Why Free & Public Domain?
How We License Our Videos and Resources
All of our resources are licensed as Public Domain or CC-0 (even though you may see the CC-BY-SA label on some of them), which you can read about here. This means that you do not have to ask us for permission to:
- Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
- Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
We also want to make clear that we do not monetize our videos/resources in any way. If you see an ad while watching one of our videos on YouTube, that’s because YouTube inserted it without our permission. We don’t believe it’s biblical to run ads on Christian ministry content. If you want an ad-free experience, we highly recommend installing this free ad blocker.
Why do we offer our videos and resources as Public Domain? Well, we want to take a moment to answer that, mainly for our friends like us from affluent, western countries. We acknowledge that much of what we have to say on this page may be completely foreign to most people. And we understand that these concepts are not easy to grasp in a short time. But in spite of that we invite you to read and prayerfully consider this philosophy of ministry with an open heart, knowing that our intention is simply to encourage and inspire others to join us in a model of radical generosity. We didn’t invent this model, but we want to share our journey of discovery and how we’ve tried to be honest with ourselves about some of the blind spots of our cultural moment.
While it would be easy to start with a bunch of sad statistics about how many people groups are critically lacking biblical resources (you can find plenty of that in The Christian Commons and here), we’d rather start with what we’ve seen in Scripture. At the end of the day we believe that giving away biblical resources that are completely free, both in terms of cost and in terms of legal license, shouldn’t primarily be motivated by feeling bad for people in other countries, but rather by a conviction that the Bible makes clear that it’s the right thing to do.
We, like many people, grew up hearing classic verses like Matthew 10:8: “Freely you have received; freely give.” But we never really thought about what the implications were for gospel ministry until a few years ago. And we didn’t know how to reconcile Jesus’ words with another teaching of the New Testament: “The worker is worthy of his wages” and “don’t muzzle an ox while it treads the grain.” For most of our lives we thought this meant that anyone was free to sell ministry to make a living. We all need to eat and pay the bills, and ministers of the gospel should have enough to eat and feed their children. So it must be ok for them to charge money for the biblical resources and teaching they create, right?
But something in our hearts kept saying that this wasn’t the whole story. We wanted to know whether we should demand our wages from man, or depend on God to receive what we need to live on when it comes to Christian ministry.
One of the key issues God led us to understand is that the worker is worthy to receive wages from the Lord of the harvest. That’s totally different from charging the harvest itself for our labor. So the biblical principle in Matthew 10 is that our living should be provided for by God, through his people freely supporting gospel ministry out of obligation and gratitude to God, not out of a sense of obligation to us. We simply trust the Lord of the harvest to provide for us as we do our work. But this is hard. Our temptation is to say in our hearts, “Maybe the Lord of the harvest won’t pay us the wages and provide the food we need, so we should charge people for the ministry work we do for him.” Throughout our lives we’ve sometimes thought, “The Lord of the harvest isn’t giving us a high enough paycheck, so let’s take the money he gives us and also require payment of the people he sent us to bless.”
But what we’ve found in Scripture is a very different way from what we see around us. Here’s what we’ve learned: gospel ministry should be supported, not sold. It’s simple and profound. So what do we mean by “gospel ministry?” Here’s how we define it according to what we find in the Bible: gospel ministry is anything that directly attends to the proclamation of the gospel. We believe that includes things like biblical language instruction, Christian books of all kinds, seminary education, biblical counseling, preaching, worship music, Bible translation, prayer, and more.
But we initially thought, “Wait! Thousands of respectable ministries engage in selling gospel ministry in nearly all of its forms. So we must be wrong, since there are so many counter examples around us.” Because we had grown used to people we admire charging money for their sermons and books, we decided that the answer must be to compartmentalize Christian ministry into categories that are ok to sell and others that aren’t. But one might wonder, “Why are we uncomfortable charging money to pray for someone, but would be completely fine with the selling of a digital book on prayer?” The digital book has no material cost that needs to be covered. Both praying for someone and writing a book on prayer take valuable time and energy. Why must one be compensated and not the other? We just couldn’t find justification for this in Scripture. Again, we were bothered by questions like, “Why would we condemn charging admission to hear a pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning, but then be fine with charging money to download a digital recording of that sermon? Would Jesus have put a paywall on the digital recording of his sermon on the mount? Is he making royalties off of the sale of the written versions of it? Why not?”
