PAGANS AND OTHER PEOPLE'S RIGHTS We pagans on our various paths are, among other things, s
PAGANS AND OTHER PEOPLE'S RIGHTS
We pagans on our various paths are, among other things,
striving for attunement with the universe, with its cycles,
its life forms, with the God and Goddess who contain all. We
recognize that the Lord and Lady are within each of us, and
we work (most of us) to become more aware of Them, within us,
and within each other.
It should follow, then, that the recognition of the God and
Goddess within ourselves and others should mean that we treat
each other in a way that honors that deity within, that we
should realize that everything that lives is a part of
ourselves. We should treat each other as we wish to be
That, of course, is the ideal, something we strive for, and
in many cases, it is true. Yet there is one area where
pagans are very careless of other people, and often even
flagrant about it! That occurs in the area of copyright.
I have seen this law abused over and over, usually in small
ways that do not really harm the author. Many of us have
copies of rituals, etc. in our Books of Shadows. I don't
think the authors are worried about that. Where I have seen
wholesale abuse is on computer bulletin boards. BBS'ers seem
to think nothing of typing up material written by someone
else, and, without permission, uploading it to a bulletin
board where it is often echoed around the country. While it
is true that these people usually include the author's name,
and a copyright notice, they are still violating the author's
There is one particular file that is the epitome of this
practice. Someone typed up most of the second half of Scott
Cunningham's book 'Wicca: A guide for the solitary
practitioner" as a Book of Shadows, and placed in into the
Some months ago, this file was mentioned, even recommended on
a bulletin board I call. When I left a message commenting
that this was a clear violation of Scott's rites, I was very
surprised by the reactions. Some people felt the file was
perfectly legal because no one was making any money from its
distribution on the boards.
Before I continue, let me give a couple of definitions.
These are from the Chamber's Concise 20th Century Dictionary:
Copyright: the sole right to reproduce a literary, dramatic,
musical or artistic work, also to perform, translate, film,
or record such a work.
Plagiarist: One who steals the thoughts or writings of others
and gives them out as his own.
Publish: to proclaim, to send forth to the public, to put
forth and offer for sale books, newspapers, etc; to put into
Copyright means exactly what it says. The owner of the
copyright, usually the author, has the right to say who can
copy it. It means that just putting the author's name and
the copyright notice is not enough, *unless* you have the
author's permission to copy it.
This file was illegal because it "put into circulation" a
work that was protected under copyright. (This file is still
illegal. It comes to mind because Scott has found out about
it and expressed his displeasure, not only at its
distribution, but at the fact that, in some cases, it is
being presented as his personal Book of Shadows.)
"Well," you say. "What's the big deal? It doesn't hurt him.
It isn't like it's a violation of the Ethic or anything."
Isn't it? If it stops someone from buying a book, that hurts
the author. It means that he does not receive the money to
which he is entitled.
Another caller was indignant that authors of pagan material
should object to having their material distributed in this
way, even if it did lose them money. According to this
caller, the most important thing was that the material be
distributed to all who wanted it. He seemed to feel that
pagans were entitled to this material because they were
pagans. He stated that if he wrote articles, etc., he
certainly would make sure that anyone who wanted a copy would
get it, and he wouldn't care about getting paid for it. (The
key word here is "if." The caller wasn't a writer.)
So, just because you are a pagan, you are entitled to get
pagan material. If you can't afford to buy the book, just
download the file, right? Wrong. To put it bluntly, my
friends, this is stealing.
Pagans who would never consider stealing an object another
pagan had created seem to feel that the creator of a book or
an article is fair game. No matter that authors have
invested time, and effort into their work, that they may have
spent money on research materials, that they may have worked
at a part time job in order to have time to write. No
matter that an author receives very little of the money a
book costs. Their rights mean nothing to someone who wants
that ritual, that herbal knowledge, that invocation.
This practice is not limited to non-authors, by the way. You
may be aware of a pagan author who included songs and chants
in a recent book...songs and chants written (and in some
cases, published) by others. No credit was given to any of
the writers. It is especially interesting to this situation
that anything written by this particular author has copyright
notices plastered all over it.
Let's forget the law. Let's forget the ethic. Let's talk
about common courtesy! Recently, it came to light that some
Yule carols written by me had been recorded. Not only had I
not been asked, but no credit was given on the liner notes of
the tape. When I approached the group who did the recording,
I was told that the copy they'd received only had my Craft
name, Elexa, on it (no such credit was noted on the liner
notes), and that they had figured the Goddess had taken the
songs for Her Own, so it was okay.
I am always pleased when people want to sing my songs. I
would have been thrilled that someone wanted to record them.
I would have given permission, if asked. Listening to the
tape should have been a great pleasure for me. That pleasure
has been taken from me, stolen from me, because of pagans who
were careless about other people's rights.
We fight for the right to practice our religion, to be who we
are. Many pagans fight for the rights of minorities, for a
woman's right to control her own body, and other such causes.
And yet, so many pagans are careless about stealing an
author's work. Does this make sense to you?
Many of us have written articles and such that are freely
distributed. This is our gift to you. If these have given
you pleasure or knowledge, all well and good. Please honor
that by honoring our legal and ethical rights. It takes many
hours of work to produce an book, or an article, or an
invocation. Please, don't steal those hours. Give us the
same consideration you give those pagans who produce tangible
Ellen Cannon Reed
Note: All that is legally necessary for a work to be
protected by copyright is the proper copyright notice on the
work, i.e., "Copyright, year, author's name."
Note: Copyright 1992 Ellen Cannon Reed.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank