What’s wrong with publishing ministries? Part 2

Early this year I wrote about some of the problems I see in the Christian publishing world. This is a follow up.

My hope is for an eventual transformation and reform of the Christian publishing scene (and for secular publishing too!). No one could force such a thing, nor would that be desirable. Instead I am committed to opening accessibility for resources I produce (choosing for example to submit papers only to open access journals) and gently suggesting ideas to the other publishers I meet. Overall it’s about giving up the rights our government grants us for the good of others. It’s sacrificial, hard, and completely counter-cultural in this rights-obsessed society we live in. I’m convinced such changes are what we need, though the specific way in which each person will give up their rights will be different.

I want us to ask a hard theological question though: how does the thoroughly Biblical concept of supporting Christian ministry fit with copyright royalties? I believe it is a wrong model for financing ministry and could at times lead to problems. For those who are incredibly successful, it could lead to laziness or the idolising of wealth (those in Australia may have noted certain examples on TV this past week). For those who are not successful it could result in the end of their ministry. We wouldn’t say that the William Careys of mission (perhaps those in Japan today) have failed if people don’t come to know Christ, but we might say that a publisher has failed if its volumes don’t sell.

More likely, for those whose publishing is a side ministry, is that the resources remain marginalised. An unfortunate example is Ruth Buchanan, whose music is unavailable on SongSelect, nor on her website. There is not even an option to purchase the albums online, but instead we must email her for more information. I honestly cannot see how this is good for anyone. Presumably Ruth receives a sufficient income from her other work/ministries, so if the default was that Christian resources were open then she would be no worse off, and my church would be using her work in our praises (and possibly supporting her, or some of our members might support her privately). If a publisher was in financial strife then rather than restricting access to their resources they would support raise as other ministries do.

I am not suggesting that we all completely quit using collecting agencies like CCLI, or whatever other strategies we have. But I do think more people would have access to our music if we told them they could freely download and use it from our websites. We could still keep the music on SongSelect etc. as well. I am for the opening and enabling of access to resources, so it makes no sense to close off one avenue which works now!

Recently I proposed to Garage Hymnal that they automatically grant to everyone the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL (was PCL) licences. These licences don’t effect album sales, instead they restrict what songs a church can sing on Sundays (and other days of the week!) Every person and every church should be free to sing good Biblical Christian music, without having to pay to put the words up on a projector. I proposed supporting them financially, matching what they currently get from those CCLI royalties, so that there would be no potential loss of income due to making their music available elsewhere as well. If ignoring royalties they were still at a stable financial position then reducing copyright restrictions should have no negative effect. And any bonus income from royalties could even be given to other ministries.

If you’ve read this and you believe Christian media resources are valuable, can I suggest that you do a number of things:

  • Please pray for a Christian author, musician or publisher that you know! Thank God for what he is doing through them, and that he continue to enable them to serve him.
  • Consider supporting them financially, not giving for the results of past work, but giving so that their future time may be free to serve God, no matter what the results might be.
  • Ask them to consider giving up some of the copyrights on their works, so that through their resources God’s word might spread even further. A good possible licence might be the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivslicence. It puts restrictions on using a work for commercial purposes and altering the work (so a work’s doctrinal orthodoxy wouldn’t be at risk) but otherwise gives you the freedom to share a work. Or perhaps they could just give the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL to all, so that songs can be sung in church without restriction.
  • And if their business strategy so depends on royalties that their resources are only available to those who pay, challenge them to remove that dependence.
  • Finally, write to them, saying how their books or music teaches, encourages and challenges you, and that you’re supporting them prayerfully and financially (if you are).
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