The Interests of Others in a Faceless, Digital World

A friend of mine has been working on an original audio drama for months, maybe even years. Caleb wrote a script, recruited his cast, invested in audio equipment, launched a website, synthesized original sound tracks and effects, and created illustrations for the album cover. The last time I talked to him, he had just finished the drama and registered it for copyright.

It’s his first audio drama, and I secretly wonder how seriously anyone will take that copyright notice on the CD jacket. If the drama is distributed primarily to relatives and friends, will we recognize the need to respect the copyright as a way to respect the hours and hours of work my friend has put into this project? Or will we innocently make copies for the great aunt who would never visit the website or email the download to an out-of-state cousin? My concern increased after a relative, who has recorded several music CDs with his family, mentioned how it frustrated them when people made casual comments about “burning a copy” for a relative or friend. Will Caleb’s work be treated as casually?

“I think it’s really important,” my brother told me recently, “that everyone who wants the audio drama goes onto the website and buys their own copy.” My brother volunteered to be part of the cast and also works a nine-to-five job with Caleb as an electrician. He’s seen firsthand Caleb’s investments and listened to reports of progress.


The Risky Digital World

Caleb’s an entrepreneur in the risky world of digital goods. Right now, it’s a hobby for him. He’s gaining experience and hoping to get some return on the investments he’s made in equipment and software. There are others who make a living in this world of digital goods. Software developers and authors, food bloggers and sketch comedians – many individuals stand behind the enormous array of digital merchandise and information that we can easily access with a tap of our finger. Both the ones who dabble part time doing a YouTube channel and the ones who support a wife and children by writing computer codes have one flimsy thing defending them: the copyright law.

Most of us take the copyright law about as seriously as speed limits; we assume a certain margin of breaking the law is okay – especially when everyone else ignores it – and we wait to care about the law until we think a consequence might actually be possible. But the law isn’t intended to be used that way.


The Copyright Law

If the copyright law seems cumbersome, it is! The first chapter alone, which only covers introductory information and definitions, weighs in at 124 pages. Basically, though, it boils down to this: don’t take what isn’t yours. In other words: thou shalt not steal. The problem is that digital goods are different from physical goods. If your friend has a book and loans it to you to read, you can read it and return it. No problem! But if your friend downloads a CD onto your iPod, you keep it forever and so does she. That is a problem. She can loan you the actual CD or iPod, but you can’t save her music onto your device. As a general rule, digital goods can be purchased and used, but not duplicated or distributed. “When you buy a digital song or movie or book, you’re being granted a license to use that media, but you don’t actually own it,” explained one New York Times reporter.1 This is different than when you buy a physical item, such as a DVD, which you are allowed to resell assuming you haven’t duplicated a copy to keep.

The details, which are fully documented on a United States government website2, are more than most of us have time or desire to investigate, but here are a few practical tips to avoid unwittingly pirating copyrighted goods.

Music: Churches are particularly at risk for violating copyright laws regarding music. A good option for churches is to obtain a Christian Copyright License (known as a CCLI number). Including this number on printed song sheets, PowerPoints, etc. allows for legal use. The Christian Copyright Licensing International website3 is also a good source of information for churches. Planning a youth rally? You can even purchase an inexpensive event license.

It is easy to think that Christian songwriters shouldn’t care if we duplicate their music if it’s for a good cause or for use in worship. However whether or not they should care doesn’t change the law. For whatever reason, these artists have copyrighted their music and, looking out for the interests of others,4 we need to respect them and the law.

eBooks and Movies: Although there are strict limits in place, it is possible to loan eBooks to friends using Kindle.5 Amazon and Apple also have systems in place to allow family sharing of downloaded movies and books. Yes, it’s more of a bother than just creating a copy, but it’s a legal way of sharing some digital goods, and because of that, it’s worth the bother.

Software: The best rule of thumb is to use the original disk or download it yourself. Also, be aware that there are family and household limits. If your parents purchased Microsoft Office and you put it on your laptop, that’s all fine and good until you move out of the house. Establish your own home, and you need to purchase your own software.


The Interests of Others

When someone broke into our house last summer, I wondered what he thought when he found the letters in my desk drawer and moved the wedding photo off our cedar chest. Did he think about the fact that we were real people? Maybe he recognizes us on the sidewalk and thinks, “Oh, those are the people I robbed.” I wonder how he can live with the knowledge that he deliberately took things that didn’t belong to him from real people, people who miss those things.

