Copyright Guidelines for Churches

Churches can and are sued for copyright violations. Therefore, it is important for church leaders to be aware of and observe copyright regulations. This guide is a quick summary of the use of copyright materials in an educational context. Note, this does NOT include public worship where you must get permission before using music or printing lyrics. “Fair use” allows one to quote from a work (such as the quote above) or use portions of a work in certain contexts.

One other note: copyright law is filled with grey areas. It is not always clear what is permitted or prohibited until someone wins or loses a legal case. As the U.S. Copyright Office website says: “Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances.”

According to the Copyright Office, there are “fair use” purposes: “for the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” It identifies four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The goal of a church should be to avoid those practices that are clear violations and seek to follow practices that are clearly appropriate or at least “defensible.” That doesn’t mean you won’t be sued, but it means you have a reasonable defense if you have been consistently careful.

DOWNLOAD Copyright Guidelines for Churches.