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Bill of Rights


Copyrights and the Fair Use Provision

The United States Copyright Law, Title 17 of the United States Code, Circular 92, Chapter 1, 107. states:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

This is commonly referred to as the Fair Use Provision.

I ran across this interesting article on "Christian Copyrights" by Jack Decker, it's worth reading.

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." - Matthew 6:24 (RSV)

We had a visitor at our church the other night. Perhaps this man has visited your church as well. When one of our ushers greeted him before the service and inquired as to this man's line of work, he would only say that he "travelled a lot." He sat through the entire service, THEN revealed that he had attended only to observe our church for possible violations of the copyright law.

You may not have realized it, but most Christian songs are copyrighted. If you reproduce them without the permission of the copyright owner, you have broken the copyright law and are subject to a fine. One church in Chicago apparently was fined $5,000 for copyright violations. The most common copyright violation is in the area of music intended for use of the congregation. Many churches use mimeographed song sheets or use an overhead projector to project a handwritten transparency of the song, both of which are illegal (it's legal to use a projector but only if the transparencies you use are obtained from or approved by the copyright holder).

Though most Christians would agree that we should not break the law of the land, one has to wonder about a law that can have the effect of inhibiting men from singing praises to God, or even from understanding the Bible. The Bible? Yes, in case you didn't realize it, all modern English-language versions of the Bible are copyrighted. Only the King James version of the Bible is not copyrighted. Thus, you cannot freely reprint portions of the word of God (in present-day English) without first securing permission from the copyright owner (you CAN quote small portions of text under a doctrine of law called "fair use", but you couldn't legally reproduce, say, the entire Gospel of John to give away as an evangelistic aid).

Of course, it's as likely as not that a copyright owner will NOT give you permission to reprint. Rather, they'll offer to SELL you copies of whatever you need, and will make a profit in the process. Thus, they take the word of God, or a song dedicated to God, and demand that men pay them before it can be used.

This is an issue that you hardly ever see discussed by anyone. Most of the big-time evangelists have books, records, and taped sermons, all of which are copyrighted. Thus, they have a financial incentive not to speak out against copyrights. I'm not saying that all of these men of God are deliberately withholding this from the Christian population (indeed, they may never have given the issue any thought at all, since Christians have been using copyrights for so long) but maybe now is the time to examine the issue, in light of recent attempts to strengthen the protection offered by the copyright law in the face of new technology (copying machines, tape duplicators, etc.).

Have you ever heard a Christian performer say "the Lord gave me this song?" Well, if that's true, then why did that performer probably apply for a copyright on it before the ink was dry on the paper? Did God give the performer that song as a means of praise and worship to Him, or so that the performer could profit by it? It would seem that if the Lord freely gives a song or a sermon to someone to share with God's people, that person has no business putting a price on it!

There are three categories of material that I think should NOT be copyrighted. One is the word of God itself, the Bible. Copyrighting the Bible restricts its use and forces men to pay other men for what rightfully belongs to God. There should NEVER be any restrictions on free distribution of the word of God.

The second category is a song or poem given by God to praise and glorify God. People should not have to pay other men in order to praise God together in an orderly manner, and if the Lord truly inspired the songwriter, doesn't ownership of the song really belong to God anyway? The final category is anything given by God to edify men or instruct men in the ways of God. In other words, if God directs an author to deliver some message of importance to Christians, it should not be hindered by copyright restrictions.

There are a couple of objections that people usually raise to the above. One is that "the laborer is worthy of his hire", and that anyone who does work for God deserves to be compensated for it. The other is that copyright protection is needed to prevent others (non-Christians) from stealing all or part of the work and possibly perverting it (using the melody of a Christian song with words that promote sensual values, for example).


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"When to seek God has become life and to glorify God has become self, then you have truly found God."