Church Law Group

Keeping the Creativity Going

Churches are some of the most creative places on the planet. Those creative ideas and works are sometimes created by church staff and they are sometimes based upon making use of creative materials from the outside world. All of these creative works, whether created internally or brought in from the outside world, are subject to trademark and copyright laws. If the Church is not following the laws regarding the use of these creative works, it can be subject to some serious penalties. The landmark Chicago Catholic Archdiocese case resulted in a several million dollar judgment against that church based upon improperly copying songs out of a hymnal.

When church staff creates new works, such as the Senior Pastor’s weekly sermon or the Music Director’s new musical composition or the Children’s Director’s new Sunday School teaching series, the ownership and use of those materials is controlled by law. The Church can change the operation of those laws, but so many churches never get around to dealing with the issue until the works begin to generate income.

Seven Questions about your Church’s creative works:

  1. Do you have any written agreements with Church staff regarding ownership of creative works? Any royalty arrangements?
  2. Do you need to formally register Church creative works as trademarks and copyrights? Can someone else use those materials?
  3. Does your Church use popular secular music or video clips from popular movies as part of its services or other religious activities?Can it legally do that?
  4. Does your Church make copies of third-parties’ books, songs, or other materials? Can it legally do that?
  5. Is there a difference in copyright and trademark laws between when they are used in an actual service and when they are used in other Church activities?
  6. What should the Church do if someone has stolen its creative works?
  7. Are there third-parties who are impersonating your Church on the Internet, getting unwitting persons to send them money or making statements that are falsely attributed to your Church? What can you do?

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