Practical Church Copyright Guide – Part 2

August 3, 2016

This is the second in a two-part article offering a step-by-step guide to help church leaders navigate the path to copyright compliance.

BY SUSAN FONTAINE GODWIN: If you are the “copyright gatekeeper” for your church or ministry, you may feel overwhelmed with more questions than answers at times. We’d like to to help make your job easier by providing a step-by-step Church Copyright Guide

This resource was designed especially for you. You may be just beginning to research the necessary copyrights for your church, or you may have extensive copyright knowledge. In any case, we want to equip you with tools and resources to assist you as you seek to educate and inform other ministry leaders.

In Part 1 we looked at:

1) Honoring Copyrights

2) The Beauty of Blanket Licenses

3) Special Projects

In Part 2 of this article, we will address:

1) Copyrights 101

2) Policies and Procedures

3) Budgeting and Planning

Learning Copyrights 101

In order to establish a solid foundation for copyright compliance, Christian leaders need to have a firm grasp on three basic building blocks:

1) What is a copyright, and what works and rights does the U.S. Copyright Law protect (Article 8, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution).

2) What are the types of creative works that can be copyrighted

3) What are the exclusive rights of copyright owners and how do they impact the church’s use of copyrighted material.

Building Block #1 – What is a Copyright?

“Copyright literally means the right to copy. The term has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by statute to authors for protection of their writing. It includes the exclusive right to make and publish copies of the copyrighted work, to make other versions of work, and, with certain limitations, to make recording of the work and to perform the work in public,” according to definitions at

It’s vital for church leaders to have knowledge of all the types of works that can be copyrighted, because of the increasing use of a variety of creative works and the growing risk of liabilities. Copyright infringement penalties can be severe, up to $150,000 for each infringement. Today’s innovation and creative church programs reflect the use of just  about every type of copyrighted work as detailed below.

Building Block #2 – What can be copyrighted?

Section 102 of the Copyright Act defines copyrightable “works of authorship” to include:

  1. Music –Music including any accompanying words. Lyrics, notes and composition in some published format.
  2. Sound Recordings – Aural reproduction of some material (which may or may not itself be copyrighted). They are works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
  3. Literary works – Words captured as a book, periodical, poem, essay, spoken work (i.e. speeches), etc. and include non-dramatic textual works with or without illustrations.
  4. Visual arts – Pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional works of fine, graphic and applied art.
  5. Choreography/dance/pantomime – Choreography is the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns usually intended to be accompanied by music.
  6. Drama – The play itself including dialog, stage direction, etc. The Drama copyright may also include the musical score.
  7. Audio Visual – Video/films – Series of related visual images that impart an impression of motion, which may or may not be accompanied by sound, such as films, videos, slides presentations and video games.
  8. Architecture – An original design of a building embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans or drawings.

Building Block #3 – Exclusive Rights of Copyright Owners

(Section 108 of the Copyright Act)

To understand copyright law and how it impacts your ministry, you need to understand the six rights that are exclusive to the owner of copyrighted works, as outlined above. These rights apply to all works that can be copyrighted.  If you want to engage in any of the activities that are the exclusive right of a work’s owner, you need to get permission to engage in that activity.

Reproduction  The right to reproduce or copy a work. Examples:  photocopying lyrics, rehearsal track CDs, creating a digital copy of a video.

Making derivative works – Create new works that are “based” on a pre-existing work. Examples: arrangements of songs, adaptations of plays into movies.

Distribution  Make a work available to the public by sale, rental, lease, lending or gifting. Examples: giving out CDs of worship service, making a video podcast of worship services and distributing online.

Performance  When a work is played or performed publicly. Public performances extend to more than just in-person performances. Playing music on TV, radio and the Internet also are under the control of the work’s owner. Examples:  concerts, music played at church social events, on-hold music.

Public display  When a work will be displayed publicly. This right is similar to the performance right but it is for visual works such as photos or videos. Examples: hanging photos in an office building, displaying a photograph on an overhead during a worship service.

Digital recording performance – When a sound recording work is transmitted digitally. This is a relatively new right that was added in “The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995″. Examples: streaming on the Internet a digital sound recording featured in a worship service; Internet radio.

It’s especially important to understand the six exclusive rights, so that you can fully understand what copyright types and rights are covered in the various available blanket licenses for churches and ministries.

If you want a  lot more detailed information about “Copyrights 101,” just download CCS’s FREE 56-page eBook, “Solve the Puzzle of Copyrights.”

Policies and Procedures

The right formula for compliance starts with your organization’s leaders implementing POLICIES, PROCEDURES and PLANNING for employees and ministry departments. It’s important to note that copyright compliance is a process, and it takes time to turn the ship. It does need to start from the top down in order to set the bar for compliance and how the senior leaders and staff are going to reach the goal of honoring copyrights.

An essential key for copyright compliance is implementing employee contracts and handbooks that address specific areas of copyright compliance, and the responsibility and requirement of all employees to agree not use copyrighted material without obtaining permission.

Here are three important keys to success:

    • Top Down Policies Communication from the top down regarding commitment to honoring copyrights and changes in policies and procedures.
    • Given Authority make sure your senior leadership communicates that a designated person has the authority to say “Yeah” or “Nay” on use of copyrights and what procedures need to take place.
    • Centralized Control some internal check-off system or procedure for obtaining approval of copyright use. You may implement an application for internal communication and logging of copyright permissions.

Planning and Budgeting

If you’ve struggled with obtaining licenses for your church’s special holiday program, like Christmas or Easter, you understand just how complex, confusing and time consuming it can be. So now is the perfect time to create YOUR PLAN for copyright compliance. We use a simple acronym as a guideline for planning, P.L.A.N., to understand four of the key elements for copyright compliance.

P = PREPARE policies, procedures & planning

L = LEARN the basics of U.S. Copyright Law

A = ALLOW enough time for obtaining permissions

N = NEVER assume it’s OK to use copyrighted material without licensing

Be sure that you document your policies, so that all staff members and volunteers understand the requirements. Take a step back and get the full picture of what copyrights you may be using each year. Since various departments or ministries may use copyrighted materials throughout the year in different ways, team leaders should be held responsible for adhering to the church’s policies.

Review of projected copyright uses for major productions should be incorporated into annual budgets. Reviewing possible uses of copyrighted works in your special holiday programs and projects requires that you understand what creative works can be copyrighted and protected under U.S. Copyright Law.

By far, the easiest, simplest and most affordable way to plan ahead for compliance, is to leverage available blanket licenses. You can refer to our Blanket Licenses FACT SHEET. Print it out and share with your Executive Administrative Team; there’s even is a checklist on the last page that shows what’s covered by each license. Incorporate copyright clearance planning into your creative planning process.

After Labor Day, when the fall frenzy begins and holiday programs are on a fast track, there’s no time to plan or even think about copyright licensing. NOW is the time to catch up on your reading list and evaluate how your church is doing. With that in mind we’re very excited to offer CCS’s online, interactive Copyright Compliance Report Card that helps you evaluate how your church is doing. This is a great place to start with a quick analysis and overview on just how “compliant” your church is and where the holes are in your licensing coverage. It also provides you with simple licensing solutions and ideas to cover your activities.

Church leaders are often overwhelmed and confused by copyright issues. Analyzing your level of compliance may be at the bottom of a long list of priorities, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually talk to a live person about your copyright needs? That’s exactly why we are offering a FREE 20-minute consultation.  Call 1-877-394-5566 to schedule your FREE Consultation today!

CCS’s Founder and CVO, Susan Fontaine Godwin is an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 30 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.

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 TwitterFacebook 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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