Thou Shalt Not Steal: Copyrights


Copyrights matter. Here’s why.

A 32-year-old woman was found guilty of illegally downloading 24 songs a few years ago. The federal jury that found her guilty of willful copyright infringement of the songs (originally priced at 99 cents each) fined her $80,000 per song for a grand total of $1.9 million. (The judgment was later reduced to $54,000.) This case is jarring for its implications-and the fact that it marks the first file-sharing copyright infringement case brought before the U.S. courts.

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A man operated six websites where he posted scanned files of Marvel comic books and made them available for free. The sites boasted more than 100,000 issues available to the public and averaged 400,000 to 500,000 visits per day. Marvel’s site cost $10 per month to access online issues, and as a result of the free sites Marvel lost untold amounts of revenue. The FBI intervened and took control of the sites; currently the site owner is facing federal charges of copyright infringement.

Just one more example: The Evangelical Christian Publisher Association (ECPA) in the United Kingdom recently sought legal action against Andrew Amue for copying hundreds of full texts of Christian books and posting them on his website. Amue charged a subscription fee for people to view the texts and ignored the ECPA’s cease-and-desist notices. As of May 2010, an arrest warrant had been issued for Amue for copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement is a term that up until about 10 years ago we didn’t hear much about. That’s largely because copyright infringement issues were left to mediation rooms and lawyers and corporations. Today, though, copyright infringement has become a front-and-center issue; what used to be handled in dusty courtrooms out of the public eye has become a startling new reality for people-and churches-everywhere.

So, you ask, what do these cases have to do with your ministry? After all, it’s unlikely that you’re downloading songs and sharing them virally. And you’re probably not scanning books you didn’t write and posting them online for the world to see or for a fee. But consider for a moment the things your church may do in its day-to-day work.

Making copies of books or articles to distribute among volunteers and kids in your ministry

Showing movies to groups

Burning CDs of popular worship music to share

Posting interesting articles from outside sources on websites

Using popular, mainstream characters, titles, and themes for ministry purposes without purchase

Historically-and sadly-churches have been offenders when it comes to copyright infringement-not because they’re trying to make a profit or they have less-than-good intentions. Rather, the main reasons churches cross lines when it comes to copyright is because they want to share material they think is good, they’re strapped by budgets, or they simply don’t realize they’re infringing on copyrights.

We recently conducted an exclusive survey of 260 children’s ministers in churches across the country to find out what they knew-and how they felt-about copyrights. What we found was surprising, encouraging, and alarming.

When it comes to a basic grasp of copyright compliance, the people we surveyed either say they understand and comply with copyright issues or they feel generally clueless about them. In our survey, 54 percent of children’s ministers say they feel well-equipped regarding copyright rules for print products, movies, and music. That leaves 42 percent who say they didn’t know what complying with copyrights meant, and 4 percent who admit they know they’re supposed to comply with copyrights-but don’t.

It’s important from a ministry perspective to get to the bottom of some common misconceptions.

What’s a Copyright, Anyway?

Perception: 94 percent say copyrights protect the original authors, creators, and publishers of a work and help provide fair compensation for that work. Six percent say copyrights exist as a way for corporations to make more money off consumers-even churches with copyrights who aren’t out to make a profit.

Reality: Most people get what the purpose of copyrights are-confusion sets in when it comes how they apply to different media and in different situations. Essentially, copyright laws are exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work. These include the rights to reproduce, sell or distribute, and change the work as the author-and only the author-chooses. Copyrights apply once an idea becomes a “fixed” form-such as in print, in an image or movie, or in song. Once the fixed form is created, it’s automatically protected by copyright. All usages of copyrighted material beyond what’s considered “fair use” requires permission.

Who Pays the Price? Perception: 57 percent believe that if a church violates a copyright and gets caught, the ramifications fall on the entire church. Just 5 percent believe that it falls on the individual who actually violated the copyright.

Reality: Overall, this is a huge misconception. Organizations or corporations as a whole can’t go to jail, according to Alan Phillips, an attorney for Lifeway Christian Resources. So, the penalty of copyright infringement will typically fall on the individual-not the ministry or church-who violated the copyright.

Is It Really My Problem?

