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8. Copyright & the 8th Commandment

The eighth commandment is not complicated: Do not steal. In the “paper” world, this was unambiguous, because physical objects are intrinsically rival—they cannot exist in more than one place at the same time. In the digital world, however, content can effectively exist in any number of places at the same time. This ability to share content in a non-rival way opens up new opportunities for the advance of God’s Kingdom, but it conflicts with the all rights reserved of copyright law. We must not adjust our ethical standards based on convenience or the likelihood of getting caught, but strive for integrity and uphold the law even when it hurts. That said, it is crucial that adequate discipleship resources be made available under open licenses in order to provide an honest and legal means of meeting the urgent spiritual need of the global church from every people group.1

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The invention of the airplane was a pivotal moment in the history of mankind. It forever changed the way we travel, by making it possible to move people and cargo long distances at much greater speeds than was previously possible. The airplane was an amazing invention that made possible things that had previously been impossible, but not everyone was thrilled with the side effects it introduced.

In 1945, Thomas and Tinie Causby experienced an unexpected side effect brought about by the airplane, and they were not impressed. The Causbys were chicken farmers in North Carolina and low-flying military aircraft were killing their chickens (apparently because the chickens became terrified and flew into the barn walls). So the Causbys filed a lawsuit against the government for trespassing on their land.

At first glance, this case would seem to be baseless. The airplanes never touched their land; they were flying over it. So the charge of trespassing would seem to be unsupported and the case likely to be thrown out. But there was more to it than that.

When the laws governing American property rights were written, there was no concept of air travel. The law held that property lines did not merely run in two dimensions, on the surface of the earth. A property owner did not just own the surface of his land, but all the land below it, to the center of the earth, and all the space above it, to “an indefinite extent, upwards.”2 So when the Wright Brothers invented a new technology—the self-powered airplane—they inadvertently created the potential for conflict with these age-old laws governing property rights.

The Causbys’ case depended on this law. If they owned not just the surface of the land, but the air above it as well, then they could sue the American government for flying its planes over their land, and they would have a good chance of winning. But the U.S. Supreme Court did not see it that way. Lawrence Lessig, in Free Culture writes:

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Causbys’ case. Congress had declared the airways public, but if one’s property really extended to the heavens, then Congress’s declaration could well have been an unconstitutional “taking” of property without compensation. The Court acknowledged that “it is ancient doctrine that common law ownership of the land extended to the periphery of the universe.” But Justice Douglas had no patience for ancient doctrine. In a single paragraph, hundreds of years of property law were erased. As he wrote for the Court,


"[The] doctrine has no place in the modern world. The air is a public highway, as Congress has declared. Were that not true, every transcontinental flight would subject the operator to countless trespass suits. Common sense revolts at the idea. To recognize such private claims to the airspace would clog these highways, seriously interfere with their control and development in the public interest, and transfer into private ownership that to which only the public has a just claim."3

In this situation, the established law was on the side of the property holders. They had every legal right to claim the ownership of the space above their land, and they did. But the law on which their argument depended had been written in a time and context where it was not possible to comprehend the kind of changes that would come about with the advent of new technology like the airplane. This new technology provided enormous and unprecedented benefits to society as a whole—rapid travel by air. But it conflicted with existing laws governing property rights.

The court realized that although the law stated a property owner had the rights to the space above their land, allowing an individual property owner to arrest the development of society by impeding the public’s use of airplanes for travel was a revolting idea to common sense. The court overturned the established law and limited the rights of individual property holders. They did this, not because they cared nothing for individual property, but because they cared more that the advance of society in general not be impeded by overly aggressive restrictions governing individual property. Individual property rights were a good thing, but the ability for society to enjoy the benefits of unimpeded air travel was a greater good.

When Common Sense Does Not Revolt

The laws that were written to govern physical property did not make room for the possibility of great advances brought about by new technology that enabled air travel. In a similar way, the laws governing intellectual property were also written during a time when the monumental change that would be brought about by the invention of digital technology was impossible to imagine. The original laws governing copyright, specifically, were written in the pre-digital era and so, not surprisingly, reflect a pre-digital era mindset. But in stark contrast to the laws regarding private property, the laws regarding copyright have become more restrictive over the years, not less.

20/20 Downside

Whenever a new technology is invented, the established players in that industry tend to only see how the new technology could negatively impact their bottom line. The threats posed by a new technology are seen with extraordinary clarity, while the opportunities presented by the same technology remain unseen. James Boyle in The Public Domain refers to this tendency as “20/20 Downside.”

