Friday, July 25, 2014

Suggestion for COGFC Members Contributing Articles for a Website to Preach the Gospel

COGFC has recently announced plans to build a website for preaching the gospel to the world, and it has asked members to contribute articles for that purpose.

If COGFC ministers are sincere, this may be a good sign. The real test will be, if they spend necessary money after the website is completed to advertise it and draw traffic to it. Having a great website does little good if few people read it.

Nevertheless, building a website with articles oriented towards the public is probably a necessary first step to preaching the gospel to the world for a small fellowship like COGFC.

I would like to suggest some things for those who contribute articles to consider and think about.

Learn something about copyright, and consider the long-term consequences of what kind of permission and rights you may give COGFC over your articles.

None of what I say here is intended as legal advice - I am not a lawyer. But I offer some things to think about before making decisions. If you learn about copyright, either by consulting with a lawyer or simply reading up on the subject, here are some considerations you can have in mind as you do your research.

Consider NOT donating copyright of your articles to COGFC as an organization.

Consider keeping the copyright yourself, and giving COGFC non-exclusive permission to publish your articles. Or, as an alternative you might consider putting your articles in the public domain, which means anyone, including COGFC, can publish them.

Remember what happened to Mr. Armstrong's writings after his death. Copyright of his books and articles was owned by Worldwide Church of God as an organization, which meant others could not print and distribute them without Worldwide's permission, even after Worldwide fell into the control of those who were against Mr. Armstrong's teachings and writings.

Today, some individuals and small organizations publish his works electronically only in websites, under "fair use doctrine" I would presume, but I think it would be legally risky and difficult for any Church of God fellowship to make and distribute printed copies of Mr. Armstrong's literature without permission of the copyright owners, unless the copyright for a piece of literature has expired.

What can happen is that copyright can be used to suppress the publication of an author's work even against the wishes of the author if the author permits someone else to own the copyright.

That is why, if a Church of God organization wants to publish Mr. Armstrong's teachings in printed form, they sometimes have to rewrite his articles in their own words.

None of that would be a problem today if Mr. Armstrong had his writings put into the public domain before he died. Mr. Armstrong wanted and expected his writings to continue to be freely published. What he did not realize is that Worldwide as an organization, which owned the copyrights, would change when new leaders had control.

Organizations sometimes change, even in the Church of God. That is a fact. History proves it.

Suppose you invest many hours writing an article or even a booklet or book for COGFC to use to preach the gospel to the world. You give it your best effort, working dozens or even a couple of hundred hours writing it, editing it, polishing it, till it is as good as you can make it. You invest your emotional and mental energy in it. You put your heart and soul into it, and you give it your all, because you know you are serving God. You want it to be used as a vehicle for teaching the truth to people who need it. You want COGFC to be able to freely publish it on their website and print and distribute it if they wish.

Suppose you donate the copyright of your article to COGFC as an organization. Suppose you totally and permanently transfer copyright of your article to COGFC. Now COGFC can publish it. But if they own the copyright, you don't. If COGFC puts it on their website, but never advertises the website, never spends money (or spends very little) on pay-per-click search ads or other Internet advertising to draw traffic and readers to the website, probably few people outside the Church of God will ever read the article you worked so hard on and have high hopes for.

Or, suppose COGFC starts to publish the article now, and even advertises the website, but later things change in COGFC, and they no longer agree with its teachings (just as Worldwide changed), so they stop publishing it.

Can you publish your own article in printed form? Or can you give it to a new organization, a different Church of God fellowship to publish? I don't know how, not without COGFC's permission. If COGFC owns the copyright, if you have given up the copyright and permanently donated it to COGFC, then as I understand it, COGFC can probably block anyone but themselves from publishing printed copies of it, including you or any other COG organization you might want to give it to.

They might be able to "bury" forever the article you put so much effort into.

I am not a lawyer and this post is not legal advice. You can do your own research on copyright if you have questions, even speaking to an attorney if you want. I have found Nolo to be an excellent publisher of books that help inform people about legal issues, and you can find one or more books about copyright from them or other sources. Search for "Nolo" in Google to find their website or search for "Nolo" as publisher in Search for "copyright" as a key word or part of a title.

