Skip to content

Why not forbid derivatives?

Forbidding derivatives cripples resources by preventing them from being improved or adapted to new contexts.

It prevents innovation

It would be highly advantageous to be able to modify ministry resources. You may have created a training for a certain group in mind, but someone else may want to rework the format of it for a different demographic. You may have created some images for bible stories, but someone wants to apply a filter that converts them into the artistic style of another culture.

Not only could someone adapt a resource in ways you might imagine, they could also adapt them in ways you cannot imagine. We need to have the humility to consider that someone may come up with a better idea than we did, and allow our resources to be adapted accordingly.

Luke was not one of the twelve but did important work in adapting the teachings he heard into “an orderly account… so that you may know for certain the things you were taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Obviously Luke’s work is now set in stone as Scripture itself, which is not to be changed! But it still demonstrates the value in adapting ministry resources and contextualizing them for different contexts, just as the authors of the Gospels had different audiences in mind as they assembled the things they had seen and heard.

It prevents translation

There is an abundance of ministry resources that have been created for English-speakers, but they are all inaccessible to those who don’t speak English. Most of them will never get translated into another language, and those that do will usually only get translated into a few other languages.

Despite this, content creators have defaulted to an “all rights reserved” attitude that includes forbidding anyone from translating ministry resources without permission. While it might sound simple to ask permission, it is not usually the case and it can take months or even years for permission to be granted, assuming the owner can be contacted in the first place. There are also over 7000 languages in the world, and managing the translation of even the top 100 is too big a task for most organizations.

Many missionaries will rightly argue that it is better for ministry resources to be created by locals anyway, so that they are contextualized and reproducible. But something is better than nothing, and we should at least let other believers decide for themselves what they need and what they would find most beneficial. We should also recall the rich theology we ourselves have received from translating the works of the early church fathers and reformers. We have an abundance and it should not be off limits to the rest of the world.

It doesn't actually protect resources

There is of course some risk to allowing works to be modified, but it is not worth worrying about for several reasons:

  1. Bad people usually don't care about copyright anyway and the only way to truly stop them is to sue them, so it really only affects good people who actually want to use the resource
  2. Bad modifications rarely spread very far. The KJV is out of copyright (except in the UK) and yet there isn't a big problem of people modifying it
  3. The church survived without copyright for thousands of years (it only became law in 1710)
  4. God doesn't need secular law courts to protect his Word

Also see the objection regarding preventing heresy