the first time i ever learned about intellectual properties and the church was back in college when i attended a small group for 8 weeks that was facilitated by a pastor named Adam Ayers. the whole 8 weeks was not focussed on intellectual properties; but i do remember in a room filled with artists, Adam shared his thoughts that spurred on some really good dialogue. as i was putting together a list of guest bloggers, he was the first to come to mind.
Adam is the pastor at Faith Worship Community in costa mesa, ca and even though i don't know him very well; he is definitely one of the smartest people that i have ever met. case in point, Adam came one Sunday to rock harbor to speak at all three services, they gave him a verse and he decided to share three different ideas on that verse. so at the 9am he shared one idea. at the 11am the second idea and at the 7pm the last idea...i've never seen anything like it. All three were brilliant, deeply compelling and also three brand new teachings just for that weekend. Here are his thoughts on our little discussion, I hope they are helpful to continue our dialogue...
I call it “The ‘Twenty-Dollar’ Problem.”
It goes something like this: We believe in the authority of book of First Bolognians.
1 Bolognians 4.11 states the following, “Thou shalt give thine neighbor Twenty-bucks!”
Woo-hoo!! A simple commandment!
Knowing that the commandment is holy writ, I take the scripture in hand and wave it under your nose, “The scripture says, ‘Give thine neighbor twenty bucks!’ I am thine neighbor.” I stretch out my hand emphatically. “Give, bruthah!”
You comply, acknowledging the authority of the text.
The problem? Twenty bucks was taken when it should have been given. You are down net twenty (-20) when you should be up net twenty (+20). In other words, we are forty bucks to the wrong direction on the balance sheet.
Oddly enough, the totals would have been closer to the bottom-line of the commandment if I had done nothing. At least it was an even sum before I invoked the text over you!
The crux of the issue is where the commandment is located. If I locate the command for me, we stay good. You end-up net 20 bucks to the good. If I locate the command for you we go in the wrong direction very quickly.
I think that the Twenty-Dollar Problem afflicts religious culture. I think that it is a source of much heartache and damage in the Christian world and a point of contention and offense between the Christian culture and the broader secular world.
In my experience, we Christians tend to wield and invoke the commands of God or moral principles as things for others to obey. We locate God’s rules at the other, not at ourselves. In doing so, we make the moral and spiritual ledger move the wrong way. Others feel the injustice but have a hard time pinpointing why it feels so oppressive to them. Often, they just reject the whole system as manipulation.
It’s not the system’s fault or the command’s fault. It’s ours. It’s the way we serve out and apply the commands that causes the oppression.
Intellectual property rights easily fall into this problem.
“Thou shalt not plagiarize!” reads the Gospel according to St. Facetious.
It’s easy enough to defend against. We’re not our own. We’re bought with a price. Therefore all work done by any Christian worker is in essence “work for hire.” The artist who draws Mickey Mouse doesn’t own his work; Disney does. The Christian’s work is owned by Christ, along with the Christian himself. It’s the property of the body, not of the member.
Paul said, “What do you have that you haven’t received? Now if you received it, why do you glory as if you hadn’t received it?” The early church, our example, held nothing to be individually owned but held all things common. We are to follow Christ, who, “(D)idn’t count equality with God something to be held onto but made himself of no reputation and took upon himself the form of a servant.” Etc. You get the point. The scriptures are plentiful.
From another vantage, it’s a bit humorous that arguments and plagiaristic accusations can even arise between persons about who made a first use or witty comment about a biblical writing or a rabbinic definition. The fact remains that everyone involved is plagiarizing the biblical or ancient writer(s), who don’t happen to be complaining!
We know that “we all stand on others’ shoulders” (a quote that I heard somewhere). Certain kinds of knowledge are ubiquitous and diffused. Some kinds of knowledge are passed on in the convoluted heritage of culture without easy documentation. People even (gasp!) come up with similar ideas from time to time (wow)!
Sermons are given publicly, dispersed quickly and diffused widely through oral repetition in the Christian community. Quotes get garbled and “anonymized” almost as soon as they are uttered. Homilies stand squarely in the mush of compounded millennia of interpretation. Jesus re-worked Isaiah, Paul re-worked Jesus; Irenaeus re-worked Paul. Today, in every sermon, we’re all re-working Paul’s, Jesus’, Isaiah’s whoever’s ancient re-working of some inherited tradition. It’s like singing the blues; everyone owns the music, while no one owns it particularly.
Still, there’s some uniqueness involved. People leave their personal fingerprints on common cultural property. Artists, scholars, preachers, writers, producers, they all deserve to make a living. A “workman is worthy of his hire,” to borrow a well-worn quote. Little wonder that a publishing company (which makes its living from copyright) would publish a book on the topic.
Copyright law would ask, “Have you made a substantial change, say 30% or more, so that your work is distinct from another work? Can you establish a trail of documentation? Can you demonstrate previous common-knowledge or available common-sense?”
Ugh. Twenty-dollar problem.
“Love your neighbor as yourself…Let each one esteem the other as better than himself. Look not every man on his own things but every man also on the things of others.”
The question is not, “When has some other person plagiarized and failed to document?!” nor is the command, “You need to give due credit and due compensation!”
The issue is, “I need to have integrity and consideration for the work of others. I need to acknowledge their contributions to me. I need to treat my material as the property of all and rejoice when the word of God is furthered, ‘Whether in pretense or in truth.’ I need to release my rights, lay down my selfishness and honor all those from whom I’ve gained. I need to be Christ-like and make myself of no reputation. That means me, not the other guy. What others do in their footnotes isn’t my business.”
If we do that, then maybe, just maybe, we might get that ledger going in the right direction for a change.
You can quote me on that