Editor's Note: This article provides a helpful overview. For a complete understanding of copyright law for churches, check out the fully updated and redesigned Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches by Richard Hammar, which is now available to pre-order for an August delivery.
Ministry leaders strive to set an example through their actions at every opportunity. Obeying copyright law should not be the exception. Music ministries and church websites are just a few of the areas where you are at risk for violations. It will be to your church's advantage to understand copyright law and obey it.
About Copyright Law
Ignorance is not bliss. Violating copyright law–whether its done intentionally or not–takes honest wages away from the author. Being unaware of the law is no excuse and violations can be costly.
Understand the law. Copyright laws affect much more than printed materials. Reproduction of intellectual material in any form without permission is a violation. These violations include displaying song lyrics visually, replaying TV clips and movies publicly, and copying software to other computers.
How to Obey the Law
Follow the rules. Contact the publisher for permission to reproduce materials or purchase the rights to do so. Do not edit the material and do not share your legally-acquired materials with another party for their use.
Consider a blanket license. Purchase a blanket license to get access to an entire repertoire of works. Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) is a valuable resource for ministry music. The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation provides blanket licensing for films.
Adopt music and software policies. Establish clear policies regarding the proper use of music and software. Post the policies publicly and confront any violations on the spot.
Spread the word. Be a witness for doing the right thing. At every opportunity spread the word about copyright violations and challenge others to obey the law.
To learn more about copyright law, check out the Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches by Richard Hammar.
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Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.