More thoughts on copyright

I got in a discussion behind the walled garden of Facebook about hymns, copyright and what we (as ministers and content providers) and I’ve brought some of my comments here. In particular, what do we do with hymn texts we think are in the public domain, and thus subject to republication, reuse or adaptation. But the text may seem a little one-sided…

It’s easier to show something is in copyright, than prove that it’s not. The before-1923 date is true, but there are works up to 1977 (when the law changed) that may be in the public domain. And that doesn’t got into the issue of licenture, including permissive licenses; see Creative Commons. It’s a tricky business. A fun place to start:

Another thing to keep in mind: liturgical elements that ministers write. Each of us have created copyrighted content. You don’t need to register an item to have copyright anymore. We can give permission each time (a pain), watch our works get cribbed without permission (annoying) or have it left untouched by the skiddish (a waste).

We can be good model of stewardship by providing our own “some rights reserved” licensing, using a Creative Commons model license. I’ve written about it, and license some works, but the Open Siddur people make a strong, maximalist case for licensing creative works, so they get the link.

Double circle symbol for you to use

OK, the flaming nectarine was a bit of fun, but here’s something that might be more useful. The linked, double circles are an older emblem of the Unitarian and Universalist consolidation, and deserve some attention, at least in “communion of the churches” settings. It uses the gradient standard of the new UUA visual identity.

Double ring logo, CC-BY Scott Wells

You are welcome to use, modify and share this symbol, even commercially, provided you acknowledge me. This licence applies to the ready-to-use PNG and the better-for-making-derivative works SVG, downloadable below.

You may acknowledge me in words or by a link back to this particular post.

If in words, and because it is a small symbol, the acknowledgment may be inconspicuous, on a colophon or acknowledgements page, or in an alt tag.

Please use this form: CC-BY Scott Wells

Creative Commons License
Double ring symbol by Scott Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Creative Commons License
Double ring symbol by Scott Wells is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

A "free culture" worship site to note: Psalter Commons

I first learned of Kathryn Rose, an Anglican and a (church) musician in London, from her work to organize worship outside St. Paul’s, where the Occupy London encampment is. (For reasons I don’t quite believe, St. Paul’s is closed for health and safety concerns.)

She also runs a free culture/liberal license project call Psalter Commons, to gather and encourage the composition of metrical psalms. These are the psalms recast as poetry in meter, and so can be sung to hymn tunes, erm, psalm tunes.

In case you ever wondered what “Old 100th” was in the hymnal — it was the old tune sung to the metrical version of Psalm 100. Got it?

Get more here. Participate, too.

New posts on Christians, copyright and Bible

Be sure to read this new blog series on Christians, copyright and the Bible written by Nathan Smith at The Library Basement. It lines up some of the basic issues and tensions around restricting the use of newly translated biblical translations. (He doesn’t get into the value of giving preferential value to some translations or publishers, or applying organized pressure, so I’ll mention it.)

Therein, Smith makes reference to a new permissively-licensed (but alas, not a licence used in common) Bible for noncommercial use: the Lexham English Bible. I can’t vouch for it, but I have downloaded it and will add it to my reading mix.

The language of faith cries to be free

In the open-source software world, advocates make a distinction between “free as in beer” and “free as in freedom.” While free (of cost) beer is nice, the freedom to share, modify, extract and even profit from (depending on the license) is truly precious, and has allowed an ecosystem to develop around not only software but cultural and (a favorite) other projects. Even beer.

But Christians I’ve read, looking towards the same phenomenon have used another similie: “free as in grace.” This suggests an alternative to free in economic, practical, intellectual or utilitarian terms. If something is compellingly true, and has its origins apart from human initiative — let me put that out there tentatively — then that truth demands cooperation of those who hear it to liberate it for the sake of liberation. So, I think of evangelistic tracts which long before free culture movements have been distributed “free as the Lord provides.” (Free here being largely financial, but the fact the sponsor comes from the Free Churches isn’t lost on me.)

But see also of the Jewish liturgical Open Siddur movement. Or the DVD I picked up yesterday at a Chinese grocery — and is the proximate reason for this blog post — from a Buddhist mission. (Alas, the videos seem to be of a monk speaking one language I don’t understand, and subtitled with a different language I don’t understand.)

