The Ps of copyright law for churches
Anytime you print, project or perform anything get permission. Obtain copyright permission for:
• Any materials used for worship.
• Recordings made for any purpose.
• Bible passages.
• Articles in newsletters, including literary works like poems.
• Printed material for any kind of gathering.
• Video clips or movies.
• Material on church social media.
• Directory photos.
• Photos found on the Internet.
What congregations can do
• Plan worship services far in advance to ensure time to obtain necessary permissions.
• Purchase licenses for the use of all print material, video projection and performances.
• Check to make sure the things you want to use for worship or special events are covered by your licenses.
• When in doubt, check with the rights holder. Pages 1172-1173 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship offer a list of copyright holders. Still unsure? Contact Michael Moore, copyright administrator at Augsburg Fortress.
Need to know definitions
• Fair use: Material used for educational purposes often falls under fair use. However, your use is affected by the work and the amount of material used.
“If you use more than 10 percent of a publication, you have a problem,” said Michael Moore, copyright administrator for Augsburg Fortress.
• Public domain: Out of print doesn’t mean a work is in the public domain. Generally anything created prior to 1923 is in the public domain. From 1923 to 1978 it doesn’t enter public domain until 95 years from the date of creation. From 1979 on the copyright is in effect for the life of the longest surviving author plus 70 years.
Britt Vickstrom, Bettendorf, Iowa, learned the basics of copyright law as a student at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuqe, Iowa. So when she moved to a pastoral call where the congregation used the resource Sundays and Seasons, she knew it was important to clarify what could be legally printed in the bulletin.
“I was confused about reproducing hymns,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we were obeying the law and respecting hymn writers. I found out it was a lot more complicated. You can’t just print everything as some assume.”
Martin Seltz, publisher for worship and music at Augsburg Fortress, the ELCApublishing ministry, said, “Many congregations are becoming more savvy about copyright law. However, there are still some who believe that because they are religious institutions, they are exempt, or that their reprinting of copyrighted materials without permission is fair use.”
Owning hymnals doesn’t give congregations the right to print, project or record their contents without permission of the copyright holder.
Michael Moore, copyright administrator for Augsburg Fortress, said most congregations don’t think in the realm of intellectual property. Yet even the founders of the U.S. thought it important enough to place in the first article of the Constitution. Any concrete item that is produced by someone is intellectual property owned by its creator who may have the sole right to copy, distribute or sell that item.
Moore encourages congregations to think of themselves as weekend publishers. That means they need to play by the rules that any publisher has to follow.
Moore calls music “a big bugaboo” because it’s so complex. A hymn may have at least four different copyrights attached to it through its text, tune, arrangement and translation. To be able to print, project or record music requires the permission of the copyright holder too.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers