Copyright and screening videos in church

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!