It is thinking like this which has led to several really great mobile apps in the last few years, apps that many members of the Church really benefit from. We now see the Church producing some of these fine apps itself through community projects, but the way was paved, and will continue to be paved, by independent entrepreneurs with vision and drive. This is as it should be: mavericks try out new ideas, while the Church institutionalizes the larger successes. It allows for the conservative use of Church resources while still benefiting from accelerated exploration. Unfortunately, it has also led to a lot of apps that are nothing more than a thin veneer over Church content which is being resold. I think we can agree that the former is laudable, while the latter is deplorable.
I bring this up because I'm struggling to define for myself what is right and wrong as far as use of Church content. I'm not particularly interested at this time in what is "legal", because as far as I can tell the Church is not enforcing it's intellectual property rights over these apps. If I ever wrote an app using Church content that the Church asked me to remove, I would immediately comply. I seriously doubt the issue would ever be taken to court. What I'm interested in is: what's the right thing to do?
Let's get down to specifics. So far there have been two "killer" mobile apps: the scriptures, and ward/stake directories. These are the two apps that most new LDS smartphone owners download first. I think I've designed what will become a third "killer" app, one that members of the Church will find very, very useful. I think it will have a significant positive impact on the spiritual growth of families. I expect to sell the app for a modest amount in order to compensate me for the time and effort it takes to put this together and subsequently market and support it. My dream is to be able to write and sell mobile apps full time that benefit members of the Church, make the world a better place, and no thank you, I don't want to work for the Church.
To accomplish its purpose, the app will need to make use of a variety of different collections of Church content available on the website. There are a number of ways that I can imagine the app getting the content:
- The content could be distributed with the app. I think it is clear that the only way I could do this would be to get explicit permission from the Church. I've tried getting permission from the Church to use content in a non-profit app before… I filled out the form, I waited, I inquired, I waited, I inquired, I waited… let's just say that that app is still sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, while other developers have released similar--though inferior --for-profit apps that bundle the content. I assume that they never bothered to get permission or decided to release without waiting.
The app is half developed now, and it is gorgeous. It's also indefinitely on-hold. If I simply cannot use Church content in a commercial app, fine. I'll move on. I hope I can find a way to make this work though. Any thoughts?