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.

Actions Have Consequences!

One of the most important lessons that we must learn in life to succeed is that actions have consequences. What we do will lead us to be victors or lead us to failure. Every decision is important!

 

If your kids are like mine, you probably have issues getting them to bed on time. We’ve cajoled, we’ve spanked, we’ve nagged. It’s tough stuff! Recently, though, at the suggestion of our counseling pastor we read Boundaries With Kids and have implemented what Cloud and Townsend call “reality based consequences.” What that means is that when kids disregard a boundary they have to deal with a consequence connected to their breaking the boundary. For us and bedtime we established a firm boundary: the kids must get to bed by their bed time, in jammies, teeth brushed, family prayers said, and without us having to warn them of the time. The consequence for breaking the boundary is that for every minute they are late to bed, the next day their bedtime is 5 minutes earlier. So 5 minutes late to bed tonight costs 25 minutes tomorrow!

 

Sure, the kids tested the system. They’re kids! After a couple of tries to avoid the consequence and realizing that we were going to hold to it, they started adjusting. And now, several months later, it is almost comical. Our youngest daughter is 7 and was playing some Wii near her bedtime. I even remarked to our oldest child that I was wondering how late she was going to be! Then, about 6 minutes until bedtime, my little one realized what time it was. She sprang into action! It was amazing how fast she turned off the video game, got dressed, got her teeth brushed, and huddled the family up for prayer. And sure enough, she was in bed SECONDS before bedtime! Knowing that there was a firm boundary and established consequences made a huge impact on her.

 

We now have a mantra for our kids at home: “I am responsible for me.” I ask the kids who is responsible for them, and they all answer “I am responsible for me!” That extends to school, to bedtime, to chores, to life.

 

This is how life works. When we break a boundary, there is a consequence! I had to explain this to a student this week who had a court date. He was frustrated that he would miss class and asked me for an excused absence. He had been ticketed and needed to be in court for sure, but I told him that he was responsible for himself and that the absence was not excused. That would cost him points in class, and he tried to tell me all about how it wasn’t his fault that he got pulled over. Nope, sorry bud. Actions have consequences! (this is a good student, so no hate there…)

 

Do you realize that this is how God works? As Christians, we are each responsible for our conduct and our decisions have consequences, good and bad! 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 Paul tells us that our decisions as Christians matter!

 

If anyone builds on the foundation [of Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

 

Actions have consequences and I am responsible for me! Likewise, you are responsible for you. How you live for Christ matters not only in your witness but in your reception by Christ on judgment day. There WILL be consequences for what we have chosen on that day, for good or for bad.

 

So…a question for you. How are you doing with those boundaries? Now that you know that the boundaries are established and will be enforced, does it change how you look at your decisions today? I hope so! Smile

Same Task, New ‘Tude

I know I wrote a recent post about motorcycling and the Christian life, but some themes bear repeating. Smile  I got to ride my bike today for the first time in over a month (it’s been WAY too hot in Phoenix), and man oh man is riding fun. I just love hitting the starter button and listening to the exhaust pipes burble (that’s a new word…I am going to patent it I think). I love feeling the throttle engage, banking into a turn and accelerating out of it. I love letting the bike whine in first gear for a little too long because the engine was built to rev.

 

For pure joy, no car ride can touch the same trek on a motorcycle. I’ve had fun driving cars, too, but a bike transforms a commute into a fun time. Usually the drive between school and church is taken as quickly as reasonably possible just to get from one to the other. Today it was a lot of fun, and I am really looking forward to my ride home!

 

Isn’t that a great reminder about the rest of life? It’s the same task, but when approached from a different perspective it can become so much more fun and engaging. I think that the Christian life can become much the same: boring when we get into a rut or keep at the same old thing, but fresh and new if we will change the pattern or find an engaging way to accomplish the same task. Maybe your Bible time is boring…how about reading a devotional instead, or getting the Bible on audio narrated by celebrities? If your service at church is getting stale, have you thought of approaching the task from a different angle or maybe changing ministry focus? If your prayer life is stuck, how about making time for God at a different time of day and with a different focus?