What we’ve learned is that every era of history has its respectable sins, and every country and culture has its peculiar temptations. 1,500 years ago it was a respectable sin to pay for a position of Christian leadership. A couple hundred years ago it was a respectable sin to charge money to rent a place to sit in church. Many people overlooked these blind spots. Could it be possible that the wealthiest culture in the history of the world might be tempted to serve money more than God in certain areas without even realizing it? We’ve come to the conclusion that all of us in affluent areas like North America are tempted in this way.
As we continued exploring what the Bible has to say about this issue, we found it to be instructive that Paul didn’t charge money for people to have access to or copy his letters, and he opposed the idea of making a living as a “peddler of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17) or even being perceived as someone who thought “that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim 6:5). He believed that selling truth and ministry compromised the sincerity of the servant of Christ. His passion to spread the truth freely was in step with the heart of Jesus, who never charged for speaking engagements, and never obligated anyone to give him money for ministry.
We had a lot of serious consideration to do, especially since we live in the midst of a highly commercialized climate of Christianity. And once again we couldn’t get around the clear testimony of Scripture: gospel ministry should be supported, not sold. We became convicted that gospel ministry should never put anyone under obligation to give to someone who works for God. If someone works for God, God himself will pay him his wages, providing for his food and other needs through the free generosity of his people. God is a faithful master, and will give his laborers exceedingly above and beyond what they can imagine, and his laborers should not demand/require this provision from those who are not God (charging fees, paywalls, etc.).
Paul wrote, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11-12). And in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 he said, “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?… I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.”
In other words, Paul upheld the model of ministry that Jesus established in Matthew 10 to give gospel ministry freely as God’s servant, not man’s. So as we kept searching the scriptures, we came back again and again to the same conclusion: we need to swim against the cultural current of monetizing everything, and follow the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Two extremely helpful books in our journey to understand God’s desire in this area were The Dorean Principle and The Christian Commons. We heartily recommend them as kind and gracious resources to help shed light onto this difficult subject.
Here’s an analogy that has made things clearer for us: When a royal soldier is working for the king, it would be wrong for him to accept money from the citizens he protects as though it were payment for his work (1 Cor. 9:7). The way things are supposed to work is that the citizens pay taxes to the king, and the king pays his soldiers from that tax money. If a soldier demands money from the king’s subjects, as though their taxes are owed to him rather than the throne, he may be found guilty of extortion. Ultimately, the soldier who accepts any form of direct payment from the citizens ceases to operate purely on behalf of the king, as one under authority, and begins acting out of his own interests. “Similarly, if Paul were to accept money from the Corinthians as direct (unmediated) payment for his ministry there, he would invalidate his status as a servant of Christ” (The Dorean Principle). In other words, Christ is our king. We give to him freely because we are citizens of his kingdom. Those who work for him in ministry (soldiers of Christ) should depend 100% on him to supply their needs without demanding payment from the citizens they are sent to serve. In practical terms this would be the difference between 1) someone giving a free offering to us (out of gratitude, allegiance, and obligation to God) for freely teaching Hebrew, and 2) us demanding payment from God’s people for teaching Hebrew before they can be blessed by it.
Then the people rejoiced because of their leaders’ willingness to give, for they had given to the Lord with a whole heart. King David also rejoiced greatly. —1 Chronicles 29:6
This leads us to the issue of copyright. As we thought about it, we realized that if we claimed “all rights reserved” on the biblical/gospel content we produce, we would be (unintentionally) communicating the following:
- Everyone we are ministering to through this content is obligated directly to us (not to God) to use our content as we dictate (not as God would dictate).
- We would rather put this hindrance in the way of the gospel than trust God to do things with our work beyond what we could ask or imagine.
So we realized that part of following the heart of Jesus in radical giving was the idea of letting go of intellectual property rights. We have to admit that we hesitated to do this simply because there are so few examples of this around us in our culture. But when we took this step of faith we found it freeing and full of joy.
