Prior to the Internet, churches that violated the copyright law usually did so in relative obscurity, with few being aware of the violation other than members of the congregation. The Internet has effectively eliminated this obscurity by broadcasting copyright violations to the world.
The present environment makes it more likely that copyright violations that occur in the course of a church's use of the Internet will be detected by copyright owners whose works have been infringed. As a result, church leaders should be especially careful in ensuring that a church's website, or other uses of the Internet, contains no material that might violate the copyright interests of others. Any defenses, such as fair use, should be strictly construed.
Some examples of how churches can commit copyright infringement when creating and maintaining their own websites or social networking sites are:
- Images. The use of someone else's image on your website without permission is a potential copyright infringement. Some "clip art" providers allow the use of their work on a website for a fee. Before using clip art, be sure to read carefully the terms of the license.
- Text. The use of copyrighted text on a website without permission may infringe upon the copyright owner's exclusive rights of reproduction and public distribution unless a defense such as fair use is available, or the use is authorized by consent of the copyright owner.
- Linking. A few courts have addressed the question of whether the use of links on a website infringes upon the copyright of the linked site. While not entirely free from doubt, the answer appears to be no. However, some courts have cautioned that not all acts of linking are legally permissible. To illustrate, some courts have ruled that linking to sites that contain material constituting a copyright infringement will make the linking site guilty of infringement. As one court observed: "It is easy to allow room for liability for defendants who deliberately encourage use of infringing websites by establishing links to those sites." Also, the legal status of the common practice of "deep linking" (linking to an interior page on another website) has not yet been adequately addressed by the courts, so websites should avoid deep linking unless they obtain permission from the other website owner.
- YouTube videos. Many church websites and social media sites incorporate YouTube videos. If the videos are created by the church and contain no copyrighted material that is being used without authorization from the copyright owner, this generally is permissible. However, many churches display YouTube videos from other sources. To do so without permission may be infringement.
Adapted from theEssential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches.Copyright Christianity Today.
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