Free thinking

Andrew and I have continued to discuss the implications of my “open source” Christian music idea.

Clearly both sides of the argument contain truths – particularly when applied to Christian music. Songwriters want their ideas spread as widely as possible, while they also need to be paid to write if they do it full time. There’s another paradigm to consider when it comes to whether or not God “owns” work produced through spiritual gifts. Then he’d own the intellectual property, and the copyright.

It’s part of a much bigger and broader argument about open source that’s going on in the upper echelons of thoughtful journalism – and a lot of the discussion is about the future of journalism and paid media in the context of the free media offered by the web.

Malcolm Gladwell – one of my favourite authors is engaged in a debate with Wired Magazine editor, and author of a book called “Free”, Chris Anderson.

Anderson wrote his book on the premise that “ideas and information” want to be “free”… that’s a nutshell summary.

Here’s Anderson’s take on music and the Internet as quoted in Gladwell’s review of the book (which was negative)…

“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.” To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.”

It’s a great article. Here’s another interesting passage from Anderson’s book, again quoted by Gladwell…

“Anderson describes an experiment conducted by the M.I.T. behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely offered a group of subjects a choice between two kinds of chocolate—Hershey’s Kisses, for one cent, and Lindt truffles, for fifteen cents. Three-quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. Then he redid the experiment, reducing the price of both chocolates by one cent. The Kisses were now free. What happened? The order of preference was reversed. Sixty-nine per cent of the subjects chose the Kisses. The price difference between the two chocolates was exactly the same, but that magic word “free” has the power to create a consumer stampede. Amazon has had the same experience with its offer of free shipping for orders over twenty-five dollars. The idea is to induce you to buy a second book, if your first book comes in at less than the twenty-five-dollar threshold. And that’s exactly what it does. In France, however, the offer was mistakenly set at the equivalent of twenty cents—and consumers didn’t buy the second book. “From the consumer’s perspective, there is a huge difference between cheap and free,” Anderson writes. “Give a product away, and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business. . . . The truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another.”

Gladwell’s critique cites YouTube as an example.

“Why is that? Because of the very principles of Free that Anderson so energetically celebrates. When you let people upload and download as many videos as they want, lots of them will take you up on the offer. That’s the magic of Free psychology: an estimated seventy-five billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Although the magic of Free technology means that the cost of serving up each video is “close enough to free to round down,” “close enough to free” multiplied by seventy-five billion is still a very large number. A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars. In the case of YouTube, the effects of technological Free and psychological Free work against each other.”

Chris Anderson has since responded to Gladwell’s criticism on his blog. He uses blogging and bloggers getting book deals as a case study. Interesting stuff and worth a read. Seth Godin – the “guru” – has chimed in on the subject declaring Anderson right and Gladwell wrong. The Times Online’s tech blog predictably took the side of established journalism and declared Gladwell the winner.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

13 thoughts on “Free thinking”

  1. “There’s another paradigm to consider when it comes to whether or not God “owns” work produced through spiritual gifts. Then he’d own the intellectual property, and the copyright.”

    Yikes. I’ve heard too many stories about people who claimed to have been ‘given’ a song, who then, of course, take it very badly when told that it’s not very good.

    1. Arguing from lowest common denominators again… if songwriting is a spiritual gift then the outworking of that gift belongs to God.

      If it’s not a spiritual gift then what place does it have in “worship” in the church context.

  2. Well, I wasn’t actually arguing anything, rather, pointing out that creative endeavour involves the intellect of the person, even if it is ‘inspired’ by the Holy Spirit. The problem I see is that it becomes confusing – if it’s God’s, then can it be wrong?

    Yes, God ‘owns’ the outworking of our gifts – he owns everything! But I think that’s obfuscation to then say that he owns the copyright in the narrow sense, or that it’s not our intellectual property. As the Anglicans say after the collection bag has gone around: ‘all things come from You, oh Lord, and of Your own have we given You’. This doesn’t mean I can just take money out of your wallet (hey.. it would be to buy a good book, or the latest Hillsong CD to improve my devotions!), or take up residence in your house, even though it’s God’s.

