Ethics and Intellectual Property

I have simply been overwhelmed lately with the concept of integrity in business and in life. Many of you know I run a business on the side of my pastorate focused on self-defense, and I want that business to reflect the God I serve to the greatest extent possible. Jesus says that the way that we conduct ourselves in everything we do matters as believers. We reflect His character in our behavior! I hope you’re the same way in your business or profession.

This is certainly the heart behind the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments deal with our worship of God, and the final six with our personal relationships with others in light of our worship of God. And nestled in there, coming in at number 8 in the Top Ten List, is this little gem:

You shall not steal.” -Exodus 20:15

No stealing for Christians! Paul reiterates in Romans 13:9 that this command is applicable for believers today and part of the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  It is wrapped up tight in the center of Jesus’ ethic of Christian living in Luke:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” -Luke 6:31

We want others to protect our property…so we must protect theirs. We don’t want to be stolen from…so we act with integrity and guard others’ property. And this is a proactive command…it’s not just “don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you” but “do to them what you want others to do to you.” This isn’t rocket science or “advanced, deep, mature, crazy-over-the-top Christian discipleship;” it’s basics, right? Being forgiven by God as a Christian means you aren’t allowed to rob someone’s home or take their laptop or steal their car. No one argues about these things.

But there is an area of theft that many, many Christians I know are not only utterly uninformed about, they participate in again and again and again without the slightest qualm. They steal all the time, without compunction and without remorse. And they often think that their actions are perfectly acceptable.

I am talking about the theft of intellectual property. Stealing what belongs to someone else, in this case their original work, and using it without the proper right to use it. (using it without credit is plagiarism not theft, which is a whole different problem for another day) Taking their art work, their music, their video, or their other copyrighted work without permission is theft, plain and simple.

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmd41280)

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmd41280)

The biggest places I see it are these:

  • Pirated movies
  • Pirated music
  • The one that bothers me to no end: using copyrighted images found on a Google search or on a social media site of one kind or another.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, using a copyrighted image without permission is stealing. That’s not just Jesus talking, either. That’s the US Copyright Office talking. To get you started about the actual facts about copyrighted work, read this brief handout from the United States Copyright Office. The first four pages are the most important, so don’t go all tl;dr on it. Let’s get a few facts straight about copyright:

  1. Copyright exists whether the owner of the work puts a notice on it or not. There is no need to put the (c) on a work or to watermark it in some way for it to have copyright. That USED to be the case prior to 1989, but…folks…that rule changed when Ronald Reagan was in office. It’s past due for us all to know that. If you made it, you have the copyright to it.
  2. Unpublished work is still covered by copyright. Copyright begins the moment the work is created. It appears as if by magic!
  3. Page three of the handout above very clearly says that pictures are protected work. If you made the picture, it’s your intellectual property! If you didn’t, it’s not.
  4. There is no need to register with the Copyright office for your copyright to be valid. An author MAY register if they want to, but there is no need.

If you think that this is no big deal or that it is much ado about nothing, go read this story. Daniel Morel was awarded over $1.2 Million by a jury because the Associated Press used his images without his permission in several stories. Here’s the kicker: AP didn’t know they were his images and got them from a second-hand party through Twitter. they didn’t steal on purpose, but the court said that they SHOULD have researched thoroughly and found the owner before using them. And that oopsie cost them over a million bucks.

Now, you may never get sued by a copyright holder for millions of dollars because of stealing their image or music, but it’s no less wrong and no less a sin because you don’t get caught. This is a matter not just of legal liability but of ethical behavior and righteous living. We are called to be above reproach, but frankly this is an issue about which we should often be ashamed.

So…what does this mean for us? Simply, it means that we must not steal. We must not steal cars and we must not steal images! We must not use images or music or other copyrighted work that we do not have the rights to, and this extends to our online use of digital imagery. You’ve read this blog post and you now know that this behavior is wrong…so Jesus’ little brother has something to say to you.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” -James 4:17

But how can we have integrity in this issue? As bearers of the Image of God and those who desire, then, to live in such a way that we do not steal from others, how can we make sure that we have the rights to the intellectual property that we use?

