Copyright laws are good because they protect people from others who deceive and try to steal their works and sell them. However, at times, copyright rules can be so strict that they actually render an original work useless. In fact, copyright rules can be chains that bind up Christian workers and hinder them from doing their work.
I can understand a Christian curriculum designer or writer wanting to protect their creative works from others who would illegally copy and sell them, misuse them, or even desecrate them. I desire to protect the works God has me do from these things as well. But we need to carefully consider what we do with our copyright privileges.
For one thing, I don’t see how any individual or group of people can have a legitimate copyright on the word of God, the Holy Bible. God is the originator of His word, not any individual or group of humans. Furthermore, the time when God spoke through the prophets in the Bible and the people recorded it on scrolls, was so long ago in natural history that no copyright on it would be valid. Those who originally wrote God’s word on paper died many years ago, and have no valid claim to the original copy of God’s word. The Bible came about before anyone thought up copyright law. So how can there be a valid copyright? How can this copyright bind up Christian workers and prevent them from freely sharing the word of God with others? The Bible tells us, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21 KJV)
It’s extremely frustrating to me when I find great Bible teaching resources that are so bound up by copyright law that you can’t use them for the purpose which they were originally created. Or when you have to jump through a bunch of hoops or sort through a mass of red tape and pay royalty fees (after you purchased the product) before you can use it.
It doesn’t make sense to design or write a Bible curriculum or teaching tool for teaching God’s word and not giving the teacher permission to copy off craft patterns and worksheets for the students in class. Nor does it make sense to prevent the teacher from copying a page onto an overhead transparency or other type of visual aid for the students. After all, wasn’t the curriculum created for classroom use? What good is the material if you can’t even use it for its intended purpose?
For example, several years ago I paid about twenty dollars for a beautiful song book of Christian children’s worship songs. This book had the sheet music, words typed out on pages, and illustrations of hand movements to go along with the songs. I was delighted when I first saw that book, and one day I took the songbook to church with me so I could use it in Children’s Church. As I went to copy a song onto an overhead transparency, I noticed that the copyright prevented me from even making one overhead transparency so the children could see the words to the song as I tried to teach it to them.
Needless to say, finding out I couldn’t even make a transparency of the songs so I could teach them to the children made me angry. After paying twenty dollars for the book, the last thing I wanted to do was go through a bunch of legal hoops, write a letter to the author, and wait-- for who knows how long--to receive my answer. So I took that beautiful song book home and put it on a shelf in my office as a reminder of how greed can ruin a beautiful teaching tool. To this day, that book is still on a shelf in my office and it has never been used. It was bound up by copyright chains so tightly that it was rendered useless.
In my personal opinion, there’s nothing wrong with earning a reasonable amount of profit for your creative works. Artists, designers, and writers may need to do this to moderately support their families and to help with the costs of producing and selling their products. But we must guard our hearts against greed which can so easily entangle us. We must remember God gave each one of us gifts for the common good—equipping the saints, and sharing the gospel with others. He wants us to use those gifts for His glory and His pleasure.
When we, as Christian workers, bind up one another with excessive copyright rules, it’s as though we’re bringing the enemy’s toolbox to church and using it to chain up our Christian brothers and sisters and hinder them from doing what God has called them to do. How does this bring glory and pleasure to God?