 

Tasks can get repetitive and boring, including spiritual disciplines. How do you keep it fresh and keep your perspective on the Christian life fun and engaging?

Single-minded Focus

1434140008I love riding my motorcycle. I love to ride because it requires focus and concentration to ride safely and effectively and to have fun doing it. Motorcycle riding doesn’t allow for multitasking! I can’t answer my cell phone or eat or listen to the radio while on the bike; every bit of attention has to be focused on my surroundings, what other cars are doing, anticipation of what is ahead of and beside me, what gear I am in and throttle position, lane space, etc. It takes single-mindedness to successfully ride and not end up as street pizza!

 

Don’t get me wrong; I have seen people riding their motorcycle while smoking, while talking on the phone, listening to an iPod and more. For me, though, I can’t do any of that stuff and ride in a safe manner. For me to enjoy the ride and get there safe, I have to have single-minded devotion!

 

As I rode in to the office this morning, I got to thinking that this is a great analogy to the Christian life. This is the same kind of devotion that Paul talks about with regard to our Christian life: it takes focus and single-minded devotion to do it well.

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Philippians 3:12–16, ESV)

 

No distractions, no other priorities, no competing ideas to keep him from living for Christ. That’s the path to keep from wrecking our faith and being unfruitful for the kingdom.

 

How about you? Are you single-minded in your devotion to the Lord, or are the distractions of life keeping you from being all that God wants for you? How do you deal with distractions and temptations? What helps you and what hurts your focus on Christ?

What’s it Worth?

What’s your time worth? If you were to put a value on your time, what would it be?

Well, many (most) of us trade our time for money in order to pay for the necessities of life.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average worker in the US trades an hour of their effort for just about $23. (I must admit I was surprised it was that high, but that includes highly paid people in the average too)

Many of us think about our time in terms of exchanging it for money, especially if money is tight.  However, we often forget the opportunity costs that come along for the ride when we work overtime or are so tired from work that we can’t do the other things we want to.

God has really been working on me with opportunity costs lately.  This summer I resigned one of my teaching positions because it was just taking too much time from my family, and the bottom line was that the cost of teaching was too great.  That’s not to say that I don’t like teaching’; far from it.  But the opportunity cost was too high.

Jesus keeps bringing this topic to mind, and as I did my devotions the past couple of weeks this came to me again:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26, ESV)

 
A black bear that came for a drink. And proof that, had I had a bear tag, that I would have got him. :)What will it profit me if I exchange my soul for the world? What, in the end, is the lost opportunity from what I am pursuing.  I actually read these words while sitting in a hunting blind with my son, enjoying a beautiful morning in the woods of Northern Arizona.  Sure I was passing up some chances to be up there with him hunting elk, but it was worth it.
 
Jesus brought it to mind again yesterday as I was studying.  I have made a conscious effort to be home more recently, and yesterday I decided to work from home in the afternoon so that I could be around for the kids and help Laura too.  James got restless in the afternoon, and there I was translating Exodus 14 in my recliner.
 
I had an opportunity to love on my son, so I put the laptop aside and grabbed the football.  We probably only played for a half hour, but soon he will be grown up and gone, and my opportunities to sow some love into him will be gone.  And Exodus 14 was still there waiting for me when we got done!
 
I am trying to look more for not only what I can do, but what it costs me to do what I do and whether those opportunity costs are worth it.  And because of that, I am spending my time in some different ways, with plenty more to work on!
 
How about you? Do you think about opportunity costs? In your spiritual life, are you considering what you pass up to take part in what you do? Is Prison Break or Monday Night Football or Battlefield 3 taking up enough time that your opportunity to worship Christ is passed? How about in your relationships, your habits, your thought life?
 
Where is God leading you in making the most of the opportunities you have right now?