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Protect Your Church Against Copyright Infringement Penalties…

There is considerable confusion among church employees and leaders on how to avoid committing copyright infringement.  Churches and other religious organizations can avoid copyright infringement liability by implementing policies that ensure copyright compliance.

One of the simplest ways to avoid copyright infringement is for a church to obtain a “blanket license” for the use of copyrighted materials.  The church will pay an annual fee for a blanket license, and such license will allow a church to use copyrighted materials—such as lyrics, printed music, audio and videos—for the term of the license. 

For example, a church could obtain a licensing agreement from an organization such as Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. (CCLI).  A church that obtains a Church Copyright License from CCLI enters into a contractual agreement with songwriters and publishers.  By paying CCLI an annual license fee, a church receives legal authorization to copy from over 200,000 songs for congregational use.  Churches can obtain similar blanket licenses from other organizations such as:

  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
  • Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI)
  • Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI)
  • Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)

Once a license is obtained, churches must act in compliance with the terms of their contract with the licensing authority.  For instance, some licensing organizations require that the church include copyright information on all songs reproduced under the license.  This means that the church would responsible for including the song title, writer credit(s), copyright notice, and your church’s license number on the bulletin, song-sheet, or computer projection.  In order to avoid liability, always remember to abide by the terms of your contract!

Statutory damages in cases of infringement can range from $500 to $20,000 or more per violation–and the recording industry IS watching, as exemplified recently when a woman was charged $1.9 million dollars for illegally downloading music.  (See here for full article.)

The Church Law Group has released a Guide to Intellectual Property (with forms) that is now available for purchase.  Email or call 972-444-8777 if you have any questions about intellectual property matters or are interested in the Church Law Group Guide to Intellectual Property.

CLG Guide to Intellectual Property

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5 Responses to “Protect Your Church Against Copyright Infringement Penalties…”

  1. I have heard a lot about the recording industry and their desire to have people pay for their music. I definately see the need for this. I am also very excited to learn that churches have an easy way of using songs without any incurring any problems. The licensing option is fantastic! I am pleased to see organizations assisting churches with this issue. I just hope that they don’t charge huge fees and that you can look at their list upfront for which songs and/or videos are available.

  2. Thank you for providing this important information. I will be ordering the Guide to Intellectual Property today!

  3. It makes so much sense for a church to obtain the Christian Copyright License. Thank you for the information and for the Guide to Intellectual Property.

  4. The question arises if a church has the right to download copyrighted images from the internet for use in services and printed materials.

    Also what about a message that uses copyrighted materials covered by the CCLI, but video captured and uploaded to the church’s website?

    Or what about someone taking a part of the video that used copyrighted music and uploading it for personal use?

    Although the CCLI is a great tool, still copyright infringement seems to run rampant among Christians. There seems to be this sense of “Since we are Christians, the law doesn’t apply” which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    I was recently the creative director for a church and found out after taking the position that the church was doing things like downloading art illegally from sites such as deviant art to use for sermon graphics in the service and in print. Our sister church still uploads videos of their messages for use on their site that includes videos and music that they do not have the rights to use in this fashion.

    We are held to a higher standard people. That includes copyright law no matter how flawed.

  5. I was wondering how copyright law applies to the written word or literary materials. For example if a series of sermons is based on materials presented in a book, should proper credit/acknowledgment be given to the writer of the material? If the sermon content is verbatim out of a book and its reproduce for downloading or selling, isn’t that infringement?


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