When Copyright Violations Cost Churches
Some common practices may lead to surprising fines.

Church leaders may not realize it, but common practices conducted in worship services and through website updates may put their churches at risk for copyright violations. Fines are assessed by the violation, including attorneys' fees, meaning a church that violates the copyrights of others could easily face some hefty bills.

Many times these violations aren't intentional. But fines are levied regardless of whether a violation was intentional or not.

Some common practices of churches that can lead to copyright problems include the following:

  • Streaming an entire worship service on the church's website and/or recording the service and posting it for viewing later on the church's website;
  • Showing clips from movies and television programs during the worship service;
  • Importing content from outside sources on to the church's website;
  • Streaming music on the church's website.

When church leaders learn of these possible violations, they often respond with the following questions:

  • "We give credit–is that enough?"
  • "What about 'fair use'?"

However, both questions often are based on common misconceptions about copyright law. David Middlebrook, an attorney and an Editorial Advisor for Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax Group, examines those misconceptions and provides some helpful first steps for church leaders to take in this free four-minute video on ChurchLawAndTax.com.

To go even deeper on copyright for churches, including intellectual property issues for works created by pastors and worship leaders and copyright compliance in the digital age, check out Richard Hammar'sEssential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments


November 14, 2013  7:02pm

Streaming a who service? What is the copyright there? If our Pastor wrote the sermon who is he copyrighting? This stuff always confuses me.

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Helen Singer

October 14, 2013  1:11pm

Was wondering what a parody entails: we created a Purim Spiel using music and a spoof-type script using the format of America's Got Talent and Survivor; names of the cast included Maui Handel (bald guy dressed as a Hawaiian). Would we be able to post this on YouTube or our church website without violating copyright laws?

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September 15, 2013  8:25am

Streaming an entire service on the web site is akin to taping and rebroadcasting the whole service over cable network. What makes one permissible and the other a violation?

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September 03, 2013  10:35am

What about streaming with a CCLI streaming license?

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