Theft By Copy Machine

By Wayne Greeson

(Editor’s Note: Brother Greeson is an attorney, Christians are to obey the government because it is orqualified to write on this subject both from a legal and dained by God and to disobey the government is to biblical point of view.) disobey God (Rom. 13:2). “Therefore you must be sub ject, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’s sake” (Rom. 13:5).

The presence of a copy machine in church buildings has become commonplace. While the copy machine has become an excellent tool, at the same time it has provided for some a convenient means of stealing the fruits of the labors of others. It has become a common practice in some congregations for Bible class teachers to purchase one class workbook and then use the copy machine to make multiple copies of each lesson to pass out to the students in the class. Other similar abuses of the copy machine abound. Instead of buying class books, magazines or other books and materials, the copy machine is used to make copies and “save money.”

A Lack of Common Courtesy

The attitude of those who use the copy machine to make multiple copies of another’s material displays a distasteful lack of common respect and courtesy for those who wrote and published the material. An author spends many hours preparing his or her material. The commitment to publish material usually includes not only much time but also considerable expense.

The initial investment to print and publish a book can be substantial. The publication of a vast majority of books, workbooks, magazines and publications prepared by and for members of the church is generally a money-losing proposition. There are no Christians raking in huge profits from the sale of their books or materials. Instead, good Bible class material is often published at a sacrifice by Christians seeking to help other Christians in their study of God’s Word.

Because class workbooks, magazines, and other books costs money to write, produce and distribute, these materials are priced so that those who wish to use them might share a small portion of the cost. When one uses a copy machine to avoid paying his fair share of the costs of producing written materials, what he is doing in effect is placing a greater financial burden on the authors and publishers. How little regard or consideration this shows towards those who have spent many hours and dollars that we might have good Bible class material. Brethren, this ought not to be.

The Copyright Law

Making multiple copies of published materials is not only discourteous, but it can be against the law. Christians should have the utmost respect for the laws that govern our nation. Paul instructed, “Let every soul be subject unto the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). The laws governing the rights of authors and the use of published material (including written, audio, visual works) are found in the Copyright Act. There seems to be a lot of ignorance concerning the copyright laws and when the use of certain published material is a violation of these laws and when it is not a violation. While some simply ignore these laws and copy whatever they want, others have gone to the other extreme and failed to recognize the “fair use” provisions of the law.

What Is Copyright Protected Material?

Under the Copyright Law not every printed or published material is protected by law. For material to be copyrighted, it must first meet some very basic and simple guidelines. When material is placed before the public it must bear a copyright notice. This notice is to include the names of the copyright owner, the year of publication and the symbol @ or the word “copy” or “copyright.” It is not necessary to register with the Copyright Office for material to be copyrighted. Registration is only necessary when an author seeks remedies for copyright infringement.

A copyright owner acquires the exclusive rights to reproduce copies of the copyrighted work; prepare derivative works; distribute copies of the work by sale, rental, lease or lending; publicly display or perform the work if it is a visual work.

If a written, audio or visual work is placed before the public without the proper copyright notice, then it is not copyrighted nor is it possible to copyright the material as an afterthought. Under the law, once material has been put out publicly without a copyright notice, it has entered the public domain and is available for copy or publication by anyone.

However, just because some material prepared by Christians does not bear a copyright notice and is not protected by the copyright law, does not necessarily mean other Christians should freely and indiscriminately copy such material. Whether or not certain materials are legally copyright protected, does not excuse Christians from recognizing a higher standard of respect and courtesy towards the rights of others.

Fair Use

While the rights of a copyright owner are exclusive, they are not absolute. Some believe wrongly that it is illegal to copy any portion of copyrighted material for any purpose. There are some circumstances under which the copying, quoting and/or using a copyright material is permissible. This permissible use of copyrighted material is called “Fair Use.”

One “fair use” of copyrighted material is the use of excerpts for the purpose of critique or review. Recently a Christian reviewing a denominational publication wrongly indicated he could not cite the publication because it was copyrighted. One does not violate the copyright laws by quoting or using selections from copyrighted material, when the purpose is to examine or review the material. This means that if I write a review of copyrighted material of the Catholic church, of institutional brethren or even my own brethren, I am not violating the law when I quote or use excerpts from their material.

One can imagine the problems if portions of copyrighted material could not be used in critical reviews. An author could use his copyright to prevent critiques or reviews of his material or his doctrine that he did not like. He could cry copyright violation and intimidate or harass reviewers he did not like. Fortunately, this is not the law.

Another important “fair use” of copyrighted material concerns teachers and preachers. In preparing to teach a class, the law allows a teacher to make a single copy of research of one chapter from a book, a single article from a periodical, a short story or poem or a chart diagram, cartoon, drawing or picture.

One copy for each student may be made of certain copyrighted material following certain guidelines. The material must be brief, no more than 250 words of a poem, and no more than 1,000 words or 10 percent of a story, article or essay. No more than three items may be copied from the same collective work or volume during one class term. Further, no more than nine instances of multiple copies are to be used for one course during a class term. Copying a work to be used in several courses is not fair use of the material and a teacher cannot copy the same item from one term to another.

Some uses of copyrighted material is prohibited regardless of permissible uses. Compilations or collective works created by copying copyrighted material is prohibited. The most important prohibition is particularly important for Christians and churches to note: Making copies must not substitute for the purchase of books, periodicals, or reprints. This is specifically applicable to the duplication of “consumable” materials such as class workbooks.

Don’t Forget God’s Law

Making multiple copies of published material such as class workbooks, magazines and books is not only against the civil law, it is also against God’s law. When one makes copies of published material, he is not just “saving money” for himself, he is also taking money from others who worked to publish that material.

Authors and publishers who have worked investing their time and money to publish material have a right to be paid for their work. The Scriptures repeatedly teach “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Cor. 9:14; Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:15; Matt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7). The failure to pay one for the work he has performed is theft and an offense against men and God (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:15; Jas. 5:4).

The law of Moses clearly states, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15; Lev. 19:11; Deut. 5:19). The penalties for theft required a two to five-fold restitution (Ex. 22:1,4). God’s prohibition against theft is still in force under the new covenant of Christ. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there by any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” (Rom. 13:9). The apostle Paul warns that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).

For a preacher or Bible class teacher to pass out xeroxed copies of a class workbook or commentary and then teach from the Scriptures is hypocrisy and a sad fulfillment of Paul’s warning. “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” (Rom. 2:21)

Brethren, please do not misuse the copy machine. Do not violate the laws of men and God and show some courtesy to those brothers and sisters in Christ who sacrifice to provide Bible class materials. “Let him that stole steal no more” (Eph. 4:28).

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 13, pp. 400-401
July 7, 1988