More on Copyright

Mikey linked to this article by his fellow Tasweigian – Will – who wrote a thoughtful piece on a Christian approach to Copyright that I agree with most of.

Except for the bit where he makes a distinction between tangible and intangible assets. Which I have a problem with. We have turned the intangible into a commodity. Ideas are worth money. Entertainment is big business. Companies rise and fall on the back of protecting ideas. Creativity is worth money. And while Will asserts that borrowing someone’s story does not constitute a violation of commandment number eight – I would suggest that there are ways that it can.

Sermon illustrations are a grey area. I’ve never had one pinched. But I know people who have. I think there’s enough out there without stealing people’s real life anecdotes and presenting them as your own. There’s a place for appropriate attribution.

But, as I’ve indicated in discussions both here, and elsewhere, I sympathise with Will’s position.

“IP restrictions in general are bad for Christian proclamation. I listen, watch and read widely as I prepare my sermons. I have been known to, ahem, “borrow” an illustration or two. I have been known to read quotes from books in order to make a point. God help us if these sources were to stand on their IP rights. “

And I find this statement interesting…

“The Biblical practice of remuneration for gospel work is primarily one of patronage – a stipend, gift, donation so that you may be free to give of yourself, not a wage so that you can earn your keep. “

It has implications for the way we approach our own rights in the context of our ministry.

Andrew Katay has been posting about the nature of remuneration for ministry.

I came to the conclusion elsewhere (in one of my old posts linked below) that the church has a responsibility to pay its financial dues to those whose work it uses, and workers have the responsibility to live out the gospel and serve the body with their gifts.

I think when we want to use someone else’s IP, even when they have sacrified their right to that IP, we should be attributing it to them. While I believe all exercises of spiritual gifts to be spiritually inspired I think acknowledging the work and contribution of the person is the right thing to do. So I’d draw the line at stealing personal sermon illustrations without attribution to the person. If it’s a good illustration it should cope with the attribution without falling over in a pile of steaming awfulness.

Copyright is a complex mix of ethics, law, and theology. Here are some great resources for thinking through the issue…

Simone is a Christian songwriter of repute – she posted about copyright, song writing, and changing song lyrics. She got lots of comments. And she posted a follow up.

Communicate Jesus has a bunch of great posts about copyright for churches, and a post for Christian creatives to consider how they can generously give of their abilities. Steve from Communicate Jesus also points out that it’s illegal to screen YouTube videos in church without a CCLI video license (CVLI) or consent from the video’s producer.

This PDF is a handy guide to copyright for churches.

And here are my previous thoughts on the matter

Hopefully some of these links will prove helpful for anyone traversing the murky waters of copyright and IP in the church.


Leah says:

I think it's ok to borrow people's stories or sermon illustrations if you're not making money out of it, or not ripping somebody else off. And as long as you don't make it sound like you came up with it yourself, or that it actually happened to you.

For example, using someone else's lyrics to your own tune to avoid buying their song is wrong, but if you're making up different lyrics to a song for laughs for, say, a church concert, then that's fine. And using someone else's analogy in a sermon is fine, as long as you don't suggest it happened to you or that you came up with it.

Nathan says:

You'd be surprised how often people steal personal stories and use them as their own. An analogy is different.

Mikey Lynch says:

I'm still intrigued by Will's comment that quoting a book or film or songwords in a sermon may be deemed a breach of copyright, from a legal point of view… is this right? Do we have to seek permission to read out a quote, properly attirbuted? Is that the law?

Nathan says:

That would be fair dealing. You get out of most breaches by critiquing or using items for the sake of humour. You get into trouble if you quote stuff as though it's you own work.

simone r says:

not biting.

Nathan says:

What makes you think it was for you? It was more that I thought your post worthy of inclusion. Did you read Will's post.

simone r says:

yes. decided that I won't comment so won't.