“You shall not steal…You shall not covet”

“You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:15-17 ESV; cf. Romans 13:9)

The Ten Commandments, given to the nation of Israel, were clear about the attitude one should take toward the property belonging to others. Coveting causes one to desire the wife, or the property, of another man.

The reason the donkey and ox of another was not to be coveted or stolen was because these were the man’s means of income. How could he work without his donkey or ox?

A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It may be that none of my readers own a donkey or an ox, but the principle is clear. You shall not take that which belongs to another person. When I was teaching I had to deal with this issue a few times. I am confident that it happened other times, but I did not know about it at the time.

When a student turns in a report or paper that was written by another student he/she is stealing the work of another and pretending that it is his own. Occasionally a student will look over and take an answer that another person has given to a question. That is stealing.

Oxen hitched to a small wagon near Mount Ararat in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Oxen hitched to a small wagon near Mount Ararat in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There is such a thing as intellectual property. The government of the United Kingdom describes intellectual property as “the words you’ve written.” It includes “things you write, make or produce.” Like photos, for example.

A student once told me that there was a student on campus who would make a CD of ten of your favorite songs for $1 for each song.  What if a person spends literally several thousand of dollars to purchase equipment, travel a long distance and make photos. Would it be o.k. to take that property and treat it as one’s own.

Several years ago I had a young person to copy some of my posts without permission and post them on his own web site. He cropped the photos to cut off the copyright notice. He said he didn’t know. His web site was closed down.

Recently someone living in a fashionable neighborhood in another country registered a internet site using my name. (I could post a photo of his house from Google earth!) He had this entire web site posted on his new domain, but he made it impossible for readers to reach me. All Email was directed to him (or her?).

There are strict laws governing this sort of thing. In the USA we have the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). I have learned that some (perhaps most or all) of the hosting companies take this seriously. The DMCA “implements the 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)” (Wikipedia, here), to which most of the nations in the United Nations subscribe. Once I got to the correct company, the offending web site was closed very quickly.

Even the Code of Hammurabi (ruled 1728-1686 B.C., according to Pritchard) contained numerous laws containing the penalties for stealing. Law 8 says,

If a seignior stole either an ox or a sheep or an ass or a pig or a boat, if it belonged to the church (or) if it belonged to the state, he shall make thirtyfold restitution; if it belonged to a private citizen, he shall make good tenfold. If the thief does not have sufficient to make restitution, he shall be put to death. (ANET).

I think that most of us are pleased when someone finds our material useful and even wants to share it with others. But stealing one’s property is another matter.

Our PHOTO PERMISSION page is liberal regarding private and classroom non-commercial use of our photos as long as credit is given.

Thanks for reading this blog. I hope you find it helpful in your own study and teaching.

5 responses to ““You shall not steal…You shall not covet”

  1. The Federal Copyright Law has not been very effective at stopping our brethren from stealing!

  2. But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor. For each man shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:4, 5 {ASV 1901})

    Dear Ferrell,

    Every Bible student should practice what he reads , and the world would be better .
    Thank you for this focus.
    Keep feeding us good things as you do for a long time .

  3. Thanks, Ferrell, I agree with the principles you taught. I, too, have had bible class material, reprinted minus my name! To me graphics and photos pose a little more of a problem. Obviously, taking yours or some from another credited photographer is a violation. However, how do you determine what is in the public domain? Google identifies some that way. But is there a way to be sure? Any source suggestions in this area?

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