The invention of the videocassette recorder illustrates this. The VCR created an immediate and massive concern to movie studios because it enabled people to record television and make copies of movies that they could then share with others. This, the studios feared, could not possibly be a good thing for their business. So they did what is usually done in such situations and took one of the key players in the development of the technology to court.

In 1982, the prosecution argued in Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., that Sony’s technology was only useful for infringing the copyrights of those who created the content. With evocative language and shrill warnings, the prosecution warned that videocassette recorders would critically cut into their revenue stream (because no one would go to the movie theaters anymore) and bring all manner of harm. It should therefore be declared illegal. During the legal proceedings some of the arguments from the prosecution bordered on hysteria. Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) stated the following:

[The defendant] has said that the VCR is the greatest friend that the American film producer ever had. I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.4

Despite all the rhetoric and dire warnings, the court ruled against the movie industry, and declared that the public cannot be denied the lawful uses of a technology just because some (or even many) may use the technology to infringe on others’ copyrights. If the movie industry was correct, this ruling should have been the beginning of the end for them. What actually happened was that the videocassette rental market soon generated more than 50 percent of the movie industry’s revenue.5 If they had won their case against Sony, the same videocassette technology that generated this revenue would not even have been allowed to exist.

When personal videocassette technology was invented, all the movie industries saw was the potential negative side of the technology. They could see the downside clearly, but the upside of the new technology—new revenue streams and increased consumption of movies—was invisible to them. Even after they were defeated in court and videocassette technology became a new and significant revenue stream for them, media industries continued to oppose new technology.

In September 1998, Diamond Multimedia introduced one of the first personal MP3 players, called the “Diamond Rio.” Anyone could transfer MP3 files from their computer to the portable player and take the music with them anywhere. The general populace was thrilled. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), not so much.

The RIAA filed a lawsuit the next month against Diamond Multimedia, to “protect the creative content of the music industry.” The RIAA alleged that the Rio “encourages consumers to infringe the rights of artists by trafficking in unlicensed music recordings on the Internet.”6 But the court ruled against the RIAA, finding that personal MP3 players were not inherently unlawful, even though they could be used in unlawful ways.

Ironically, in the few months between the filing of the original lawsuit and the final ruling in the case, the new music download industry was already flourishing, and analysts were predicting it would be a 1.4 billion dollar industry within three years.7 Today, the media download industry—that largely depends on portable media players—is a significant source of revenue for the music industry. As with the MPAA before it, the RIAA was unable to see the potential upsides to the new technology when it was first introduced, and they sued to get it declared illegal. As the lawsuit to make the videocassette illegal failed, so did the lawsuit to make the portable media player illegal. But the media industries were only a couple years away from a significant legal victory that would have a major impact on digital technology and filesharing over the Internet.

Things Get More Restrictive

In 1999, Shawn Fanning was an 18-year old college freshman with an idea for a computer program that would make it possible for anyone to share files (especially audio files in the MP3 format) with anyone else, using the Internet. His software, called Napster, launched the first generation of “peer-to-peer” file sharing. Instead of putting an MP3 on a web server for download (a relatively complicated task beyond the capability of many computer users), the Napster software enabled users to connect directly to each others’ computers over the Internet and copy MP3s rapidly and easily, from one computer to another. The general populace was thrilled, but the recording industry was decidedly not.

In 2001, in A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., several members of the RIAA sued Napster. They alleged that Napster engaged in both “contributory and vicarious” copyright infringement. They claimed that the primary intent of the Napster software was for illegal redistribution of copyrighted content and so should be shut down. This was, essentially, the same claim that was brought against Sony and VCR technology twenty years before. In those cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people could not be denied the legal use of a technology, just because some used it for illegal purposes.

But this time, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the technology and in favor of the industry, making Napster illegal. Interestingly, a crucial part of their ruling had to do with establishing the “commercial” nature of filesharing. Users of the Napster software did not make any money by sharing files freely with each other. But the court determined a use was “commercial” if you got for nothing something for which you would otherwise have to pay.

On the surface, this seems to make sense, but, as Boyle notes, it creates its own problems.

