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A Note About Copyrights


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[ What is a Copyright Anyway? | Why Do You Care? | Why Should I Care? | What Can I Do? | What Can't I do? | How Do I Get Consent? ]

What is a Copyright Anyway?

The US Copyright Office has a very nice guide to copyright basics. It's quite readable; perhaps they subbed out the work. :)

Under U.S. law, and in most of the world (at least all signees of the 1971 Berne Convention), material is copyrighted by its author by default. That is, in the very act of creating a work, the author also creates a copyright on that work. A work does not enter the "public domain" unless an author explicitly gives up his rights to such work.

With the meteoric rise of the Internet, a great deal of confusion has arisen over what is legal to copy and what is not. In an age where more information is now stored digitally than on paper, and where even paper copies can be made for pennies in a few seconds, there is no longer any technical barrier to quickly copying and distributing nearly any information. In particular, the phrases "public domain" and "freely distributable" have become popularly confused.

So what is the difference? It's really fairly simple - something that is copyrighted MAY be "freely distributable". Something that is truly "public domain" is by definition freely distributable. But just because something may be distributed freely does NOT make it "public domain". Note carefully that "public domain" and "freely distributable" are not the same!

One may do whatever one wants with a public domain work (except, generally, to claim ownership of it, copyright it and then restrict its use by others). On the other hand, one may only exercise such rights over a copyrighted work as the author has explicitly granted. This is an important distinction. An author may grant almost all rights to a work to the public, and still retain copyright thereon. But there is a significant difference still, because the copyright holder retains the final say over what may and may not be done with the work.

All original material on this web site is copyrighted by the author, unless otherwise noted. This means that, by law, the author is the only one with rights to publish this material in any form whatsoever. No matter how good your intentions, it is illegal for you to publish or redistribute these materials without first obtaining the author's consent.

Why do you care?

I care about this for two reasons:
  • First, as an author, I feel that it is important to protect the integrity of what I have written. It may not be the best writing, and I may be wrong in what I say. But I want to at least have confidence that (1) what I have written will be represented accurately (that is, no one can edit it and change the meaning and still present it as "what I wrote"), and (2) no one else will either be accused of, or credited with, having written it. It's not fair to me or the other party if someone else is given the responsibility for having written my words.
  • Second, I'd like to have some indication of whether people find this useful. The effort is not just in the writing, but also in the creation and maintenance of the site on which these resources are found. I spend a great deal of time and effort making sure that my sites (I maintain quite a few more secular sites in addition to this one) are always available and are fast enough to be useful from anywhere in the world. Like everyone else with a web site, I like to have visitors. We do these things both to educate and to fulfill our desires to have an influence. As such, the record of people visiting is a positive, tangible feedback that what we're doing has some value.
Thus, I do not wish for someone to take my work, which is easily and publicly accessible 24 hours a day, and "move" it elsewhere in order to bring visitors to THEIR site. And there's really no other reason for the work on this site to ever appear on another. Likewise, I don't want my work published in other formats (books, magazines, etc.) without my knowledge of it. Other authors certainly feel differently about this, as is their right; still others share my preference.

Why should I care?

As Christians, we should obey the law, and I fear there are a lot of brethren who violate copyright laws without realizing what they're doing (at least, I hope they don't realize it). I don't want to see that happen for their sake.

Having said that, let me add that getting consent for most uses is not terribly difficult. Most of the time, you'll only need to ask. However, the law requires that you do ask.

There are also people who believe that all church-related material "should be" or even "is" free to be distributed because it's "for the Lord". I have heard such sentiments expressed boldly and clearly by members of the Lord's body. To those brethren, I must point out that, regardless of my (or any author's) motives, or whatever other factors you might consider relevant, your soul is the one at stake when you disregard the laws under which we live.

I suspect that some, subconsciously or not, believe that it's OK to ignore copyright laws if it's to "spread the gospel". But there is a difference between violating man's law in order to keep God's law, and violating man's law because we think we can do good work in so doing. This is analogous to the idea that it's OK to rob a bank if the money is all to be used in evangelism. The law defines it as stealing, and stealing is a sin. The motive behind it is irrelevant (as was King Saul's in sparing Agag - see I Sam. 15).

What Can I Do?

If you find something you want your visitors or readers to see, link to us! I link to other sites from here in the hopes that people will travel from here to there and find good information that they need. I hope other sites will link to here for the same reason. There's usually no need to copy what you can link to.

Also, you may find sections or pages on this site which indicate that the information is free to be distributed electronically, so long as the copyright notice is maintained intact. The copyright notice is something like the following:

© Copyright, 2005 by Ryan Waldron. All rights reserved. This document may be redistributed electronically as long as the document and its copyright notice remain unaltered in their entirety.

The Good Fight


This means that you can, without asking for further consent, email that page (not the whole site, or other documents within the site) to someone, or put a copy on your web site, so long as you don't change or delete any of it (which means that if you put it on your web site, the link must still work once it's there).

I will on occasion include information here that may be available elsewhere. But I will not do so unless (1) the author agrees, (2)the author cannot be identified or located, or (3) or the author has granted rights to electronic dissemination, and there are no other usable versions I can find at reliable sites.

I'm not claiming to be perfect at this; I'm only outlining my policy and my intentions regarding other people's works.

What Can't I Do?

Note that this does not mean that you can print it in a book or magazine, or even include it on a CD compilation. The notice only provides for electronic distribution, which none of those are. For these purposes, you must, by law, obtain the author's consent first.

How Do I Get Consent?

Seriously, it's as easy as sending me email. Just tell me what you want document(s) you want to do something with, and what you want to do, and we'll go from there. In most cases, I have no problem with it. If I do have any questions, I'll tell you exactly what I'm concerned about and we can discuss it. Like most authors, I want people to read what I write; that's why I write it. So don't be bashful; just ask!


Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. - 1 Cor. 16:13

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