Open Source, Copyright & Fair Use

If you or your Church has a Christian Copyright Licens Edite (CCL) then you will have recently received notification from the folk at CCLI that Churches are no longer exempt from requiring a Phonographic Performance License.   What this means realistically is that if you use recorded music or video in a service, at a wedding or in any other way you will now require a further licence to cover this usage.

Give to Caesar what is due Caesar

Licensing is a difficult area for the Church, some just don’t get the need, some just simply cannot afford the cost of these licenses but all in all CCLI do a sterling job keeping Churches within the boundaries of secular law on these things.  Most of us would acknowledge that the worker is due their wages and understand that copyright for songs and hymns is a necessary way of making sure people are paid.

Copyright symbol

I am very,very hot on licensing issues, all churches need to take this stuff seriously and fly not close to the law but as far above it as possible. Churches need not to be seen to be flouting the law. We need to not just obey the laws of the land, but be clearly visible in our observance of them.

Yet I have always been slightly concerned as to whether we’ve been sold to easily the worldly way of doing copyright.  When it comes to worship songs, or even scripture there seems to be an almost draconian approach to allowing churches or individual believers access to the the material in question.

Those of you who know me or read my twitter stream will  know that I am a big fan of free and open source software (FOSS).  I run the Linux operating System, I use a fully-featured office suite, graphics program, email client and web browser all – open source or free software.

The Open Source model is intriguing it promotes a software culture unlike any other culture in the ‘commercial’ world –  the basic belief that drives the movement is that software should be a resource that is shared  – it goes against everything the ‘world’ offers, particularly from the big player (Microsoft, Apple, etc.)  The Open Source model doesn’t stop people making a wage out of their hard work – the Free in FOSS should be understood as not necessarily meaning that there isn’t a  charge to use someone’s work – “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer”.  But none the less the ethos of the model generates a lot of software at no cost.  Ultimately it means that developers share the code they develop, whole communities of software engineers work together to produce excellent products that users can (most often) use for free.  What they have produced can then be used as the foundation for a new project and so the whole FOSS community  benefit.

Blessed to be a blessing

How different the Church’s approach to worship is.

I am an artist. This does not mean I will work for free.

Photo via Craig Gilman on Facebook

Genesis 12 says we are blessed in order to bless others.  Yet the worship music and teaching we find so inspiring has somehow got caught up in an entirely worldly approach to usage rights. While I don’t want to cast dispersions on the anointed and blessed music and worship that is being produced today or those people who make a  living as musical worship leaders, I do find I have concerns about the way music (and other forms of worship) that are inspired by, originate with, and seek to praise the Holy, Almighty God; have become so commercialised.  If you want proof of this – look to the fact that such a thing as a Christian Worship chart and award ceremony even exist at all – surely such things should be unnecessary in the Christian world?

A discussion recently on Twitter highlighted this to me.  A friend was wanted to use the Psalms as translated in the Book of Common Prayer for a project she is working on.  But soon transpired that to do so would require permission from the copyright holder (in this case Cambridge University Press).  How can we have got to the point where the Word of God is subject to copyright law? Sure I understand the point that the translator is due their earnings (although in this case the translator has been dead for more than 400 years) BUT this living breathing thing we call scripture is not subject to our law – and surely it should be freely available to all to be used and absorbed as it was intended.

Of course we should expect to pay for books, and audio files and discs that have required manufacture and production, of course we should look to support those who dedicate their lives to the new psalms and songs that envision us.  Of course churches should pay when we use works and clips and videos from outside the Christian community.

But I believe it is time we took a long hard look at the way we as the Christian Church reviewed how we think about copyright.  its time we embraced the Open Source approach to worship and scripture.

Its time for us to show that clear difference in the way we engage with these issues in the world.

About Kneewax

geocaching missional vicar in rural England's mission fields, 5 great kids, beautiful wife, fab God, Wonderful Life. Love Jesus, kite flying & good coffee