Besides the biblical precedent to let go of our resources, there is a simple logic to it: the Word of God and the languages it was written in were given to us, so why would we not in turn give them away to others? We believe that just as someone should not have to pay to hear or read the gospel in their own language, they should not have to pay to read the gospel in the original language.
Famine, Vulnerability, and Bearing Our Brothers' Burdens
He had a brilliant mind, rich with cultural and linguistic knowledge of his mother tongue Fang. He would have mastered the biblical languages, but when he was in seminary they weren't offered anywhere in the country. He died longing to know Hebrew.
The current practice of severely limiting the free sharing of biblical resources is not just a biblical problem, but also a practical one. Others have noticed this problem, such as the Copenhagen Alliance. They believe that the global Church needs free biblical resources unencumbered by “all rights reserved” copyright. Why? For most Christians it’s impossible to learn the biblical languages because the required resources for learning and study are in English, locked up by copyrights, and expensive. Ignorance of the biblical languages can lead to theological famine, and leaves the church vulnerable to heresies, false teaching, harmful trends, spiritual immaturity, and a general carelessness in interpreting the Word. Without access to the sources, the Church will remain subject to the whims and opinions of men, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Without the languages, church leaders will always be second-handers, depending on commentaries, questionable YouTube videos, and whatever preachers they happen to see on TV.
Christians in the developing world are sincere and eager to learn and grow, but many of us in the rich, walled garden of the West have been hesitant to let go of our resources and share them sacrificially. Others have simply not thought strategically how they can follow Paul’s model and give away as much as possible. Most are merely unaware of the need, the problem, and the best way to solve it (read much more about this in the free book The Christian Commons).
Biblical content that hundreds of millions of believers around the world could use to foster their spiritual development has already been created—by believers from some of the most affluent countries. The resources are usually under copyright, with “all rights reserved” for the content owner. These restrictions prevent the global Church from translating, adapting, redistributing, and using the content as needed for their spiritual growth. We can either continue to leverage the restrictions afforded by copyright law and limit what others can do with our biblical content, or we can work together as a global Church to widely distribute biblical resources in every language, for effective discipleship in every people group. We cannot have it both ways (The Christian Commons).
When we give freely as Jesus commanded, we should not be surprised if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable (like most things involved with following Jesus). It may hurt us financially. But perhaps this is part of what Paul says to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). One of the severe burdens that most of the global Church carries is the scarcity of biblical resources in their language and the difficulty of accessing the knowledge they need to study the Bible more deeply. If a bilingual person from one of these groups wants to translate a book into their mother tongue, they are not pre-cleared by the publisher to do so. The “copyright, all rights reserved” status quo places a burden on their backs. And if someone happens to be privileged enough to know some English, the cost of obtaining good resources is another burden we place on their backs. Most of the world cannot afford a book that costs $9.99, which may seem like a trivial price to American publishers. But when we make our resources unencumbered (as described in detail below), we take part in bearing the burden.
The fact is that many Christian authors and teachers act as though those to whom they are ministering should bear their burdens and make their lives more comfortable by paying them to cover all their labor and expenses. But the law of Christ is different. It consists in taking on burdens so that others may dance. It’s about bearing pain, inconvenience, and poverty for the sake of our brothers who need biblical resources more than we do.
A mission leader told me of the frustration they are experiencing as they attempt to make a book available to Christians in India. The book is available on Amazon for $10, but getting large quantities into India incurs many additional expenses, including: shipping, import fees, and in-country shipping. The difficulties continue, as the books are unlikely to make it across provincial borders in India without paying bribes to border officials. If the border officials (who are usually Hindus) discover that the books are Christian resources, they might not let them across the border at all. Republishing the books in-country is not allowed, because the owner of the copyright on that book is not interested. Merely making the book available as a digital eBook does not solve the problem either, because the license under which it is released does not permit translation or redistribution of the content.
In another part of the world, a classic book on systematic theology is only legally available to believers in that country when it is imported through official means at vastly inflated prices. In another country, a large ministry is unable to use cutting-edge technology for the advance of the Kingdom because it is denied a license to make the legally-restricted biblical resources available (The Christian Commons).