To put it differently, one central goal of copyright is to limit the monopoly given to the copyright owner so that he or she cannot force citizens to pay for every single type of use. The design of the law itself is supposed to facilitate that. When “getting something for free” comes to equal “commercial” in the analysis of fair use, things are dangerously out of balance. Think back to [Thomas] Jefferson’s analogy [“He who receives ideas from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine, as he who lights his candle at mine receives light without darkening me.”] If I light my candle at yours, am I getting fire for free, when otherwise I would have had to pay for matches? Does that make it a “commercial” act?8

Four years after the Napster case, another peer-to-peer filesharing program, called Grokster, was taken to court. Grokster, unlike Napster before it, did not maintain a central directory of all the files available for download from other computers. But in MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the U.S. Supreme Court found Grokster liable because they had “intended” to induce copyright violation. This decision rested on three factors: Grokster was trying “to satisfy a known demand for copyright infringement,” they did not provide any means of filtering and removing copyright-infringing content on their network, and Grokster made more money from their advertising-supported software when more people were using it, although Grokster knew they were using the software to pirate copyrighted content.

A Legal Conundrum

Common sense has not revolted at the notion of greater copyright restrictions in the digital era. Internet and mobile technology opens up new opportunities for ministry in ways that could not have been fathomed just a few decades ago. But the laws governing copyright have not become less restrictive and have become more enduring.

As a result, countless missionaries, church leaders, publishers, teachers—Christians all over the world, run into obstacles on a daily basis that have to do with legal restrictions on discipleship resources. The magnitude of this need is difficult to describe without appearing to overstate the case: nearly 2 billion Christians, in thousands of people groups, speaking nearly 7,000 languages, and all but a handful of these languages are critically under-resourced. Countless discipleship resources exist in a few major languages, but they are legally “off limits” to speakers of most other languages, because of the man-made laws governing Intellectual Property.

Imagine the frustration they encounter on a daily basis. The resource is there, available in digital format on the Internet, and it could easily be translated, adapted, and redistributed for effective ministry. But they are legally prevented from doing so.

It is as frustrating for them as it would be for the pilot of an airplane if the common sense of the Supreme Court had not revolted against the notion of property rights extending infinitely above a person’s land. Think of a pilot with a life-giving supply of food, water, and medicine that is urgently needed in order to save the lives of victims of a natural disaster. He is ready, willing, and able to fly his plane to those victims and deliver what they need for life.

But what if the law of the land had not been overturned by the Supreme Court, and air travel was restricted by the property rights of the land owners? Because of the legal rights of the owners of the land thousands of feet below, he is not allowed to fly unhindered through their airspace to deliver the supplies. First, he must jump through a number of legal hoops and be granted a license to fly over their land. What if he has contacted the land owners for permission and has not heard back? What if some landowners are attempting to establish an exclusive license agreement with him so as to gain as much revenue from his flights as possible? Maybe some have simply rejected his request for permission to fly over their land and there is no alternate route. Meanwhile, people are dying without the supplies—supplies that already exist, are in his plane, and could be easily delivered. Except the law says he cannot.

What should the God-fearing, law-abiding pilot do? Obey the law and let the people who need help die? Or should he disobey the law and save the lives of the people? Common sense revolts at the idea that one should ever be put in a position where they have to choose.

Yet, this is exactly the choice faced by believers all over the world, every day. Their need, while every bit as real and severe as the need experienced by victims of a natural disaster, is spiritual and eternal in nature. The obstacle they encounter is also due to legal restrictions governing the use of property. But in their case, the legal restrictions they are facing have tightened, not loosened, and their plight is getting worse, not better. They often find themselves between a rock and a hard place—either they break the law to get the discipleship resources they need, or they do not get them.

The problem is complex; the solution is not. Before proposing a solution, we will consider why the transition from the “paper” world to the digital world has significantly increased the complexity of the problem itself.

It Wasn’t Always This Complicated

In the physical world, things pertaining to intellectual property rights have historically been less complicated. This is because the means of accessing someone else’s intellectual property depended on physical objects (e.g paper and ink, in the case of books). Physical objects are costly and relatively difficult to produce and distribute (and, by extension, to reproduce and redistribute).

When we buy a physical book, we do not actually buy the book itself (the content). We buy the paper, glue and ink that comprises the means of accessing the content. So though we refer to it as ownership, saying things like, “That is my book,” we do not actually mean that we are the author or that we own any of the rights to the book. We mean that we own the physical object that provides a means of consuming the content.

