(Please note: Given my context, copyright throughout refers to US Copyright, not expectations in other countries. In addition, given my context copyright throughout refers to US Copyright, not expectations in other countries)
People who do communications for the church work hard to find great resources, while still being
cheap good stewards. 🙂
As a congregational pastor, I know the struggle.
You need a video clip for that sermon.
A photo to illustrate that Facebook post.
A graphic for your summer fellowship groups.
An article for the newsletter.
Gone are the days when you could pull ye olde clip art book off the church secretary’s desk, flip through, and cut out the graphic that you need.
Our audiences are looking for better quality material than that.
And that means – until such a time as our communications budget gets a little bump – we are all scrounging around for better free resources.
In an era when images, text, video and music can all be found with a simple search, it is important for churches to have a basic understanding of copyright.
Just because something is “on google” does not mean that it is free.
The images, text, and video you find there usually are not free – they are copyrighted by the websites that host them. Thou Shalt Not Steal.
Note: If not clear from my bio and the title of this site, I am a pastor not a lawyer. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice, nor is it a substitute for legal advice.
A few terms you should know:
Telling your audience who the original author is. The copyright license of material might be “attribution” (requiring you to credit the author) or “non-attribution” (allowing you to use it without naming the author.
- Commercial Use
Material licensed for non-commercial use cannot be used in anything that you will sell or make money off of. Material licensed for commercial use may be for such purposes.
- Alteration / Modification
If the copyright license allows for modification, you may add to it, change it, or edit it for your purposes. If it does not, you must only use it in its original form.
If a copyright license says “share-alike,” that means that you may online use the original material if you make your final product available to others in the same way.
When you find material online, it will have one of a variety of copyright statuses assigned to it.
You may not use this material without the author’s permission. Note: It’s always worth asking, authors may be willing to allow you to use their material if you ask.
- Public Domain
Material that is free to use and alter, without attribution – either because the copyright has expired or because the author has made it available to the public domain.
There are a variety of copyright licenses which allow someone to re-use their material – sometimes also called Free Use. Read the terms of the license to determine if you may use it, and in which ways. It may allow reuse, but require attribution, or it may not allow modification, or any combination. (Some of the copy-left licenses you may encounter include Creative Commons and GNU).
- Fair Use
There are some specific conditions in which you may use copyrighted material. Generally these have to do with a) using a small portion of the material, and b) commenting directly on the material.
As a general rule, assume that material is copyrighted unless you are explicitly told otherwise.
Similarly, if the author of an image or post gives you permission to use their material (either via their website or other form) always assume the most restrictive license of use, until you learn otherwise. Give attribution unless you are told it is unnecessary; do not modify unless you are given permission; etc.
As the church, we have the opportunity to care for our neighbors – the authors and creators of articles, photography, video, and art. While we may be able to “get away with” many things, we choose to model the best practices that care for authors and creators of creative material.
Final Best Practice: If you use a website or app that provides creative material free of charge, consider purchasing any premium updates or “tipping” their author/creators.