Copyright Guidelines for Churches

Date Posted: 4/14/2016

To avoid costly legal action, Chancellor Mary Daffin reminds congregations to abide by copyright laws, particularly in relation to protected music and images.

Copyright compliance can be confusing in this day of free flowing information. There are strict rules about what music and images can be recorded, streamed, and posted on social media, and what is allowed to be copied or printed.

This report card test will help your congregation evaluate its risk factors.

Avoid Legal Fees
According to Chancellors Mary Daffin and Frank Jones, the UMC leaders that monitor and protect churches from legal action have become aware that some United Methodist Churches and Bishops (outside the TAC) have received letters threatening lawsuits for copyright violation.  Various violations are being alleged in these letters:

  • One local church received a letter because an image used during Sunday worship services was allegedly copyrighted.  Unfortunately for the church, the use was an infringement but the church was able to negotiate a settlement.  In this day of technical advances, many churches are doing outreach by broadcasting their services whether through television, live-streaming, podcasting, or webcasting.  The copyright enforcement industry is active and trolling for violations – often finding potential targets such as songs, pictures or photos, or film or television clips for which proper authorization for use has not been obtained. 
  • In another instance, a local church was tagged because certain recipes in the church cookbook were allegedly copied from a national magazine.  The recipe was generic but similar.  Even with generic recipes that are compiled into a church cookbook, one must be careful to ensure that if the inspiration for the recipe came from a magazine that some text accompanying the recipe is not protected or that the layout of the book does not fall within a protected status.
Notes Mary, “While we are not aware of any threatened lawsuits within The Texas Annual Conference, the Chancellors believe this does present an opportunity to remind local churches of certain uses and practices that could violate copyright laws. 

To that end, we are providing an extensive document that has been made available by GCFA’s Legal Services Department, thanks to the invaluable initial drafting of the Arkansas Annual Conference Copyright Task Force.” See the document.