Plagiarism: My Copyright Law is that You have the Right to Copy3
Hardly a day passes that I don’t read somewhere of someone being accused of plagiarism. This past week it was a Christian college president accused of plagiarizing a sermon and book by Joel Osteen. Aside from the fact that I find it surprising that Osteen could say or write anything that is worthy of being copied, it is just one more example of what is happening on a daily basis.
The evangelical publishing world has been forced to deal with this problem in recent months, especially when it comes to technical, scholarly commentaries on biblical books. Here in my home town of Oklahoma City there have been more than a few instances of pastors charged with plagiarizing sermons of popular preachers in other cities.
Let me be clear about one thing. I believe all of us should be diligent to observe the law. If the law requires that proper citation be made of material we didn’t write or speak, then as Christians we should be diligent to abide by such dictates. I would never advocate stealing. I would never support anyone in their efforts to defy copyright law or to profit from claiming to have created something that in fact was the fruit of another’s work.
On the other hand, and I speak only for myself, my primary concern is that truth be promoted, printed, and preached. The only reason any of you should give credit to me for anything I write in my books is because I am under contract to a publisher that has a responsibility to generate income. If I had the freedom under the law to do so, I would grant anyone unfettered permission to quote anything I’ve written without feeling as if they needed to mention me in a footnote. But there are laws to which all of us who write books, read books, and quote other books are bound.
That being said, let me tell you what you may freely do when it comes to the material published on my website. My copyright policy is that you have the right to copy. Feel free to quote, re-phrase, summarize, or reproduce in any form the words that I have written without having first to ask my permission. And you don’t have to say that you obtained the material from me.
There are only two qualifications to that rule. First, I ask that you not charge people for my material beyond the cost you incur in reproducing it. In other words, I don’t want you making a financial profit off others for words that I have freely released to them. If there is a fee that needs to be charged to cover the expense you incur for producing a booklet or article or whatever, so be it. But I don’t want others to have to pay for what I freely give.
Second, if you reproduce something I’ve written, and you attach my name to it, please do not alter in any way anything I wrote without first obtaining my permission. My reason for this is that I don’t want error being disseminated with my name attached to it.
Aside from those two requirements, feel free to copy and make use of anything on this site without having to reference my name. My primary concern is that biblical and theological truth be made accessible to as many people as possible. I couldn’t care less if you give me credit for having been the first to articulate it (although I seriously doubt if I’ve ever truly been the first to discover or articulate anything of value).
Now, I’m sure someone will push back and say, “But won’t this policy encourage laziness in people? Won’t it undermine the discipline of hard work, study, reflection, and the joy of discovery that come only when someone does the work for himself or herself?” Perhaps. But that is your responsibility to decide. I don’t want to shortcut or hinder your intellectual and spiritual development by making it easy for you to say or write things that weren’t the fruit of your own hard work and research. But you have to decide for yourself if that is in fact what is happening. My concern is simply that truth be made known to the spiritual growth and benefit of as many people as possible.
So, there you have it. You no longer need to write me or send me an email with a request to copy an article or use something I’ve written in a church newsletter, Sunday School class, or small group gathering. I don’t have a copyright on the truth. I have freely received, and I choose to freely give.