    Are you going to follow the argument through I say that nothing that is the outworking of the Spirit should be copyrighted – books, CDs, sermons, training programs etc.?

    I’m not sure how much music is a spiritual gift, though lyric writing would almost certainly come under the teaching banner.

    1. Technically, under Australian copyright law, your employer owns the copyright of work produced in their service.

      If we are God’s fellow workers – then God “owns” the copyright in a more direct sense than you’re suggesting. It’s specific rather than general.

      You’re more than welcome to take up residence in my house if I invite you to – and I should, if you need me to, or don’t have anywhere to live.

      “Are you going to follow the argument through I say that nothing that is the outworking of the Spirit should be copyrighted – books, CDs, sermons, training programs etc.”

      Yes, I assume the I was meant to be an and.

  3. I waxed overlong at Simone’s blog after the party had ended so I won’t repeat that.

    Regarding “free” being attractive, and a workable business model, several authors and publishing houses have started providing their works online free and have seen an increase in sales of published works, both new and back catalogue. You might assume from that people still prefer to read and keep hard copy books, but like being able to try before they buy. Some may read the whole thing online, but if they like it, you will still get more market penetration from the viral effect.

    This may change with slicker and more usable readers such as the kindle and its inevitable copies that may be able to download content indiscriminately – it’s an area to watch.

    Note this does not alter the author’s copyright without them providing the appropriate licence – it’s merely the delivery mechanism.

    I think multiply-licenced content works – it’s what’s included in the packaging for each intended audience that makes the product attractive.

  4. “Technically, under Australian copyright law, your employer owns the copyright of work produced in their service. ”

    Not if you’re a sub-contractor though. And besides, I’m not an employee of Christ, I’m a follower of Christ.

    “If we are God’s fellow workers – then God “owns” the copyright in a more direct sense than you’re suggesting. It’s specific rather than general.”

    I think you’re stretching the point too much. I doubt God is subject to Australian intellectual property law. To be honest, if I saw a song or a book with (C) God 2009, I would think it was a joke. I mean, we don’t put God as a signatory on the church mortgage or cheque book.

    “You’re more than welcome to take up residence in my house if I invite you to – and I should, if you need me to, or don’t have anywhere to live.”

    So you’re not just going to throw open your doors? It seems that you’re willing to be generous with your property, but on your own terms – which is exactly what the current CCLI system is.

    “Yes, I assume the I was meant to be an and.”

    Yes, it was.

    All Souls has an evangelism course http://www.christianityexplored.org/ which is copyrighted. In your suggested system, anyone could simply alter the content as they saw fit, which would mean that any ‘brand’ would be of no value – I could not suggest to someone up north that they go to a local CE course, for I would not know that it was still biblically faithful.

    Back onto topic though.. if ‘free’ is to be a business model, not everything can be free, and it can’t always be free. Currently I’ve only ever sung gigs that have either been pay-to-sing, free, or ‘nearly free’ (by singing fee standards) but that’s soon changing, and in 10 years I doubt I would do a gig for the fees I get now. The point of ‘free’ is to gain experience and exposure – once you have those, ‘free’ is not much good.

    The idea of giving some stuff away free to entice people to pay for other stuff is not exactly a new idea is it?

    1. “I doubt God is subject to Australian intellectual property law. ”

      Can you show me where I say that he is? I’m simply suggesting that it’s counter intuitive for a Christian to claim to be both gifted by God and carrying out his work – and the author and intellectual property owner of a tool used for that work.

      This won’t stand up in a court of law – but if you’re looking at the spirit of the law, and the spirit of ministry it’s surely worth considering that our “rights” are a cultural construct. Scripture intends (in my opinion) for workers to sacrifice their rights but also for the beneficiaries to support their ability to do so.

