Copyright and screening videos in church

From what I can work out there are two situations where videos might be used in churches: 1. to show in a church service (e.g. as a sermon illustration). 2. to show in a church for entertainment (e.g. playing a video at a youth group social). Here's what I can gather about the copyright restrictions that apply to these scenarios...

Writing an article explaining how to download a video from YouTube, I didn’t realise the rabbit burrow I’d be tumbling into. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:

  1. copyright is complicated, and
  2. many churches are unaware of the copyright laws that bind their use of media (video and audio).

However, I have continued on, undeterred, and done some more investigation. From what I can work out there are two situations where videos might be used in churches:

  1. to show in a church service (e.g. as a sermon illustration).
  2. to show in a church for entertainment (e.g. playing a video at a youth group social).

Let’s tackle the first scenario – a common one. Using videos during church, e.g. as a sermon illustration. From what I can gather, Australia has a fair dealing provision. According to the Copyright Council:

“The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) allows people to use copyright material without the copyright owner’s permission in certain situations. These include making a “fair dealing” for certain purposes…

“There is no general exception for using copyright material simply because you think it is fair or because you are not making a profit. The copyright act allows you to use copyright material without permission if your use is a “fair dealing” for one of the following purposes:

  • research or study;
  • criticism or review;
  • parody or satire;
  • reporting news; or
  • professional advice by a lawyer, patent attorney or trade marks attorney.”

So, it appears that the use of video clips as sermon illustrations is possible, without permission from the author/creator, as long as this is accompanied by a critique, or is used to make a satirical point.

Let’s take a look at the second example – playing full-length or just longer videos for purposes other than those stated above. Some examples I can think of include playing a video at a youth group social or playing a video on the bus on the way to youth group camp.

On the website for the Australian Copyright Council there is a section for non-profit organisations including churches. On this page is a link to a document I downloaded: ‘Videos, films and DVDs: screening in public.’ On page two it says:

“A licence for screening a film or video in a church can be obtained from Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI). Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) joined with the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) to form CVLI and create a church video licence. This licence allows churches and other ministry organisations to show videos and films (of participating producers) in a public setting. The licence covers over 60 producers, including Universal Pictures, DreamWorks and Paramount and over 1000 movie titles. CVLI also offers group licences whereby several churches in one denomination can arrange for their licences together at a reduced rate. For more information, and to apply online for a licence, visit www.cvli.com.au.”

From what I can gather, unless churches want to get express permission from the author/creator/publisher, this license from CCLI is the best (only?) way to go.

On the same website I also came across ‘Churches and Copyright: A Practical Guide‘. However, this publication is $15 and was published in 1995 with a supplement in 2004, so I’ve written to the Copyright Council asking if this publication is still current.

Tonight I’ve also watched a short DVD produced by Outreach Media entitled ‘Copyright or Copywrong?’ It’s produced by Outreach Media and makes some great points and provides useful advice about copyright and Christian ministry. Contact Outreach Media for a copy (I’m not sure how many copies are left, or the current price).

On a related note, I’ve also written to YouTube, asking what restrictions govern the use of YouTube videos during a church service.

I’m not a lawyer, but from scouring the CCLI website and the website for the Copright Council, these are the conclusions I’ve come to. I welcome the input from those more learned than I!

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Comments

  • http://cciw.org.au Tom Barrett

    Hey Steve
    Do I notice some design adjustments on this site? Since you posted on SydAngs the other day about conventions I thought I’d share that the red box up the top (“Categorized…”) immediately made me think “error message!”

  • http://cciw.org.au Tom Barrett

    And on the actual topic of the post…

    We have a CCLI video licence but have noticed that not all the major distributors are represented, so it actually only covers a limited proportion of movies out there.

    And I recall a SydAngs article by a copyright lawyer a while back indicating that unless the sermon actually contains criticism of the movie as a piece of art (its writing, or cinematography, or acting etc) then the fair use for research exemption doesn’t apply.

    It’s a tricky area.

  • Steven Kryger

    Hi Tom, my website design mysteriously broke last week, so I’m in the re-building phase. Thanks for the heads up on the ‘error box’ – I agree, it’s confusing!

    It strikes me that churches would really benefit from some clear, consistent advice on this topic. Most would want to do the right thing if they knew what that was – it’s just so complicated!

  • Steve

    “So, it appears that the use of video clips as sermon illustrations is possible, without permission from the author/creator, as long as this is accompanied by a critique, or is used to make a satirical point.”

    Hey Steve, you have to be careful to ‘define legally’ what is satire and criticism or review as they are used in a legal sense (rather than common sense ;-)

    For example, if you use vision from a TV show and put your own satire voiceover over the top using mock voices the advice I’ve been given is that we cannot do that.

    But if we reshoot a piece of video that is clearly the same show using our own actors which is satirising (is that a word?) the show we can do that.

    Sigh. complex. isn’t it.

    If you aren’t sure and can’t get a resolution, Don’t do it. Unless you have the dough to talk to a copyright lawyer upfront.

  • http://www.internetevangelismday.com Tony Whittaker

    Although the strictly legal position seems to vary in different countries, Tim Stevens has done a wise section about what is actually reasonable, in his book Pop Goes the Church which I review at
    http://www.internetevangelismday.com/bookreviews/pop-goes-the-church.php
    and have also written about this whole popular culture opportunity at
    http://www.internetevangelismday.com/popular-culture.php

    Stevens recommends http://www.wingclips.com as a source of totally allowable clips from a vast range of movies.

    Blessings

    Tony

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  • http://www.umcom.org/mycom Darby Jones

    Have you heard back from YouTube? Any updates on this article? I would think that pastors using videos to illustrate a point in their sermon would fall under the “research and study” use and that they wouldn’t need to critique it or make a satirical point. I think using videos in a sermon context increases the fair market value because it would usually be a small portion and give the movie more exposure to people who have never heard of it. I’d like to write an article on this for church leaders, but I think it’s probably best to get an expert to write it for me. Any suggestions for who to contact or how to go about it would be helpful.

  • http://www.communicatejesus.com Steven Kryger

    Hi Darby, I didn’t ever hear back from YouTube. What I might do is ask CCLI what their advice is – stay tuned.

  • http://www.communicatejesus.com Steven Kryger

    Heard back from CCLI. They said: 

    “Unfortunately we do not have any authority in regards to Youtube clips being shown in church. None of our licences covers that particular activity at the moment.

    What I would advise however, is to go back to the creator of the said clip and enquire about whether the creator has the needed permissions to allow this clip to be publicly screened.”

  • April Pellegrini

    What about using Christian YouTube videos as a source for lyrics and musical accompaniment during a worship service? Are there any limitations or guidelines for such use? Is there a difference in legal use guidelines if the original source for the music is from a commercially made recording, such as a recording by Third Day, or Hillsong United?

  • April Pellegrini

    What about using Christian YouTube videos as a source for lyrics and musical accompaniment during a worship service? Are there any limitations or guidelines for such use? Is there a difference in legal use guidelines if the original source for the music is from a commercially made recording, such as a recording by Third Day, or Hillsong United?

  • April Pellegrini

    What about using Christian YouTube videos as a source for lyrics and musical accompaniment during a worship service? Are there any limitations or guidelines for such use? Is there a difference in legal use guidelines if the original source for the music is from a commercially made recording, such as a recording by Third Day, or Hillsong United?

  • April Pellegrini

    What about using Christian YouTube videos as a source for lyrics and musical accompaniment during a worship service? Are there any limitations or guidelines for such use? Is there a difference in legal use guidelines if the original source for the music is from a commercially made recording, such as a recording by Third Day, or Hillsong United?