The Church. The Super Bowl. And Copyright.

Did you see the most recent article in the Washington Post about churches hosting Super Bowl parties?

Many churches plan Super Bowl parties as a community event and/or as an event to invite new people to the church. They have found these parties are widely successful in bringing people together. Well, many are surprised or didn’t even consider that the NFL expects churches to pay attention to the notice that appears at the end of each game, "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited."

The NFL is serious and is letting churches know that this is not legal. Churches are receiving letters from the NFL telling them that they are in violation of the copyright law. Now, they have to scrap their parties or quickly come up with a new plan.

My guess is that many of you, the arts leaders and artists aren’t responsible for the Super Bowl party at your church. Maybe you are like me. Most years I am not truly interested in the game. I go get food during the game. But when the commercials come on and the half-time show starts I am in my seat & paying attention.

I was intrigued with the Post article because it brought up the issue of the church’s engagement, understanding and compliance with copyright. When I talk to leaders these days I hear a wide variety of views about how their church approaches copyright laws. I meet a few churches who are on top of the law and are to the best of their knowledge complying. I think most churches are challenged to be informed and be in compliance on top of all their other responsibilities. And unfortunately some have just decided for whatever reason they aren’t going to engage.

I am wondering where you are all at. On a scale of 1 to 10 how informed are you about the church and copyright law. On a scale of 1 to 10 is your church engaged. Are you complying with the law? Some of the laws?

Do you subscribe to the philosophy “Do it now and ask forgiveness later?”

Are you making copies of music, CDs or charts, without getting permission and paying for royalties?

Are you securing permission to use movie clips during the service?

Are you using trademarked titles or art for series or services? For example, I know many people use the title and art from game shows or reality shows. Did you know that we can’t use their art and we can’t use their trademarked title?

For those of you who are engaged how do you do it? Do you have a volunteer or staff person just devoted to this task? Does each artist, worship leader, music director, or media person take care of their own copyright issues?

I would love to start a discussion and see if we can help each other and honor God with how we do this portion of our ministry.


Eric Frisch said...

I think copyright laws are very important for the church today. As a worship arts director who also writes, records, and performs my own music on the side, I know how important licensing and royalties are to those on both ends of the spectrum. I know our arts team gets frustrated with me sometimes, because I'm always the guy saying "wait, do we have the rights to run this? are our licenses good for this?" but I really think it's important. Jesus made it clear that we're supposed to follow the laws of our governments, and copyright issues certainly fall within that scope. I know I would be upset if I found out that my work was being used without my permission, and therefore I think it's important to make sure others are getting credit for their work. As far as knowledge, I would put us around a 9, with compliance in the 7-8 range. Something that we continue to work on.

Chris said...

On the informed scale we're probably an 8. We are fortunate to have a lawyer in our congregation who is an expert when it comes to charity law in Canada. There is also someone at his firm who specializes in Canadian copyright law. When we don't know what to do, we call them.

On the engaged scale, we are growing but nowhere close to where we need to be. There is a recognition among staff that we need to be careful and compliant but that is not present in our volunteer teams.

Nick Allen said...

Maybe if churches would adhere to copyright laws it would force pastors and creative teams to stop ripping off ideas someone else came up with.

Shouldn't we as the church body be on the front end of creativity?

But instead I've heard of more "Survivor" "Heroes" "Lost" "iLife" and other clearly copyrighted titles and designs that the church just clearly uses.

Maybe this would force us to start being innovative and not jumping on every trendy thing that is happening in the world but instead keep preaching and teaching the Word of God while coming up with innovative methods and ways to do it.

Her said...

Thank you for raising this point and helping us raise the bar - in all things we should be above reproach, even the seemingly little things, like copyright.

Bob said...

I think we're about an 8. I feel like we're above board and honoring God with our usage of copyrighted material. But I can't give myself a 10 because of the nagging fear that if a lawyer came in and did an audit, he'd find problems. And if I brought a second lawyer in- she'd find something different.

It's too complicated, don't you think? And a bit ridiculous. I don't understand why the NFL would clap down on churches- what's the benefit for them?

I do believe that a lot of churches flout copyright law, and that this is a negative thing. Buy maybe it's not just those churches that need to change. Maybe it's the laws.

Cheryl said...

I have been involved in copyright for about 25 years. During that time the law has had a few changes, but it is obvious that technology has raced forward and is well ahead of the law. Given that is our situation, we still need to view all of our uses of copyrighted works through the current law and make decisions for our churches based on that.

I know the challenges that everyone is facing in the church world where creativity abounds and we have the technology to use it so easily. The fact remains there simply is not much litigation or precedent for churches and the copyright law. That begs the question, would you want YOUR church to be a defendent in a lawsuit?

I am the copyright director for a large contemporary church and we face these challenges every day. I have not always been the most beloved staff member, but over time we have all learned to work together to be creative and yet compliant - respectful of the creators and also the law. And, we have found some very creative ways to work with all our blanket licensing, the Religious Services Exemption of the Copyright Act and individual licenses. We are not perfect, but we try hard to get it right. We know we could be a big target and we DON'T want to be sued.

For two years now we have sent out an email to all staff to inform them and their ministries that we need to comply with the NFL's guidelines for showing the Super Bowl. While I understand the great outreach potential and family friendly atmosphere this game can provide for a church, I also understand that the bars and other establishments license with their cable stations and networks to show the game. We simply had to be compliant.

I would love to see the Church Super Bowl License. Just imagine what a win-win that would be. Ability to hold our events and revenue for the NFL. I think that the Church Copyright Administration ( was trying to make some contact with the NFL this year but didn't have much luck.

Until we can license the game for our big screens, it would be a good practice for churches to follow the NFL guidelines. It is merely respectful to the owners of the copyrighted broadcast.

For groups that want to host Super Bowl parties -- other than sports bars and businesses that normally show televised sports -- here are rules the NFL says must be followed:

• No admission fees (even to pay for snacks).

• Only one television (55 inches or smaller).

• No use of the words "Super Bowl" in promotional materials.

• No exhibition of the game in connection with events "that promote a message."