Why We Exist


This site is dedicated to the belief that "All Rights Reserved" style copyright, when applied to a christian resource, hampers the use of that resource for God's glory.

In this article I will expand upon that belief, and suggest ways that Christians can set resources free to be used for ministry purposes, without necessarily giving up the opportunity to make a living from their works.

The journey towards creating this website began in 2002 when an internationally known pastor visited my church to lead a two day conference. I asked one of the conference organisers if the teaching was being recorded using our audio recording facility. He answered "Yes, but the pastor's organisation retains copyright on the recording." I was stunned. The teaching was amazing and should be broadcast to the world to build up the church and glorify God. In today's digitally connected world such a broadcast would be trivial. But restrictive copyright got in the way.

In 2005 I was at another conference, where the same pastor was talking about your "Popeye" moment. Those familiar with the cartoon character Popeye will recall his phrase "I can stand so much, I can't stands no more." "What can't you stand?" was his question. "Answer that question and go do something about it." My answer was that I couldn't stand the way that Christians restrict each other with over-reaching copyright.

In 2006 I was at the preparation for the same conference. We watched a DVD of one of the organisation members appealing for donations so that the conference could be taken to less wealthy parts of the world. My reaction to the appeal was "If you want people to see it, don't copyright it."

In 2008 I finally got around to creating this website after a discussion on http://questioncopyright.org led to someone suggesting that christiansagainstcopyright.com should be created. I think that .org is more appropriate.

How does copyright restrict ministry?

Imagine the following hypothetical situations.

You have a friend who is having a tough time. You would love to let her hear a song from one of your worship CDs that you believe will help her. If the song is copyrighted then you may be able to buy the entire CD and send her a copy, assuming that the song is still available on CD. If the song is not copyrighted, (or at least made available for non-commercial use and copying) then you can send her a digital copy of the song straight away.

You're a busker. As part of your repertoire you would like to sing some christian songs. If those songs are copyrighted then you need to work through the minefield of CCLI licensing before you can sing these songs. Copyright stands in the way of glorifying God, demanding payment before God can be served.

You want to lead a bible study in an area where people cannot afford their own bibles. Most modern translations are copyrighted, so producing whole chapters is not allowed.

You would like to distribute audio or video recordings of your church services. However, the worship cannot be posted on the internet due to copyright issues with the songs that are used.

If I don't Copyright how can I make a living?

Firstly, there is no harm in placing your works under copyright. It is the restrictive "all rights reserved" that causes harm. You can allow free non-commercial distribution to enable your works to be used unrestricted for ministry purposes, but prohibit commercial distribution, thus ensuring that only you or your publisher can sell copies in their original packaging.

You can insist that copies of your work are accompanied with the appropriate attribution, including a link to your website. You can enable free distribution while encouraging those who enjoy your work to pay a set price for the work. This business model worked for Radiohead when they released "In Rainbows". More on this release can be found at http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=1883. Christians have the added advantage over Radiohead in that other Christians are far more likely to pay the asking price than fans of a secular band.

For musical works people perceive far greater value from a performance of a song by the author than by anyone else. You can still charge for concert tickets.

Also realise that a copyrighted work that is commercially successful reaps far greater material rewards than the amount of time spent creating the work can justify. Despite her great wealth, Dolly Parton gets paid every time Whitney Houston performs "I Will Always Love You". In this case copyright does not so much protect much needed income, but makes the already rich richer with no effort on their part. A more liberal attitude towards distribution may lessen the likelyhood of receiving great wealth from your works, but need not mean a total loss of income.

What can happen to works that can be freely distributed non-commercially?

Firstly they can reach a far wider audience. As works are discovered through word of mouth, or web searching, or any other methods people will find that they do not have to jump through hoops to get legal copies of them.

They can then be used in all manner of situations. Artwork can be used to adorn church newsletters, or be added to bible stories for holiday club children to take home. Songs can be sung both in church, and outside without the need for a complicated licensing system. They can also be used to minister in all sorts of situations. Texts can be used to teach far more people than a copyrighted book can if it can be freely copied digitally and printed.

Is it really appropriate for a christian creator to stand in between another christian, and their worship or ministry and demand payment on pain of prosecution before that christian can do something that it costs you nothing to allow them to enjoy?

But its MY property!

The term "Intellectual Property" is misleading and wrong. The paper and ink are your property. The words on the page are not. They are intangible and cannot be thought of as property. What you have is a right (the exclusive but alienable right to copy), not a property. This argument is better laid out at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html

How does CCLI fit into this?

CCLI are in a powerful position to affect change in this area, but for now they bolster the copyright status quo. They could provide copyright protection in situations when organisations want to use copyrighted works, but they could also encourage christian artists to be more liberal with their works.