First, commit as an act of worship of Jesus to live a life of integrity in everything you do. I’m not asking you to be legalistic but to look at every use of someone’s images as an opportunity to worship God. No worship of the Lord goes overlooked by Him, and committing this to His care and His glory brings Him great joy. Jesus asks you to be careful with how you represent Him, so be a person of integrity and of utmost ethical behavior at all times. remember that you are an ambassador for Christ and act accordingly!

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” -2 Corinthians 5:20

Second, understand the doctrine of fair use. Pay attention to the last paragraph in that link especially. If you can’t be sure it’s fair use, don’t use it without permission!

Third, be careful with images. Don’t for a minute think that you can just Google search for an image and use that image in your own material. Don’t fall prey to the misconception that if you find it on Pinterest or Twitter or someone’s Facebook that it’s fair game for you to use. Simply put, it’s not. Putting an image online does not release copyright! A great resource that I have found to check for the origin of an image is a website called Tin Eye. You can enter an image (even upload one) and it’ll crawl the web looking for the origins of the image. They even have browser plugins that allow the user to right-click on an image and search its’ history easily and quickly! (I have used it many times and it’s pretty amazing, but I am not vouching that it is foolproof and I have no stake in the company)

Fourth, let go of the idea that because others are stealing images online, you can do it too. Your momma used to ask you if you’d jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it, right? You are responsible for you and you are accountable to God for your actions. Act accordingly.

Fifth, get permission to use copyrighted works. If you find the owner through Tin Eye or another resource, ask them to use it! They might charge you for it, or they might just let you use it and be grateful that you asked. Either way you’ve done the right thing, and that is reward in itself.

Sixth, learn to use free resources. There are SO MANY images that are licensed for use by Creative Commons or uploaded at sites like Free Digital Photos or The Morgue File among the many that are available to use. (they’re not that hard to findDreamstine has a good database of free images too. You can even find a bunch of images that are licensed for use on Flickr’s Creative Commons section, though there are a lot in there that aren’t as high quality so it takes time to find the stuff you want.

Finally, realize that ethical behavior is important to God. I’m not saying that you’re a terrible person or you’re going to hell if you’ve ever unintentionally stolen an image or used something you shouldn’t have…not at all. What I am saying is that it would be amazing if Christians were known to be above reproach in this area and known to be careful about using that which is not theirs, for obedience to the command to love their neighbor by protecting their property (whether real or intellectual). So be the change you want to see in the church. 🙂

And for the record, yes I have permission to use the images in this post. 🙂 Thanks for asking.

A Magic Talisman

The Super Bowl this Sunday should be a great game between the Niners and the Ravens. I’m a lifelong Niners fan, so I hope my team pulls it out!

The interesting part of this for me has been watching the controversy surrounding Ray Lewis. Ray made a bunch of remarks about how the Ravens playoff run was God’s blessing on them and more recently about how no weapon formed against him shall prosper. This kind of stuff is pretty common in Christian circles in America today. Ray basically has said that he loves Jesus, and God has told him that his team is God’s favorite and they have God’s blessing.

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981That brings me to my devotions earlier in the week. I was reading 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and this common American Christian approach to God’s blessing and success hit me in the face. In that episode, Israel went to war against the Philistines. At first the Philistines defeat the Israelites and kill 4,000 soldiers. But then the Israelites have an idea and go get the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Shiloh. When it shows up in camp the Israelites shout for joy and the Philistines quake because the God of Israel is suddenly in camp. This God defeated the Egyptians and surely can defeat the Philistines. The Philistines even believe it!

As the narrative progresses, though, things change. The Israelites think that the presence of the Ark guarantees that God is on their side, but in reality the Philistines deal Israel a terrible defeat and kill 30,000 soldiers, scattering the rest. Not only that, but the Ark is captured by the Philistines! What a terrible defeat to Israel and a disrespect to God. If you read 1 Samuel 5 it’s clear that God can protect His Ark whenever he wants to (He kills a lot of Philistines and gives them tumors!), but for the Israelites having the presence of the Ark did not serve as a magic talisman of protection against defeat. They couldn’t use their God as a tool for military victory. That’s just not how it works!

