What does the word “copyright” mean to you? If you’re like most people, you probably just don’t think about it anymore. Because of personal computers and the internet, copyright infringement has become so widespread that it almost feels normal. It almost feels, well, legal.
I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason a large number of Christians have stopped caring about “all that stuff” and decided to depend on their own lines of logic to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Others, who are more oblivious to the system as a whole, are breaking the law because they see how common it is and truly have no idea that what they are doing is illegal. What I want to do today is make you aware. As Christians we are called to obey the laws of the land, and as Christians, most of us are not doing that in this area.
What Exactly Is “Copyright”
So first let us define our terms. Copyright is defined by “the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.” Simply put, the pereson who holds the copyright has the legal right to say how the work is copied and distributed. So, if I do not have the copyright for a literary, musical, or artistic work, then I do not have the right to make copies of that work. That’s the law, and it’s pretty cut and dry.
Piracy, therefore, is “the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc.” Piracy is illegal because you are stealing another person’s right to that work. So what is piracy in our every day terms? Copying music files to and from friends, copying DVDs, copying computer software, or using anything that has been illegally copied.
Common Objections to Copyright Law
There are a lot of objections to obeying the law in this area. The most common one I hear is, “It’s not illegal as long as you’re not selling it.” Others say they’re just trying it out to see if they want to buy it, or that it shouldn’t cost that much to begin with, or that it’s just not that big a deal.
Let’s take a closer look at those objections and apply a little reason to them:
It’s not illegal as long as you’re not selling it.
Really? What other area of life does that logic apply to? If you came into my house, picked up my TV and started walking out the door I would probably say something like, “Hey, that’s mine! You can’t take that!” Can you honestly say that your answer to me would be, “What? It’s not like I’m gonna sell it!” When we make illegal copies of anybody’s work, we are taking what belongs to them. How does you selling it have anything to do with the fact that it’s mine?
I’m just trying it out to see if I want to buy it.
This still does not change the fact that you have an illegal piece of property in your possession. If your answer to taking my TV was, “I’m just gonna try it out for a while to see if I like it,” I would tell you, “It’s not yours to make that decision, I didn’t tell you that you could do that.” Besides that, almost all software companies give free trials of their programs, and most bands have their stuff online for you to sample. “Just trying it out” doesn’t make much sense, and it is still illegal.
It shouldn’t cost that much to begin with.
This time let’s say I offered to sell my TV to you, but you declined because you thought I was overcharging you. And this time, when you were on your way out the door taking the TV without my permission you just say, “Well you shouldn’t charge that much!” What?! If I own something and want to sell it, I can charge whatever I want. It is your right as the consumer to choose not to buy it. It is not your right to figure out how to get what I’m selling illegally. What does us not thinking a price is fair have anything to do with breaking the law? Go complain about it, but don’t go steal it. (And by the way, software wouldn’t be nearly as expensive as it is if it weren’t for piracy. We have created this problem ourselves.)
It’s just not that big a deal.
This might be everyone’s reaction after reading those last three. A TV is one thing, but who cares about a little song? I believe most of us are a little confused at this because back before Napster it was totally common for a friend to make a copy of a tape for another friend. Even though it was still illegal then, it wasn’t considered a big deal because you making one copy for a friend didn’t hurt the music industry. Today it only takes one person to buy a legal copy of the music, put it online, and hundreds of millions of people don’t have to buy it. The reason the entertainment industry is crying out so loud today is because they are losing a lot of money due to piracy. Not a big deal? Maybe not from your perspective, but that doesn’t mean that, in fact, it is a big deal.
But even more than all that, as Christians we must ask ourselves, Is this a big deal?
What God Thinks
When approaching issues like this it is always important to ask the question, How does God feel about it? Here is a truth we must wrestle with: God either does or does not care about this issue. If we can see from his word that he does, then why in the world would be doing what he doesn’t want us to do?
So does the Bible have anything to say on the matter of copyright infringement? Well not exactly, but it does have some things to say about obeying the law. 1st Peter 2:13-17 says we are to submit to every authority that has been instituted among men, and that submitting is “doing good.” So the obvious question for the Christian proponents of “Copyright Doesn’t Matter” is, Am I submitting to every authority that has been instituted among men? If your answer is no, then my question to you is, Why would you deliberately be doing what God told you not to do?
Also in Romans 13:1-7, Paul says to be subject to authorities because they have been appointed by God. That is, resisting authorities is resisting God. Humbling? It had better be. In verse five he says that it’s not just to avoid punishment, but that it is for the sake of our consciences. I like that point because for most of us, no one is going to jail for breaking a copyright infringement law. But God calls our consciences to a higher standard. Do we only keeping the rules so we don’t get caught or because we are after the heart of God? (And if that isn’t enough for Paul to convince us to obey the law, historians place the writing of Romans during the time of Nero. Nero. The guy who went down in history as a persecutor of Christians. If Paul can make the case to obey our government during Nero’s day, then we should have no problem obeying it during our day of peace right now.)
So does God care about copyright? Well considering he established the government which set up the law, I think that he does. If God wants his children to obey the laws of the land they live in, then we must obey this law too.
Part of my own personal frustration in this area is that because of the changing world we live in, many of these laws are outdated or don’t seem to be protecting what they were meant to in the first place. Thankfully, things are slowly adapting, but until the laws officially change, I cannot, as a Christian, knowingly break them.
As Christians, we have zero excuse to be breaking the law in this area. Our Father calls us to a higher standard, and when we insist on breaking the rules that he set up, we are insisting on breaking his heart.