A student found some well written revision notes that looked very useful to the subject he is studying. Is he allowed to photocopy the notes before attempting to find the owner i.e. asking members of his class who it belongs to.
The notes should not be copied before returning them, without asking the owner – though there is some room to permit from the strict halachic standpoint.
The notes belong to their owner, and copying is a use. It is not generally permitted to make use of somebody else’s items without asking them first.
In this many some authorities will permit doing so, because it is a case of benefit without any loss to the owner (zeh neheneh ve-zeh lo chaser), and this is especially the case for items that cannot be marketed in any way (please see our article on midas sedom).
Yet, it remains correct to ask the owner before copying, since not all students are happy for others to copy their notes, and those who don’t permit it are not necessarily infringing the principle of midas sedom.