Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Church A stealing creative content / intellectual property from Church B

1. Just because people are happy to be generous, it doesn’t mean that they’re happy to be stolen from. I might be happy for you to come in to my house and join me for a meal, I may give you permission to let yourself in and make a sandwich, but I’m probably not happy for you to climb in through a window, unannounced, and cook yourself dinner. It is rude to presume. Ask!

2. It is deceitful to try to make yourself look cleverer than you are. Would your church’s AGM video have the same wow factor if your people knew that the script wasn’t yours at all? Are you pretending that it is your creativity and your amazing vision for the future, when... it isn’t. Would that change the way your people see you? Would you be embarrassed if someone posted the original and your rip off side by side online and it went viral for all your church members and peers to see? Yes? Then by doing it you were trying to deceive people about your own cleverness. No? Then why the heck didn’t you put a note on the video/sermon/document attributing the ideas to the people they came from?

3. Ideas that people publish in church growth books are fair game in a way that artistic interpretation of those ideas aren’t. You might say, “There’s nothing new under the sun. In what church x does, I can see the direct ideas of church growth books a, b and c. In fact, some of their vision ideas came directly from those books. I just took what they had already taken.” Um. No. By buying the book, some proceeds of the ideas are going to the creators. But you should still attribute the ideas - just tell your people which books you have been reading and say that you’ve gotten ideas from them.

I don’t think that God is too impressed when we steal other people's ideas and pass them off as our own. I propose that we put a couple of simple things in place to discourage it.

  1. Come up with a standard way of attributing ideas. If you use the materials of others, at the end of your video (or whatever) you have to print: “Creative content courtesy of St Peter’s Orthodox church” For non-video content, credits could be printed in the notice sheet or something and certainly on the church’s website. 
  2. Set up a website exposing church intellectual property theft. . It sounds harsh, but our hearts are sinful and having consequences for ungodly behaviour helps us to be godly.


  1. Even putting aside the intellectual property issue, it's a matter of basic copyright. Regardless of whether there is or isn't the copyright symbol, the creator still owns the rights to that work and it cannot be used without permission - maybe people don't realise this? The creator of the work would be well justified to request acknowledgement or request it was taken down, or pursue further action. Perhaps to reinforce this issue, creators need to explicitly say that permission needs to be obtained and put copyright symbols on EVERYTHING. It's a shame though that people (especially in the church) can't see it's simply theft and lying.

  2. Sorry to nitpick, but the word 'theft' as a legal term cannot be applied to intellectual property - the correct term is 'copyright infringement'.

    For something to qualify as 'theft' or 'stealing' there must be a deprivation of property. I'm not saying that copyright infringement isn't wrong (although I do think copyright terms are far too long), but it's incorrect to use the term 'steal' even if you feel it's morally equivalent (there's even a legal precedent:

  3. I wanted to post this to the facebook discussion, but we aren't friends on facebook, so I'll put it here instead :)

    It's not only songs/videos/articles that should be attributed. At a Beach Mission houseparty one year, the team pastor recounted a dream/vision/allegory he'd had, which was incredibly moving, confronting, and challenging... to anyone who hadn't read the book he ripped it off word-for-word from. All he had to do was say "I heard this and it moved me, let me retell it", and everything would have been just fine. As it was, he completely destroyed any confidence I had in him.

    As Christians, we want to give a good witness for Christ. When we don't attribute something to the person it comes from, we hurt our testimony, sometimes irreparably.

    (This goes for posting stuff to blogs/facebook etc too - always link back to where your funny picture came from)

  4. In the academic world that would be called plagiarism. There are big penalties for plagiarising. Why should it be any different in churches? Unless church A thinks that because we're all Christians and we love eachother, that should make it all okay??

  5. Usually I'm pretty strict on copyright. Don't like downloading pirated software, TV shows, music, etc. However, when it comes to Christian material, although I would usually try to make some kind of attribution for any substantial re-use, I think Christians are often too miserly about their content. If it is good material and helps people know Jesus and spread the gospel, share it all the more. Yes, it is bad if someone is trying to be deceitful or pretend they are something they are not, or use others' content for selfish gain. But if it is used for good intent, is it such a big deal? Within the Bible, Scriptural authors aren't always fully attributed when quoted :) And we probably don't attribute enough to God for every good idea and creative content etc. I think Kate Wilkinson had the right idea: "May the love of Jesus fill me, As the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, This is victory... May His beauty rest upon me, As I seek the lost to win, And may they forget the channel, Seeing only Him." If somehow I become famous, remind me I said this :P

  6. Hi Craig.

    Quoting Kate Wilkinson is appropriate if you are the abused party. It is not appropriate for the abuser to use it to justify their abuse. "Let me sin so that you have the opportunity to be gracious."

    In case you were wondering, it wasn't my content that was plagiarised. It wasn't from my church either.

    What the church in question did was far far over the line. You probably didn't follow what happened when I fb linked to this blog post. A commenter linked to the two videos. They were word for word, camera shot for camera shot the same (though with different people). After some embarrassed phone calls and emails between the churches, things were sorted out. The church admitted they were in the wrong and apologised. It was suggested that the church put an attribution on the video - In a case like this, repentance would mean that you stop pretending that content that isn't yours, is yours... The church agreed and did it. The video had been up unattributed for a year. It stayed up attributed for a couple of days, then the page was removed altogether.

    1. As I said, "Yes, it is bad if someone is trying to be deceitful or pretend they are something they are not, or use others' content for selfish gain" Yes, I haven't seen the links you are talking about. I guess I've seen too much of other side. Eg a Bible college in one state couldn't use a name because it was trademarked by a church in another state.. that just seems ridiculous to me... :)

    2. Sorry if I sounded narky. I'm not. Hope you guys are doing well.