Honoring Intellectual Property: Theory

As a youth minister and a writer, I’ve often found myself playing good cop/bad cop on the issue of intellectual property rights, but in the past few weeks I have been more convicted that protecting the rights of creators and sealing their work against theft in any form is extremely important, not only to maintain an economy, but to preserve the integrity of ministry.

This may sound extreme but we have a widespread problem of intellectual theft. Music, video and software are shared (aka stolen over and over again) over the Internet; assignments at all levels of school are plagiarized; stolen literary material is found in books before and after publication.

Very often, these materials, especially video, music and software products, turn up in ministries, but their use in Christ’s service does not make them legitimate. I offer the following three areas of our Christian life that using stolen property violates.

STEWARDSHIP: Being a steward means being trusted with a certain amount of property, to use both for the advancement of my work and (more importantly) the creator’s. Stewardship involves always crediting the owner; using what he produces in a way that honors him; and knowing that I don’t own it and there are restrictions on what I may do with it.

THEOLOGY: When we disrespect the love and work that goes into creation of any man-made thing, we show disrespect for the Creator and the love and work that He put into giving us our abilities. When we steal from our neighbor (and that’s everyone) no matter how small the theft, we fail to love that neighbor. The way we treat our fellow humans is telling on how we think about God.

REPENTANCE: When we say our confessions and receive absolution, we are doing two things; we are giving up our sins and pledging to replace them with Godly practices. How can we be truly repentant, and receive the Sacrament in the right manner, if we hold onto stolen goods and don’t make restitution for them?

I call on my fellow youth workers, and on all my fellow believers, to commit to not collecting or using any stolen intellectual property in our life’s work. We cannot excuse ourselves by complaining that the authors and artists already have enough money; that’s not for us to judge. We can’t pretend it’s okay just because we think everyone else does it; what kind of example does that set our students?

I won’t pretend I’ve never used shared material, but today my hard drives at work and home are clear of other people’s property, and I renew my pledge to honor the creators’ rights in all the materials my ministry uses.


Joe said...

I think you're right on. There's a student at our church who became fascinated with a Beatles song. She knew I had it and wanted to borrow it to make a copy. I told her I couldn't do that - that no matter how little you think it affects Sir Paul McCartney, it's still theft. It's a matter of integrity.
Our solution was inconvenient, but important. She's borrowed my disc for three months. I figured she forgot about returning it and I considered asking for it back. Out of the blue she said she still had it, was listening and wasn't making a copy of it. I told her to keep it as long as she wants... a small sacrifice to encourage integrity.

Esther said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I have always been a bit upset about pirating music and stuff, but especially when fellow Christians think it's okay.

I won't lend things out to people if they plan to copy them and I never download music unless I'm paying for it.

I definitely think this is a message that needs to get out and I am glad you could put it into Christian terms to show why it is wrong for people in the church to pirate intellectual property.

Anonymous said...

a bold statement, Rook. but is it feasible without cultural change? and how much do we steal without knowing we're taking it?

that said--i have neither given, nor received, nor have I tolerated others' use of unauthorized aid (VU honor code).


Isaac, The Rookie said...

Joe and Esther, thanks for the backup-- I may miss my downloaded Futurama episodes, but I get more sleep without them, both physically and conscience-ly.

Karl, throw me an example here of what you mean by "stealing without knowing we're taking." When I read that my mind jumped to something like people putting photos from Amazon of the books they're reading into blog posts (which incidentally, I think, falls on the good side of the line because they're linked back and honor the author by making it easy to buy the book.)

Isaac, The Rookie said...

...and to the point in Karl's post I forgot to respond to just now, where does cultural change begin? Doesn't it often start with one person, or a small movement, willing to say "This is something important enough for me to stand for?"