Tim Bulkeley and I are having a dialogue about the issue of copyright, theft, and the ministry. My initial post, “You Shall Not Steal Thy Brother’s Song,” first prompted Tim’s comment (available on my blog) and then his post on “Copyright, theft and ministry.” My post also prompted a comment from Peter Kirk, which can be read on my blog.
Tim, Peter, and I agree that the violation of the copyright laws is wrong. Peter does not believe that the breach of copyright laws is a violation of the commandment “You shall not steal,” but rather it is “a wrong to one’s neighbour which should be pursued through civil courts.”
In my response to Peter, I wrote:
Christians today have a higher standard. The tenth commandment is clear: "You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). A song written by a Christian musician is his property and under current laws it is protected under intellectual property rights. To take by stealth what belongs to another person is theft. Christians should respect the rights and property of another Christian.
We are dealing with a gray area of the law but I believe the law is on the side of the owner of the song.
I believe that churches and Christian musicians should avoid the improper use of copyrighted music and do the right thing and pay royalties. If a song was written by a Christian musician, that musician has the rights afforded him by the copyright laws.
Tim’s post deals with the excessive profits made by the record companies. I agree with him on this issue. The music industry makes exorbitant profit with their products. In my response to Tim, I wrote:
"The industry is a big business and they are in the business of making money. If people don't like that they are making a lot of money, then they should stop buying from them."
It is sad but true that the commercialization of some aspects of Christianity has hurt the church. To a certain extent, the church today has become a big business.
The church has been affected by a culture of fame and wealth. Christian music has become a big business that promotes a popular brand of Christian music that at times, does little to promote the gospel.
If the music industry thrives in our society it is because Christians choose to patronize the industry. Christian musicians produce what the Christian audience desires. To a certain extent, they are selling the gospel, as Tim wrote. But let’s face it: if the singers and the record companies are making a lot of money it is because, to some extent, people like what they hear.
Many Christian musicians have become “stars” and the industry is making a lot of money. However, their success does not give any church or any Christian musician the right to use illegally the work of another Christian musician.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Copyright Laws, Intellectual Property, Music Industry,