Unfortunately, when it comes to digital merchandise, most of us don’t see a face beside the illegal download. We don’t think about the person we’re hurting by our self-interest or laziness. No one that walks down the street will prick our consciences. The digital world is a faceless one, but God’s instructions still stand. Even when we don’t see the faces, we are still told to look out for the best interests of others – generally, I’d say, that means we shouldn’t steal from them.

If it helps, when the copyright law seems like a great annoyance, picture a face. Picture Caleb, fresh out of high school, working days as an electrician and nights as an audio artist. Picture my relative who records CDs with his brothers. Picture my friend in New York City who develops software to support his wife and their ministry in the city. Picture my favorite Christian music artist, a professional musician who travels away from his wife and three teenage children in order to share hope with others. Picture a face, any face, and then determine to look out for his interests rather than your own.


Heather Heather Lehman maintains that one can love both the country and the city; she is living proof. She loves hiking in the mountains, exploring cities, browsing international grocery stores, tutoring immigrants in English, and tending plants. After growing up on a produce farm and spending a few years in New York City, she’s made her home with her groom who currently lives in a university town in Indiana. She feels strongly about welcoming immigrants, living responsibly, and communicating Christ.


1. Molly Wood in “Apple and Amazon Take Baby Steps Toward Digital Sharing” at Accessed 6/8/2017.



4. Philippians 2:4

5. More information about loaning through Kindle is available at

8 thoughts on “The Interests of Others in a Faceless, Digital World

  1. Thank-you, Heather for your voice. This is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately and not been sure what to do about it.
    I am a writer and amateur composer, and I am appalled at how often people will photocopy a song. “It’s just for a wedding. It’s not being recorded.” “It’s for church.” They think it’s okay. Yet, we would never dream of just borrowing someone’s bike for a while without asking or a more literal translation, taking that bike and keeping it. (We are just riding it to church, after all.)
    Any artist knows it’s difficult to make any money. Hours are put into the work we do, and we are expected to share it for free? Maybe we should. Maybe it’s a gift that we are supposed to give back and expect nothing in return.
    Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it, but I don’t have the answers.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Yolanda! It is tricky to be on the other side of the copyright law, isn’t it? Especially as Christians producing materials we truly do want to be accessible and a blessing to others, it’s a challenging question! I do know it’s important to honor the law regarding other people’s work, but how should I require that my own work be treated? As a writer and graphic designer, I’m not sure! I do think that different scenarios and circumstances will lead faithful Christians to different decisions. I suppose it’s something we must each wrestle through for ourselves. Blessings to you as you think through this!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. great thoughts. Maybe I have a more sensitive conscience than others but I am very careful about what I copy. I was also the chief pusher for our church to become a CCLI member. Most of the songs in our hymnals are public domain but not all. Yolanda mentioned “its only for a wedding and not recorded” as the excuse being used. I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Most services at our church are recorded. We distribute at few copies to shut ins and others. However, we have been increasingly sensitive about duplicating the recorded songs. We have one individual who always wants a copy of the service. When the EBI chorus visited us a couple years ago we checked and they didn’t even have permission to record some of the songs for their own use. So we didn’t record at all much to this person’s disappointment. If he would want it for his own use that would be fine, but I see clips on facebook and e-mails and he is always passing out cd’s after church of material he copied off the radio or internet and some of it I know is copyrighted material. I won’t accept any of his. If a group has their own recordings I always refer people to their table. Oh but they didn’t want to buy it. They just expect me to give it to them for free. Sorry but I have become much more reluctant to record groups unless they tell me I may. Sermons no problem. I purchase the software I use unless it is freeware. I can’t afford failure of some of that software that might be pirated when I need it most.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article Heather!! We as a Church need to stand up against this, but we can’t until we stop doing the same. I ashamedly admit that I have done so before too:(,
    but with God’s grace never do so again.

    Thanks for your time invested in this article!!


    1. I’m glad if this article was an encouragement to you. It helps me if I think of the copyright law like speed limits. All of us have broken it at some time or another, often unknowingly. The challenge is to keep being conscientious even when it’s a bother or an expense.


  4. As the wife of a man who also is gifted with recording and has produced a CD, (and has had people steal copies) I feel strongly about this subject too! Thanks for writing about this. 🙂


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