I'm starting college this semester, and my friends and I are discovering that some of the required books for our courses are seriously expensive. We've had some discussion about the ethics of downloading books from websites like Library Genesis and other websites that host copies of the textbooks that we need. I understand that there is some discussion about downloading books generally, but we were wondering if within that discussion there is reason to be more lenient when someone holds a physical copy of the book in question. I mean, let's say I already bought the textbook for my biology course -- if we're talking about stealing the idea (because, of course, downloading a book does not include the taking of a physical object), then I already have legal access to the ideas contained in the book, don't I?
Does it make a difference if the book is offered as an e-text by the publisher? Does it make a difference (as one commenter implied) if I would pay for a digital copy, were it not free?

I understand that this place isn't a place to get a legitimate psak, but I'm just looking for ideas to bounce around until I get a chance to ask my rabbi.



  • 2
    An important question to ask: Would you pay extra for digital access if it wasn't available for free? Or would you make do with just a physical copy (with its advantages and disadvantages).
    – Double AA
    Sep 1, 2016 at 3:08
  • @DoubleAA, in my experience as a current university student, that is a large enough distinction to form a separate question. Most textbooks I've had for school are available with digital content, although it's not always the same as what's between the boards. There is the further question of (likely) getting used texts, which are usually exempt from having digital access, due to market pressures. Sep 1, 2016 at 3:24
  • @Double AA It's hard to tell, because digital access IS free ;-). Honestly, I probably wouldn't buy a digital copy.
    – Samuel
    Sep 4, 2016 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


I've heard from many Rabbis, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Tuvya Goldstein amongst them, the same idea about copyright laws. They said this about musical media and computer programs, but would seemingly apply to books as well. Ultimately that is up to you to decide.

The main idea is that copyright laws do not effect your personal usage of a device. Therefore in a situation where you want to listen to the same CD in your house as you do in your car, you are not obligated to constantly transfer the CD from one place to the other. Nor are you required to buy a second copy. You may make a copy and keep one in each place. This same idea was said concerning a computer program, have one copy at home and one at work.

It must be mentioned that this only applies to single person usage. If you are listening to the CD in your car, a family member at home is not allowed to be listening to the other copy.

It seems simple to me that this applies to a book as well. It also seems simple that it should not matter where the source of the second copy is coming from being that the buyer has these user rights. This last point may be debatable, but this is what seems more likely to me.

Edit: @DoubleAA's comment jogged my memory a bit. I once posed the following question to Reb Dovid Feinstein. A new Hebrew edition of the Hirsch chumash had come out which had a good index in the back. It went by psukim, not pages, so I could use that index for my English version. I asked Rabbi Feinstein if I could make photo copies of the index to use with my set which I had no intention of replacing and he said yes.

The reason I told him I had no intention of replacing my set was because other people I had spoken to over the years had thought that was a critical point in this subject. In hindsight I shouldn't have started off saying it because now I can't know if his answer depended on that point.

But again, this is all lihagdil torah, CYLR.

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    He's talking about a different medium, not an exact copy. Digital versions have different features than paper books, such as searching. Some people might pay extra for that. Think how much you might pay for a good Tanakh search engine with Nikkud/Trop/etc even though you own a Chumash.
    – Double AA
    Sep 15, 2016 at 13:40

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