Tuesday, July 08, 2008

should Christians use copyright?

Not according to Keith. He has just emailed me the following: “I was just wondering why someone who has a heart for God’s people and would want marriages to have the best start ever would have such an issue with their message being used by others. Imagine if Jesus did that with the bible?”

I presume he is talking about this entry on my blog; where 4 years ago, I wrote the following: “[not to be reproduced in any form, including verbal, without permission. ie. creative commons does not apply to this post]” (Update: written on 1 post on this blog. The other 1230 posts are under creative commons use. ONE post, on which I simply wanted people to ask before they used it. And when people did, I simply said “sure and thanks so much” and got a wee thrill that my thoughts were being used. Feedback – its important for me you know. Part of the gift of encouragement.)

What do people think? Should a Jesus follower have an issue with their message being used by others without permission?

Posted by steve at 10:41 AM


  1. 1st — it wasn’t me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2nd — I think copyrights are fine. Especially if someone is making a livelihood from the materials others want to use. Using it without permission is still stealing. Just because I am a Christian does not mean any other Christian can come “borrow without permission” my car — or a painting I’ve done or a poem I’ve written or a message I’ve preached or blogged.

    I think it boils down to relationship — and grace/mercy. Perhaps another question would be if someone *does* steal something then what is my response? Do I give away my shirtvwhen someone asks for my coat? Or do I act wickedly like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable who didn’t forgive the debt of the other servant?

    I think there is a place for the one with the “property” to be generous…but also a place for the one who wants to use that “property” to get permission first.

    Comment by Keith Seckel — July 8, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  2. I think you need the protection of copyright but that it would be wrong to assume it comes down to money. If it were me, I’d want folk to seek permission before using my words as there is a risk they could be taken totally out of context or mis-used in some other way and I’d feel a sense of responsibility. Maybe the copyright wording needs to be different, something that encourages sharing of resources while still making it clear that they need to check with you first. When it comes to money, if you’ve already been paid to prepare a sermon and to get a message out, I don’t think you should be then selling it to others (hypothetical situation only!). Whereas if you wrote a book in your own time, I don’t see a problem with charging for those words to cover costs and who knows, with a miracle, put cheese on the table : ).

    Comment by Jack — July 8, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  3. I’m sure other people feel differently, but I think copyright is selfish. You’re basically denying others something for your own gain.

    Information in ALL forms should be shared freely.

    Comment by Andrew — July 8, 2008 @ 11:10 pm

  4. Copyright: “to authors and artists to protect their original work from being plagiarized, sold, or used by another without their express consent”

    my parents taught me to ask before i borrowed something. that’s now selfish is it Andrew?


    Comment by steve — July 8, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  5. For what it is worth I was a bit taken back when, a few months ago while preparing for my first wedding, I looked at the post and saw the copyright note. However, I noticed the phrase, “without permission” and realised that Steve’s work was free for me to use as long as I asked for his permission (I hope that is correct Steve?). I would have thought that would have been common courtesy. As it was it wasn’t suitable for what I needed but I certainly appreciated the post.

    Just on a legal point Steve. If I chose to reproduce it in anyway, by law (as distinct from what is polite), I thought I only had to acknowledge the source. Is this correct? In some ways you have borrowed U2’s words and used them yourself (I know you will have an answer). Did you ask ๐Ÿ™‚ Regardless of your answer I still feel people should ask before they borrow or use our stuff.

    Comment by mark — July 9, 2008 @ 1:52 am

  6. Interesting question … is there actually a one size fits all answer? I mean in my line of work whatever I produce is owned by the company I work for (after all they’re paying me to do it) … What if you’re working for God? How does he pay (other than eternally)? Not being any kind of biblical scholar or theologian but Jesus had something to say about making a living in Matthew 6 (25-27 in particular).

    I don’t think necessarily provides an answer but maybe it shows a perspective that can influence how we choose to answer the question.

    Comment by Mark — July 9, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

  7. personally, i would choose not to have a copyright, but i understand if someone does.

    certainly in Jesus’ day the culture found it normal to plagarize. you dont find the NT citing the source every time.

    however, my opinion for today is that it is better to allow it to be freely distributed. i believe that God will provide for each of our needs. so if a person doesnt make enough money because of plagarism, then He will find a way to ensure they get bye. otherwise, i dont see much reason for worrying about the copyright (if not financial reasons).

    so my perspective is that i want to trust God enough to provide, even through unusual means.


    Comment by peter — July 9, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  8. peter,

    what if writing was a person’s income. would you still give the same advice? would you be willing to then turn it on it’s head ie dont’ worry about asking your boss to pay you cos you are simply trusting God?

    i think there’s a huge amount of hypocrisy in some of these comments – people happy to own stuff and be paid for their jobs, but expecting people who create and write to “give” it away and trust God,


    Comment by steve — July 9, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

  9. Mark,

    i cite U2 – thats honouring copyright – which allows you to cite a limited percentage of a work.