Owning a shovel and owning a book (or a magazine, a record, a cassette tape, etc.) are similar. They are both physical objects to which ownership rights attach. But they are remarkably different in that the shovel is only physical property, while the book is physical property that contains content (text and images) that is the intellectual property of someone else.9

This is all well and good in the physical world because both the shovel and the book are subject to the laws of physics. A physical object cannot simultaneously exist in more than one place. They are both “rival” goods, meaning that if you have a book (or a shovel), I cannot also have it at the same time. It follows, then, that if you have a book and I want it, a transfer of ownership must take place before I can have it. There are only two ways for me to legally acquire your book: either you sell it to me, or you give it to me. (You might also loan it to me, but that is a temporary arrangement and does not affect the ownership of the book.)

Unless you sell or give the book to me, I am unable to have it without resorting to more dubious means of getting it: either stealing it from you or copying it. The complexity and risk of stealing a physical object (e.g. breaking into someone’s house to steal a book) makes physical theft a relatively rare occurrence. The complexity and cost of reproducing and redistributing copies of a physical book are also very high, creating “friction” in the process. This friction is so great that mass reproduction and redistribution of physical objects like books is a relatively rare occurrence that is outside the means and expertise of most people. So, for the most part, things in the “paper” (physical) world are easy to understand and predictable.

There is no ambiguity in the eighth commandment. It is pretty clear that when God says “Do not steal” (Exodus 20:15) that He means, in fact, that we are not to take what does not belong to us. Theft in this context is easily understood as “the act of stealing; specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.”10

“Do not steal” applies equally to a shovel and a book, regardless of the fact that the physical book contains the copyrighted content of someone else, while the physical shovel is just a shovel. In the physical world, one does not need to contemplate the difference between stealing a shovel and stealing the intellectual property of someone else by illegally copying and redistributing thousands of copies of their book for free without their permission. Most of us do not have the means or opportunity to do so anyway. So functionally, we can treat a shovel and a book in much the same way.11

But the simplicity of the “paper” world does not carry over into the digital world.

The Tangled Web of the Digital World

With the rise and widespread use of digital technology and the Internet, the neat, understandable, and straightforward legal system governing intellectual property in the physical world got thrown into disarray. At a foundational level, a significant difference between the digital world and “paper” world, is that in the digital world, content (including discipleship resources) can be transmitted like ideas, instead of objects. This can be illustrated easily.

Think of a huge elephant with red paint dripping off. Can you picture it? This idea was transmitted to you almost instantaneously and at no cost to either the initiator or recipient. You can now, for reasons known only to you, easily transmit this same idea to any number of other people in your sphere of influence, at no cost to you or them. If this sounds remarkably similar to the act of emailing a picture to a friend or sharing a music file between two mobile phones, that’s because it is. Transmitting ideas in the real world and transmitting content in the digital world are functionally identical.

In the digital world, books and record albums that used to only be accessible through physical, atoms-based objects, can be accessed through digital files, comprised of “bits” (like eBooks and MP3s). This makes access to the content contained in those files much more convenient. It does so in two ways: by removing the “friction” that exists in the physical world, and by making it possible for content to be shared in a non-rival way.

As we saw above, there is an intrinsic cost and complexity in mass reproduction and redistribution of physical objects. This inconvenience tends to enforce compliance with the law in the world of “paper”, but the inconvenience disappears in the digital world. Everyone who owns a computer, laptop, or mobile phone has an inexpensive digital copy machine that can make any number of exact copies of any digital content and send it to anyone, anywhere, instantly, all at virtually zero cost to themselves. In the digital world, anyone with a computer can easily become a content distributor—doing so no longer requires centralized corporations with massive infrastructure and huge budgets.

Not only has digital technology removed the friction in the process of reproducing and redistributing content, but sharing of content in digital formats can now be done in a “non-rival” way. In the physical world, if I give you my book, I cannot also have it at the same time. But in the digital world, if I give you my eBook, I can have it at the same time, because giving you a copy does just that—provides you with a copy, without depriving me of my own. In fact, I can give any number of copies of the book to any number of people and it does not in any way affect my access to the content myself.

This is stating the obvious, but it has significant implications. Effectively, this means that digital content is not subject to the same constraints that govern content in the physical world. The same digital file (or an exact clone of the file) can exist in more than one place at the same time. And this reality is what introduces some ambiguity into things that used to be simple.

How Not to Solve the Problem

At a recent meeting of ministry leaders, the topic of discussion was how to provide discipleship resources to speakers of other languages, at the lowest cost. One of them produced a USB flash drive and, with a wink, invited the others to copy the resources on it and use them for ministry. The resources were in a major world language and would be of tremendous usefulness to people working in the parts of the world where that language is spoken. But one look at the terms of use governing those discipleship resources showed that it was not licensed for others to redistribute or use without permission. The means and opportunity of meeting the need triumphed over ethics.