But for what it is worth, here is what I myself would do if I were to contribute an article to COGFC for their website. My example can help illustrate some issues and raise questions to research.

I would make it clear to COGFC that I do not want to permanently donate copyright of my article to COGFC. I can retain copyright ownership, putting a copyright notice in the article I submit to COGFC, and simply give COGFC written permission to publish my article on a non-exclusive basis. By non-exclusive, I mean that COGFC can publish it, but I can also give other organizations permission to publish it, or someday publish it myself.

Or, I would first publish my article in my own blog on the Internet (if your don't have a blog, it is easy to start one with Blogger) before sending it to COGFC, and at the bottom of the article in my blog simply say something like this: "As author I put this article in the public domain". Once I put it into the public domain, I give up all copyright protection, but no one can stop it from being published. It is permanent - anyone can publish it for all time.

I cannot think of any legitimate reason why COGFC would not accept one or the other arrangement. If the article teaches God's truth, and if its purpose is to help people, and if COGFC wants to be non-competitive with other COG organizations, which they claim, why should they object to the possibility of letting other groups someday publish the same article? God's truth is God's truth, and if it helps people, it helps people, no matter who publishes it. The important thing is that it not be blocked from publication.

The idea that one Church of God organization can block others from publishing material written for them, even blocking authors of articles from publishing their own material, is not just hypothetical. It has happened. I already mentioned the problem with Worldwide's control over Mr. Armstrong's writings. Worldwide also owned the copyrights on articles written by other writers working for Mr. Armstrong, such as Dr. Meredith's Ten Commandments booklet. There was also a split in 1998 in Global Church of God. Those who obtained control of Global as a corporation gained control of the copyrighted material written by Dr. Roderick Meredith and others that was owned by Global. When Dr. Meredith formed Living Church of God, he and other writers with him had to rewrite their own literature.

More recently, Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) separated from United Church of God (UCG). As far as I know, they did not take copyrights of literature with them. I do not know if any of the ministers in COGWA wrote some of UCG's literature, but if they did, they probably didn't keep rights to it. They would have to rewrite their own articles for COGWA in order for COGWA to publish them, unless UCG gives them permission, and if UCG views COGWA as a competing organization, that is unlikely.

Having to rewrite something you have written (or rewritten) before, just to make the words different because someone holds the rights to your first writing and won't give them back to you, is a lot of work, and can be very frustrating.

If you are writing an article to serve God, make sure man cannot block it.

For the record, my book, Preaching the Gospel, which I publish online, is in the public domain. I made sure I put it in the public domain when I first published it, partly for the reason that I wanted readers to know I was not trying to make money with it, and partly to encourage other organizations or even individual readers to make use of my material in their own writings, if that will help spread God's truth and be a benefit to others. But another reason I put it into the public domain is so that it can never be blocked from publication.

So my suggestion is, if you write for COGFC, consider donating permission to publish what you have written, but not donating permanent ownership of the copyright. Plan ahead for contingencies, and make sure that if COGFC fails to publish your article, or publishes it but no one reads it because COGFC won't spend money to advertise the website, you can still publish it yourself someday or give another Church of God organization permission to publish it. Take the time to understand the copyright issues involved.

And if you want to learn more about copyright, consult with a lawyer or read a good book about copyright.

What about editing? I might write an article for COGFC, but COGFC might need to edit it before they publish it. Using myself as an example, what would I personally do in that case?

That is fine. As I understand it, I can keep the copyright for the rough draft I send them, and I can give them permission to edit and publish it. As I understand it, they can hold copyright for the editing changes they make, but I can still later publish my own draft, doing my own independent editing later, and I can give other organizations permission to edit and publish my original draft. I and other groups cannot copy the editing changes that COGFC would do - that part, the changes they make, would belong to them - but I can do different editing. The rough draft would still be mine. So what I would do is I would put my copyright notice in the draft I send COGFC, then when I give them permission to publish it, I would also give them permission to edit it for their own publication.

What I am doing here is raising questions to think about and research. Learn something about copyright if you are going to write articles for others to publish. Consider the long-term consequences. Consider contingencies, about what might happen to the articles you work on if things don't work out as you hope in COGFC.

Something to think about.

No comments: