Ethical Problem With “Cashing In” on Intellectual Property Rights pertaining to Religious Truths

By Joseph Nguyen

(Copyright 2004 by Joseph Nguyen, OK to share this with others for God's work but non-profit only)


How much should a person capitalize on in regards to intellectual property that belongs to the religious realm?  I will only explore the answer to this question from the Christian perspective.

Here’s what the Bible teaches in regards to making money by doing Bible teaching:

“Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” [Luke 10:7]

" 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.' " [1 Timothy 5:18]

"Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." [Galatians 6:6]

Thus, if I were to write a book about some truths I learned in the Bible or by some revelations from God, I should be entitled to make some money off of it.  And, it looks like that amount may be whatever each person can give me. If a person wants to pay for my book, that would be fine.  And, if a poor person wants to copy my book to read it, that should be fine too, provided that the poor person had no good thing to share with me.

But on the other hand, the Bible also teaches about giving.  The Bible verses that pertain to the "giving" basis are:

"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." [Psalm 127:1]

"Freely you have received, freely give." [Matthew 10:8]

Thus, if I write a the religious book mentioned previously, it seems that I can’t charge anything, except for my labor and other costs associated in writing the book.  After all, it’s God that has given me those ideas and has enabled me to write the book.  Since what I've got costs me nothing, it seems that I should even give my work away, if I can afford to do so.

Religious truths, expressed in books and music media, are protected by Intellectual Property (IP) laws.  IP Laws give a writer the potential for “Cashing In” (or in other words, "Over-profiting") from the religious work.  To avoid this, one's focus should be: “Don’t Be Greedy.”  It’s okay to make a little money. However, it should be shared freely with others or charge only at modest amount to cover my costs, but not to pay for the "lifestyle of the rich and famous."  The present 50+ years copyright protection, as pertaining to writings about God's truths, is simply too much.  If I had it my way, the protection should be no more than a few years, as in the case of the drug manufacturers, so that I can recuperate my cost. 

When a person uses the current IP laws to make big profits off of his religious work, he or she should consider why it’s unethical to do so.  First, if a rich corporation or someone infringes an IP law to make money off of one's religious work, then it’s acceptable to apply the full force of the law against the perpetrator.  But if a non-profit organization or a private individual wants to read it or sing it, it may not be acceptable in God’s eye to apply the IP law against the perpetrator.  Perhaps the price is too high for some individual or group to buy the work, or some other inconveniences and hardships. Second, if I'm at a loss of money when I freely shared what God has freely shared me, I'm sure He will take care of me some other ways. "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty." [Proverbs 11:24]

WhatI see today are writers who penned spiritual truths about God (truths which God gave him or her the words anyway to help him and others grow spiritually) wanting the same level of compensation as a commercial author or songwriter.  Some writers charge less.  That is a noble act, and ethical.  But greed kicks in sooner or later.  Thus, it's important to always have in mind that what is legal to do is not always the ethical thing to do.  The simple solution is to recover the costs of one's religious IP, and then share it freely afterward.


Bibliography:

The Bible, New International Version, © Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved worldwide.