People often ask me if they can have or share my stuff. Here are my thoughts on this:
OK, a rather vague title admittedly. And it may not appeal to very many folks, but it is one way for me to offer an explanation about something, so I don’t have to keep repeating myself. So indulge me please in this brief explanatory piece.
The gist of this is what I do when folks want to share my stuff, or to get copies of my stuff. In terms of the thousands of articles I have penned over the decades, what is on my website is in a sense something that becomes public domain. That is, anyone can copy it and share it and use it.
And this of course happens all the time. Hopefully when others do this they give proper credit and acknowledgements when they do! Some people will ask for my permission first before they use my stuff, while others will just grab it and run with it.
But what I mainly want to discuss here is when I get requests to get a copy of a PowerPoint slide show I have presented somewhere. In the past I have usually said, “Sure” and let them have it. That in part is because God’s truth should be freely available, and readily shared.
But for a few reasons, I have been a bit less keen about freely sharing of late – or of granting permission for others to just run with my PP talks. Let me offer some of my reasons for this. While the general principle of freely sharing God’s truth still holds, there is a bit more to it than this.
That is, we are in fact talking about intellectual property rights and related matters here. So it depends on what is wanted to be used from my talks. If I simply have a bunch of Bible verses in my PP talks, that would be one thing. Although even there, sometimes it is the fruit of years of Bible study. Indeed there is much more of course involved when someone gives a public presentation.
The simple truth is, my public talks, like my written articles, books, interviews, and so on, are really the cumulative result of over 50 years of reading, thinking, researching, studying and writing on a whole range of issues. They did not appear out of nowhere. They do not come out of the blue. They are the end result of a lifetime of careful and detailed thought, prayer and study.
So they are in a sense very much the fruit of my own hard labours over the years. And we know Scripture speaks about the labourer being worthy of his hire. I am not really talking about money here of course. I speak, write and do stuff all the time for the Kingdom without any financial reimbursement. But what I am talking about here is how fellow believers use my stuff, or should use my stuff.
Sadly on one extreme, I know of folks who have asked for my large PP talks (often 100 or more slides), which I gave them, and then they went off and used it as their own! They basically just deleted my name and put their name on it! There is a level of dishonesty here and unethical behaviour I must say. It certainly is not very Christlike! Not that this happens too often, but Christians of all people should know better.
By the way, this has even happened with some of my written stuff over the years. I might spend weeks in writing a detailed paper on something, and others will ask for a copy. Then I learn that some of them have passed it off as their own. Again, they simply remove my name and add their own name. This is just intellectual theft, to say the least.
Then there is the issue of how people share stuff on the social media. Often it is hard to know where something originates, but a good rule of thumb is to give credit where it is due, when and where possible, and not just pass stuff on as if you were the one who created it. But that matter I have discussed elsewhere, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/12/on-internet-etiquette/
And one could speak of a related issue on this – when I have taught at some Bible colleges and the like for a while. Sometimes they will eventually video my talks or lectures, and use them, so I am no longer invited back. Presumably each new semester’s worth of students are still paying the school their fees, but they no longer have me as a live and in person – and paid – lecturer! I am not sure how ethical – and legal – that is as well! (I once had to confront one Bible college about this, and they ended up giving me a small payout!)
But even for those who are very well-intentioned, there may be a case for saying no to just passing on my talks as they seek to go around speaking on the issue. As any teacher knows, the teacher always learns far more than the students as they prepare their lectures, talks, etc.
We learn the most as we prepare our own lessons or put together our own sermons or talks. Simply using other people’s stuff is hardly much of a learning experience. Sure, we can share bits and pieces with one another when and where appropriate, but those who want to go public and speak and teach on various things are advised to create their own material, and not just borrow someone else’s.
Moreover, my slide shows are really just vehicles for my own presentation. That is, the slides offer an outline to what I want to share, and I speak TO those slides. The slides by themselves would be rather bare and even misleading if my running commentary was divorced from them.
Often I have quotes and the like in my slides, so people can see what I am referring to. But whatever is in the slides, I do use them as a bare outline, and it is my oral presentation that goes along with the visual presentation that makes for a complete talk.
So if someone else takes my slides and uses them in his or her own public talks, they will not have the same background, expertise, or additional knowledge to go with it. And if they do have all this, then they do not need my slide show, as they would/should have their own!
Finally, if I present a slide show in public, often there is a question and answer session afterwards. I am quite happy to do these, as they further help in the learning experience. But if someone who is a bit more green simply shares my PP talks, they may be in a less promising place if asked to later do a Q&A.
So there are various reasons why it may not be wise for me to just hand over entire slide shows which are the product of years of thought, reading and study. In a sense this IS my intellectual property and for others to just grab it and pass it off as their own is not right. Using my material as if they are experts on the issue when they may not be can be a real worry.
This is why I have become less keen to just hand out my PP talks to anyone who asks for them. Sure, if people just want it for the content, for home use, because they could not get it all down as they took notes, that is one thing. That is OK. But if they want to take my talks and go out and speak on the same issues, then it may not be so wise for them to just recycle what I have put together.
My apologies if this seems like a rather unnecessary or irrelevant article. For many folks it likely is. But as I say, I often get requests from people to get a copy of my talks, often with a view to using them as they give public talks. So as to not have to provide them a lengthy rationale anew each time about my misgivings on this, that is why I discuss it here. OK? So, back to your business!