Copyright and copy-wrong.

(Sorry for the naff title - I was struggling with that one!)

Brodie made an interesting post last week. I’d recommend going and reading it and the comments it’s attracted, as it’s what sparked off the thought processes that have lead to this post, but if you don’t want to the gist of it is about another blogger who drew the attention of the photographer of an image they had used. The discussion that follows is very interesting, and has got me asking lots of questions of myself and my own attitudes. My thoughts are a work in progress, but that’s always the way if we’re honest.

(There’s lots of long, dull faffiness in this post, but I hope it ends up somewhere worthwhile.) First, copyright. If you ‘make’ something (photograph, illustration, story, song, recording), it’s yours - you own the ‘copyright’. There’s nuances and exceptions, mainly to do with whether it’s derivative of another work and whether you were hired to do it, but in law that’s the broad principle. The word ‘copyright’ simply means that you have the ‘right’ to decide who can do what with it.

Next, licenses. If someone wants to make use of it, and you allow them, you ‘license’ them certain rights. Maybe to use it on their website, maybe just once, maybe in return for a link. Or maybe in an ad for a big global firm, maybe for a whole year, maybe for a lot of money in return. What you don’t have to do, unless you want to, is relinquish your copyright. If you do, then all those rights to make those decisions become theirs, and you have no further say, ever.

In the Church and in ministry, this is probably a bigger deal than most people realise. When there are images in a slideshow, or a video clip used, a song played or even song words reproduced on screen or in an order of service, there are rights issues need thought about. That’s why we have such things as CCLI, to simplify the administration of all of this and make it easier for us to get it right.

That’s important because legally (I’ll leave the moral question for a paragraph or two) using an image, song, whatever without license or right to do so is stealing. The record companies will tell us that it also nabs food directly from the mouths of artists, but that assumes that all is well in the music industry, and that’s a whole other post! Even if you’re putting together a slideshow, and just skim Google Images for your pics, odds are the ones you land on aren’t public domain and you technically shouldn’t use them.

(Oh, that’s one more thing: ‘public domain’. It’s a phrase that is essentially the opposite of ‘copyright’. A work ‘in the public domain’ is freely available for anyone to do what they like with. Note that ‘publicly available’ is not the same thing as ‘public domain’. Something published, say on the web, is not ‘in the public domain’ unless the author says so.)

In broad strokes, that’s UK law (as I understand it, I am not a lawyer as they say) if you add in the basic conventions about referencing and quoting, etc.

As Christians, and maybe as bloggers, how do we approach all this?

First up, don’t steal. Even if you feel that all content should be free, and you make yours all freely available, that’s not a position you can rightly enforce on other authors/content producers. It’s tough, but I don’t think there’s any getting away from it. Play nice with other people’s work.

But next I think as a blogger (stopped myself saying ‘writer’ there!) and a photographer. There’s a strong imperative all the way through Scripture to live generously, and to hold on lightly to material things. That’s something I’m really bad at, and I find myself regularly humbled by the attitudes and actions of people I know and meet. An important caveat to all I say here is that I’m bad at this. I’m weak, and I tend to fall short of my own ideals.

Apparently we’re in the ‘information age’, people make their living and sometimes their fortunes in what gets called ‘intellectual property’ (‘IP’ to save me some typing from here on in). That’s intangible stuff - making a song rather than a car, or a digital photograph rather than a potato. It gets thorny because these things are easily and stealthily reproduced: if I take your potato, you’ll notice that you can’t eat it, but if I take a copy of your picture, you may never know.

That being the case, how do we translate the ideas of living generously or holding on lightly to the world where IP is where it’s going on?

I take pictures. Sometimes people like them enough to want to use them. 99 times out of 100, all I want back is a credit and a link - but I hold ‘all rights reserved’ on my images so that I can make that stipulation. Same goes for these words I write (although I’ve yet to find anyone wanting them). That’s my position, and it requires some contact with me before you take and use. I think that’s fair enough. To translate back to the ‘material world’ - I’m cool with the giving and lending of stuff, the giving of lifts and a bed for the night, etc, but I don’t have a shoe box at the front doorstep containing the keys to the house and the car and a note saying, “Here you go, work away.” That’d be a challenge too big, but maybe it bears thinking about…

Where it gets very interesting is when you come across things like Creative Commons. I think this is a model Christians can and should embrace. Andrew Jones is a keen and eloquent supporter of the ideal.

I freely admit that it’s something I’m still working myself up to, but that’s all to do with my own pride, with a fair helping of selfish ambition thrown in - somewhere in my deepest, darkest, most private I still want to be ‘discovered’. Yeah, I know. Sorry. I’m a chump.

For me, who likes to think of himself as at least a little bit creative, that challenge is every bit as tough as the one to stand against the money-driven economy of our society, the drive to acquire.

As Brodie has prompted me to ask, how do we and can we practice hospitality and generosity online? I think I might know the answer to that question, and as usual it’s one that stretches me beyond this nice comfortable patch I inhabit.