Objections & Hindrances
Let’s walk though a summary of some of the hindrances people typically run into when thinking about releasing things as Public Domain or Creative Commons. Some of these come from Tim Jore’s excellent article.
Fear of bad things happening to good content
The fear that bad things will happen to good content if it is made available under an open license is usually rooted in three assumptions that seem alarming but, upon careful scrutiny, turn out to be more frightening than dangerous.
The first assumption is that restrictive “all rights reserved” licenses prevent bad things from happening to good content. But copyright restrictions do not (and cannot) prevent bad things from happening to good content.
The second assumption is that making content available under an open license makes it easier for cults (or malicious characters) to distort the content and deceive others by claiming it is the original. In reality, this is not permitted by open licenses any more than by restrictive licenses.
Finally, it may seem that making content available under an open license makes it easier for cults or others who are opposed to the truth (but who purport to be its defenders) to perpetuate their error by granting them legal permission to create their own derivatives, in which they introduce theological distortions. While this is legally permitted, it is highly unlikely to occur, because they would be legally required to declare that their work builds on original work done by someone else—thus establishing someone whom they believe to be theologically deceived and whose work is doctrinally corrupt as the authoritative source. The same open license that permits the creation of the derivative work also requires that the truth be made known regarding the provenance and authoritativeness of the original. Although this posture may involve risk, the Bible tells us of many who, believing in the sovereignty of God, risked everything on the proposition that God is sovereign, and all His purposes are good and invariably come to pass. There is much joy in trusting God more than the copyright laws of man.
Reluctance to give sacrificially
Setting aside this hindrance involves loving the global Church to the point of being willing to give generously and irrevocably for the building of the kingdom of God, even if someone else takes advantage of it by taking the credit or getting for free what they might have paid for. If those who own biblical resources are willing to give sacrificially, those resources can be used to their fullest for the glory of God and the good of all his Church.
Eric Metaxas writes, “Luther received no income from his torrential publications because even though the publishers made a mint from them, Luther refused to take a penny, nor did he take money for all of his preaching. He simply wanted to spread the Word and trust God would provide.” Today, there is an urgent need to adopt a similarly gracious mindset and collaborate in the creation of biblical resources that are unencumbered by monetization models.
But I don’t charge money for my content
Merely giving “free of charge” (but still “all rights reserved”) biblical content does not solve the problem. In the realm of world missions, effectiveness of biblical resources is all about one thing: derivatives. Distribution of digital content is easy. Getting permission to make derivatives can often be as unlikely as winning the lottery. Without the freedom to make content effective and build on it in their own language (i.e. create derivatives), “free of charge” resources are of limited good to the vast majority of the global Church. What they need is the legal freedom to translate, adapt, build on, revise, redistribute, and use the resources as though they were their own, without restriction. Until they are given permission, the “all rights reserved” of existing biblical resources legally prevents them from doing any of this.
So, making biblical resources available free of charge is a good idea, but it doesn’t provide what the global Church actually needs: legal freedom to translate, adapt, redistribute, and use the resources effectively in their own languages and cultures. What the global Church needs is biblical content that is both free (of charge) + (legally) freed.
What was Paul’s model in the New Testament? He committed new churches to God’s care early (Acts 14:23), continued in relationship with the churches (1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Thess. 2:11), taught them as needed (Acts 20:17-35, every epistle), visited them when possible (1 Cor. 16:5), urged them in the right direction (Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:14), encouraged them to imitate the pattern of those who were faithful (Php. 3:17), but resisted leveraging the power of his apostleship to control them (2 Cor. 11:9; 1 Thess. 2:6-7). The solution to the problem of “Bible poverty” is not for “experts” to develop a plan and build technologies that they then administrate on behalf of the global Church, complete with custom licensing and governance structures. It does not involve building better mobile apps around an even bigger silo of restricted biblical resources, thus inadvertently blurring the lines between providing the Bible to the global Church and presiding over their use of it. Instead, it is for the entire global Church to be irrevocably granted the legal rights—in terms of the unhindered freedom to make full use of the best biblical texts and hermeneutical resources—to solve their own theological problems and meet their own Bible translation needs. It requires tearing down the wall of separation between “us” (the “haves”) and “them” (the “have nots”) by granting everyone the legal right to “have”, without exception.
Setting aside this hindrance involves the implementation of a missiology that grants the rights to the global Church to meet their own needs and equips them to become equippers of others as well. Open-licensed resources lead to a decentralized model that can scale in a non-linear progression by removing all legal friction from the process. Anyone who needs to use the content in any way for the building up of the Church is pre-cleared do so immediately, subject to the conditions of the license. This enables the entire Church to collaborate together in the translation, redistribution, and use of the content, in whatever way needed, without hindrance.
Misunderstanding ‘open’ licenses
With regard to the licensing of content, the term “open” means: Anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness). The specific freedoms contained in this concise definition can be summarized by the “5 Rs” of freedom:
- Retain – The right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage).
- Reuse – The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video).
- Revise – The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language).
- Remix – The right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup, or to repurpose it for another use).
- Redistribute – The right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).
An open license is necessarily irrevocable, granting the stated freedoms perpetually. This is critically important, as these freedoms are not merely addressing distribution of finished content. They are intended to create a stable foundation for creation of other resources from them. An unstoppable movement of interlinked and interdependent biblical content in every language must necessarily be built on a foundation that can never be shifted or removed.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides royalty-free public licenses that make it easy to release restrictions on content, subject to certain conditions. They are designed to be internationally valid—essentially jurisdiction-neutral while remaining effective globally. This makes it possible to easily and legally combine and remix content across languages and domains using standardized licenses. Not all the licenses they provide constitute “open” licenses, however. There are only three Creative Commons licenses that qualify as open licenses:
- Creative Commons Zero (CC0) – this waives all rights, effectively making the content equivalent to the public domain.
- Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) – this license waives all rights other than the preservation of the provenance of the original (Attribution).
- Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – this license waives all rights other than the preservation of the provenance of the original (Attribution) and the perpetuation of openness in derivatives (ShareAlike).
The essential step for the content owner to take is from “closed” to “open” by releasing their content under a truly open license, for the glory of God and the good of his Church. Here, the global Church is able to participate with equality in the translation and adaptation of the content for effective use in every people group and language that desires it.
If you don’t charge for something, people won’t value it
This mentality comes straight from modern marketing mentality. However, it turns out to be anti-biblical and completely contrary to the gospel. If Jesus had believed such a thing, he would have charged for his teaching and healing ministry. The Apostle Paul would have charged money for his letters so that people would take them more seriously. And if this objection were actually true, then all churches should charge admission on Sunday morning lest the congregation not value the preaching.