Anyone who uses computers and digital technology in ministry has probably felt this tension. There is a ministry need that must be met. Maybe there is an urgent need for use of an evangelistic video, or to record and distribute an audio version of translated Scriptures, or to install Bible translation software without having a license key, or countless other ministry needs. The tools and resources are available, but the law stands in the way. We may strongly disagree with the restrictions in place. Our common sense may revolt at the idea that copyright law—especially with regard to discipleship resources—should be so restrictive in the digital age.

The temptation in these contexts can be to adopt a slipshod approach to ethics that relegates the morality of a given action to convenience, and the likelihood of getting caught. When we find ourselves in a position where we may be able to cut corners or infringe on the legal rights of others without getting caught, it is easy to elevate “meeting the need” above obedience to the law. We look both ways and determine that no one is going to sue us for it, and so we break the law.

The transition from the “paper” world to the digital world was a massive shift, but the the definition of “theft” in the digital world has already been established by the legal systems of the countries in the world. It may not be what we want to hear, but the law is very clear on the matter. God’s law says you are not to steal. Man’s law says what you create, you own, and what you own is “all rights reserved,” plain and simple. Unauthorized distribution or use of someone else’s content is, therefore, theft.

This can be very frustrating for people in ministry who have no other means to meet the spiritual needs of the people they serve. Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Rome, who were also in a frustrating context (to put it mildly), is an encouragement to those facing this tension:

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves… For government is God’s servant for your good. —Romans 13:1-4

There is no authority except from God, and government is God’s servant for our good. When faced with a government whose decrees were often contrary to the advance of the Gospel, Paul reminds the Romans that God is sovereign. God was sovereign over the Roman government of Paul’s day, and He rules over governments that make increasingly restrictive rules regarding intellectual property rights. His purposes may be hidden from us, but they never fail. God may move in a mysterious way, but the heart of the king is still in God’s hand, and He turns it wherever He wills (Proverbs 21:1).

The government writes the laws, and the government is God’s servant. So as those who bear the Name of the Sovereign God and exist to be His witnesses, we would do well to conduct ourselves in a manner “worthy of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27) and conduct ourselves “honorably among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:12). Even in matters of intellectual property.

Unity, not Division

There is precedent in Scripture for Christians to disregard the “rules of man” in order to obey God. In response to the Jewish leaders' demands that they stop preaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered them, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Attempting to apply this principle to the arena of discipleship resources and copyright law is unwise, for the simple reason that the contexts are not identical. In the case of the disciples' preaching, the “law” imposed on them provided them with no recourse but to break it, because they absolutely had to preach the name of Jesus. There was no way for them to obey both God and man. This is not the same context we are addressing here. If the laws of man prohibited the creation of discipleship resources at all, the case could be made that this principle applies.

Even if this principle did apply in the context of discipleship resources and copyright law, a missiological strategy based on it would be unlikely to provide an effective, sustainable means of meeting the need for adequate discipleship resources in every people group, for obvious reasons. It not only violates the God-given right of those who own the content, but it would likely pit Christian against Christian in legal battles, in a way that would bring discredit to the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:6-7). This is exactly the wrong way to resolve the problem. Instead, it is better to appeal to those who own the discipleship resources needed by the global church for generosity in the licenses that govern some of those resources. In this way, the need of the global church can be met, while also enabling the entire global church to experience greater unity, rather than division and conflict.

Toward a Legal, Ethical Solution

The technology that the global church needs in order to provide adequate discipleship resources in every language of the world, for the spiritual maturity of believers in every language, already exists. But we cannot take full advantage of these (and future) technologies in the legally restrictive and potentially dangerous context of the ministry world today. Taking full advantage of digital technology’s unprecedented opportunities for the advance of the Gospel conflicts with the default rights preserved for content owners by copyright law. But the solution is not to break the law and hope we do not get in trouble for it.

That said, upholding the rights of content owners and emphasizing the importance of living in submission to God and to the man-made laws that govern matters of intellectual property does not imply that all is as it should be. The restrictiveness of copyright law combined with the urgent need for discipleship resources in thousands of languages leaves the global church with little recourse but to resort to piracy in order to grow spiritually. This should not be.

