Creativity & Copyright

I’ll have to admit, this is a pretty niche series. However, in order to demonstrate the relevancy of our faith to all areas of life—even copyright law—I wanted to share a series I wrote last year for the Office of Digital Learning at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School. You have find this of interest, but my sincerest hope is that you will see the pervasive power our faith has in the world, even in the sphere of intellectual property.


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 
(Genesis 1:1-2, ESV)


I was around 10 years old when I had my first wood project—a Cub Scout requirement my uncle worked on with me. As we brainstormed ideas on what to do, we found plans for a stool that claimed it didn’t tip because of its unique 45° angles at the legs. I forget the retail price; it was probably too much (and mind you, this was before “Etsy” was popular). It looked relatively simple to create and my grandfather had a woodshop on his property, so we went to work. 

We drafted plans and dimensions, selected the right type of wood for its use, and dusted off the required equipment. I can remember the excitement of taking a board, measuring out the cuts, sending it through the saws, taking the pieces, and assembling them. The one-dimensional piece of wood became a sturdy stool over the course of a few short hours. As a proud child, I showed my mom this stool. It set out on display in the house. Little did I know that this simple creation would be used for years to come. As you know, I’m a dog-lover. In my first dog’s old age, she found it more difficult to get on top of couches and would use this stool to get up to sit with us in her final days. Now, this stool helps my toddler nephew and infant niece stand at the sink to wash their hands in the bathroom. 

You see, there is something self-actualizing about creation. You take these raw materials—whether it be a board or a blank piece of paper—and you work with your hands to form something out of it. You end up with something like a stool or even a grandfather clock, or a journal entry or even a course design from such a simple material. While that’s fulfilling in and of itself, to see it utilized by others satisfies our deepest desires to make something meaningful. I think we find fulfillment in creation because of how God wired us. This significance in creation is why we take copyright so seriously in the office—we’re protecting creators and their works. It gives value to what they produced and incentivizes them to continue fulfilling their deepest purposes in life. 

Over the next few posts, we will develop a biblical foundation of copyright. In this post, we will lay the foundation for understanding creativity by exploring the first recorded acts of creation in Scripture and what that means for us in online higher education.

“In the beginning, God created …”

We often utilize Genesis 1-2 as a polemic against evolutionism. However, I think there may be a deeper purpose to these chapters. In these chapters, we observe God’s generative powers and sovereignty over all things. First, we learn from Genesis 1:1-2 that God created creatio ex nihlio(creation out of nothing). This belief articulates the understanding that the triune God eternally existed before the creation of physical things (Psalm 90:2, John 1:1). It’s difficult to wrap our minds around this concept (being created beings), but simply put, God created the physical world as we know it and its parts from nothing. 

Second, we notice in Genesis 1:3-31 that God created over the course of 6 days. God created in two main steps: first he structured creation, and second he filled that structure with creatures.

  • Structure: In the first three days, God created day and night, water and land, and then separated those structures. 
  • Creatures: In the second three days, God filled the air with winged creatures, populated the ground with vegetation and crawling beasts, and filled the sea with swimming creatures.

Out of chaos, God brought order, which provided a framework for his new creatures to flourish. 

Third, we behold multiple times that God called his creation good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Good, in this sense, means that God’s creation brought him pleasure. Similar to how we may experience joy when we finish a project or design a course, God was satisfied with his creations.

Fourth, we note that God rested for 1 day. While it is good to create and work, it is also equally just as good to rest from our creative endeavors and receive input from others through our church community.

Finally, we witness that God created humanity specially. We know this from the extended narrative of their creation in Genesis 1, but also Moses dedicated a whole chapter to their creation in Genesis 2. We see that God gave them special charges and created them after his imago Dei (image of God). He endowed them with special ability to reflect his actions in this world.


Expand & Steward

Speaking of image bearing, we primarily exercise our reflection of God through what we produce and create.* However, there are important similarities and distinctions we have to make between God’s and our creative ability. First, we create creatio ex materia (creation out of material). We are unlike God in that we cannot produce something out of nothing; we have to work the materials God has given to us. This is what God was commanding in the creational mandate: he did not intend subjection of creation in the form of environmental abuse, but stewarding our resources through preservation and creation.

Second, we have a regular rhythm to our work week. You may have different opinions of the 40-hour work week enacted by Henry Ford; it may be too little or too much work. You may prefer another set up like 10-hour, 4-day weeks. Nevertheless, we have periods of work and rest built into our weekly rhythms.† While God did not need to rest from creation, we have to rest. However, this should not be seen as a burden (as I am often tempted to view it), but as a wonderful respite. By taking breaks from our work, we remind ourselves that we are not in control of the outcomes of our work and that we are finite creatures who constantly have to rely on God.


Creativity & Online Higher Education

By creating, we extend and continue God’s creative acts in our lives—whether we are building widgets on an assembly line or writing an academic thesis or dissertation.‡ The question we have to ask ourselves now is what does creativity mean for online higher education? First, this department, the subject matter experts, students, instructors, authors, technical support, leadership—you name all of the people involved directly or indirectly in a course design—are creative. This understanding flows from our understanding of creativity as it manifests in God and man highlighted above.

Second, we have a responsibility to foster that creativity. All these parties bear God’s image and exercise this creativity in different ways, whether it be how we deliver online courses, display the content, frame activities to encourage creative thinking for students, involve instructors in the course, integrate external learning materials, develop solutions, and give direction. We have the responsibility in how we do our work to activate this creative side of people.

Examples

Here are two example to get your thinking started.

  1. Say you are designing a class that covers change, power, and conflict. While reading a case study that covers a failed transition or abusive leaders and responding to it is a legitimate way to learn, what if that person or representative from an organization joined the class to walkthrough the transition or their downfall. The class can unpack the contributing factors and glean lessons together and make it more personal than it originally was.
  2. Suppose you were asked to design a class on psychopathology and counseling. In this course, the subject matter expert may only have the understanding that you read academic, peer-reviewed papers and create your own. However, what if students continued that process a little further? In the counseling, social work, and psychology realm, sharing your research is an expectation. What if students presented their findings to their class as the final step, attempted to present their paper at a conference, or formed a small group of professional counselors to present their findings for review? As you can see, you took a simple activity that does require creativity, but extended it further and further.

Reflection

  1. What is your most memorable creation? Why do you cherish it?
  2. Compare the similarities and differences of creativity between God and humanity. What stood out to you the most? Why do you think that is? 
  3. What is one way we can be more creative in how we do course designs, set up the learning environment for students, and/or execute projects in our department? Provide some reasons why you think this is a creative and realistic way to implement your idea.

Endnotes

* As a point of clarification, this is not the only way we reflect the image of God. We still affirm the inherent worth and value for those disabled whether by deformity, accident, or age. However, for the purposes of this post, I am focusing on work and creation.
† Even those who have flexible schedules (because they work remote or are on-call) still have some semblance of rhythm throughout the week.
‡ We also have to factor the fall and sin into what we produce, but this will be for the next post.


This post was originally part of an internal blog at the Office of Digital Learning at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School. It has been modified from its original version.

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