      That’s not the picture I get reading your arguments – or any of the arguments put forward by my learned musical friends.

      Intellectual property proceeding from spiritual gifting produced in the context of ministry is surely different to any other form of property. I’m not suggesting you give up copyright for any commercial musical endeavours, simply that work which is produced in your capacity as a Christian servant.

      If you’re a full time Christian songwriter then you should be paid – and there are plenty of opportunities to earn revenue in that capacity – this doesn’t necessarily have to look like the current system. I would suggest that an incredible number of songs we sing in church come from part time songwriters working in full time ministry.

      1. “The point of ‘free’ is to gain experience and exposure – once you have those, ‘free’ is not much good.”

        That’s not necessarily true in ministry though is it. You keep seeing this as a universal stance on intellectual property when it’s a particular stance on ministry.

        Ministry should always be free. That’s the heart of the gospel – free and undeserved forgiveness paid for by the sacrifice of another.

  5. “Can you show me where I say that he is?”

    It is implied in this paragraph:

    “Technically, under Australian copyright law, your employer owns the copyright of work produced in their service.

    If we are God’s fellow workers – then God “owns” the copyright in a more direct sense than you’re suggesting. It’s specific rather than general. ”

    Obviously though, I don’t expect that you actually think he is. But the argument read that way.

    “I’m simply suggesting that it’s counter intuitive for a Christian to claim to be both gifted by God and carrying out his work – and the author and intellectual property owner of a tool used for that work.”

    I wouldn’t actually suggest that my songwriting is carrying out ‘God’s work’, rather, I hope it is God honouring and can facilitate the worship of God.
    But it remains that nearly all songs, books and programs that have been published do what you say is counter-intuitive.

    “This won’t stand up in a court of law – but if you’re looking at the spirit of the law, and the spirit of ministry it’s surely worth considering that our “rights” are a cultural construct.”

    Sure. But we also work within that culture.

    “Scripture intends (in my opinion) for workers to sacrifice their rights but also for the beneficiaries to support their ability to do so.”

    Yep, and I think CCLI does this. Certainly, if you compare it to APRA or other secular regulations. CCLI facilitates the church to use songs in a way that you cannot do in secular contexts, and allows for songwriters to be supported in order for this to happen.

    “Intellectual property proceeding from spiritual gifting produced in the context of ministry is surely different to any other form of property.”

    Is it?

    “I’m not suggesting you give up copyright for any commercial musical endeavours, simply that work which is produced in your capacity as a Christian servant.”

    I’m not so sure there is such a sacred/secular divide. Can I not serve Christ singing Mozart? (of course, it will be different)

    “If you’re a full time Christian songwriter then you should be paid – and there are plenty of opportunities to earn revenue in that capacity – this doesn’t necessarily have to look like the current system. I would suggest that an incredible number of songs we sing in church come from part time songwriters working in full time ministry.”

    Once again, can you please tell me what the difference between a full-time and a part-time songwriter is?
    And perhaps you could tell me the names of some of the many part-timers you are referring to?

    I wonder, with groups like Sovereign Grace, whether the royalties go back to the group to facilitate better songs and distribution?

    “You keep seeing this as a universal stance on intellectual property when it’s a particular stance on ministry. ”

    The OP seemed to be about a universal stance rather than ministry.

    “Ministry should always be free. That’s the heart of the gospel – free and undeserved forgiveness paid for by the sacrifice of another.”

    Sure. But sometimes we pay for ministry to enable it to happen. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether for congregational song-writing, the current method of payment is fair or not.

    1. While I’m not suggesting that God should be given the copyright in the legal system I am affirming the position that Christians should think and act as though God owns the copyright of their work.

      I think, that in that context, workers from the same organisation – the church – are able to use the intellectual property of their employer in the course of their business – and are free to change things as required.

