In the era of information technology, it is so easy to copy anything off of books, magazines, and Internet. But just because we can easily copy or grab something doesnt mean we can do anything we want with it. Though copying content without paying for it has received the most press in the music industry, it is just as illegal for Christians to copy and use images and words without permission.
Consider the following situations:
1) A youth director copies some clip art from a web site without paying for it. He uses it to create a really neat youth ministry t-shirt. People like it so much they ask for more for their friends and so the youth group starts selling them to make money for the youth ministry.
2) The outreach pastor asks a graphic designer at church for her ideas on what would make a good yellow pages ad. The graphic designer creates what she thinks is just a fun, brainstorming design on her computer and gives it to the pastor. He never gets it back to her or thanks her, but she doesnt think anymore about it until a few months later she sees her ad, with only slight modifications in the yellow pages.
3) A pastor likes a cartoon in the newspaper so much he feels it would be perfect to use to illustrate his sermon on Sunday, so he tears it out, takes it to church and has his secretary scan a copy of it for him to use in his Sunday PowerPoint presentation which he will later upload to the church web site.
Is each of these situations innocent actions? Have you done something similar to this or occurs frequently at churches?
Ignorance of the law is not permissible. In each of the above situations, someone violated the original creators copyright of the art and work. In other words, they stole and used something that did not belong to them. Although the creator of the work may not take legal actions against a church on the infringement, or may never even know about it, it still is not the right thing to do. Moreover, it is illegal.
In recent years, the courts have become much stricter on violators of copyright. Those found guilty are fined or even worse, convicted as a felony with multiple cases of copyright infringement, particularly those who use the copyrighted material as part of a median or the main median for profit. You might think thats far-fetched for a church, but thats what was going on in the youth group clip art example above or what might happen, for example, when you copy a song you like.
In order to prevent yourself from falling into copyright infringement, here are some guidelines:
1) Dont assume that all images and text on web sites or that volunteers create for your church are free for you to use in any way you want to. Treat fellow professionals with as much respect as you want shown to you.
2) Be sure you pay for what you use. Or at least offer to. In the situation of free-lancers or creative professionals in the church, a written agreement of what you will use for what purposes is always a good idea. Dont just assume you can use any sketch or idea for free that might be mentioned anymore than youd expect to have the member of your church who is a doctor diagnose your back problems on the patio after church for free.
4) Copyright free does not mean that you are granted unlimited usage. Read carefully exactly what rights you get for what price.
5) Always ask. Ask (there are always email addresses) with clip art if it can be used for a product that may be sold. Thats where it often changes from free use, to a fee being charged and a release form needed. Sometimes it is waived if it is a church, but always ask.
6) Frequency counts. For some things, such as photographs, find out if you have purchased unlimited use or one time use. Photographs are very tricky and just because you can scan or copy them today doesnt mean its legal to buy one copy and then reproduce them yourself.
7) Consult additional resources and perhaps even get legal advice if your church is doing a lot of creative work.
A great source for more information and helpful links, go to www.copyright.gov. Although it may be a chore to go through all the information, it is worth the time and effort. Sometimes we may suffer from lack of resources, but we are to be people of integrity and the extra care and time we take to make sure our images are legal and used correctly is pleasing to the Lord.