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By Hunter Bryn, Conference Digital Media Specialist

Copyright, copyright, copyright…the super fun, confusing, set of laws that may make your head spin. Copyright protects original works of authorship. In simple terms, if you create it; you own it and no one else may use it without your permission. On the flip side, if someone else created it and you want to use it, you need the copyright holder’s permission.

Let’s say you take a photo of the city skyline and a company wants to use your photo for their website. The company needs your permission to use your photo. As the person who originally took the photo, you hold the copyright for the image. It is your intellectual property.

In a church setting, copyright is important because churches stream services, sing songs, and project images with sermons.

This is where Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) becomes essential. It protects displaying lyrics, printing lyrics in bulletins, recording worship services, and any kind of arrangements made to music for worship. The CCLI will protect you for every basic need of holding service on Sunday.

Copyright can get confusing when you create videos or content for social media. It comes into play when you are selecting music for videos or images for posts. The best way to avoid any kind of copyright infringements is to use royalty-free music, license music/image through a third party, or get written permission from the author of the work you want to use.

But there are some exceptions to copyright through Fair Use! There are four general rules about Fair Use (straight from the website).

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair. This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair and all commercial uses are not fair; instead, courts will balance the purpose and character of the use against the other factors below. Additionally, “transformative” uses are more likely to be considered fair. Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work.
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work: This factor analyzes the degree to which the work that was used relates to copyright’s purpose of encouraging creative expression. Thus, using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item). In addition, use of an unpublished work is less likely to be considered fair.
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Under this factor, courts look at both the quantity and quality of the copyrighted material that was used. If the use includes a large portion of the copyrighted work, fair use is less likely to be found; if the use employs only a small amount of copyrighted material, fair use is more likely. That said, some courts have found use of an entire work to be fair under certain circumstances. And in other contexts, using even a small amount of a copyrighted work was determined not to be fair because the selection was an important part—or the “heart”—of the work.
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: Here, courts review whether, and to what extent, the unlicensed use harms the existing or future market for the copyright owner’s original work. In assessing this factor, courts consider whether the use is hurting the current market for the original work (for example, by displacing sales of the original) and/or whether the use could cause substantial harm if it were to become widespread.

Fair use is what can make copyright less of a black-and-white area, especially for a nonprofit organization like a church. The best way to approach using other authors’ works, is to either pay for a license or get permission before you use it. Fair Use can be tricky because ultimately, it is mostly used as a legal defense if you ever get into trouble for copyright infringement.

If you ever have copyright questions the website is a great resource. Feel free to reach out to the Virginia Conference communication office if you have specific questions about copyright.

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