DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Copyright Law Violations, the Church and You!

Copyright Law Violations, the Church and You!

One huge legal sinkhole bottoming out churches all over the globe is copyright law. More than a few churches violate copyright law every single Sunday morning. I promise you, it’s true. I’m not saying a word about all of the copyright law violations that occur in churches during the week. I’m just talking about Sunday morning, at the moment. Many, many churches violate copyright law during Sunday morning worship by using worship materials and songs without proper permission. This is usually called “stealing.” It is a legal violation of an incredibly obvious sort, is it not?

Copyright law is often violated in the church office too, specifically at the big, old, cranky copy machine. Wherever there is a copy machine, you will find Bibles, pages of curriculum, texts, books, and graphic images being reproduced without permission. Again, this sort of thing is usually called “stealing.” It is wrong! It not only violates legal standards, but also God’s standards. Speaking of images, the incorporation of big LCD projection screens in the sanctuary opens up the door for even more subtle thievery. How so? Graphic images used in programs like MS PowerPoint are often used illegally. Many, many churches commission good-hearted folk to surf the Internet for images to use during big screen presentations. These images are more often than not protected by copyright law, but used anyway. Using them in a PowerPoint presentation is wrong. Yet, more than a few churches show illegal images in LCD projection presentations and never think twice about it. Listen, violating copyright laws is illegal, even in church (especially in church!).

8 Responses to “Copyright Law Violations, the Church and You!”

  1. Nat Reyes says:

    are not infringements of copyright
    performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;

  2. Rob, to be honest, I’m not sure if that is sarcasm or not. It sounds seriously thought out, at least in theory. I’m betting the approach doesn’t do well in reality. This is especially true when the copyright restrictions of Bibles are considered. So, I’m not really sure what the charon is trying to say.

    Too, I agree with you wholeheartedly: It is a very complex topic.

  3. Rob says:


    I have to assume that a person using the pseudonym “Charon” is being sarcastic, especially on a Christian blog. Still, no matter which side you’re really taking, I believe the situation is far more complex than you’re implying.

  4. charon says:

    One of the basic principles of a modern working market economy and western-civilisation law is the concept of private property and the individual right to use it. People who have been exposed to the current media industry propaganda (eg. “copying = stealing”) have a hard time understanding the consequences of conservative values of respecting private property because of all the brainwashing. In the light of free market priciples and basic human rights based on Judeo-Christian tradition, artificial concepts like “copyright” should be viewed as immoral and enforcing them unethical.

  5. Hey Rich. I’m thinking musicians and worship artists, such as yourself, are the one’s who are taken advantage of the most. You folks work really hard on music, and people think it’s acceptable to use it without proper permission or compensation.

    Too, I think you nailed it: integrity is the issue. We need to remember integrity during worship and while we stand beside printers and photocopiers.

    Thanks Rich! By the way: I’m checking out your music. Great stuff. I’ll be picking some up very soon!

  6. From my years in ministry, I think this is a huge issue! Integrity really is the issue as stated here.

  7. Rob, thank you for your thoughts! Yes, ‘fair use’ is understandable, and acceptable, but seriously vague, as you say. Both sides of a fair use argument might have solid points, thus the difficulty.

    Beyond that, I’m sure there is a ton of copyright violations happening regularly every Sunday morning in churches all over the place. Your church sounds like it takes these responsibilities seriously. Good for you! I’m not sure the same can be said for the majority.

    My wife worked in a private Christian College library, and was well versed in copyright law because part of her job was to prevent th college from incurring huge fines due to violations. More times than not, she would have to prevent students from violating laws at the printer. These are the same folk who work in churches. It’s not a stretch … Too, worship materials are violated regularly on Sunday mornings. I’ll dig for stats …

    I hope you are right! I pray it isn’t as bad as I think it is. :)

    Thanks Rob! It’s always good to hear from you.

  8. Rob says:

    While copyright law is indeed important, there are also “fair use” exceptions. An image found on the Internet, used by a not-for-profit group in a single, non-moneymaking use on a slide presentation might well fall under fair use. Figuring out what’s fair use and what isn’t is a nightmare.

    Photocopies of books for study and scholarly research (most Bible studies) are probably within fair use as well. One of the terrible things about current copyright law is that “fair use” is vaguely defined.

    Even when something is fair use, the copyright holder might sue simply to attempt to intimidate the person or group engaged in fair use. The brouhaha over the 2 Political Junkies “Absolute Corruption” is a perfect example. They received a Cease and Desist letter, despite parody and political speech being the two strongest examples of fair use.

    Groups like the RIAA, Church of Scientology, and Disney are attempting to eliminate any possible fair use exemption. Which organization is greedy, which is power-mad, which plans world domination, and which thinks they are protecting their copyrights is an exercise for the reader. Not all options are used, and an organization may have more than one motive.

    Our church works hard at protecting copyrights. Quotes from the NIV, for example, are attributed to the NIV as per the use specified for the NIV. The lyrics to songs on the screen on Sunday Morning have our license # for use listed at the title slide for every song not written by the minister of music.

    Having created several slide presentations with music, I was careful to use music I either had permission for or music written by our minister of music and performed by the praise team musicians.

    Most Sunday school programs and VBS programs permit copies to be made of the pages that are likely to need to be copied, while retaining full copyright to essential parts for setting up the VBS that are only needed by one person.

    I’m not convinced the problem is quite as bad as you would make it out to be.

    I use the “Do to others as you’d have others do to you” test, but then again I’m a professional published writer who is familiar with copyright law.

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