Site Overlay

6 Not-So-Legal Things Your Church are (Unintentionally) Doing



With all the weighty responsibilities churches accommodate, it is tempting for leaders to look at copyright law as a trivial concern compared to the more pressing demands of ministry.

Unfortunately, leaders who bring an off-the-cuff attitude to violation put themselves at legal risk. Not only that, by flirting with the temptation to steal creative property, they also jeopardize the integrity of their ministries.

As a best practice to make sure your church is acting above reproach in honoring copyright law, survey the below list and seek to avoid the subsequent six things that will be putting your ministry in danger.

1. Making copies of printed resources

Ministry leaders working under a budget should do more with less. For discipleship classes, choir practice, or kids ministry, this sometimes makes it tempting to create copies of printed material.

Suppose you’re doing a church-wide study employing a curriculum the church didn’t self-publish. While it would be enticing to avoid wasting the church some bucks by making 10 extra copies of the 2 leader guides you bought don’t make out.

Bottom line: Copying work is stealing from the author, the publisher, the distributor, and anyone else who’s invested time and money getting the resource to promote. Don’t make copies of a resource unless it clearly says it’s reproducible, as a best practice.

2. Showing movie clips

to indicate that film inside the building or at another venue like on an inflatable screen for outdoor movie night, owning a DVD doesn’t grant a church the right. A church must first purchase a site license to legally show a movie publicly or to an oversized number of individuals.

Likewise, regardless of how short it is, a pastor risks liability for showing a movie snippet, television clip, or commercial as a sermon intro or illustration. While a scene from “The Rookie” might make an ideal illustration for a sermon series titled, “Signs From God,” it might be a rookie mistake to point out the clip without permission.

Bottom line: the most effective practice for showing movies at church is to not take any chances. Avoid showing movie clips as some way to supplement sermons unless you’ve obtained the license to try to do so and purchase a site license before scheduling church movie nights.

3. Using copyrighted images

A social media “expert” told a space of church leaders that any picture they found on Google Images, and used a watermark remover online if the image has a watermark, was safe to borrow for ministry purposes is what I learned when I attended a conference once. Unfortunately, this sort of recommendation can position churches to face hefty fines and public embarrassment.

Knowing a way to right-click on a picture together with your mouse doesn’t make it right to click on its image for the sake of copying it. In doing so, you’ll o.k. be stealing the creative work of a photographer or artist.

for churches and individuals to use, thankfully, many websites offer free stock photos.

Many of those photos and graphics fall into a resourceful Commons license that gives the public permission to share and use creative work on conditions designated by the owner.

Bottom line: only use images labeled as free stock photos by a reputable site as a best practice. Most of the time, Creative Commons images are unengaged to use as long as the borrower of the image isn’t using it to create money. However, always read the fine print to make sure you’re complying with the conditions of the license.


ALSO READ: The Religious and Political Views of Taylor Swift


4. Projecting or printing song lyrics

Is it OK for churches to sing copyrighted songs in commission without paying for a license? Yes and no.

The religious ceremony exemption of U.S. Copyright Law allows churches to sing copyrighted songs in an exceeding church. But when printed or projected lyrics are involved, it gets a touch trickier.

The problem stems from the actual fact that while the religious ceremony exemption allows churches to perform and display copyrighted works for worship services, it doesn’t give churches permission to breed those works.

Bottom line: If anyone in your church is reproducing copyrighted song lyrics by writing them down or typing them into a trojan horse, it’s always a best practice to first obtain a correct license. These are secured through organizations like Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) and Christian Copyright Solutions (CCS).

5. Recording or streaming copyrighted music

To pass the message of the gospel around the world quickly and inexpensively, digital technology has given churches the power. Unfortunately, the digital revolution has also made it easy for churches to urge into trouble by illegally distributing copyrighted works.

The religious ceremony exemption doesn’t give churches the proper to record or distribute music. Your church can get in trouble is what this implies when broadcasting copyrighted music via:

  • Your church website
  • A podcast
  • A live-stream transmission of your service
  • Any audio or visual recordings
  • Social media

Bottom line: a best practice is to either secure the right license or just leave music out of recordings and live streaming if your church leverages any of the above tools.

6. Posting copyrighted videos on YouTube

So, you’re gearing up for VBS and need to show your leader’s choreography for the worship music. Is there a controversy uploading training videos from the leader kit onto YouTube for your volunteers to observe from the comfort of their own homes?

Yes, there is.

In posting those videos, you’d be making that copyrighted content available at no cost to quite 1 billion YouTube users. If you’re not the copyright owner of video content, you don’t have the correct to gift it to the planet.

Bottom line: unless you have got the copyright owner’s express permission to share, don’t distribute video content on any online channels as a best practice.