open source

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.

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.

How open source songs might work

Debate rages at Simone’s blog. Well not really. I just keep writing long comments one after the other as new ideas strike me. This has kept my hippocampuses firing all day.

Simone doesn’t seem to think an Open Source model would produce quality songs.

Every open source product in existence would seem to disagree – but she’s also not sure how it would all work.

I had the following thought.

Open Source companies make money by offering support, some by performing specific development tasks and extensions for companies that request them. Here’s an article about how open source companies make money.

Basically it moves from a model where a product is provided to a model based on service.

I believe Open Source, when applied to computer software, produces better products than proprietary software.

So, an example of how a gifted song writer could make money/produce quality songs under the Open Source business model would be to produce songs upon request (and upon payment) by a particular church for a particular sermon series that they’re working on. Once it is used for that purpose it would then be added to the pool of songs for other churches to use.

Any other ideas?

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.

Is google like God

I’m trying to decided whether using google as an analogy for God is appropriate or not. There are certain similarities that would help make God more accessible to geeks.

First I considered the possibility of using an open source analogy… it all started when I was trying to explain that it’s not inconsistent for an omnipotent God to change his system of doing things…

“The logic is perfectly consistent. The OT is a precursor to the NT – and certain things from the Old system are replaced in the new. It’s like a software upgrade that makes that piece of technology so much more awesome. In fact – the OT is like a proprietary software system that only works for the original company that won the contract,and in the NT it’s open source. Available for all. For free. Actually, it’s more like shareware because you don’t get to hack the code to bits and make it do whatever you want…”

Here are five ways God is like Google…

  1. He knows everything
  2. His slogan is “don’t be evil”
  3. His products are free and good and available to anyone who wants to use them
  4. It’s best if you just take them as they naturally appear and don’t go around trying to outdo the core program with your own stupidity
  5. While everything comes free and easy, he’s actually keeping a record of everything you’ve ever done in order to target you better.

Yeah, so it’s not perfect. But help me refine it in the comments.

Perish the thought

My grandfather, who we affectionately call "Fa fa", has written a book called "Preach or Perish". He's an old school church minister with a passion for clear communication – and so that's the subject matter the book tackles. I haven't received my *ahem* free copy yet (I'll send him a link to this post and hopefully get one in the mail). Dad has a chapter in it. So as you can see preaching is in my blood (incidentally I'll be preaching at one of the local Pressy churches this Sunday night).

I'm even included in the bio:

Donald Howard had a varied career before his passion for preaching took him to Moore Theological College. His first parish was St Peter's Burwood East from 1966. Foollowing the death of his first wife Diana, he worked in the Anglican Department of Evangelism. In 1981 he married Nan and they ministered at St Stephen's Lugarno until 1992. They retired to Camden where Donald pastored the congregation of St James' Menangle for eight years. He has four children, eleven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild from his first marriage and he and Nan have two adult daughters.

It turns out that a plague of plagiarism is running rife in the American church (and probably Australian ones too) – the dawn of podcasts and posting full text versions of sermons has created the shoddy practice of lifting texts from the net and delivering them verbatim, without disclaimer. The article linked there makes a somewhat unfair (in my opinion) comparison between plagiarising sermons and pornography…

"Clearly, the internet has contributed to the problem. Sermons in both written and audio form are quickly accessible, and the temptation to plagiarize is easier than ever before to indulge. In this regard the sin differs little from the epidemic of internet pornography. But accessibility alone cannot account for the problem. Just as many believe porn is an unhealthy way of coping with a lack of intimacy, there must be some underlying issue that drives pastors to plagiarize."

While I'm prepared to acknowledge plagiarising is probably an example of laziness – I would have assumed that those of us who subscribe to a belief in the Holy Spirit would see sermons as "open source" able to be shared, and used by others within the broader body of the church royalty free. I certainly don't buy in to this argument, at all. If you want to preach someone else's sermon I think that's fine – provided that in the spirit of the open source movement you give credit to the original author. One of the key strengths of the Open Source movement is that source code is provided and is malleable – you're free to make contextual and appropriate changes to suit you use – this too has applications to preaching.

Reinventing the wheel when someone else has a functional, well planned wheel already working seems somewhat silly. I always thought that's what commentaries and other Christian resources were for – that said, I'm not condoning the wholesale reproduction of other people's work – preachers need to connect with their audiences and no one is better placed to speak to a particular church than their own minister – or in fact the other issue raised by the linked article. That of ministers video-casting their sermons to multiple church campuses ala Mark Driscoll. Which is the subject of a separate article

"Only a preacher with a golden tongue has authority to preach the gospel. It conveys the unspoken belief that no one in the satellite congregation has the authority to speak to their context because preaching requires unique talents that only a few actually possess. Like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, only the larger-than-life giants, painted by pixelated light, and hovering above the congregation, possess these elusive talents.”

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