The law of the land gives content owners the right to hold on to the exclusive rights to their own content and to leverage it in whatever way they wish for maximum financial reward from it. They can do so throughout their entire life and the lives of their heirs for many decades after they die. But just because it is a government-sanctioned right and the default approach does not make it the best strategy for making disciples of all people groups.

If we are serious about completing the commission that Christ has given us, we may need to rethink our concept of ownership. We may also need to release some of our best discipleship resources under open licenses for the glory of God and the eternal good of His global church. So while we uphold the law governing the intellectual property rights of the content creators, we also appeal for greater openness and legal freedom of the discipleship resources that are created.

Some will rightfully point out that the freedom to make one’s living from creating and selling discipleship resources is not just a legal right, but a Biblical one as well. This is true, as we have already seen in passages like 1 Corinthians 9. In that chapter, Paul clearly states that those who sow spiritual things have the right to receive physical benefits from their labor, and those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. There is much to say about this right, and we will look at it in greater detail in the remaining chapters. But the key is this: while Paul does uphold this as a right, the conclusion of his argument in this exact context is easily overlooked:

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ… I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision… What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. —1 Corinthians 9:12,15,18, ESV, emphasis added

Paul models for us an attitude toward ministry that chooses to endure anything for the advance of the Gospel, rather than leverage a God-given right, when doing so puts an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. It is this attitude, when adopted by content owners, that will meet the need for adequate discipleship resources for the global church from every people group. This is the kind of humble, generous, sacrificial attitude that is able to go the distance and reach the “least of these.”

Releasing restrictions on discipleship resources is not a trivial matter. Removing the legal obstacles that hinder the growth of the global church requires humility and a willingness to endure the loss of what would otherwise have been gain. But it is also not without reward. Paul states that there is inherent reward in presenting the gospel free of charge and without making full use of our rights in the gospel.

As the global church moves toward the creation of a core of legally unrestricted discipleship resources in every language, there is a great need for clarity, consistency, and legal accuracy in the terms of the licenses that govern these resources. It is important that we avoid licenses that are incomprehensible, as well as those that seem easy to understand but are not legally sound. We also need to avoid the complexity and headache of incompatible licenses. Some licenses sound like a good idea but should be avoided because they are based on a deficient understanding of how the Internet and digital technology works, making them self-defeating and unsustainable.

What we need is a license that permits everything that needs to be permitted for the growth of the global church and advance of the Gospel, while also protecting what needs to be protected. This license needs to permit the legal and unrestricted translation, adaptation, repurposing, redistribution, and use of discipleship resources. But it needs to do so in a way that minimizes exploitation and preserves the openness of the content, even through multiple generations of translations and adaptations.

What we need is a license that does not conflict with new advances in digital technology, but facilitates the free sharing of content all over the world, by whatever new means is invented in the future.

What we need is a license for freedom.

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Conclusion of Part 3: The global church is only able to freely translate, adapt, build on, revise, redistribute and use adequate discipleship resources without hindrance when those resources are released from the copyright restrictions that prevent them from doing so.

1 Much of this chapter, including the title, is based on an original work by Bruce Erickson, “Intellectual Property and the Eighth Commandment,” jul 2012, It is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

2 St George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries (Rothman Reprints, 1969), 18, quoted in Lessig, Free Culture, 1.

3 Ibid, 2; “UNITED STATES v. CAUSBY, 328 U.S. 256,” may 1946,

4 “Home Recording of Copyrighted Works” (Law Building, Moot Courtroom, UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, Calif., apr 1982),

5 Tina Balio, “Museum of Broadcast Communications, ‘Betamax Case,’” 1997,, quoted in James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008),, 64.

6 Robert A. Starrett, “RIAA loses bid for injunction to stop sale of Diamond Multimedia RIO MP3 Player; appeal pending,” jan 1999,

7 Elizabeth Clampet, “Court OKs Diamond Rio MP3 Player,” jun 1999,

8 Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, 76.

9 A shovel might also contain the intellectual property of someone else if, for example, some part of the design has a patent on it or displays a corporate trademark. Furthermore, one could argue that tools like a shovel in the physical world are analogous to software in the digital world. Given our focus on content and copyright restrictions, we will not address other forms of intellectual property in this argument.

10 “Theft,” n.d.,

11 Although we do not address it here, the rapid growth of 3D printing technology is starting to lower the cost of creating (and recreating) some objects in the physical world. It is not without cause that some consider the 3D printing revolution to be the start of a new, technologically-driven industrial era.