Copyright And The Local Church


Yesterday I was browsing through a bunch of blogs I read each week. The title of a popular blog and christian leader caught my attention, so I clicked the link in my Google Reader and opened it up. The first thing I noticed was the image that the author used. It was a great image. I know. I have the same one on one of my posts. The second thing I noticed, after a little searching, was that the author didn’t give a source for the image.  I was very disappointed. I see this happen a TON on the internet, but I didn’t think someone so well known in the nation would miss this. If he only knew that all it would take is ONE email to the right person and his whole blog/website could potentially be blocked from the internet!


About a year ago I ran across an article that caused me to question something I had been doing for a long time on my blog. Nearly every Thursday I post what I call a “Thursday Quote“. I try to share a quote from something I’m reading or have read that I know will be an encouragement to my readers. Sometimes I will share additional thoughts as well. At any rate, I became concerned that perhaps I was defying copyright law, so I pulled every one of them from my blog. After months of research I finally came to the conclusion that I was still ‘within bounds’ from a copyright perspective through what’s called the ‘doctrine of fair use’ . So I’ve been republishing them over time. Moral: I’d rather err on the side of integrity and NOT post something than post something and hope it’s OK.


Many months ago we began having a problem at my church with our ‘on-hold music’. The equipment we had been using just died. Not only was the music something for our telephone guests to listen to while on hold, it doubled as our lobby music. After some serious brainstorming we had a great idea. We connected a computer with internet access to the equipment and just turned on a free internet radio service like Problem solved . . . for about a week. A nagging thought began forming in the back of my mind. What if we didn’t have a legal right to do that? I prayed I was wrong and did the research. I discovered I was right. It was illegal to use the service we had signed up for as on-hold and lobby music. I have to be honest. I was STRONGLY tempted to just pretend I didn’t know and keep it hooked up. After all, if I hadn’t given in to that ‘nagging thought’ everything would have been just fine.

Copyright & The Local Church

Sadly, many churches and ministries are guilty of plagiarism and/or copyright infringement. What’s worse is that many of them either know it or suspect it, but don’t do anything about it. This doesn’t just apply to things on the internet. It applies to everything from worship songs, lyrics, movie clips, YouTube video’s, images, and more. Let me share a couple more examples.

  • Example 1: Images. The secretary is trying to find a really cool image to put inside the bulletin for Sunday. She does a Google Image search and finds exactly what she’s looking for. A quick ‘Save As’ later, she has fulfilled her goal, and committed a crime on behalf of the church.
  • Example 2: Songs & Lyrics. During the Sunday morning service the congregation enjoys a lively and anointed worship service. The lyrics to the songs are displayed in large print on the giant screen for everyone to see. The service was great and lives were changed, but again, the church has dishonored the writers of those songs and misrepresented Christ by not displaying their CCLI# and the copyright information on the first or last slide (assuming they even had a current CCLI license.)
  • Example 3: Video. The preacher has the perfect example for the third point in the sermon. After a brief verbal setup, the lights dim and the congregation watches a 5 minute segment of a popular movie that was just released that week. Afterwards, with tears in many people’s eyes, he is able to drive home how the scene represented Christ’s sacrifice for them. The front of the room is flooded with people whose lives are forever changed. True ministry has taken place, but the means lacked integrity. 

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. Really. I know what it’s like to do everything you know to be right, and still be wrong. What I am trying to highlight is how important it is that the local church rise up and learn what’s needed to stay compliant to our government while ministering in the power of God.

Intentional Ignorance

I’ve often thought that perhaps the best solution to this problem was to intentionally stay ignorant. After all, I’m not accountable to what I don’t know, right? Unfortunately, this mindset has several very important flaws.

  • It Won’t Hold Up In Court.
    As much as we’d like to think it’s true, the ‘ignorance card’ holds no weight before the judge. Our kids may be masters at “Asking forgiveness instead of permission.” but, as the Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 13, “When I became a man I put childish ways behind me.” Should we ever be sued for copyright infringement, we will be responsible for what we know as well as what we don’t know.
  • It Dishonors The Author.
    There is a real and appropriate reason for copyright law. Like you, the person behind that symbol has to make a living. Whether they are rolling in the dough or not, we owe them their due. Otherwise we are technically stealing from them.
  • It Reflects Immaturity.
    Chances are, someone in your congregation knows something about copyright law. Musicians, artists, writers, business people, inventors, photographers, lawyers, web designers, managers . . . and so many more have to interact with this issue somewhere along the line. By choosing ignorance, we inadvertently communicate something to those who understand these things, even in part. We communicate that we either don’t care, that we’d prefer to ‘bend the rules’ or that we are simply not professional in how we run the church. 
  • It Lacks Integrity.
    I’ve heard a number of definitions of integrity over the years. To keep it simple, I’ll use’s definition: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. I’m convinced that integrity will never look the other way. Acting in integrity while practicing intentional ignorance is impossible. They are contradictory ideas. Choosing ignorance in order to justify disobedience is just plain wrong and dishonest.
  • It Misrepresents Christ.
    For all of the above reasons, and more, it misrepresents the character of Christ. That doesn’t mean we have a responsibility to never be ignorant. It just means we will never intentionally choose ignorance. Proverbs 2:10-11, “for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you,” 

What You Need To Know

I’m no expert in this area, so I’m not going to try to explain everything in this post. What I will do instead is point you in the right direction. Here are a few links that you will find helpful. Also, at any time feel free to email me your question and I will do my best to help you find the answer.

  • Fact Summaries from
    To date, has been the most reliable and helpful christian copyright service available to churches, in my opinion. Click on ‘More Information’ at each section to learn more about what you CAN and CANNOT do without a license.
  • Fact Sheets from
    This website does a great job explaining copyright law in relationship with the local church. Just keep in mind that it is also a company wanting you to use them for all your copyright solutions. Consider doing some shopping around before deciding on using their services; you may find other solutions cheaper.

Image from porcorex on

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