      You’ll note thought that the point of my original post uses music as an example – to state a general approach to ministry where the responsibilities of both the “minister” and the church are essentially at cross purposes – one should give their work for free, and the other should pay for that work to be done. There’s no hard and fast rule. But the approach from each party seems to me to be pretty clearly Biblically defined (use gifts to serve the body, a worker is worth their keep).

      “Sure. But we also work within that culture.”

      Working within the culture doesn’t necessarily mean adopting the culture – particularly when you’re free not to do so – like when affirming individual rights.

      “I wouldn’t actually suggest that my songwriting is carrying out ‘God’s work’, rather, I hope it is God honouring and can facilitate the worship of God.”

      I’d be interested to know how you think the two are different?

      “But it remains that nearly all songs, books and programs that have been published do what you say is counter-intuitive.”

      Does that make it right? Or the best way to do things – I don’t want to talk “right” and “wrong” more “ok” and “better”…

      “The issue is whether for congregational song-writing, the current method of payment is fair or not.”

      That’s your issue – it’s not the issue in the post, the issue is broader and uses this as an example.

      “And perhaps you could tell me the names of some of the many part-timers you are referring to?”

      I can’t understand what you can’t understand with regards to “Part Time” – it means anybody not doing it in a full time vocational capacity. Particularly those doing it as a sideline gig – who don’t intend for it to be their full time job.

      But sure, here are some examples: Rob Smith, Bryson Smith, Simone Richardson, Don Carson, Isaac Newton (and any old hymn writer who worked in parish ministry). Anybody who is not a full time songwriter who writes songs is a part time songwriter.

      “I’m not so sure there is such a sacred/secular divide. Can I not serve Christ singing Mozart? (of course, it will be different)”

      You should perhaps read this in the context of my earlier post on work. Yes you can serve Christ singing Mozart – but that’s not the same as serving Christ by singing/writing songs in church.

    2. ““Intellectual property proceeding from spiritual gifting produced in the context of ministry is surely different to any other form of property.”

      Is it?”

      Yes. I think it’s safe to assume that all talents and abilities are God given – but when exercised specifically for the purpose of serving the kingdom there’s a difference to when I exercise these same gifts when serving your employer. Or earing a living.

      And at the end of the day – to answer one of the questions you raised earlier – I think I would work for free, in full time ministry – if it needed to be done. It’s then up to a church to decide whether or not I’m worth paying.

  6. “But the approach from each party seems to me to be pretty clearly Biblically defined (use gifts to serve the body, a worker is worth their keep).”

    I would suggest that this is possible (and often the case) under the current system. I don’t agree that an Open Source model is better.

    ““I wouldn’t actually suggest that my songwriting is carrying out ‘God’s work’, rather, I hope it is God honouring and can facilitate the worship of God.”

    I’d be interested to know how you think the two are different?”

    I suppose it depends on what you understand by the term ‘God’s Work’. Perhaps I’m just being cynical.

    “I can’t understand what you can’t understand with regards to “Part Time” – it means anybody not doing it in a full time vocational capacity. Particularly those doing it as a sideline gig – who don’t intend for it to be their full time job.”

    I was trying to make the point that I don’t think anyone is a ‘full-time’ songwriter in the way someone might be a full-time web designer. Even Getty, who I don’t think has a parish job, doesn’t spend all day writing music. But perhaps that’s being pedantic, as touring and promotion would be part of serving the wider church. Under your suggestion he would receive a salary from one church / denomination (who may or may not be happy about him being away so much?) we’re as currently, his income is spread out from the world wide church.

    As for those who have other jobs, why is it ‘better’ for them not to receive royalties, when those royalties can be put back into the kingdom? Not demanding them is one thing, sure, but it’s more than possible to be Godly and kingdom building with the funds that God endows.

    “And at the end of the day – to answer one of the questions you raised earlier – I think I would work for free, in full time ministry – if it needed to be done. It’s then up to a church to decide whether or not I’m worth paying.”

    I agree with this – and it has been my point that the current royalty system does just this – it is the church paying songwriters what their work is worth.

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