Copyright and Evangelism

© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D. 2016

What a strange title for a blog article, but it is very pertinent for us today, as I hope to demonstrate.

At present, the world can be divided into three time periods regarding the written word, copyright, and evangelism. The three time periods are (1) from the beginning of mankind and writing to Gutenberg in A.D. 1440-1450;[1] (2) then from the invention of the printing press to today, and (3) today (2016) with eBooks and the Internet, which began in earnest about 1991. Let us consider each of these in order.

First, for thousands of years the only way to preserve ideas was for someone to write them down, sometimes on stone, or vellum (animal skins), or “paper,” which would be papyri hammered into a kind of paper. Before the printing press, professional scribes copied books for the wealthy. Generally, the public could not read well so they rarely had access to good literature. When a catastrophe occurred, such as the huge world-wide library of handwritten manuscripts that burned in Alexandria south of Jerusalem in Egypt, much learning was destroyed. It was most likely set fire around AD 270 or so. This was a loss that set the world back centuries. Now with multiple copies of eBooks all over the world, it is very unlikely that we’ll lose so much knowledge again. Copying manuscripts was slow and inaccurate since the copyists did not copy perfectly. Few people could afford hand copied books. Today we duplicate manuscripts by storing them electronically, and no about of copying these stored manuscripts downgrades their integrity.

Moreover, to send a hand copied manuscript to someone would take considerable time since it had to travel by some kind of animal, personal mail carrier, or boat. For example, if one wanted a copy of the Bible in Greek, it would take a scribe about a year to copy it. If the scribe wanted to maximize his profit, he would in turn hire other scribes, and a reader would call out the text for several scribes to write down at the same time. How would they know that each manuscript was correct? Of course, there were no copyright laws for thousands of years. The idea of intellectual property rights would have been laughable.

But one can see how slow it would be to spread the word of God, or any area of knowledge, by copying text by hand. Of course, no one could copyright a hand copied manuscript.

Second, when Gutenberg invented the printing press, everything changed—everything! Now one could set a Bible to type and not have repeated errors. At this point, textual criticism, that art and science whereby scribes would look at various ancient Greek texts to determine which manuscripts were accurate and which not, essentially took on new dimensions. One could now look at printed books to determine the text, not run all over the world finding Greek manuscripts in hand written form. No one needed to correct manuscripts because the text was now fossilized in printed books. BUT—and this is the important point—now anyone for a moderate price could purchase some books to read. Thus reading became more popular and many were being taught to read. As Erasmus, that great humanist Roman Catholic scholar, who was considered to be the best Greek and Latin scholar of his day by both Catholics and Protestants, said: “When I have money, I buy books. If I have any money left over, I buy food.”

Again, producing books was still relatively expensive, and there were no copyrights. Anyone could print anyone else’s book, undercut the price, and make a few dollars.

The questions now was who was going to control the printing. Of course, kings did not like information disseminated that was not favorable to him. Thus they wanted control over printing, and often assigned printing to someone of the king’s choice. Now he had a monopoly over printing, but could only print what the king approved.

There could have been no Protestant Reformation without Gutenberg. Luther nailed up his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, which was the door of a church that served as a community bulletin board for scholars. His theses were written in Latin, and someone took them down, translated them into German, printed them, and distributed them to the people. Thus, the Reformation was born.

Printed books continued to be the blessing of nations for several centuries. In America there was no king to control the printing, no thought police. Books printed in England, and usually with copyright, were reprinted in America at less cost, without copyright. We had no copyright laws until Noah Webster fought for decades not only to recognize intellectual property in America but also to establish international copyright laws. Congress finally passed such laws in the late 19th century. Now copyright laws have to be updated because the form of intellectual property is changing all the time, from printed books to eBooks. Also, Webster started many libraries in various cities of America to make books available to those who could not afford them. Consequently, the literacy of the world was given a huge boost from printed books. Eventually, due to competition and reduction of printing costs, the price of books has really come down since the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Third, we have now entered the information age. When the printing press came along, hand written manuscripts in the great libraries of the world that were not printed were lost. Even today there are scholars who can read those old manuscripts, and they discover manuscripts worth making into books. For example, one of the great Anglican Scholars of the 19th century was J. B. Lightfoot. He had forgotten more Greek and background material to the New Testament that most of us will ever know. In the past year or so, someone discovered more of his work that no one knew about, existing in handwritten manuscripts. These new works are being put into print. Also today, printed books that never become digitized will be lost to the world.

But in the 1960’s and 1970’s some scientists (not former VP Al Gore!) were talking about connecting some computers and having access to everyone’s data on each computer. Then around 1991 the Internet began to take off. Google has caused its growth exponentially with its search engine that can “crawl” the web, find all kinds of data, and make it accessible to all who have a computer and Internet connection.[2] Most searches today use Google’s search engine, (which has only indexed about ten percent of the Internet) though other search engines are available, such as,,, etc. No one really knows how large the Internet is. (Go to and enter a line of your favorite book between quotes; see if it pops up.) Moreover, Google for a couple of decades now has been digitizing whole libraries, most of which are in the public domain so that copyright is not an issue. But they have challenged copyright law. They will digitize a whole book, and if someone finds a quote he likes of a copyrighted work, he can find out from Google where to purchase it. He is not able to see the whole book but only the passage searched for. But anyone can send them his book and ask for it to be scanned and put their book on the web. No one knows how many millions of books Google has scanned. If one has his book in pdf file, he can send that to Google, who will put that eBook on their books site, no scanning necessary, which makes it faster and more accurate.

