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During the last week of January, I had the great privilege of personally meeting with Jang W. Choi of Sunmin Music, Seoul, Korea on his visit to Nashville. I consider Jang to be a true Composer’s Champion because of his willingness and courage to confront a serious problem: International Copyright Infringement. While this may not be a popular topic, it is a serious concern for all Christians.
A composer friend of mine, that I occasionally collaborate with, has an interesting story. He has a song that he co-wrote that has been recorded on more than 150 different CDs worldwide, been performed by some of the world’s largest churches and universities, been published in numerous books, posted on thousands of blogs and internet sites, and sold in virtually every possible musical format, in every genre. All of these uses originated outside of the U.S. and without permission at a time when the song was “out of print” and not even available for purchase. He has never received a single penny from any of these uses though it adds up to millions of copies.
This is just one example. Copyright infringement is a worldwide moral blight and not an individual problem of a single country. We are each individually confronted with this as well when we need music, but don’t have the money or the time to obtain it legally.
Many times when churches and individual Christians think about illegal copying and illegal use of music, it is in regards to what the legal ramifications would be or what penalties they would face if they got “caught.” Today, I would like to address this topic, not in legalities, but in what our responsibilities are as Christians, who should be reflectors of honesty and truth. Yet the justifications for churches stealing the works of their brothers and sisters are often given in “spiritual” terms. Let’s look at some of these rationalizations:
• Christian writers should be not be writing for the money, but for the Lord.
• We are making illegal copies to spread the Gospel.
• We just cannot afford to spend the Lord’s money to buy published music.
• Many of my Godly friends are doing it so it can’t be that bad.
• The writer lives in another country on the other side of the planet and is not someone that I will ever meet.
• Nobody will ever know or care. Besides, we’re doing it for God.
These are just a few. I thought about presenting an argument for each of these, but when you see it on paper, it becomes clearly indefensible. However, consider these questions:
• If a church has agreed to do so, should it pay its pastor a salary and its other staff members as well?
• Should Christians have to pay for the electricity they use? What if the church was able to run an extension chord from a nearby business without the business knowing? Would this be OK if nobody noticed?
• Suppose the church needs pews for people to sit in. If someone knows a Christian pew company, should that company be expected to give the pews to the church for free?
• If the church has a weekly dinner to feed the homeless and share the good news to them, is it OK to take the food that is prepared from a local grocer without paying.
• Is it OK to make illegal copies of music in order to build up God’s Kingdom?
Let me say, that in my opinion, the answer to all of these is NO.
Most of the professional writers I know are not wealthy. They are ordinary people who spend years developing their writing craft in the hope of one day being able to support their families through the work they do. In most cases, when a writer has a song accepted for publication they are not paid any money until it is published and sold. Even then, it is a very small portion of the selling cost and is for the actual amount of copies sold.
When music or other creative work is copied illegally, it discourages the publishing of new works, steals the income that the writer has rightly earned, and takes away a “real” person’s ability to support their family with honest and Godly work.
My friend, Jang W. Choi, is currently working to educate the people of his area as to the ethical responsibilities that Christians have to not steal the creative work of others. He is a man of courage and has faced criticism from individuals, churches, and Christian companies for his stance. Yet, this problem is not isolated to a particular country or area of the world. Recently, some writers from Europe complained to me of problems they had getting royalties from the U.S. I’ve personally been in quite a few churches that have files full of copied music. It hurts when I see the names of some of my friends on this music.
Earlier, I mentioned my friend who co-wrote a song that is being performed all over the world and which is being sold in every imaginable music genre and how he has not yet seen a single penny from its use. The song that I mention is entitled, “Without Love… We Have Nothing,” and I was the other composer of this song.
James M. Stevens
Senior Music and Culture Advisor
Dr. James Michael Stevens is a prolific musician and published composer of over 200 songs. Winner of numerous ASCAP Standard Awards for Composition, he has formally served as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee as Chairman of the Music Department at Free Will Baptist Bible College.