The ABCs of Copyright


Is your church or organisation aware of its obligations in relation to copyright laws? Just because an image can be downloaded from the internet does not mean you can project it free of charge. The same applies to short excerpts from movies and playing music at church events outside of worship services.

Different units within the synod field phone calls and emails from ministers and lay people confused about copyright expectations. The legal team, in consultation with Communications and Media Services, has reviewed the copyright minefield and has prepared a clear document titled ‘Copyright Licensing Guidelines for Uniting Church Congregations’. This can be found on the VicTas website, under UCA Resources, and will be sent to all congregation secretaries in July.

The general rule regarding copyright is: “All original copyrighted items must be licensed from the copyright owner if they are to be used in public, copied or projected. This includes copying or projecting words or music in church, and playing music at church events (but not during worship services) such as youth groups, discos, fetes, concerts or art shows.”

If you have investigated matters relating to copyright you will be aware that copyright laws exist to protect the creators of works and content from unauthorised use. Individuals and organisations have a legal and ethical imperative to honour copyright laws.

A number of licensing organisations responsible for protecting content are outlined in the Licensing Guidelines document. The CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) for churches is initially based on church congregation size, and makes it easy and affordable to make copies of the words of songs for worship activities. This includes words projected onto a screen via a data projector, church bulletins, wedding programs, Sunday school cards, the making of legal audio and video recordings of the service and  customising arrangements of music. It also covers normal church activities outside the main service such as youth camps, retreats, home groups, and children’s classes.

Other licenses can be purchased through CCLI, making it one of the easier options for purchasing of licences that cover most eventualities for churches.

Another group also focusing on church licences is the Big Studio Movie Licence (BSML). It has an exclusive arrangement with some significant studios including Disney, Sony, Icon, Madman and Heritage Films. BSML provides advice to groups regarding suitable movies, and its pricing is also based on church size.

Movie nights are definitely a great outreach for churches, and BSML encourages smaller churches to consider doing a combined event. There are certain rules around advertising and charging, but these are carefully explained on its website.

Copyright Licensing Guidelines for Uniting Church Congregations is written in plain language under clear headings. If in doubt about any content that you are reproducing, check first.

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