Tag: copyright and the church

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.


Simone has brought up the old copyright chestnut again – head on over for the fun. I’ve commented a couple of times already – no doubt I’ll comment many more…

“This argument didn’t sit right then and still doesn’t now. I’m convinced that there is something different about a song. Last night I gave away a kids club that I spent weeks and weeks writing. I’m happy for people to use it however they want. Change bits. Whatever. I don’t care. (Though my fonting and layout is nice). In terms of work hours, this kids club probably cost me about $4000. No single song has cost me that much. It’s not a time thing. I don’t think it’s a selfishness thing either. But there is an all-or-nothingness about songs that there’s not about other things.”

Gifting gifts

The thread I essentially highjacked on Simone’s blog has come to a gripping conclusion – of sorts. I think we’ve agreed to disagree – Simone may still disagree but we’ll see.

But it was a worthy exercise.

It raised, for me, a question about how Christians should use their gifts. And how we should balance use of gifts in a part time capacity verses using them in a full time capacity in vocational ministry.

My thinking is that particular gifts lend themselves to “vocational” use at different times. In the past paid organists were as much a part of church furniture as the organ. They were also essentially resident composers.

Now – web masters and graphic designers are playing an increasingly important role in the spread of the Gospel.

My gut feeling is that the Biblical principle of a worker deserving their keep holds for all excercise. If a job needs doing – and there’s nobody to do it – then pay for it.

The worker then has a decision to make – like Paul did – as to whether to accept this payment (he chose to work instead).

I also think there comes a time where a worker playing an essential role should be paid full time in order to free them from that work for the cause of the Gospel.

So the responsibility of the church is to pay – while the worker should consider their gifting as God’s providence and receive the payment (or not) accordingly.

There are different ways that this can work – an article I read about Mars Hill suggested that graphic designers who attend that church “tithe” their time and talents. There’s also an interesting discussion happening at “Communicate Jesus” about how the church should approach the issue. And another discussion in a similar vein at Sydney Anglicans.

The Communicate Jesus article features a quote from the Mars Hill creative director which would seem to indicate some sort of contradiction with the other post –

“I once had a chat with AJ Hamilton who runs all the media stuff for Mars Hill Seattle. I asked him about how he managed to achieve the quality of design across so much of their output – the online work for Death By Love being a prime example. He said they make a habit of recruiting the best designers. Okay I said, but how do you keep them? Answer: they’re the best paid staff in Mars Hill.”

It’s interesting that this is all coming up at around the same time – it creates an opportunity for some synchronous thinking.

Your thoughts?

Open Source Songs

An interesting discussion has been occurring over at Simone’s blog after a Sola Panel post raised her song writing hackles. It all started from a discussion about amending lyrics to make them more theologically palatable.

In my mind it’s a discussion on the “open source” nature of ministry material masquerading as a copyright debate. There’s a useful document on churches and copyright here (PDF).

I sympathise with Simone’s artistic position – as a graduate of the Creative Industries faculty at QUT I can do little else. But I don’t think our understanding of things created as ministry tools should be shaped by our understanding of “secular copyright”.

Bach famously signed off his compositions with a Latin acronym SDG (the phrase Sola Deo Gloria – meaning to the glory of God alone). His understanding was that his creative works belonged to God. At least that’s my understanding of his understanding.

If, as Simone argues, words (and music) belong to the songwriter alone – then there are some broad ethical considerations to make. Her argument opens up, in my mind, an ethical can of worms when it comes to reappropriating and retuning old hymns. It’s legal – because they are “public domain” but just because it’s legal doesn’t make it ethically right. If a song is a possession then it’s odd to argue that its intangible nature makes it somehow different from a material thing. A dead person’s belongings remain with their estate in perpetuity – and yet we’re happy to tinker with their no doubt prized works. 

My thinking – and indeed my “preference” – is for a “creative commons” approach to ministry. There are now almost 30 comments on the thread on Simone’s blog – and the majority are from me. It’s an interesting (in my mind) issue to think through. And I’m glad it has been raised.

Even going down the “Copyright” path opens up avenues where I’d suggest congregations should be free to change things. If ministry is essentially working as God’s employees (1 Corinthians 3:9) then our employer owns the copyright for works we produce – so his word should change the content. If a song is theologically wrong, but can be easily redeemed – then I say redeem it. 

I don’t know why artistic endeavours are placed on some pedestal over and above exercising other God given gifts. I sympathise. I consider myself a “creative” person. But I don’t see why writing words that glorify God in song is different to writing a recipe that glorifies God through hospitality – and you don’t see chefs jumping up and down when someone tinkers with their ingredients.

I used an argument based on writing media releases too – in the comments – which I quite liked. So I’ll reproduce it.

“I write Media Releases for a living. I agonise over every word because they’re often of a political nature or important to get right. It’s important that they communicate a truth. Just as it’s important that your songs communicate a truth about God.
I get angry if they’re misconstrued and used out of context.
But if they’re being used appropriately to communicate my organisation’s point but my words are not used verbatim (except the bits in direct quotes) then I rejoice. Because they have achieved their purpose.”

If I wrote a song – and learned people were changing it in a way I did not approve of – I’d defend my original position but I don’t think I’d die in a ditch over it.