Perception: 64 percent say they stay informed about copyright issues that might impact ministry, while 36% say it’s not their role or that it never occurred to them to worry about copyright issues. Eighty-two percent say that the impact of copyright infringement is substantial for the businesses and individuals who lose income when their material is distributed without permission. Nine percent argue that the copyright infringement that’s most prevalent in churches doesn’t hurt or only indirectly impacts the copyright owners. Another nine percent say it’s unrealistic to expect churches-who can’t afford to buy multiple copies or pay licensing fees-to comply with copyrights.

Reality: While the majority of people have good intentions regarding copyrights, a whopping 77 percent of respondents admit that in the past year their church or ministry has overstepped a copyright boundary at least once and sometimes many more times. Sixty percent say that in the future, they’ll learn more about what constitutes a copyright violation, and 28 percent plan to make policy and procedure changes to comply with copyrights. Eleven percent say they’ll worry about copyrights more, but won’t change what they’re currently doing.

The bottom line? Even if you’re only playing worship music over your loudspeakers or copying an article that might be of interest to parents, it’s up to you to take the high road. Ensure that you and your ministry have obtained the proper permission to reproduce or distribute copyrighted material.

Why Not if We Bought the Book?

Perception: 22 percent say making enough copies to go around from a single purchased book is an acceptable practice. Twenty-seven percent say they simply make additional copies from a lesson book when they need extras, while just eight percent contact the publisher and get written permission to make extra copies.

Reality: The good news is that 78 percent in our survey say this practice violates the copyright unless express permission has been granted to reprint the pages. And they’re right on this. If you want to make copies of a book and you don’t see express permission on the page you want to reproduce, contact the publisher’s permissions department to get the proper permission.

What’s Wrong With Movie Night?

Perception: Here’s one of the most common scenarios involving copyright infringement: First Church invites the community to a family movie night as an outreach. They rent the movie or borrow it from someone’s personal movie library, hang a sheet on the side of the church, pop gallons of popcorn, and project the movie to a crowd of delighted guests. This is all perfectly acceptable-if they’ve obtained the appropriate licensing to do it. But 44 percent of our participants say they were unaware they needed licensing to show a movie to a group-and even more worrisome, three percent said they asked people who came for a fee or donation to the ministry.

Reality: Cheers to the 53 percent who say they had express permission to show the movie from a licensing organization. You must have a license to show a movie to a group-no matter the size-and in almost all situations, you can’t charge people to come. (Instead, sell concessions if you’re looking to do a fundraiser.)

Why Can’t We Just Share Good Stuff?

Perception: Many churches’ websites include relevant articles or streaming worship music to draw people in. Some great news on this front is that only a small minority (4 percent) of respondents reported posting articles to their sites without permission or credit to the author. Sixty-seven percent say they’ve never posted something without permission.

Reality: The Internet has created big challenges for copyright protections. Today, if you like an article, image, song, or other tidbit you find online, often it’s as easy as copying and pasting the item- with or without permission. This happens commonly when people “borrow” articles. But right behind the article grab is rampant music and image pilfering.

We Bought the CD–Why Can’t We Play It?

Perception: 60 percent of children’s ministers say they purchase great music and share it with families by playing it over the sound system. Seven percent say they just burn and distribute extra CDs whenever they like. Ouch.

Reality: Sharing music over your sound system is a great way to infuse your ministry and families with joyful worship and praise-as long as you’re licensed to do so. As with movies, to play music for a group, you need permission. And burning CDs without paying for each download is illegal.

Kids Love Them–Why Can’t We Use Them?

Perception: One of the most eye-opening responses to our survey was this: 35 percent say their ministry has borrowed popular movie themes, cartoon characters, or music as part of their ministry theme without permission. Fifteen percent say they’ve created T-shirts, brochures, and logos that closely resemble popular commercial themes. And here’s another worrisome point: A quick Internet search reveals numerous ministries promoting programs, events, and even VBS themes based around commercial, mainstream characters, TV shows, and movies.

Reality: In each of these cases, it’s highly unlikely that the original authors have granted permission for their characters to be used or reproduced in such a way. So the assumption must be that these ministries-despite wonderful intentions-are blatantly violating copyright laws. This leaves ministries wide open to legal action.

Jennifer Hooks, managing editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine, is mom to two great little kids. Subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!

Thou Shalt Not Steal: Copyrights
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