>The Bible and Copyright

>William Patry, a Senior Copyright Counsel for Google Inc. and the former copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, has written a post, “The Bible and Copyright,” in which he addresses my post in which I wrote that violation of copyright laws is stealing. In his post, Patry also discusses rabbinical sources that address copyright issues.

His conclusion:

“The Tosefta (Baba Kamma 7:3), far from condemning use of other’s words without their permission as “theft” regards it as meritorious, so long as credit is given.”

Read Patry’s article by visiting the The Patry Copyright Blog

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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5 Responses to >The Bible and Copyright

  1. Doug Chaplin says:

    >I don’t seem to be able to track back to this site. Thanks for this very interesting post, debate and link. I’ve expressed a certain cynicism about the views of William Patry which you refer to.


  2. Peter Kirk says:

    >An interesting response from Patry. Also interesting is the comment citing Proverbs 23:23, “Buy the truth and do not sell it”. Could that be understood as teaching that we should pay for copyright on what others have written, but not ask for payment for our own work?


  3. >Professor, your treatment of copyright law was defective in a number of ways:(1) it ignored the distinction between tangible and intangible things(2) It ignored the distinction between the copyright and the copyrighted work-in-itself. While it is true that some of the non-copyright, sui generis provisions of Title 17 do contain language that refers to ownership of an intangible work-in-itself, the copyright provisions speak chiefly of ownership of the copyright, not of ownership of the work-in-itself. (3) it ignored the fact that the copyright statute nowhere refers to “stealing”. As I read, the violation of the copyright-holder’s rights is referred to as “infringement”, not as “theft”. And, though the statute contains some criminal provisions, to my reading it contemplates that most infringers will be viewed as tort-feasors, not as felons.(4) it ignored the Christian tradition of the Open Book: “Wisdom” should be available to all, Proverbs 9.1-6. This should be the starting-point of all religious discussion of copyright. What is now called the “public domain” is the true home of all works of the human mind. Copyright is a temporary exception to this, which the public consents to in order to encourage authors.I think that a Christian ethic of copyright should stress mutual benefits and mutual obligations. The public, including the Christian public, formally through its representatives enacts the copyright law. The public has an obligation to act with integrity and abide by the law that its representatives have enacted. The public benefits in getting new works of authorship. The authors benefit in getting a possibly profitable bundle of rights for a time, in exchange for their work.It is true that in reality the legislative process is prone to being twisted by special interests, and that not all provisions of all statutes truly reflect the public interest. The copyright law can be considered in some respects a giveaway to the special interests. But ordinarily the public should abide even by distorted statutes while it works for their amendment. The rightsholders, for their part, have an obligation not to view their man-made priviliges as God-given rights, and not to try to expand them beyond reason either in the courts (construing the statute’s language in extreme ways) or in the legislature (influencing the lawmakers to modify the law to their benefit at the public expense.) In particular they should accept that all copyrights must expire, so that the formerly-monopolized work can take its place as part of the accumulated wisdom of the ages. The public benefits from this insofar as it finally assumes its full rights in the formerly-monopolized work. The authors benefit too, since they are members of the public. But they also benefit from being able to build freely on the work of past generations.


  4. Ellen says:

    >What about “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deut. 25:4) and “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7)? I am the rights manager at a publishing company as well as the wife of an author. The work and resources required to create and distribute content should not be taken for granted. How many authors would be able to continue writing if they did not receive compensation? Publishers certainly could not afford to print more books if they did not get paid.


  5. >Ellen,Thank you for your comment. I totally agree with you. Writers have the rights to be compensated for their work and publishers have the right to earn money on their investment. I believe, however, that a life time plus seventy years is too long a time for exclusive copyrights. Claude Mariottini


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