You’ve had a retreat and spent days working on concepts for the Easter campaign and series. Your church is going big this Easter. You can’t remember a time you were this inspired. You can’t remember a time you’ve been this original. From concept to video, sermon and life groups content and more, you have thought of everything. Your church tech and creative teams have never produced anything this good at this scale. After all your hard work you discover another church has plagiarized yours.
“After all our hard work, time and money how dare they steal. That’s un-Christ-like.”
Different versions of this dominate your team’s minds. Let’s be honest, some of our responses in such instances don’t make Jesus proud. Anger, hurt, even feeling flattered and chuffed could be initial reactions. What should you do when you’re plagiarised by another church? Before answering that question, let’s start with two broader ones:
When Is It Plagiarism?
Up front: we all get inspiration from each other in one way or another. Plagiarism or straight up copying isn’t about getting inspiration.
These examples are in no way comprehensive or exhaustive. This is to give you an idea; I’m sure you’ll figure out the rest.
Use of someone else’s work without permission. It is also using someone else’s work without abiding by the condition(s) associated with use.
Passing off someone’s work as your own. That is, you imply that the work is yours when you don’t credit the creators. It could be copying material from another church and applying your church’s logo.
Why Churches Plagiarise Others
I’m in no way justifying plagiarism. These are a couple of reasons why churches copy others. I have doubt that people plagiarise out of malice for the original creators.
Yeah, I went there. It isn’t always that staff or volunteers at some churches don’t have ability or resources. Sometimes teams or individuals are plain lazy. A lack of planning compliments laziness.
A lack of resources, especially with small or new churches is one reason churches copy others. I’m not justifying the plagiarising, I’m only stating a possible reason.
Wanting to look good. This could be about making your church look good or even your team. Motivation could be about saving face.
It could be that plans or ideas fell through and there was a need for a quick fix. I don’t know, I’m sure there could be more reasons, but I’ll stop there for now.
What To Do When Another Church Plagiarizes Yours
As with many other things in (church) life, there are a few options.
No, No, No.
Reach out to the church and kindly ask them to not use your materials. You may have valid reasons and it might be well within your rights to do so. It could be a personality thing or philosophy thing for me. But this would be one of the hardest things I could ever do.
There may be unique instances where you might need to issue a desist request. Let’s take a detour and explore a couple
Let me create a scenario. Your church has invested money and other resources putting together a recording. You need to make money to not only get back the money spent but fund the next project.
In the case of blatant plagiarism, like a church ‘publishing’ music as if they created it, take action. You could appropriate this in different contexts.
There are times campaigns or activities are only a smaller piece of a greater project. For instance, a particular campaign could tie in with a bigger (missions) project. As part of the broader strategy, you’d prefer not to have end goal ‘hijacked’ or mistaken.
When a bigger plan could suffer, a polite conversation with all involved is not a bad idea.
When an act of plagiarism has the potential for misrepresentation of your church, act. Having your church’s logo is not the only way to express your brand. People can associate materials with your church because you express your brand well. When there is the possibility of misrepresentation of your church, act.
Having said all this, there are instances where ‘a cease and desist’ request is not that necessary.
The Other Alternatives
Do nothing. Let them run with it. Even throw a party that you were able to contribute to another church. It may suck that they didn’t ask for permission or attribute your church. It might even sting that others may think they did it first and you are the copycats.
A word of caution here: make sure that your heart doesn’t harbor any bitterness when doing this.
This is a step up from doing nothing. Doing nothing is letting them go with it. Blessing them is more like giving them a call and saying, “Hey can we also send you the source files and other assets?”
It is going further and giving them even more. Volunteer to do more customization, even training to empower the other church. We miss the plot when what we do is about ‘our church’.
Jesus’ church is His. We must never forget: though we exist in a locale, we are part of the big “C”, Church. It is not how we look in our community, it is also about the effectiveness of Jesus’ Church everywhere.
It could be that the church doesn’t have skills or resources. Build a relationship with them; resource and upskill your brothers and sisters.
A Bigger Vision
Plagiarism isn’t great, not even right. But should it be a thing for as part of the Church? I challenge us to think and act bigger than ‘our church’. What if our default was: we create for the Church.
What if you ‘open sourced’ everything. Form lighting to stage design, website themes and plugins and more. What if you shared what you worked on and how you did it?
After working on a ton of assets and resources from a campaign a lot of materials go to die in the cloud and on hard drives. What about a longer life and impact by giving it all away? Help an under-resourced church or a church planter somewhere else.
This can change the way you serve your local church and the Church. Think about Creative Commons licensing some of your resources. Maybe issue a clause that it is only for use by churches or similar organizations.
Over To You
Know any church that has plagiarized? You ever find out why? What suggestions do you have for dealing with plagiarism? Should plagiarism, in any form, be an issue for the Church?