Why half-hearted sharing isn’t enough
May 10th, 2011
Regular readers of this blog (if there exists such a beast) will know I am quite passionate about the ideas of freedom in church. To be more specific I really dislike the idea of restricting people through draconian copyright from worshipping and journeying with God. Recently I’ve noticed some a increase in some quarters at releasing some of the restrictions usually associated with copyright symbols. Music and other resource books are increasingly appearing with “photocopy permissions”. At face value this sounds wonderful and you’d be forgiven for believing it is generous on the part of the publisher. I’m sure the author/publisher/editor thinks they are being generous too – except they aren’t really. They’re just being confusing.
As an example let’s take a recent resource book I bought. “Free Photocopying included!” shouts the red splash logo on the front cover. “Great!” you think and you begin copying to use in your church. You do this because nobody usually reads the small print when the big print is so unambiguous. The problem here is that the standard copyright terms inside the front cover include the words..
“All rights reserved. It is illegal to reproduce or transmit in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, any part of this copyrighted file without permission in writing from the author” (emphasis mine)
Note that it says “including photocopying” there but hang-on the front cover says I can copy it. The introduction tries to clarify things by mentioning that “This book includes a licence which permits you to photocopy it but – for obvious reasons – for use within your group only”. So that’s clear then. There’s is your permission in writing.
Except it’s still not clear. What is my group, how often can I copy this and what if I am responsible for several “groups”? I know it sounds like I’m being pedantic here but believe me an “Intellectual Property” Lawyer would be even more so. Suppose I use this book for ten years. During that time I need to give copies to several people in two groups. Over time copies get lost, fade or people leave the group. Do I have to get the copies back off the people who leave? How many times can I copy it? If the people I give it to copy their copies am I responsible for them? How big does the author think a “group” has to be before they expect me to buy a new book?
“Oh you’re being silly Ryan” I hear you say. “Nobody is really going to care about such trivial details – least of all a Christian author.” Except we’ve had cases where Christian organisations sue other ones because they have similar sounding names. We have Christian CDs with copy protection on them and we’ve had situations where Churches receive threatening letters for putting something they believed to be public domain in their newsletter. Sadly the fact is that if you were not prepared to sue and you didn’t really care then you wouldn’t include the copying restriction text in the first place. A Christian (or any) Author may not intend to sue a copyright infringement but you can bet the publisher will. The publishing industry has even popularised it as a “crime” (it’s not it’s a civil not a legal infringement). And again to my eye it looks more like the Church is intent on copying (if you’ll pardon the pun) the way the rest of the world does this kind of stuff.
A Better way
I know there’ll be arguments of “People have to be paid” and “You can’t get everything for free” coming about now. I’ve heard them and I’ve answered them before. I won’t bother doing so again here but there is a better way to give people the freedom to photocopy without leaving all these legal holes for them to fall into. How about putting a specific licence on the work. One which might say: “You can copy this and pass those copies around. You cannot sell it and you have to say where you got the original”. That’s the essence of the Creative Commons licences. Specifically it’s a Attribution-Non-Commercial one. Some people familiar with CC will balk at my use of NC in there but in this context it works. You can add bits like “It has to be copied unaltered” (No-derivatives) and “You can’t restrict the way anybody uses the copies” (Share-alike) but these licences are specific. They tell you what you can and can’t do and they do so in plain English (or whatever language you prefer). Suddenly all my questions above are answered:
What is my group? group size and number is irrelevant, make as any copes as you need
How often can I copy this? As often as you like – just don’t sell the copies and say where you got it.
What if I am responsible for several “groups”? doesn’t matter
Do I have to get the copies back off the people who leave? no
How many times can I copy it? As many times as you need
If the people I give it to, copy their copies am I responsible or them? no, it’s fine
How big does the author expect a group to be before they expect me to buy a new book? doesn’t matter
Right now I imagine any authors reading this (if they have got this far) will be shaking their heads and dismissing me and mad. How can I possibly suggest removing their income like this. But I’m not. I can’t think of a Christian book I have read in the last twenty or thirty years that was written or compiled by somebody whose sole job was an author. Most of the authors are involved in some kind of ministry or job which gives their writing on that subject a certain weight. In short they are already receiving an income, the royalties from books (which is but a small percentage of the price you and I pay) are on top of their salary. But they have expenses? Which can probably be met by the sales of the book anyway quite early on – particularly how many books are pushed at conferences and festivals anyway. It’s common to presume that what I am suggesting here will result in fewer book sales because everyone will copy the one book. That’s not borne out by evidence elsewhere. Some authors have seen their book sales increase when they released the text elsewhere under Creative Commons and as I said if the book is pushed at a Christian event I imagine people will still buy copies rather than wait for a photocopy when they get home. The thing is this happens now. People photocopy some pages from a book, the recipient likes it and then buys the book. Nobody in their right mind would copy and entire book. Most people would copy a few pages and those who need the full book – buy it or borrow it. Some people prefer to buy physical books as well. Yes the profit from sales may drop but not as much as you think and mostly that will hit the publishing company not the author.
Nothing will happen
That sounds a bit defeatist but I am not expecting anything much to happen immediately following this post. Firstly I’m not that popular so I doubt many people will read it. Secondly people are not generally inclined to share these days. That’s funny because we all tell our kids too and our faith is based on free gifts that must be shared with others. One day maybe the Church will get this. Certainly a small pocket of it does now but right now, sadly, the Church seems to be quite merrily following the example set by the selfish and greedy parts of the world around us.
If you want to read more on this subject here are some of my blog posts on it:
- Authorised (KJ) version – not so free then
- Christians and copyright: why can’t we share?
- m108, document freedom and the church
- Announcing m108: the next step on freeing the Church
- Taking risks and freeingup worship
- Christianity that doesn’t spread straight from the fridge
- Human rights vs Human responsibility
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