There’s not much English on the case. But I can read “For Free Distribution — No Copyright.”  And that’s a good enough reason for me to take it back so someone else can profit by it.

I’ve written on this subject several times, please consider reading

Orphan works and Unitarian Universalism

Orphan works — works like books, music and film that are under copyright but for which no copyright holder can be found — live in a legal limbo, leaving them unused. A lost opportunity. Because older works have entered the public domain, they can be shared and adapted without permission, but for most works published after 1923 are under copyright. I’m thinking of the best general biography of George deBenneville and a number of anti-consolidation Universalist works in this camp.

A distinct, but real, problem is the republication of works with known publishers that have little or no commercial value. There’s no reason to bring them back to circulation for sale, and there’s no money to subsidize their publication for free.

So many Unitarian and Universalist documents from 1923 to the present are left in limbo, and largely unavailable. The ministers’ manual companion to the 1937 Hymns of the Spirit, official American Unitarian Association and Universalist Church of America reports, Laile Bartlett’s history of the Fellowship Movement Bright Galaxy (the Church of the Larger Fellowship has republished a piece here) and Robert Cummins’s Parish Practice in Universalist Churches are items I’d love to own — even as a PDF — but have a hard time even finding. It shouldn’t be so hard to have living-memory resources.

So I propose the following

  • support of orphan work legislation reform, like that proposed by Public Knowledge. (Disclosure: I know many Public Knowledge staff members; my employer and they are in the same office building.)
  • yet further: the humble and non-commercial publication of potentially copyrighted material where the copyright owner cannot be found or identified. I did as much with a slim volume of Esperanto hymns. (If a copyright owner comes forward, I’ll remove it.)
  • petitioning the Unitarian Universalist Association, Beacon Press and other copyright owners to make available PDF copies of important, currently unavailable works. I don’t even necessarily want a liberal license, which would allow for other to redistribute the work. Simple availability is the goal. (Of course, a license like one of these would be even better.)
  • But failing that, it would be helpful for those that have these scarce resources to identify and circulate them.

Statistics lesson

No other blogging today than note that I’m reading the Introduction to Statistics class notes — that was something I never took in college — taught by Dana Lee Ling, a professor at the College of Micronesia – FSM. Thank you!

I’m especially glad because he uses, a free- and open-source office suite I use every day. And the notes are released under the Creative Commons By license. Very, very nice.

The new order of service (at the grocery store)

Ever since Gaddafy blamed the Libyan revolt on drag-laced Nescafé, I’ve been drinking a lot of instant coffee. (But so far, I haven’t found the jar with the democratizing hallucinogens.)

And I ran out of powder just in time to buy some Maxwell House — and get the free haggadah. For three generations, the coffee company has distributed the Passover service book as a promotional device (to overcome concerns that coffee not a legume, and thus forbidden at Passover) and it has become an established cultural feature, both affirmatively (used by Obama! and grandma!) and as a by-word of the conventional and stodgy. But this year Maxwell House has come out with a new edition, and so there’s some buzz associated with it.

I’m not Jewish and have never been to a Seder. I’m just a liturgical magpie, and so I’ll keep my observations brief.

  1. I’m kinda tickled that in this day a major company would still issue a squarely religious publication.
  2. But you can’t find out a thing about it at the Maxwell House or Kraft site. Not even a press release.
  3. If there would ever be a Christian publication of a similar scope, it would have to be a collection of Christmas carols. I can’t think of anything else that would be home-based, relatively uncontroversial and desirable in multiple copies.
  4. The text itself is notably gender-inclusive for God and human beings, which I gather is one of the changes in the new edition. Having seen the “gender wars” in Christian liturgy, I’d gauge the edits as moderately euphonious and customary.
  5. On the other hand, if you’d like a freely-licensed haggadah, got to or

E-books, say, for Christmas

I asked in March, but I’ll ask again, seeing as some good (and bad) girls and boys will be getting electronics in a December holiday —  like tomorrow’s Zamenhofa Tago — and the market has changed somewhat.

Who uses a book reader? Who hopes to get or buy a book reader? Who uses a computer or phone like a book reader?

I’m gauging if I should start producing ebooks from Universalist and Unitarian files I have.