Educating Future Church Leaders on the Importance of Copyright Compliance

From left to right: Nathan Duckworth, Jessica Strenth, Josiah Pruett, Emily Tillery, Rachael Asher

Before launching Christian Copyright Solutions, I was an educator, and that passion for education is still a big part of my life. As an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile, I teach a course on “Copyrights, Intellectual Properties, and the Church.” My quest to make copyrights accessible extends far beyond CCS.

This particular class is a required course for all students in the Center for Performing Arts Worship Leadership program, so I have a captive audience. During the second half of the semester, the students spend most of their time working on a comprehensive project. They are set up in teams to work on the project as if it were going to be presented to church leaders with these four sections:

  1. A position paper, or persuasive argument presenting the reasons why a church or ministry should honor copyrights.
  2. Details regarding the Copyright Basic Building Blocks, including exemptions and blanket licenses and how Copyright Law impacts specific church activities.
  3. A practical example of a church production that gives details about the copyrights needed for which uses (rehearsal copies, custom arrangements, CD, DVD, webcasting or posted online).
  4. Proposal for church copyright compliance policies and procedures with details on how to implement the policies, compliance system, budget requirements, reporting systems, and what types of forms will be required for staff members.

At the end of the course, each team was required to present their project using slides, video and any props that might bring a creative touch. While all the teams did exceptionally well, this year’s winning team (pictured above), excelled in all aspects of the grading system. By the way, determining this year’s winning team was extremely difficult; all three teams did an outstanding job. 

So why does any of this matter? I believe that it’s vital to teach students about copyrights before they find themselves on staff at a church or ministry. My hope is that the students will be able to make a significant contribution because of their basic copyright knowledge. I cannot overstate the importance of implementing copyright policies in a ministry context. While the very task of putting in place such procedures of copyright compliance is intimidating, churches must realize that it is a process; it is one so important there is a required college course on it! Perhaps the issue lies not in indifference, but rather in the breadth of information regarding compliance and the selection of licensing available. Allow me for a moment to put my professor hat on and provide some background on church and copyright law.

Overall, churches and ministries must make every effort to abide by copyright law as is made clear in the Scriptures- the first and final authority from which their own existence is derived.

The mere moral law mandates adherence to such seemingly insignificant “laws of the land”; the standard of Scripture, however, leaves the servant or servants of God without excuse as pertains to their responsibility to obey. One quickly ascents, therefore, to the argument that moral and Scriptural law both affirm federal law which enforces the standards of copyright compliance.

Firstly, one might consider of supreme importance the above-mentioned authority of the Scriptures. A church that disregards their responsibility to be copyright compliant has disregarded the validity of the Scriptures that address issues of law- abiding. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul urges the believers to “be subject to the governing authorities”(Romans 13:1 ESV). His mandate requires that “every person”(Romans 13:1 ESV) follow these authorities. He goes on to say that, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment”(Romans 13:2 ESV). Paul goes further to explain that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience”(Romans 13:5 ESV). Here we see the apostle address the issue of punishment; that is, the natural repercussions of failing to comply with the laws of the land. He does not disregard, however, that the issue of maintaining “conscience” is equally as pertinent. In His own epistle, the apostle Peter addresses this very same subject: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good”(1 Peter 2:13-14 ESV). We are to do this, he explains, because it is the “will of God”(1 Peter 2:15 ESV). “By doing good”(1 Peter 2:15 ESV), he continues, the law-abiding church will “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people”(1 Peter 2:15 ESV). As Copyright Law in and of itself does not contradict the law of God in any way, it is to be taken as from God Himself for the purpose of establishing order, respect, and honor. These passages of Scripture should be taken literally and with legitimate action, according to the requirements of Copyright Law.

U.S. Copyright Law (Section 110[3]) clearly states that churches and religious organizations need no special permission to perform or play music(or a non-dramatic literary work) during a religious service, neither at a place of worship or religious assembly. Apart from this specific exemption, however, churches must secure licensing for any other form in which they make use of copyrighted works. Adhering to copyright law will prevent churches from having to deal with civil lawsuits which could damage the whole of their ministry. As explained by one church website, “the courts could impose stiff fines, and authors and publishers could require large, retroactive fees for the unauthorized use of their works”(Detroit Conference 1). The author continues, persuading that “copyright compliance allows new resources to continue to be created for the use of the church”(Detroit Conference 1). We acknowledge that those works used for the purpose of worship in our congregation were given by the Creator Himself, therefore we must pay due regard to those to whom He gave them. It is clear, in Section 501 that, “The legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright is entitled…..to institute an action for any infringement of that particular right committed while he or she is the owner of it.”  Statutory violation fines, elected by the owner of the copyrighted material, may amount to $30,000 for anyone work which was not used in compliance with copyright law. Churches must make use of the proper licenses available to them in order to ensure that such a civil dispute does not occur. Surely, then, the time and effort put forth for the purpose of preventing such potential civil disputes are certainly worthwhile, considering the repercussions of not taking said preventative measures.

The Law also addresses one’s obligation to make royalty payments in Section 1003:

“No person shall import into and distribute, or manufacture and distribute, any digital audio recording device or digital audio recording medium unless such person records the notice specified by this section and subsequently deposits the statements of account and applicable royalty payments for such device or medium specified in section 1004.”

This can be avoided altogether when churches pay the appropriate dues to organizations such as CCS and/or CCLI in order to pay the royalties due to those in ownership of the copyrighted works.

As it pertains to morality in general, it is only logical that an individual or entity would see their need and responsibility to comply with copyright law. The citizen or corporation seeking to be law- abiding for the mere purpose of his or her own well-being would not allow themselves the liberality of such a violation of government authority. Moreover, the “morally upright” citizen acknowledges that their compliance with the law benefits the body of the governed as a whole. One Yale article reads that the “social values held by the public are one key component of an effort to create and sustain legal order, the effectiveness of which is linked to the consent and cooperation of citizens”(Yale Law 708). One may argue that apart from the public’s consent to legal order, artists would have no desire to produce or to distribute original, copyrighted works. For, the creators themselves would not benefit in any way from sharing these works desired for the public’s pleasure and reproduction. In order to perpetuate this democratic sharing of one’s craft for general public use, then, it is absolutely necessary to comply with the established ordinance of copyright law.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s Founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with more than 33 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 Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.