Ethics: Christian Friend Wants to Sue Pastor Over Copyright

What would you do Wednesday!

Today’s scenario is inspired by Ergun Caner’s lawsuit filed against Jason Smathers claiming copyright infringement on videos obtained by Jason from the U.S. Marines. (More on the lawsuit here: Ergun Caner Has Sued Witnesses Unto Me)

However, this post is not about the above lawsuit – only inspired by it – so please comment accordingly.

A friend, who is an adjunct professor at a seminary, comes to you for advice. He is thinking about suing a pastor who posted a video of him on YouTube. His goal is to claim ownership of the video and have it removed from the public.

Upon asking about the background of the video, he explains the story to you.

A few years ago, as part of my ministry, I sought to speak to Army units that may be deployed to parts of the Middle East that I have specialized studies in. The people on those regions are hostile to both Americans and, especially, Christians. I got a speaking gig where I gave an hour presentation and then took questions for about 20 minutes. They paid my regular fee, recorded me on video for their Army files and that was that.

“So what’s the big deal?” you cut in.

Well, since I was speaking to a group of Army folks I dropped a few cuss words to fit in; build a little rapport. Honestly, I didn’t think anyone outside the Army – like the public – would ever see the video. In other words, the video is a bit unflattering and may not be good for my reputation concerning my speaking ministry.

This pastor found out about the video because one of his good friends was in the unit I spoke to. The pastor is also Chaplain of his National Guard unit. He and I speak on similar topics as part of our ministries as well. Anyway, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video which the Army honored since they are in possession of the video. He has asked me to apologize publicly for cussing in the video. His concern is over the Christian integrity he thinks I should display as a public figure, especially, since we minister in similar areas.

Bottom line: I don’t think it’s any of his business and he should just leave me alone. So, my best alternative seems to be to file a lawsuit claiming copyright violation to have the video taken down.

How would you advise your friend?

  • Sue and defend his honor.
  • Sue and apologize.
  • Apologize, but don’t sue.
  • Or…

Here I blog…


tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TanyaDennis July 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Interesting. I wouldn’t sue, but I would make a public statement. Look at Jamie Wright (The Very Worst Missionary writer). She has a relationship with cursing and yet people love her for her honest positions on difficult topics. While I don’t feel comfortable cursing on my blog or while speaking publicly, I can’t say that she is defaming Christ or the Gospel. She’s actually drawing more people to Him and It! Anyway, were I this person, I would not sue. I would offer a frank statement expressing the date (it clearly was years ago), the situation and how it seemed appropriate at the time. I would also, if I felt necessary, distinguish what I was then to what I am now. People evolve. We cannot hold them captive to what they once were, especially if we claim to believe in the life-altering grace of Jesus Christ.

2 Mark Lamprecht July 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm

TanyaDennis Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

3 Bennett Willis July 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm

There are several problems with removing content from the Internet.  One, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to find all the video links and locations.  So you are likely to leave copies somewhere.  Second, if you annoy people they can just keep posting a copy here and there–forever.  Third, the effort is likely to cause interest in the video to increase and introduce a significant number of people to your short comings who would never have known of your error.  The pastor should continue to keep his act clean and apoligize to his friend–and both should move on.
While we are on this subject, I think that the “friend” should accept the pastor’s explanation and apology and let it drop–and take the video down that he put on YouTube.  There was no problem and the video was quietly stored in “that great warehouse where the Arc of the Covenant is stored.”  It is not like you lied about your past in a manner that improved your resume or something that really should matter.  You are not continuing to make talks where you inject “bad” words to improve your credibility with the group you are talking to.  Any activity that the “erring” pastor takes will only run squarely into the third problem above.  One of the ethical issues that should be commented on is the posting of the video by the “friend.”  This clearly seems inappropriate in this case.

4 Robert Vaughn July 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Mark, I don’t understand the lawsuit from a legal standpoint. It seems to me that the Army and not the professor would own the video and its rights. They paid his fee for speaking and taped the proceeding. 
Regardless, even if he has the right to the video and how it is used he should not sue. We are charged to settled such issues of of difference among ourselves rather than taking them to court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). The professor should try to settle it with the pastor. If he can’t perhaps have some Christian friends mediate the situation. A lawsuit is the wrong choice. It is disobedient and sends the wrong message. If he “loses” in his negotiations with the pastor, then he leaves it up to God’s working all things together to resolve the matter for his good. If he feels he should apologize or make a public statement then he should do so.

5 Mark Lamprecht July 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Bennett Willis Thanks for the comment. Are you saying the pastor should apologize for posting the video?

6 Mark Lamprecht July 10, 2013 at 9:33 pm

@Robert Vaughn It certainly does seem like the Army would own the rights. And I agree that reconciliation should be sought.

7 Bennett Willis July 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Mark Lamprecht Bennett Willis It seems to me that the second pastor should not have posted the video.  Thus he erred and on blogs we seem to think that errors should be apologized for.

8 Bennett Willis July 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm

If you go to Peter Lumpkins’ blog, you can find a to the point letter from Smathers’ lawyer on the inspiration for this question.  He (of course) feels that Caner will pay for this whole thing in the end.

9 Howard Fisher October 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Why should Christians ever assume the whole Intellectual Property argument in the first place. Then to assume we should violate Paul’s admonition to judge things within the church is to assume the State has authority within the church and amongst our people. Sad really.

10 Andrew Wray October 12, 2014 at 6:00 am

apologize publicly, leave video alone as a reminder not to use un-Christlike language again!


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