Copyright and your church – Part 1. Understanding the basics

Copyright image

Copyright and your church – Part 1. Understanding the basics

Copyright is one of those subjects, like health and safety, that many people wish would go away – but it won’t and it shouldn’t. Rather than being a ‘nuisance’ it can work to your advantage.  

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines Intellectual Property (IP) as “…creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce”. The design of an invention is usually protected through the patent process but with literary or artistic works protection is automatically attached to the original work form the outset.

We will look at the issues of licences in the next post but the legislation (Copyright, Design, and Patents Act 1988) allows for “fair dealing” which permits the making of copies of short extracts for activities non-commercial research or private study. This could include copying a song to practice at home ahead of the Sunday service where music will be provided.

Commissioned or purchased material
Even if you pay for something it does not mean you own the IP. If you are commissioning professional photos of your church then ensure that you:

  • Own the rights to them – this prevents them being resold to someone else,
  • Can use them across all media, edit them, and allow others to use them.

This is different when you buy a stock image from provider (as we do for our e-news). Here you do not own the image – just the right to use it - and there may be limits (such as a maximum print run).

Internally produced material
Where a member of staff takes photos, writes, designs a logo or builds a website as part of their work then the organisation will normally be the owner of the IP. However in churches such things may be developed by a volunteer (including a part-time member of staff doing something outside of their paid employment) then the IP rights reside with the individual. In this case it is possible to transfer the IP through an Assignment Agreement (templates are available from the web) or if volunteers are regularly producing materials then a Volunteering Agreement can be used.
The same can apply where a pastor writes a book during their employment and in this case the royalties from book sales should belong to the church. In some situations it may be right for a paid member of staff to retain the IP – for example where minister is known to be a part-time author when he is appointed.

It is especially important to understand IP on things that would be awkward or costly to change or replace - such as a logo. A fall out with a church member who produced it could be expensive. Similarly a church plant often shares the same ‘identity’ as the mother church in the early stages but the IP needs to be controlled so that as the plant grows and becomes its own entity.  It is not normally necessary to register the logo as it is possible to prevent an unregistered trademark being used by another organisation to mislead the public.

In the next post we will explore the issue of licences for churches covering the issue of projecting words, or showing videos in church.

This article has drawn, with permission, on a fuller briefing by our Solicitor Edwina Turner of Anthony Collins Solicitors which can be found here.

Nick Jones