In Control At Any Cost: Copyright vs Christian Rock, I told the story of my school-of-hard-knocks introduction to the Internet, copyright, and the often ugly places where the two collide. Judging by the banner I saw today atop pwarchive.com — a popular Christian praise and worship music website — I'd say that not much has changed in the decade since those events occurred.
Pwarchive.com is a site similar in some ways to OLGA or the old CCM Guitar Music Archives, but much more technologically advanced. The site maintains a database of common Christian praise songs, and tracks separate bits of metadata about each song (such as its lyrics, chords, stanza information, etc.). You can hide or show each class of metadata independently of the others as you see fit, and — perhaps the handiest feature of all — you can even dynamically transpose those chords into arbitrary keys.
Pwarchive.com has — for as long as I've been aware of it, anyway — been sensitive to copyright matters. Many of the songs don't allow you see the lyrics at all, but instead display floating guitar chord names atop the spots where lyrics would have appeared. If you're familiar with such a song, that tends not to be much of a problem, especially since you can generally find the song's lyrics elsewhere online pretty easily. But I call out this fact about pwarchive.com to make a point: the folks running it appear to be genuinely trying behave within the bounds of current copyright law.
And so it was disappointing to me to find the following notice near the top of pwarchive.com's pages today:
Here's what that pink notice box says:
Pwarchive has been contacted by the Church Music Publishers Association and have been asked to remove all lyrics from the site due to copyrights. Over the next few days, work is going to be done to comply with this. Please join the mailing list for all future updates. Want to help?
Additional details on this matter can be found on the copyright page which will contain future updates. Sign the petition to as CMPA members to grant licenses to Pwarchive.
I'm well aware of many of the criticisms leveled at the so-called Christian music industry. I'm familiar also with the "Christian artists have to pay bills, too" defense of this type of pre-litigation action. And, as the fine folks over at QuestionCopyright.org can attest, notices of this sort are (unfortunately) common indications of "business as usual" in the Digital Age. Few — if any — industries are exempt from the complexities of copyright law and its enforcement.
But I struggle to understand what causes a mostly evangelical subculture to actually go out of its way to prevent the most widespread dissemination of its message possible today via the Internet. Why are Christian musicians giving up their rights to publishers like this? Or at least, why are they doing so in ways that permit those publishers to restrict the viral expansion of music and lyrics penned — if the artists themselves are to be believed — to honor God and reach others with Christ's story of sacrifice? Jesus' made some observations about the ultimate extent of true loyalty, found in Matthew 6:24 (and again in Luke 16:13): "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Which master is being served here?
I signed the petition. If you, too, think the CMPA isn't doing "what Jesus would do", perhaps you'll sign it, too.