Now we have books at light speed that one can read, copy parts out, even “borrow” (download the book for, say, two weeks, and then it will erase itself). One can rent, read, and “return” all without leaving his computer. Economically, the price for a book has dropped dramatically over the centuries. Until AD 1450 and Gutenberg, owning “books” would have to be hand written manuscripts. Then printed books were optional for those who could read and had the money, or they could have books read to them. As books were printed and technology improved, the price of books came down. In our day, say from 1900 to today (2016), one could go into most bookstores and purchase a Bible for a few dollars. Now what has happened from 1991 and the Internet to today is beyond imagination. One can send eBooks from one part of the world to another, from Houston, TX to Uganda in a few seconds.

And many of these books are free. An example might help. In 1985 I paid $1,000 for a ten meg hard drive. About two weeks ago I purchased a 5T (five terabytes) hard drive for $153, tax included. The ten meg hard drive cost me $100 per meg. The new drive cost me $0.0000306 per meg. To put this another way, I do not have to keep inventory for any of my eBooks (, will never run out of inventory, because they are stored as electrons. Anyone can order them from anywhere in the world and receive them in a minute or about. Yet I can still copyright them if I wish.

But how does copyright law, the Internet, and evangelism go together? When we first began Cranmer Theological House in September 1994 in Shreveport, all students had to come to our campus. We invited three Ugandan students. We had to pay their airfare to our campus, pay their room and board, any medical problems they had, pay for their tuition and books. Now with the Internet and eBooks, we can hold live classes through Google and YouTube. We can send them eBooks for many of the classes. Thus, while the world sleeps, we can train pastors in Africa, evangelize others in China, and spend next to nothing on materials. We can video our classes and make them available also on YouTube. And we are protected by international copyright law that our materials will not be stolen that we’ve spent years making. We must use the Internet to evangelize Muslim groups like ISIS; they are using the Internet against us.

I can evangelize in my sleep, not have to get an order shipped, but just open my account to see who ordered what. The money is automatically deposited into my account. Of course, we sell printed books also, which are not going anywhere for some decades yet, and those we do have to ship, our buyers are worldwide. It cost me very little to have a web presence for these things. Indeed, some of those who carry my books do so for free, taking a small percentage of the money when orders come in; i.e., Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books, etc. It costs them virtually nothing to list my books and eBooks.

Moreover, we can now send a whole library by fiber optics in a few seconds with 100% accuracy and send it as many times as we wish. There is no delay from idea to writing to print to delivery. There is much time for tyrants to stop the presses, but with the Internet, it is very difficult to control the content or the speedy distribution. One can send eBooks anywhere at light speed. Why are we not doing this to reach the world? A few are. Consider the multiplication factor: I send a book to someone in Canada, having pulled the copyright, who likes it and sends it to his friend in Australia, who knows Mandarin. He then translates it into Mandarin, sends it to his friends in China, who in turn send it to their friends. It goes to Germany in English, is translated into German, then Dutch, etc, You get the picture. This is just not possible with a paper printed book. In theory, all that multiplication could take place in a few days or weeks or months. Can there be a better opportunity?

The printing press made books possible, and everyone wanted his own copy of good books. The manuscripts in the monasteries and ancient libraries that were not printed have basically been lost to mankind, though there are still a few scholars who comb those institutions. Also, those printed books that are not being digitized will be lost to the world. We may think printed books will never vanish, but are you watching the millennials who do everything on a hand held device, including reading books?

No one can now control the content—no king, no group of publishers, no thought police. Each individual, by himself, can write and publish an eBook without censorship and disseminate it to the world. He can copyright it by simply this formula: Name of person who wrote book, date finished, and this symbol: © (Look at my copyright at the top of the first page of this article.) One can send a copy to the Library of Congress if he wishes to have more protection for a written and printed book, but how does one copyright an eBook? Just that way. One does not need a literary agent to copyright his book or get it printed. One writes it, then promotes it through his own web site, blog, or submits it to Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Moreover, there are sites on line that will take your eBook virtually sight unseen.


Thus, for the first time in history, we can evangelize the world from our home offices, and most people in the world either speak or read English. What an opportunity! The copyright would help us stay in business, but of course we give away some of our eBooks, especially those oriented to evangelism or spiritual growth. (See Let us take advantage of this new opportunity the great Lord of the Church has given us!

The Lord of glory said:

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt. 28:18-20 NKJ)



[1] The Chinese may have predated the West in printing, but that is out of my area.

[2] Some say that there are several aspects to the Internet: the world wide web (WWW), which is a subset of the broad Internet (https://, or http://), the intranet (business), the extranet, and today even the dark Internet that is used by crooks, such as ISIS. Anyone can access to the WWW or http:// versions but the others only with a password.