Yesterday I received a note from someone who wanted to know my views on those who use my material in their own preaching and writing. It seems that he had run across an unusual case (at least it is unusual in my experience) and wanted to know my opinion. How do I feel when I find out that other people out there somewhere, unnamed and unknown to me, use what they find on the Keep Believing website in their own preaching and teaching and writing? Do I consider it a violation of some sort? Is it "cheating" to use material you find on the Internet? Here is how my correspondent put the matter:
Thanks for your excellent sermonic material on Crosswalk.com.
Is your material copyrighted on Crosswalk.com or can one use it as his/her own material?
I recently heard of a preacher delivering your sermon as his own, without giving your any credit. Thank you for helping me understand whether or not this breaks copyright laws for your material.
Here is the gist of my answer:
1. My major writing is found not on Crosswalk.com but at www.keepbelieving.com. There you will find 825 full-text sermons along with over 100 podcasts and hundreds of articles and blog entries. All of it is free for downloading.
2. We copyright the sermons in order to prevent egregious misuse.
3. Basically we understand that the Internet is pretty much like the Wild West where anything goes. People copy and cut and paste from all sources all the time. And there seems to be no real way to stop it. So I tell people they are welcome to use my material in their own study and preparation. I say that simply because they can do it anyway, and I don't want to have to worry about it.
4. I have written about this topic in an article called Pastoral Plagiarism.
5. It's just plain dumb to preach another man's sermon and pass it off as you own. That sort of thing catches up with you eventually.
6. We know of many pastors and Christian workers around the world who come to the Keep Believing website to find material for their own sermons and Bible studies. We're delighted to be of service to our brothers and sisters in other countries who may not have access to good resources.
7. I have a friend in China who pastors a house church. He has been using my sermons for three years to learn how to preach, but he takes out the American illustrations, adds Chinese illustrations, and modifies the sermon to fit his own audience. The result is that the sermon may start with me but it is truly Chinese in the end.
8. If the man you are talking about is literally preaching my sermons word for word, well, I'm not upset about it, but I think it's a sign of bad habits that will destroy his ministry in the end.
9. Better that someone should read our material, take what they want, use it, amend it, improve it, and make it their own.
10. As the wise man said, "Milk many cows, but make your own butter."
11. If people want to help us somehow, mention our website. I would rather people know about www.keepbelieving.com than about me personally.
12. We know there are many excellent Internet resources for sermons and Bible studies. We list some of the best on our Recommended Resources page.
I encourage people to use what they find on our website, assuming that they will amend it, improve it, and make it their own. I hope it leads to more people finding and using our material. I am not worried about whether or not someone mentions my name. We're all in this together for the sake of the Kingdom. And if we're not in it for the Kingdom, what are we in it for?