Christians and copyright: why can’t we share?

Those who know me will know I care about freedom – a lot. I [use it in my work]( and I have [written about it here]( I am particularly concerned about freedom within the Church. For too long now there has been a growing trend of possessiveness within the Church. Driven by some kind of mimicry of the way some businesses act, Christians have been placing higher and higher importance on protecting “their” works. The collective name for these works is the mythical Intellectual Property. Mythical because try as I might I can find nobody giving a _legal_ definition of what it is or what its limits are. So we have draconian copy protection and threatening remarks placed upon Christian music and resources – resources which as I have [said before]( surely should be permitted to be used to [equip and encourage the rest of the family](
In an earlier post I said:

> It seems frankly daft that those who are using God given gifts to create wonderful ways to give him glory would seriously want to sue a fellow Christian for making an additional photocopy

Albert Einstein said “There are only two things that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity and I am not that sure about the former”. It seems Einstein was right and my remark that it would be daft for Christians to sue each other over such things did not mean it wouldn’t happen. I have recently heard about two incidents where a Christian group is suing (or threatening to sue) another one because they feel their “Intellectual Property” is being infringed.

###Absence of grace

Screenshot of the website
How about practising what you preach?

The first one is the SteelRoots debacle. A UK Christian youth ministry has been [threatened with legal action]( by a large US Christian media company – “The Inspirational Network Inc” (INI). Their crime? They use the same name for their ministry as one of the media company’s “ministries”. Looking close shows that other than Christian and Youth there is very little similarity between the two. The chances of somebody mistaking the UK ministry (which is a combined effort from local churches and Christian groups) for a US-based (e.g. not a UK company) TV station is pretty remote. And yet the big company has seen fit to bully the smaller ground-level ministry because they have the same name. INI claim that their broadcasts are sent to “98% of all UK households”. I call cowdung. Most estimates say there are around 22million households in the uk. At the best estimate there are around 10 million Sky customers. Take off some for pubs, clubs etc. add some for cable customers and you’ll end up with around the same number so that would be about 50% of UK households.

But facts and figures aside, this is a ridiculous situation! As [ChurchSofa has said]( what if no two churches were allowed to have the same name. SteelRoots UK has not sought to “trade” off the name, reputation or any other part of it’s US namesake and yet the threats have been sent. This action is entirely lacking in grace, love and adds nothing to the already tarnished name of Christianity. I bet nobody will be saying “See how these Christians love each other” upon reading this! In a final twist the SteelRoots·com website has a set of devotionals, one of the ones for today has this memorable quote:

> “What if everyone around you watched your life to see if you were really a Christian? Would you pass the test? **What if our actions can mean the difference in someone’s decision for Christ?**…” (emphasis mine)

What indeed.

###Absence of grace 2

The second incident has grabbed fewer headlines but is no less ridiculous or infuriating. A UK church published a poem it thought might encourage their members in the church newsletter. A copy of the newsletter was put on their website. It turns out the poem – which I believe was out of copyright in the UK – was under copyright in the US. Yep, you guessed it: the church received an e-mail from the US lawyers representing the “owner” of the poem. Their demands were simple – “You used our client’s poem, please pay us £7000”. SEVEN GRAND?! What happened to giving them a ring? What happened to asking them to put some kind of attribution? But again as I have said before what was the purpose of the poem? Was it to show off how clever the poet was, or was it to show how good God is. Maybe it was meant to encourage other Christians? Again this is a prime example of Christians behaving like the rest of the world – and worse than that – like the worst aspects of the rest of the world! If you use something from this site ( and you are [welcome to in a non-commercial way]( ) and I want you to stop, then isn’t it better for me to call you, send a friendly “would you mind not doing that?” e-mail than a threat of “pay up or else”? And if you question why I restrict commercial use of my work, it’s simply because I offer this stuff for free and I don’t want anyone else being charged for it. The Creative Commons licence I use means that should someone want to use it in a commercial venture they need only ask (but I might still say no). Non-commercial uses nned not ask and can just go ahead. So go ahead use my cartoons and artwork and my poems (such that they are) in your church bulletins and projection systems. As long as you are not charging people for the work or to get in, I’m fine with it.

