In the spirit of all the discussions on the Senate and House bills concerning internet censorship right now (SOPa and PIPA) I thought I'd share an idea I've been kicking around for some time now.
I've stated before that all artistic work, including literature, is grounded in edification. I believe everyone who creates does so not merely for self but for the entire surrounding community. Even if one creates with a motivation of creating anything for the self it inevitable affects the community and thus, in some sense, belongs to the community. Even if this is a cosmic truth it is not an inward motivation [to edify] for all producers. Hopefully, all of us create in order to make life more abundant, be it our own life, the lives of others, or our shared life. For Christians who think of others first and are greatly commanded by God to love the neighbor it is essential that we be able to give all we produce to one another for the sake of edification, even if it is a small thing that we produce.
From bakers and business women to pastors and artists, we are all using what God has provided us with to improve our lives. When it comes to Christians and their production I firmly believe we ought to adopt the perspective which sees all production as shared. I believe that we should pay wages to one another and give credit where it is due but I also believe that it is good to relinquish our intellectual properties and the desire to have greater power over our work than others for the sake of edification.
For example: Music artists can write a song and they are right to sell it on their album for an income. However, I believe they should also be willing to not require others to jump through copyright hoops to use it in worship services. Such activities of worship ought to be free for all people to use as far as permission goes. When I write I do so with the readiness to let others use my words verbatim without payment or citing because the message is more important than my monetary or reputable gain. However, if you'd like to pay me or give me credit I'll happily accept with thanksgiving. I would not like to be thieved but if I am then there is little I can do about it except hope the thief is confused by their actions and how it mixes with my words (a tip I gained from Wendell Berry). Though, it is hard to be stolen from when you count little to nothing as your own.
This, of course, is a broad look at a perspective that requires situational ethics to some degree. As I write this I am predominantly concerned with what has been created for the sake of liturgy, praise, and edification of the saints. Praise songs, Bible studies, artwork, sermons, and more ought to be considered the property of the congregation or community above the artist. Why? Because though it was the producer who manipulated the good creation around them and compiled the resources provided by Creator God it is a product made for the sake of the community. Thus, is belongs to the community. Medicine belongs to the sick more than the doctor. It comes from the doctor but it belongs to the sick for they are the ones in need of it, who will consume it and be blessed through it.
This leads to the notion that a community has the freedom to alter, add to, and take away from the product (an unwise move when concerning medicine of course). I believe this is to be embraced but only in love, honor, respect, and careful discernment. This, of course, can be very difficult and must be a very delicate endeavor if it is ever to happen. If possible, the producer ought to be involved in changes so that the true message and original intention can be communicated (just as a doctor should be able to help someone alter their medicines). A good example of this is David Crowder Band covering John Mark McMillan's song How He Loves Us.This is the most difficult aspect to nail done on this position I've adopted because the difficulty to alter good creations in a loving and beneficial way is so great. If we could learn to share our work first then that would be a good-sized first step.
If we want to sing a song of praise but change a few words for the reason of edification and it is a wise decision then we should be freed by the songwriter to do so. If we desire to share sermons we should be freed to do so. If we desire to display art we did not ourselves create but know it's value or if we desire to make it an element of a collage piece then we ought to be freed by the artist to do so. Again, this should not be something done at will but by discernment and permission. That can be a difficult balance to find but we can always find it together if we are willing.
I'm not trying to communicate that all ownership be given up by producers but rather that a humble ownership be embraced for it is only a humble creation that serves best and it is only in humbleness that the best creations are brought forth. We must acknowledge that it was God who made us able to produce and supplied all we needed to produce. We must admit that what we produce belongs first to God and second to the neighbor (otherwise we accept we use God's gifts to give to ourselves more than any other). This knowledge leads us to being able to humbly own what we create, giving license to our communities to join in the production and alteration of a good and tangible elementof worship. This humble ownership is an invitation to share worship, to commune, to unify. It is also an opportunity to see destruction as well should community members act out of selfishness but that's a risk we take when we are vulnerable with one another.
I firmly believe this type of humble ownership is a way that we might more deeply share all things with one another. The less conditions we put on our work the more trust we can put into those who receive and use it. I admire Derek Webb and his campaign with his Mockingbird album and how it has led to the NoiseTrade.com phenomenon. I am thankful to authors who let me post portions of their books without jumping through hoops. Because of the generosity shown to me through producers I am more grateful in my consumption and use. I am also more generous in my sharing. As a result, these producers are given more attention, appreciation, and often profit. They do not practice humble ownership for the sake of monetary or reputable gain but both find them as blessed reward. It is my prayer that we may all learn to do the same well. I also pray that I may find that balance and not be too liberal or too tight-gripped on anything I receive or produce.
Let us give gifts to one another whenever we produce, knowing that edification is more important than getting "what is ours" so that we may be with those who are ours. Let us create in a way that focuses on glorifying God and being united with one another in love. Let us embrace humbleness and worship as we engage in our creativity. Let us be generous with what we produce, valuing others over ourselves, trusting God to use our work well and to provide for us our daily bread.
May we create sacrificially so as to create works which become mosaics in time, blessing many with a diverse and ever-changing fingerprint which looks more like a people than a person. May we love one another in all we do, whether we are giving, receiving, changing, or sharing. May we honor God and neighbor in how we build the future and contribute to shared worship.