A Way Forward
So here’s what we think is the best practical solution to the need and problem we’ve discussed. We’re convinced that if we want to be radically generous with our God-given resources and exponentially equip the entire global Church with the biblical languages and more, all the biblical/gospel content Christians generate must…
- be released under one of the following licenses: CC-0/Public Domain, or CC-BY. This grants the irrevocable freedom to access, revise, translate, repurpose, redistribute, publish, and use the resources without hindrance, remuneration, or the need for custom licenses.
- be publicly, easily accessible, with zero friction (no signups, no limitation based on IP address, not buried in a maze of links, optimized as much as possible for searchability on Google, etc.)
- be stored in a format and in a place that supports conversion into other formats to facilitate maximum distribution. (To see how we’re doing this, go to this page on how to download our resources for use offline.)
Tim Jore writes, “This new approach requires that content be released under open licenses so that anyone can legally help push the content outward to anyone, anywhere in the world. Instead of attempting to pull potential consumers of the content into a small number of legal distribution channels (the ‘pull’ model), the content is released under open licenses that permit anyone to become a legal distribution channel (the ‘push’ model). Anyone who has the content can legally redistribute it to all their friends who can, in turn, redistribute it to all of their friends, and so on. By inviting (and permitting) the global Church to become the content distribution network for biblical resources available in digital formats, the resource can spread extremely rapidly and at virtually zero marginal cost” (The Christian Commons).
For more practical steps and other information on how to implement this radical new philosophy, we highly recommend visiting the copy.church website.
You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. —Hebrews 10:34
A Pathway to Joy & a Test
The “Copyright, All Rights Reserved” model fails to distinguish the Church from the world by means of radical generosity that reflects the gospel. In the early church, if someone who claimed to be God’s servant asked for payment for ministry, this was a clear sign of being a false teacher (see more on that here). We don’t mention that to openly condemn those whom we love and respect who currently require payment for ministry, but rather to humbly highlight this reality for your consideration. So we encourage others who are involved in creating biblical resources and training materials to follow a new paradigm and publish everything as Public Domain, Creative Commons, or some other Open Access license that has been adapted to their country. Even secular nations like Switzerland (and more recently, the USA) are now requiring all grant-funded academic research to be published as Open Access. And we believe it would be tragic if the Church failed to be as generous as secular institutions and governments. Even Elon Musk has generously given away his “intellectual property.” Could it be that he and others like him have realized that this is the pathway to incredible joy?
It seems clear that God has presented the church with a gift and a test, much like the master in Jesus’ parables who tests the stewardship of his servants (Matt 25). The gift he has given us is the unprecedented ability in the digital age to spread knowledge and truth with virtually no limits. And the test is to see what we’ll do with it, how we steward such amazing power. Will we use it to bless more people freely, or will we create a false sense of scarcity and limit the potential blessing for the sake of monetary gain? Will we use this gift to spread the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh over all the earth as the waters cover the sea, or will we find clever ways of justifying our efforts to dam up the floodwaters, and then only quench the thirst of those willing to pay or play by our rules?
Because we are saturated and surrounded by a culture that screams that everything should be monetized, we know that many people may have more objections or misgivings about what we’ve said. So we’ve created a page for further reading that answers some of the standard hindrances to the free and open model we’re recommending.
What might the consequences be if more creators of biblical resources embraced this radical, open paradigm? If you’re interested, we’ve written about that here.
There is an entire website we’ve devoted to this issue called SellingJesus.org. For more robust and lengthy rationale behind what we’ve said so far, please read this free book by Conley Owens: The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity. And make sure to read this important article and The Christian Commons by Tim Jore. Also, don’t miss this brilliant paper presented by Dr. Maurice Robinson called The Bondage of the Word: Copyright & the Bible.
Also, don’t miss the three-part podcast series below that Andrew has done regarding the dorean principle and other things related to the commercialization of Christianity:
Its leaders give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on Yahweh and say, “Is not Yahweh in our midst? No disaster shall come upon us.” —Micah 3:11