This same thing seems to apply in our lives, as exemplified in the stories of Ray Lewis saying that God would not let his team be defeated. Maybe that’s so, but having a Psalm written on your shirt or a Jesus fish on your car is certainly no proof against evil. (Please oh please, Lord, may my Philistine 49ers teach the Ravens a lesson in humility!:) ) That’s not to call Lewis out personally; he’s just repeating what he’s been taught and what is very common in prosperity preaching in America today. God wants you to be rich and successful, to win the Super Bowl or get the contract or the girl. Anyone who is not with you in that is the enemy and therefore God’s enemy.

No.

A football game is not a moral issue. It is not good vs. evil. It is not God’s team vs. Satan’s team. It’s two talented football teams playing a game to see who is better for 60 minutes on that day. It’s competitive, it’s intense, there is a lot of money and prestige on the line, but God doesn’t really care who wins I don’t think. And putting God’s character on the line to come through with a Ravens victory runs afoul of Exodus 20:7 I do believe.

That’s the lesson in the 1981 classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Germans thought that the Ark was a powerful weapon, but it protected itself from them. (or, more accurately, God protected it from them…just like in 1 Samuel 5!) God is not a magic incantation to bring success. He is not a weapon to be used, but the Lord God Almighty of the universe to be worshiped!

So please, think before you equate your success with God’s success. Think before you say that someone else interviewing for a job you want can’t have it because “no weapon formed against me shall prosper.” If victory in the world is God’s mark of success, then a lot of people we look up to failed. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, who died in jail. Moses, who wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure. The Apostle Peter was crucified for following Jesus. Even Jesus, whose mission it was to come and lose the ultimate battle on our behalf. Only through that loss (which He despised [Hebrews 12:2]) brought ultimate victory and vindication, and only then before God and not people. Same with Paul and Peter and Moses and many others.

Don’t use God as a magic talisman. Instead entrust Him with the outcomes and worship Him no matter if you get to play in the Super Bowl or get the first pick in next year’s draft.

Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!

A Little Help

Sometimes, a little help from someone with knowledge and ability goes a long way. And sometimes God uses a problem in life to remind us about spiritual truth.

I’ve had a headlight out on my truck for a long time. It’s never been that big of a deal to me, but it’s not really safe either. I replaced the bulb and that wasn’t it. I checked the fuse and that was fine. So, knowing that it was somewhere in between and not knowing how to proceed, I left it. That was all well and good until Thanksgiving weekend, when I got pulled over and given a fix-it ticket by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. No more ignoring the problem!

I don’t have the owners manual for my truck. I used to, but the truck got stolen a few years ago and when it was recovered the manual was missing. But that’s okay, my Google Fu is strong so I looked up the problem and found the right fuse in the fuse panel on a reputable forum for my truck. I checked that fuse (which was good) and the bulb by switching it to the other side. (also good) I knew it was in the wiring and had no more ability to check it from there.

Sigh. This would be expensive. A good mechanic with electrical knowledge is about $120 an hour.

I also have a man who just started attending our church who loves cars. He owns several project cars and wanted to help me solve the problem. So on Sunday afternoon I took it to him and showed him what I had done so far. I told him that I had checked the bulb and the fuse output and it was somewhere between them. I told him that I looked it up online and that I knew it was fuse #23 on my fuse panel.

Oh no, he told me, that’s wrong! He had looked it up in the actual manual (he has an online subscription to a library of manuals as a mechanic) and it was actually fuse #47 we needed to check. And lo and behold, there was no fuse in the spot for #47. He put a 10A fuse in it and viola! Good as new.

10 seconds. A ten cent part. A simple fix. And a world of difference between the guy who thought he knew what he was talking about and the guy who actually did. With a little help from a pro and a bit of knowledge, my fix it ticket was taken care of.

