Thinking Out Loud

February 21, 2012

Christian Blogging: Longing for Open Source Community

Did God give me what I’m writing right now or am I making it up on my own strength?

That’s a question it’s fair to ask in all areas of Christian endeavor. Am I doing this ‘on my own’ or under God’s power? What about the idea that ‘all things come from God?’ Do I really ‘own’ the concepts and insights shown here.

As we closed in on having 700 posts at Christianity 201 last week, for the first time we had a writer who objected to having his content used here. While blog etiquette dictates that you link back to writers’ original pages, statistics bear out the idea that people read the teaser paragraph but don’t click to continue reading. So C201 was created as a showcase — and a bit of a potpourri — of devotional and Bible study writing; much of it from previously obscure blogs that nobody had heard of, whose writers are thrilled to have an additional audience for their thoughts.

For several months, a music and book distributor for whom I was I was doing contract work assigned me to help out in royalty administration and distribution. I appreciate that those who have given themselves full-time to writing for major publishers derive their income from sales. I would never dream of photocopying an author’s work and I have strong views about churches which project song lyrics on a screen at weekend services for which they haven’t paid the appropriate license fees.

But a blog? Seriously?

When the attribution is clear, and the readers are given two separate opportunities — and sometimes additional inducements — to click to the original source page, I feel there is a legitimization of one-time use; though a few writers have been featured at C201 on two or three different occasions.

(Cartoonists however, seem to be another subject entirely. Despite having the largest treasure trove of Christian cartoons online, one denominational website had so many copyright warnings we decided they could just keep their comics to themselves, and stopped using them here at Thinking out Loud.)

The article in question had no copyright indicia, and no page dealing with reprints and permissions.

I would like to think that when God gives us an idea, he gives it to us not only to share, but to see disseminated as widely as possible. Someone once said,

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

Attribution’s greatest value is that the people can go back to the same source for more insights. If I enjoy what “X” has to say today on this topic, then I may want to read what “X” has to say tomorrow about some other subject. In fact, I’ve had a handful of off-the-blog comments from people who are now regular readers of writers they heard about here at C201 and at Thinking out Loud.

In giving instructions to his disciples, Jesus said,

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matt 10:7-8 NASB)

I’ve had content used (and misused) on other blogs, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is how I respond to the “borrowings” at other websites. Do I say, “It’s all good;” or do I fight for increasing my personal empire here at this website?

The writer in question also accused me of changing his content. I could see how that would be serious. But in fact, all I had done was to remove links to an online bookseller which left him, in one sentence, referring to “this book” with no remaining hint as to what that book might be; so I took the time to insert the title where the words “this book” had been.

I think it was with the objection to that change that the author really betrayed their true motives. Referrer fees from online sales can be fairly significant for a blogger at the end of the month; and I believe it can really cloud a writer’s motives.

I simply won’t do that here. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not making money from this, and in fact I don’t draw a salary from my “day job,” so perhaps I have a different attitude toward the need to see everything I do as a line on a profit-and-loss balance sheet.

I wonder what the early church would think of what we’ve come to; a world where royalty administrators and agents hash out mechanical royalties and performance royalties and you buy a license in order to share the words to the latest worship songs. I wonder if the Apostle Paul were alive today if he would put a little copyright symbol at the end of each epistle? Would Matthew be expecting dividends from the sales of the Visual Bible DVDs that bear his name?

Freely we have received. Freely we give.

All that we have and are is a gift from God.

And we should keep it open source.

Ironically, trying to find a stylized copyright symbol to accompany this article was a challenge since nearly half of them were, in fact, copyrighted. This one above is from an article that also looks at this issue from a balanced Christian perspective

It turns out the “There is no limit…” quotation is making its third appearance here.  In addition to the reference linked above, I also used it in reference to Garrison Keillor at this post.


  1. You have a great heart Paul. I read your blog because of you. Often TOL also features other people and I take the time to read and more rarely click through. But to be honest, I am not into earth kingdom building. There is no hint of that with you. SO thanks for being a blog I can trust to be open and up front.

    Comment by Cynthia — February 21, 2012 @ 8:48 am

  2. I have been blogging since January of last year. I have been appalled at all of the Christianity for money going on all over the internet. The salary I receive from my blog is the thought that I might have some way been able to make a difference in someone’s life through my sharing of the Word. I find that I am always in copyright infringement, because I am always copying verses out of the bible, and notes from my pastor, and anything else that I can find that is good and needs to be shared with as many as possible. As long as the Word goes forth, I am as happy as can be. God Bless You Paul.

    Encouraging Thoughts for Life

    Comment by Derrick Boyd — February 21, 2012 @ 11:38 am

  3. I’m sorry this has happened, it’s a real shame. I think it’s shows truly what they are about when they throw fits over their content which should be all for the Lord’s work to begin with. True colors are shown with these people, and they are ugly as the pride they represent. Next thing you know, people will start taking each other to court over writings that are not created of their own wisdom, but by God’s alone.

    Comment by Joe — February 21, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  4. It was a good rant and one others need to hear. If the author of “the book” is upset about the title being removed, it is obvious that his prioity is money. What he might like to hear about is authors’ experience of increased sales when they make a podcast or ebook freely available. Check out Cory Doctoro or Terry Fallis as examples. Really, you were doing the author a favour.

    Comment by Elaine Anderson — February 22, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  5. “There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”
    The late Elton Trueblood said much the same about “not worriying about who receives the credit.”
    Today’s pharisees have no conception of “fair use” which is not restricted by copyright.
    And ;yes, an author should be happy for the exposure.

    Comment by Michael Snow — February 23, 2012 @ 8:24 am

  6. Thanks, Paul. As you know, I’ve had my own bit of a learning curve on this topic! And you are right.

    When The Lord first told me to write something down, that command was immediately followed by two scriptures: “Freely you have received, freely give” or in my Bible’s translation: “You received without paying, give without pay.: Matthew 10:8

    And, “But we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity,as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:17

    For me at least, these are the marching orders. (Even though I do ask people not to copy and paste without permission.)

    Comment by C — November 14, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

  7. Loved your post. Being a visual thinker, as I was reading, all could “see” in my mind’s eye was the apostle Paul demanding credit for all his work. Excellent Blog, by the way.

    Comment by Survey of Christianity — September 6, 2015 @ 9:13 am

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