How Churches Can Monitor and Protect Their Content

April 5, 2016

This is a guest post written by Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today.

BY JONATHAN BAILEY: When it comes to copyright, churches and other houses of worship often show a great deal of concern over how they use works created by others while not giving much thought to the works they create.

With the rise of the Internet, in particular social media, blogging and online video, churches are now increasingly content creators and, with that, comes the need to think about copyright, licensing and enforcement for that content.

For churches, this content can include anything from music recordings, sermons (written and recorded), photographs and any media created for use in presentations. Nearly any creative work that is fixed into a tangible medium of expression can be protected by copyright (For more information, check out the CCS Copyrights 101 Fact Sheet)

Because, even if you don’t want to enforce your copyright or do anything to discourage the spread of your work, monitoring and understanding how your work is being used can help you hone your message both online and at home.

With that in mind, here are a few steps every church can take to ensure that their work is protected and used in ways that they feel is appropriate.

Step 1: Determine Your License

The first step to thinking about your copyright is to set up the rules by which others can use your content.

Those rules can be as liberal or restrictive as you want. However, it’s important to make sure that the rules are clear on your site and, if practical, your social media presences.

To that end, you need to place a license on your content. If you’re fine with others using your work with or without attribution, you can place a public domain license on your work. Bear in mind though, doing so means that anyone can use your work for any purpose, including unattributed commercial use, without paying royalties or asking permission.

If you want greater control but still want to allow broad reuse, Creative Commons offers a series of licenses you can use to open up your work for reuse under terms that you’re comfortable with.

If you don’t wish to allow blanket reuse, the easiest thing to do is simply say “All Rights Reserved” and then offer an easy email address or form that others can contact you to gain permission to use your content.

No matter what you choose, it’s important to make your wishes clear, otherwise you will likely end up with a large number of people who misuse your work accidentally, creating a headache for everyone.

Step 2: Track Your Content

Once you’ve licensed your content, tracking if and how it is used is the next crucial step. This can be done to either check on who is sharing and spreading your message or to stop infringements and undesirable uses.

For text works, the greatest weapon is Google search. Simply find a unique phrase from the content you want to check and search for it in quotes in Google. It only takes a few seconds and can give you a great idea as to where else the work appears. Using Google Alerts, you can be automatically notified when the phrase appears elsewhere online or, if you want to use more advanced search tools, CopyScape provides both more in-depth searching and an automated monitoring service for a small fee.

For images, Google once again makes it easy by providing a way to upload images to find duplicates.

For audio and video things get more complex. While there are tools to monitor audio and video, such as Muso, they tend to be out of the reach of smaller creators. For those, searches targeting titles and relevant keywords are the most practical tools.

However, if you produce a great deal of audio and video, you may want to register your work with YouTube’s Content ID and Audible Magic to prevent your work from being illegally uploaded to most popular audio and video sites.

Step 3: Enforce Your Content

When you search for your content,  you may find infringements of it. However, it’s important that, if you do, to remain calm and not react in a way that does more harm than good.

Dealing with an infringement is often as simple as writing the infringer and asking them to stop. This letter is often called a cease and desist letter but, while there are many templates to be found online, there’s really no formal requirement of it other than a request that the other person cease an undesired behavior, in this case infringement.

If that fails, the next best solution is to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. This is a notice typically sent to the host of the content, which you can find using a service like Network Tools, and, after finding their DMCA agent, you simply send in a template. If that fails, you can also file a DMCA notice with Google to have the site removed from the search engines.

Bear in mind though, that if you are thinking of suing the copyright infringer, you will first need to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Though a copyright is automatically affixed to a work upon creation (meaning you can file takedown notices and take other actions), to take the matter to court you need a registration. If you are considering litigation as a tactic, registering your work beforehand is likely worthwhile.

Tying it Together

The main thing to remember about copyright and your content is that it’s not a one-time process. Instead, it’s an ongoing action that needs to be constantly running in the background.

Depending on how much reuse and infringement you’re seeing, you might only wish to check every few weeks or even months, but it’s important to keep checking to stay on top of how your content is being used.

One way to do this is to name a person at the church as being responsible for this as part of their duties. This person should be tech-savvy enough to perform the searches but also have enough authority to make claims of copyright infringement on the church’s behalf.

Another solution is to consider outsourcing it, several companies, including my own at CopyByte, provide content monitoring and removal service for a fairly small fee, typically a couple of hundred dollars per month, That may be very worthwhile is if there’s a high level of infringement and you want to deal with it directly.

All in all, the important thing to remember is that content reuse and misuse is a subject that needs attention. While not all churches will have the same needs, those needs can not be ignored.

Due to the Internet, every person, company and church has gone from a passive consumer of content to creators. But with the title of creator comes responsibilities that include both protecting your work and letting others know how they can use it.

No matter how you want your content to be used, setting the rules and tracking its use makes sense and, if boundaries are crossed, enforcement is appropriate. It’s just about finding the right mix and for your content and your goals with it.

When you do that, not only does your content become a much more powerful tool for your church, but the message it’s delivering is able to have that much greater of an impact.

About the Author

Jonathan Bailey is a copyright and plagiarism consultant and has been helping small to medium sized creators protect their work for over 10 years. You can find him at his blog, Plagiarism Today, at his consulting firm, CopyByte and on Twitter and Facebook.

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 and Youtube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

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