, without doubt, ya’ni, unfortunately, used to be the manners of the non-Muslims, now they have become the way of the Muslims.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم taught us and how well he did so, he educated us and how well he did so, part of what he taught us was, “Fulfil the trust for the one who entrusted you, and do not cheat the one who cheated you.”
So if a Muslim purchased that tape upon which was written that it is not allowed to copy it, if he bought it and did not [subsequently] return it but he [did go and] make a copy of it and started to trade using it, that is not allowed—so what do you think the case is when, after copying it, he goes and returns the original from which he made the copy claiming one of the excuses you mentioned [that they use] which are open and evident lies or [claiming one of] the equivocations [you mentioned], [equivocations] which are not allowed and which I do not picture except that they are accompanied by some open lying?
This is deception, it is not allowed for a Muslim to fall into it, but, most unfortunately, some of the Muslims have outdone the Jews who were the ones from whom that crude, materialistic principle emanated, the one that says, “The ends justify the means.”
So these people justify what they do by saying that there is benefit in copying the tape, that we didn’t harm the tape, but they feign ignorance, and I do not think they are ignorant [but rather that they are faking ignorance about the fact that] the harm fell on the owner of the tape, because he didn’t produce it except that it cost him a huge amount of money, as is the case with some publishers who publish books in a volume or more, that costs them money since they had to typeset the book and copy it and so on and so forth and distribute it, then another person comes along and takes it as a tasty bite and prints the book without permission from the author or publisher—this is double-crossing and deception, not allowed for a Muslim, sufficient for you is the previous hadith, “Fulfil the trust for the one who entrusted you, and do not cheat the one who cheated you.”
This man sold the tape to you on the basis that you will not deceive him, on the basis that you will not make a copy of it, so the one who does do that has deceived him and this is absolutely not allowed in Islaam, and for this reason if there are some Muslims there with you who are emigrants from their countries and their Islaam, maybe you can advise them to stop such embezzlement.
Questioner: Should I not deal with them? Namely, when one of them makes an offer to me?
Al-Albaani: Absolutely not.
Questioner: Should I not use it [i.e., the copied material]?
Al-Albaani: You will aid him in his evil-doing if you do, and perchance you will not do that.
Questioner: I haven’t done that and I refrained and abstained from it.
Al-Albaani: Jazaakallaahu khair.
Questioner: Baarakallaahu feekum. Okay, [what] if the person selling it knows, and I don’t say suspects [but I mean that he knows], that the person who buys the tape and then returns it will have made a copy of it, [so what is the ruling here] if the person selling knows?
Al-Albaani: Assuming in this case is not enough, [making] the assumption [that the owner knows it’s being copied and thus based upon that saying it is ok] is not enough, as long as what you mentioned earlier is written on the [original] copy, [i.e., that copying it is prohibited].
Al-Hudaa wan-Noor, 665.