Plagiarism, both intentional and unintentional, can take place just about anywhere. For proof of that, look no further than the recent attention being given to sermon plagiarism and realize that, on the Internet, almost nothing is safe.
Apparently, as more and more religious leaders put their sermons and other ideological writings/speakings on the Web, they’ve found their way, either in whole or in part, into other’s sermons and papers, often without credit or attribution.
Though it might seem appalling that our religious and moral leaders could pilfer another’s works, it actually makes sense when looked at from another perspective.
First, religious leaders are under tremendous pressure to produce out new material. Much like students who have to create new research papers each week, pastors, priests, etc. have to come up with at least one hour of new material each week on top of other projects. Second, all leaders in a particular religion or denomination are generally working from the same material, making it easy to find finished material that’s at least close to the intended result.
Third, many consider all work done in the name of God to be owned by him and see no point in giving credit. Finally, those who do see the point are usually laymen when it comes to intellectual property laws and aren’t certain when or how to give credit.
In the end, even though very, very few religious leaders take work have malicious intentions. It’s still a growing problem, especially in the digital age. However, much of it can be solved by getting religious leaders who are comfortable with their work being reused to place their projects either Creative Commons Licenses or in the Public Domain.
Also exciting is the organization Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. which has created a series of reprint and reuse licenses targeted specifically at churches. Though currently their structure is targeted at music, it’s easy to see how such a setup could be useful for sermons and theological texts.
In the end, how one views this will depend largely on their religious perspective but it’s a matter that, with clarity, respect and understanding, can be dealt with easily. For gray areas, when defined, become crisp both confirming the evils of the few that are vile and relieving the good of any potential taint.
That’s why it’s important we discuss such things, even when they are unpleasant.