This is an interesting story about online music piracy from the Dallas Morning News . . . ironic in that the music being pirated is Christian music.
Read the story . . .
To me, this raises a number of issues. First, just so the RIAA doesn't show up at my doorstep, I buy my music online at iTunes, and am very happy with such services. For many of people, the issue was never about stealing music, but about the music industry forcing us to buy overpriced albums for the one decent song we wanted to hear. Christian music, by the way, is vastly underrepresented in online sales services, so the more quickly that changes, the more quickly there will be a legal outlet for those who want to obtain music this way. It's not about money, it's about access. Nuff said.
But two main issues I'd raise about this story - the first dealing with the whole concept of intellectual property as it applies to today's youth . . . and the second dealing with the concept of intellectual property as it applies to the gospel.
Read on . . .
In my experience - which is considerable, in that I'm a father of seven teens and the extended exposure to teens that implies - today's youth does not have the concept of personal property that our elder generation does. Books, movies, clothing . . . almost anything . . . goes into a sort of communal pool, constantly circulating. Keeping my OWN stuff out of this lending library is a major effort. It's not that the kids have an intention to steal . . . they just really question the whole concept of private property. I'm not sure whether that makes them nascent communists or just good sharers . . . or perhaps they just have a very high threshhold for setting aside things that they don't want to share.
And they have been raised on an internet whose core foundation is sharing. One of the big challenges in my job is trying to explain to even college-educated youth that taking a photo from our web site is stealing . . . and that adding a credit line, as they were taught in college, doesn't make it OK. So it's not really surprising that Christian youth are pirating Christian music, because that's the culture they live in. Theft of intellectual property is a difficult concept to explain to the college-educated . . . much less to a generation to whom intellectuality itself is a difficult concept.
And to be honest, the second, and more serious thorny point for ME, is the whole concept of intellectual property as applied to Christianity. I understand the law . . . and I understand the law applies to the Christian music industry . . . but from a religious perspective, can such an animal exist? Speaking to those who buy into the idea that any talent for spreading the gospel is a gift of the Holy Spirit - whether that be in music, writing, acting or otherwise - I have to question the existence of a "Christian Music Industry" that operates by the same rules as the "Music Industry." I make a living on the written word and communications, protected by copyrights, so don't get me wrong . . . I believe that Christian artists should make a living. But my question is this: if this is a gift of the Holy Spirit . . . to be used to spread the gospel of Christ . . . where do we draw the line?
This subject comes up as our church pays the fees to flash the lyrics to our worship songs on the overhead projectors during service. If you aren't familiar with this, under copyright laws, churches are required to pay a fee to print music lyrics passed out during services, or displayed in any way for the congregation. All very legal. So my question is . . . is a poor church not allowed to sing the song given by God for the edification of the Church, because it doesn't have enough money to pay the fee? I have seen teens moved to a relationship with God through the music given as a spiritual gift to Christian musicians. Do those Christian musicians really want the price of an album to stand between a teen and salvation? If we weren't way past the copyright period, would we be paying royalties to the Beloved Disciples each time we flashed John 3:16 on the overhead?
I'm only preaching to part of the choir here, of course. I suspect a number of Christian artists agonize over this themselves. Others, however, run businesses and lives that are indistinguishable from those of secular artists . . . some cases worse. One well-known Christian musician sells albums, but gives free concerts packed with youth, taking up offerings during the concerts and asking those Christians who have been blessed with money to support his free ministry to those who haven't. Other "Christian" artists sweep into town charging concert tickets at prices rivalling George Strait & Madonna. Honestly, is this really ministry . . . or just show business?