3 Keys for Legal Super Bowl and National Championship Viewing Parties

January 8, 2016

Like most milestone birthdays, there’s lots of hype and expectations surrounding Super Bowl 50 to be hosted on February 7, 2016 at the state-of-the-art Levi’s® Stadium…the greenest and most technologically advanced professional football stadium in the United States. Unlike this year’s extravaganza half-time production, the first Super Bowl’s entertainment largely consisted of college bands, rather than legendary singers and artists.

Leading up to Super Bowl 50, there is a weeklong series of public events held throughout the region. including the NFL Experience and the Super Bowl City fan village, featuring activities for all ages that celebrate the game of football, as well as all that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer from arts and culture to live entertainment, and food and drink.

Many churches also feature music at their viewing parties, and that also requires licensing. CCS’s PERFORMmusic license provides immediate and simple licensing for more than 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Church viewing parties also represent a new and innovative extension of Super Bowl happenings. Many churches see this “Big Game” event as one of their biggest evangelistic opportunities of the year.

The good news is that, as in the past several years, churches can host Super Bowl parties without fear of penalties and interference from the NFL for copyright infringement–IF they stay within certain boundaries. It’s still vital that church leaders follow important guidelines and rules to stay inside the playing field and make sure they avoid legal risks of infringement.

The Super Bowl has the largest economic impact of any regular human event with literally every demographic engaged in this annual national fervor. While churches don’t try to make money on The Big Game, they often promote events to view the classic clash as a great chance to engage in “friendship” evangelism.

But even before Super Bowl Sunday, the College Football Playoff (CFP Administration, LLC) and National Championship, this Monday, January 11, offers churches (especially in the Southeast) another chance to host viewing parties as an outreach event. The Alabama vs. Clemson showdown presents church leaders with many of the same copyright issues as the Super Bowl, but there are even more restrictions to consider.

The NFL, College Football Playoffs, collegiate institutions, college conferences, and TV networks all have the right to put restrictions on how churches and other establishments may show football games because the broadcast, like all televised programs, are protected by Copyright Law. The U.S. Copyright Act specifically restricts public establishments from transmitting broadcasts on TV screens larger than 55” without paying license fees to the copyright owner, in this case the NFL owns the rights to showing the live TV broadcast of the game. Note that because the NFL’s “agreement” to allow church viewing parties was not made into law, the NFL could change its mind on enforcement of the restrictions at any time, but they have consistently lifted some of the restrictions for churches.

One of the factors that complicates potential copyright infringement is that there are multiples types and owners of intellectual property embedded in the TV showing of a football game. For example,

  1. Types of intellectual property. There are three kinds of intellectual property under US Copyright Law: 1) Trademarks 2) Copyrights and 3) Patents. Showing a football TV event usually involves trademarks and copyrights. For example, the NFL and Super Bowl are trademark, and require licensing or permission to reproduce or use those marks.  The College Football Playoff and all of the college conferences also have trademarks.
  2. Types of copyrights. The actual football TV show is copyrighted as an “audiovisual work,” and is usually owned by the producer or TV network, such as ESPN or NBC.

The College Football Playoff and National Championship states on their website:

We (or our affiliates), our member conferences and collegiate institutions and college football bowls, as applicable, own all rights in the product names, company names, trade names, logos, product packaging and designs (“Trademarks”) of the College Football Playoff and such member conferences and collegiate institutions and college football bowls, and third parties own all Trademarks in their respective products or services, whether or not appearing in large print or with a trademark symbol. Unauthorized use of any such Trademarks, including reproduction, imitation, dilution or confusing or misleading use, is prohibited under the trademark laws of the United States and other countries. You are expressly prohibited from using or misusing any Trademarks, except as expressly provided in this Agreement, and nothing otherwise stated or implied in the Services confers on you any license or right to do so.

There are some important rules to follow to avoid being tackled with risks of copyright infringement:

  1. Churches must show the game live on equipment they use in the course of ministry at their premises.
  2. Churches cannot charge admission for the party.
  3. Churches must not use trademarks, such as College Football Playoffs or member conferences or college institution logos to promote your party.

If you wonder how your church scores overall on other copyright and licensing issues, call 1-855-5SOLVER (576-5837) to speak with a Copyright Solver.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

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