### Do not write in anger

You may have guessed that I am angry about this. I was angry when I heard about last night but following my own advice I decided not to write about it then. I slept on it so I could write with a clear head. The trouble is these incidents and ones like them are ungracious, bullying and just plain wrong. As someone once said if the law supports this behaviour then the law is an ass! So although I have a clearer head I am still angry. If I wait until I am no longer angry I won’t be writing this piece.

I’ve been saying this for many years and now I am glad I am not alone: **ENOUGH!** What the heck are we doing to each other here? Christians caring more about some misplaced sense of “loss of earnings” and infringement of “intellectual property rights” than they do about loving each other and letting God have the glory. Why can’t Christians share any more? I’m pretty sure that Sundays Schools and youthwork programmes around the world are still teaching that sharing is good. As a father and a youthworker I know I try to pass that lessons onto those who are part of my responsibility and I am guessing I am not alone. So why are we teaching that if our actions don’t show it?

I don’t like to rant about others behaviour without offering suggestions for alternatives but I won’t waste space repeating myself here. Go read about the [m108 project](,  my proposal for a way for Christians to free themselves of these proprietary mammon-oriented principles.

As a closing remark. I once heard a sermon where the preacher asked how many people owned a TV, more than 10 CDs, more than two pairs of jeans, a car, a fridge etc. After the show of hands he turned and said “So you all own all this stuff? That’s odd because in my Bible it says ‘The earth is _the Lord’s_ and everything in it'”. That’s the point here. This stuff, the poems, the names we use, the music, the artwork is not as precious as we think. Is “our” work so much better than God’s? He gave it to us to share, enjoy and look after. We slap copyright on it and threaten each other if we dare use the same name or share something that blessed us. To sort of borrow a phrase from the Daily Mail (of all places): this is Christianity gone mad and it has to stop! The only way it will is if we stop it.

5 comments on Christians and copyright: why can’t we share?

  1. Good stuff. It’s odd that these lawyers don’t even know which Sky channel their clients broadcast on. The number they put in the letter was completely wrong. As for “98% of UK households”… I’d be surprised if they’re watched by than a few thousand people in a day.

  2. It’s all God’s. All creativity comes from him and if it furthers the Gospel and gives him glory then there is no such thing as copyright. I freely give away all the material I create for worship. The occasional hat tip is nice, but not even that is necessary because it is all about worship. Not money. I fully agree with all you say here.

    Paul used every single method of evangelism available to him at the time, and every single technique. I also believe he took one or two ideas from that Jesus bloke… in the name of the Gospel. The first thing available on the printing press was the Bible and in the same way all these new media present us with opportunities for evangelism, not making money off the back of the Gospel.

    Youtube asked if I wanted to “partner” with them on a video I made about the Rosary. I told them I wasn’t interested because I wanted as many people as possible to see it and consider that form of prayer. If people are letting the love of money get in the way of the Gospel, then they really should turn to their Scriptures a bit more…

    I suggest Steel Roots ignore the trolling and carry on with their good work. If the lawyers are threatening then the enemy must be mighty annoyed with their work!

    Fr. Simon

  3. Just as a follow-up, the UK-based Steelroots organisation has renamed itself Soulroots without fuss or fanfare. They have throughout this acted with honour and dignity and with much grace.

    Good on ’em.

  4. It’s sad to see how low we have strayed from our roots as christian. Reading this article only reminded me of the phone call I received when we started some years ago. Christians are more fierce than the people of the world and while we seek to gain a blessings with our ministry, others use the same cloak to swindle, bully and put the cross to shame. There is still a God who has the final say and these deeds never go unnotice. God will judge them since this is a classic example of “the lease of these.”

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