I would be a lot happier if CCLI were to adopt a donation service. Artists could allow a more liberal distribution of their works and register with CCLI's donation service. Organisations are then free to use songs etc free from a copyright licensing burden, BUT can subscribe to CCLI's donation service. CCLI could publish guidelines as to how much to give in your subscription based on the size and financial liquidity of your organisation. The income from these subscriptions could then financially reward the artists. The main difference between this model and the current one is that CCLI become a facilitator rather than an inforcer. I strongly believe that those organisations who currently have a CCLI subscription would be happy to join the donation service and would feel that they are willingly doing the right thing rather than being pressured. It would also mean that organisations that cannot afford a license under the current system can start to use resources freely, and no one will have lost anything.

If you are a christian musician then CCLI are a useful way to receive payments from people who use your works. You can register with CCLI and receive payments while still allowing liberal usage of your works for non-commercial purposes.

A Question of Integrity

Christians break the law all the time. Burned CDs containing songs, or emailed MP3s are distributed around the worship team in order to enable them to learn the songs. Sheet music is photocopied beyond the point that publishers officially license it. If, as an artist, you don't have a problem with these activities then please make it official by licensing your works more liberally.

"While mercy triumphs over judgement, I think clarity is better than lenience in matters of earthly law; they could cover that by putting all their lyrics under a attribution, non-commercial, (cc) license with either no-derivatives or share-alike. Everyone sees where it came from, you can't sell the song, you can't change the lyrics and you must also be happy to pass on the blessing and share." - Wulf Forrester-Barker

What does the Bible say?

There are several passages in the bible that would appear to support the opinions expressed here. Firstly we should unpack Luke 10:7. "Stay with the family that accepts you. Eat and drink whatever they offer you. After all, the worker deserves his pay." (GodsWord translation)
The phrase "A worker deserves his pay" is often lifted out of context here and used to justify restrictive copyright, since it is commonly held that restrictive copyright is the only way for certain workers to receive their pay. But look at the whole verse. "Eat and drink whatever they offer you." It does not say "Demand that they feed you on pain of judgement." The attitude of the worker here is important. It is one of accepting what is offered rather than demanding what they believe to be rightfully theirs.
In 1 Corinthians 9:4-14 the apostle Paul argues that those who work for the sake of the Gospel deserve their earthly rewards. This, again, could support the idea of restrictive copyright as a system to ensure that workers receive their rewards. But look closely at verse 12. "But we haven't used our rights. Instead, we would put up with anything in order not to hinder the Good News of Christ in any way." (GodsWord translation)
Paul is setting an example. While he could make all sorts of demands, he does not do so since spreading the Gospel is more important, and he does not want his demands to hinder the Gospel.

To summarise I believe that the bible is telling us two important things.
  1. Christians should support those who labour for the sake of the Gospel.
  2. Those who labour should gratefully receive that which they are offered, but should not make demands that hinder the Gospel.
Based on this we recommend releasing works under a liberal license that enables the church to make free use of your materials without first needing to seek permission, while also encouraging those who use your works to pay for them, and making it easy for them to pay you.

What is your motivation for creating works?

Ask yourself this question. Why do I create? Is it to express my love for God and see his Kingdom expand? Or is it primarily in order to make money from the works?

Having answered that question have a go at this one. Now that I know my motivation for creating works, how could I best see my desires fulfilled?

I think you will find that restrictive copyright will satisfy the "make money" motivation, while a more liberal release of your works will satisfy the "expansion of God's kingdom" motivation.

"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Luke 16:13 (American Standard Version).

"Religious truth is captive in a small number of little manuscripts which guard the common treasures instead of expanding them. Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multitudes everlastingly by a machine which never wearies to every soul which enters life." Johann Gutenberg

"I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights, I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life." - Taken from "Surrender" by Marc James.

Think about what may happen if you lay down your rights.

Want to help?

If you feel led to help in this campaign then there are a number of ways you can contribute.

Firstly, join the forums. We want to hear stories of when copyright prevented you from using a resource in God's service.

Suggest resources. We want to build up a large resource list that christians can use in their ministries without the need to worry about copyright issues.

Link to us on your own site.

Use our graphics to create T-shirts and badges and wear them to christian conferences etc.

Further Reading

I am not the first person to write about this issue on the web. Please visit similar essays by Mitchell Powell and Jack Decker at:



If you would like to change your copyright terms from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved" then visit http://creativecommons.org to learn how you can do this.

Even if you release works liberally you can still receive money from CCLI by registering your works with them at http://www.ccli.com

Copyright in general is being questioned at http://questioncopyright.org

And there are all kinds of articles regarding the free sharing of information at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy

Christians Against Copyright