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Copyright Laws


The remarkable progress of technology involving copy machines and tape reproduction of all sorts of tapes has created various halachic questions regarding the permissibility of reproducing all or even parts of a previously printed work or tape.  Even before the advance of copy reproduction machinery, various rabbinic decisors discussed the question of printing someone else’s edition of a specific rabbinic text or any previously printed Torah edition.  Some ruled that the original author or publisher had an unlimited right or ownership on his work and in order for someone else to reproduce it, permission had to be granted by the original author or publisher even if no particular time ban was proclaimed when the work was originally issued.  (R. Yosef Shaul haLevi Nathanson, Shoel uMeshiv, Mahadura Kama  No. 44)

Others ruled that once the original edition was out of print, then others may republish the work in question (R. Yitzchak Schmelkes Bais Yitzchok, Yoreh Deah 2:75)

R. Moshe Sofer supported R. Wolf Heidenheim in restraining another publisher from issuing the Rodelheim Machzor.  In protecting Heidenheim’s work, the Hasam Sofer wrote that it could not be copied, especially since this machzor had added notes and revisions which were not available in any other machzor edition. (Chasam Sofer Chosen Mishpat 79,41 and VI, 57)

The above brief background basically refers to the publication or copying of an entire work.  However in a modern setting, may someone make a copy of an article etc. printed in a book or journal for one’s personal use and not for any financial gain?  R. Yehuda Waldenberg of Israel rules that this is permissible since it is not for the purpose of business but just for personal use for the information or ideas contained in it.  He first uses an acceptable logical approach (svara) that even if the publisher placed a ban on only part of the work it is understood that the stringency of that restriction applies mainly to the entire reproduction for commercial gain rather than a single copy of a partial text.  He also engages in a halachic discussion of sources in Choshen Mishpat ¶ 292, 20 concerning copying from a sefer Torah by its guardian which is permissible if a scholar needs a particular text. After examining the opinions of the Shach and the S’ma in the situation where the owner has specifically stated that no one should copy from it he rules in favor of the Shach who permits the copying regardless of the warning of the owner. He qualifies this only in the context of the Torah text or medical text which both contain the element of increased progress of learning and medical advancement which are in the purview of a mitzva. (Tsitz Eliezer Vol. 18, 80)

It is important, however, to be aware that many contemporary rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is prohibited for a school to purchase one copy of an educational work and then reproduce it on a copy machine for entire groups or classes.  (For a summary of halachic rulings regarding this matter and other related copyright laws see “Economic Public Policy and Jewish Law.” Professor Aaron Levine, Chapter 8).


HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shlit"a
Rosh Beth Din

HaRav Yona Reiss, Shlit"a
Av Beth Din


Rabbi Sholem Fishbane
Kashruth Administrator

Rabbi Levi Mostofsky
Executive Director

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