Is your church guilty of theft?

14 Jul

Have you ever installed a copy of pirated software on a church computer?  Does your church record and sell your worship services on CD/DVD without paying royalties to the writers?  Have you ever taken an image off the internet and used it on your projection system without checking the usage rights?   If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you’re church is guilty of theft of intellectual property.

Intellectual property is something that is highly disregarded within church circles.  Using content without permission is stealing.  Copying original content and distributing without permission is stealing. This is not just my opinion, it’s the law.  The copyright law does gives a “religious services exemption” for the performance of religious musical works in church services.  This does not extend to recording or to visual communications within the services.  This is a very important issue as the Federal government can fine your church $150,000 per copyright infringement.

Let’s take a look at a few areas where the church can improve their integrity in the world of intellectual property.

Putting song lyrics on your projection system without the permission of the author is technically considered copying a musical work and is therefore a copyright infringment.

Churches do not have the time it takes to get permission for all of the songs they use.  CCLI has made it possible to gain a blanket license for your church to stay within the bounds of copyright laws.   Their prices are very reasonable.  This is the best investment you can make to keep your church out of litigation.   Here is CCLI’s price chart as of the date of this posting.

Making cd copies of songs or distributing MP3s for your choir to rehearse musical works without permission is illegal.

If you cannot get the permission of the author of the songs, encourage your choir members to purchase the songs online.  Songs cost around $.99 on iTunes or  Some Christmas musicals allow for the copying of content.  Just be sure to check the fine print to keep yourself protected.

Making recordings of your music without a license is illegal.

If you wish to do so, you can obtain a license from CCLI.  This license is very limited and can be expensive.

Translating a song from it’s original language without permission is illegal.

You must, by law, obtain the writer’s permission.  Typically, there is no charge for this, however, most writers want to keep the quality and message of their songs across languages.

Playing videos clips or movies to a group of people without permission is illegal.

Pastors are now using many forms of illustrations in their sermons, one of which is clips of popular releases from Hollywood.  Playing these clips constitutes distrubution without permission.  This is why movie houses make their customers pay, so they can pay the royalties.  When you purchase a home video, the first thing you see is that the video is for your home entertainment only.  Showing videos and movies to a group of people is infringment.  This means movie nights at the church, super bowl sundays, and other various events churches have constructed fall outside the boundaries of copyright law.  You must get permission.

Installing multiple copies of software on church computers without proper licensing is stealing.

If the Feds ever audit your church and you have illegal software, you can be fined large amounts of money.  It is a good practice to purchase licenses for each computer.  The alternative is what I promote: open source software.  Instead of installing Microsoft Office multiple times, install Open Office for free without fear of litigation.  Instead of installing a cracked version of Photoshop, install GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop.  If you can’t live without the high end products, register with (if you have a private school) or just find the best deal on the internet.  You can also find good deals on Ebay and Craigslist (BEWARE OF SCAMS THOUGH).

Copying and pasting images or designs from the Internet without permission, you are stealing.

Photographers and graphic artists work hard to produce good content.  They deserve what is due for their labor.  If you do not have a big budget for, try using Stock Exchange which hosts free stock images.  Make sure you read the usage rights and contact the photographer first.  It’s very easy.  You can also try discount stock houses such as: Stock Xpert or Big Stock Photo.  Typically you can buy a screen resolution image for a $1.00.  I reposted a list of 100 legal sources for free images here.  Take a look.  If you need web design, there are plenty of free templates available on the net.  All they request is a simple link at the bottom of your site giving them credit.

In closing, this is just the beginning of this issue.  There are many articles on the internet dealing with church copyright.   It is a sad thing that the church, who should be preaching “whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are true” has fallen into the category of thievery within our society.  It is something you have a responsibility to deal with.  If we have knowledge of these issues, certainly we must take action.  The Bible declares that if we know to do right and don’t do it, it becomes sin.  God cannot fully bless a church that is not operating ethically.  Let’s get our intellectual property messes cleaned up and start operating above board on all copyright matters.   It’s not free, but it’s vital to your growth and security.

Here are some links you can check out regarding church copyright.

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