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Where Credit Is Due 

by Steven Devries

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 1.

I’ve just put the final touches on the second draft of a play that Center for Inquiry–Metro New York was to produce in November, and I feel comfortable enough with the material finally to copyright it.  U.S. law copyrights a work the moment it is created, so technically my piece is already protected. But for that extra assurance, I’ll pay $30 to have it registered at the U.S. Copyright Office. That way if some other burgeoning playwright comes out with a script suspiciously similar to mine, I have it on record that mine was indeed the original.

If anything, copyrights ensure that those who toil and labor over a work are given the proper recognition for their efforts. No one likes it when a person wrongly benefits from another person’s talent.  And this is why—in these days when our president talks of extending the power of certain federal agencies—I propose we further the U.S. Copyright Office’s protections to include acts that currently fall under the umbrella of “Act of God” or “Miracle.”

I certainly don’t expect that every event that occurs, yet cannot be readily attributed, will actually be copyrighted. But I do suggest we leave the option open, so that when someone notices God smarmily getting up to accept credit for one more job well done he or she can defend his or her own contributions through U.S. copyright protection.

Case in point: for three solid days this past summer, I watched on the news as a harried crew of Pennsylvania miners burrowed through solid rock to rescue nine of their brethren trapped over two hundred feet below the surface. They freed the men on Sunday, but on Monday morning the papers showed photo after photo of signs made by grateful locals crediting God with the rescue: “Thank You God for Saving Our Miners” and “We Have Witnessed a Miracle.”

Now, if I were a Pennsylvania miner—standing there, my knuckles bloody from feverishly running the drill, my eyes swollen from being awake for three nights—I’d be pretty dejected that some absent party was getting credit for my work. Under my copyright proposal, before the first evacuee is even pulled from the ground, the miners’ union rep could be filling out the required paperwork so that, on the effort’s completion, the forms could be overnighted to the U.S. Copyright Office with a teller’s check for $30. Credit for the rescue would rightfully be given to those who worked the rescue.  The next day, the homemade signs would read instead: “Thank You Miners for Saving Our Miners” and “We Have Witnessed Technology.”  If God had a problem with that attribution, he’d have to settle it in a court of law. But, the Almighty would have to contend with hours of news footage of actual men digging through the rock—footage where he is nowhere to be seen. Any argument set forth by God’s lawyers that he was indeed there heading the effort would only be supported by circumstantial evidence.

To further bolster my proposal, I will use the popular justification that requiring Acts of God to be copyrighted will help fight terrorism. This way, any holy warriors who are part of a planned attack on the United States will have to subsequently file an application at the U.S. Copyright Office before said act could officially be recognized as, say, “Allah” striking at the heart of the great Satan. When the terrorists come in to file, they can be arrested, and their check traced back to their financiers.  Again, if Allah wants to then contest attribution of the act, he would have to do so in a U.S. court of law, at which point officials could question him about his involvement in past acts of terror.

I realize the boldness of this proposal, and the amount of additional work it could mean for the good folks at the U.S. Copyright Office. But I feel it’s important, because for too long opportunist gods have been allowed to take credit for the efforts that were clearly those of humankind. Therefore I have copyrighted this proposal, lest God take credit for it as well.

Steven deVries is director of communications for the Center for Inquiry–Metro New York in Montclair, New Jersey. This article first appeared in CFI–Metro New York’s newsletter.

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