As I drove home with both headlights functioning I got to thinking about how this is a great analogy for the Christian life.

  1. I needed to know truth but had been fed a falsehood. Jesus said to some new believers in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know what God says about life and everything, and there are plenty of people who think they can tell us what God says who really can’t. Without the truth of God’s Word we are in trouble and can think we know what the problem is while in reality being misled.
  2. We need leadership and community. In Luke 6:39-40 Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We all need mentorship and guidance from those who live for Christ in authentic and appropriate ways. (Hebrews 13:7 says the same) If we try to make it in the Christian life by ourselves, we fail. And just like I needed someone older and wiser in the ways of cars than I was, we too need mentors and leaders who we go to for help with living for Christ.
  3. I waited a LONG time to fix a problem that was simple and easy to fix. That was dumb. Likewise, how often do we put up with sin or problems in life when the answers are available?
Have you experienced this kind of thing? Where have you needed some truth and a little guidance to solve what you thought was a huge issue that in reality was pretty simple?

 

A BIG Transition

Yesterday I noted that every living thing changes. That’s true of families just like it is of organizations. Laura and I announced a fairly major family change on my Facebook last week and it’s generated enough questions to warrant a more thorough explanation.

What was the major family change? Well, since our oldest daughter was 4 years old, we’ve been a homeschooling family. She graduates from high school this month, and we’ve had all four of our kids at home for school for over a decade. But next month our oldest will enroll in college full time, our son will enroll in the local middle school and our youngest daughters will head to the local elementary school.

If you don’t care why, then thanks for reading and I would appreciate your prayers as we transition. 🙂

If you do care, allow me to explain. I explain not to justify but just to offer insight into our process and our priorities. If it helps you assess your process and priorities, no matter your schooling decisions for your kids, then I am excited for that.

We have been enthusiastic but not militant homeschoolers for a long time. For us, it has always boiled down to the truth that we wanted Christ in our curriculum, we wanted the kids to be able to learn without peer pressure, and we wanted them to be able to work at a pace that was good for them. But we also always said that we would re-evaluate every child every year. And this fall, as we evaluated our family and our kids, we decided that the best education and experience that they could get would be in a public school. There are several reasons for that.

Number one, we felt that it was best for our kids at this time. Jesus said, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV) We have worked hard to help our kids stand firm in Christ and know Him. They are “as innocent as doves.” But what they aren’t is as wise as serpents, and it’s time in our eyes for them to get a little of that exposure. Plus, our son wants to play football in high school and our girls want to learn musical instruments. 🙂 They can do that from home as well, but this is far easier and probably better for them.

Second, and I don’t say this lightly, my amazing and talented and beautiful and incredible wife was diagnosed with clinical depression this fall. Now, I tell you that simply to brag on my wife a bit for being strong enough to come forward, find hope in Christ and seek healing. That takes incredible guts and also takes real concentration and focused effort.

Go read the link above from WebMD and ask yourself if you could be successful as a teacher while dealing with that. I know I couldn’t be.

Third, given the first two we looked at our kids and felt that our homeschool was just not being as successful as we want it to be. It wasn’t structured enough for our needs, and the kids weren’t getting the education we want them to with teachers who are excited about their subject and teaching in general.

Finally, Laura wants to pursue her dream of being a midwife. That will take time and effort to go to school, and she feels like she serves Christ when she is in the birthing community. I want to encourage that and so do our kids.

So to help our whole family serve Christ more fully, we decided the best thing for us right now is for the kids to go to public school. We’re excited for our kids to love on their schoolmates in Christ, to be a light to their teachers, and to get involved more fully and missionally in our community. We’re excited to support Laura as she seeks healing from severe depression and to affirm her calling and gifting. We’re confident that this is what is best for our kids at this time. And it’s not a permanent decision, as we will assess this summer how the spring went and see if we want to stay on this course or make another change for the following year.

I hope you do the same. I hope you look at life right now and ask yourself if what you’re doing helps you serve the Lord, or if you need to make a change. And I pray that this might help you have the courage to change if you need to.