    Comment by steve — July 9, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  10. On a different tack; I read Steve’s wedding service when I first started reading this webpage. It really blew my mind away. I thought it was really creative, and wondered what Nick and Marion were like as people as they prepared for this next step in their relationship. I would have severe reservations about copying Steve’s work. For two reasons: 1. what about copy right; (that ground is debated above) and 2. what worked for Nick and Marion wasn’t going to be a perfect fit for the next couple I married. To copy it would be limiting the creative energy which I bring, and the creative energy which the bride and groom bring to preparing their marriage service. I would be reluctant to limit the creative energy which God give me for ministry. The privilege of reading some one elseย’s work enhances this creative energy, but it doesn’t remove the need for it.

    Comment by KSW — July 9, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  11. hi steve,
    i write a lot for a living and i have no difficulty with putting copyright on it – it doesn’t mean that it isn’t freely shared or free to use, just that i would like people to acknowledge their sources, which as has been pointed out is polite and a good discipline – in acedemia, plagarism is becoming a massive issue – it is wrong, but it is amazing how many Christians seem to think it is o.k. if you can get away with it – i agree with the hypocrisy thing – same line of thought allows Christian organisations to pay their workers below the poverty line and keep them on family credit under the premise of ‘trust God’/prove your spirituality – it is wrong – a matter of godly honour that we should make a stand for – and the more people that point out that kind of wrongheadedness through conversations like this the better eh?! thanks for asking the question steve, peace, julie

    Comment by julie — July 10, 2008 @ 1:09 am

  12. My colleagues in the WCC worship office have recently brought this book out you can download it as a pdf
    I think the “with permission” point is important

    Comment by jane — July 10, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  13. Steve, I think it is a bit harsh to ask people for their opinions and them tell them it is hypocritical! We are just sharing opinions.

    Are we free to use your stuff if we ask or cite it?

    (Please take this as a friendly jab Steve. It is hard to convey the smile as I type other than to use a stupid series of symbols etc)

    Comment by mark — July 11, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  14. Mark,
    good morning.

    harsh? just as harsh as people who sell their talents for a living expecting other people with talents called writers to give their gifts freely and simply trust God to provide. that logic seems hypocritical to me.

    tell me why it’s not and i’ll gladly change my opinion.

    yes of course you can use my stuff. that’s why 1230 posts are on a creative commons license. but for 1 post, 1 post about a sermon I simply was asking to be asked. And for that one post, ONE post, someone asks me if i am imitating Jesus,


    Comment by steve — July 11, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  15. Grr. I’m still hot under the collar about this, so let me vent some more.

    The reason I have this blog is to share my creativity, to let it bless others. It takes time and I don’t get paid for it. (apart from a few google ads that don’t even pay the webhosting fee). I have lots of demands on my time, and often wonder why I blog.

    I am energised by feedback. I keep blogging cos I meet people who have found it helpful. So its really nice to know my stuff is being used. When people ask to use stuff, I simply ask if they could tell me what happened. So that I can celebrate.

    The email and some of the comments have wound my watch. I think they show a naive and poor attitude toward creativity.


    Comment by steve — July 11, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  16. Hi Steve,

    I can understand you get wound up about this as you say for ONE post you want feedback and get queried on it. It would seem lots of people like the post from the comments.

    I agree with you about asking for or desiring feedback. Copyright is closer to “asking before borrowing” in this case. Citing to me feels a bit like saying “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.

    Now the question is should a Jesus follower have an issue with a message being used by others without permission? I think so. Imagine your words are used in a circumstance you are opposed to or the words are used for endorsing something you would not put your name to. Copyright means you have the ability to say no. As a Jesus follower it does not mean you will automatically say no.

    To keep it light here, rather than too serious, you may say no if, for example, someone wants to use it in a marriage of a goat to a sheep. If there is no copyright there is no chance to deny the blessing of the sheep and goat. ๐Ÿ™‚

    So yes I think a Jesus follower should have issue to a message being used by others without permission.

    Comment by David Morgan — July 11, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  17. I am interested in your comments “harsh? just as harsh as people who sell their talents for a living expecting other people with talents called writers to give their gifts freely and simply trust God to provide. that logic seems hypocritical to me.”
    However in other Chrisitan circles there is much emphasis on the value of volunteers – who add so much to the church freely, and do trust that God will provide.

    Comment by Bee — July 12, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  18. Fair point Bee and well made. Thankyou.

    I wonder if perhaps we are talking about slightly different things. When you use the word volunteer I am assuming that these people work somewhere and so their time is “given” as an extra.

    For instance, I and the church staff get paid by the church, but we are all expected to give “voluntarily” ie to give time over and above our paid time, simply as our part of a volunteer group.

    What I was thinking about when I wrote the post and made the comments was the person who might want to write as their full-time job. And so I wonder why they should be expected to give their gifts away and trust God, while someone who teaches at a school or works at an ad agency is expecting to be paid for their talents,


    Comment by steve — July 12, 2008 @ 11:22 am

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