the law is reason free from passion

disclaimer: just as my sidebar says, the thoughts and ideas expressed here are not necessarily those of Westside Family Church (my employer) so don’t hold them accountable for my actions or my humble opinion. 🙂 enjoy.



reproducing music. illegal. reproducing literature. illegal. reproducing movies. illegal.

why? because they all (more than likely) fall under a copyright: a set of exclusive rights that regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information that can range from audio recordings to literature to movies.

if it is illegal to copy/reproduce these things, why is it ok for churches to use them in promotional pieces, as sermon illustrations or in dramatic presentations?

to put it simply… it is not ok.

i’ve been seeing more and more bigger churches claiming copyright laws are too muddy and legalistic when it comes their use by churches. they hide behind “fair use” laws or the argument of “we’re non-profit”. but when a church blatantly acknowledges their use of copyrighted materials for reasons other than for parody (ie. editing movie clips or audio recordings, for illustration or promotion, etc.) they’re crossing the line of “fair use” and are blatantly admitting to breaking the law as well. particularly if a church is selling their promotional packages for profit.

the fair use laws are even pretty clear. and contain a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. amount and substantially of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

i wouldn’t fight this fight against people of the world. the reason it bugs me so much when it comes to the church and bigger churches’ justification of use, is because we have a responsibility as Christians as well as church leaders to hold true the law of the land and not lead folks astray.

should the mission of the church be exempt from law? according to umm… the Bible and even Aristotle, the answer is simply, “no”.

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

“the law is reason free from passion” –Aristotle.

in no way is any church going to “get it right” and my employer has been guilty of breaking terms of use in the past, but we are doing all we can, now that we know the fine print of the law, to follow them as written. not just as we’d like to interpret.

so my question is:
does the church have a responsibility to follow the law,
even if muddy or is the church and its mission exempt?
yes or no (and why and such)

thank you.© 🙂


  1. i actually took a couple copyright classes back in september, when it comes to church and issues. in copyright law, there is a “worship exclusion clause” meaning that any religious entity can take a copyrighted item, and use it in a “regular worship setting.”

    this means religious entities can perform (but not reproduce or create derivatives) of a work.

  2. yes, i’ve taken similar training and you’re right. but this does not include using copyrighted material for promotion and the fine print further states that any copyrighted material must be played from an original source and cannot be a duplicate/edited version.

    meaning, if used in a sermon illustration or “regular worship setting” it must be done so my pressing “play” from the original source.

  3. Does anyone here go over the speed limit..ever?

    The point of copyright law I believe is to allow the owner to control the work and not have others profit from it. I think that there has been some overboard copyright Nazis for the church, but of course obedience to the law is what we are supposed to do. And, yes, some things are muddy and change often.

    Simply put, most film studios would love for your church to promote their films and show clips. Some of the producers and directors do not want anything to do with churches. Some copyright agencies want to profit off the church. All this to say is that the “muddy” is the tug-a-war of politics. Really, it is sad. A movie house might say “sure” then be overridden by the producers agent.

    Now, if the church community were to gang together and hire some expensive lawyers (lets do this), we could do SO MUCH MORE than we are since most churches are not selling anything but simply using media content for comment. Since that is not the case, a lot of ministries either completely disregard it or stop using content altogether. We just can’t afford attorneys to help interpret our First Amendment interests when trying to reach people.

    So, I would follow Tim Stevens in doing what is clearly lawful, and where it seems muddy, to do what we think represent the intent of the law. Otherwise, we need to hire church attorneys for this stuff. We cannot afford that.

  4. rich…. thanks for your comment… and i believe i’ve read your response about this somewhere before. and its an interesting point of view.

    my opinion of your opinion 🙂 is that i think hiding behind, “we can’t afford a lawyer” is such a copout. the laws are only as muddy as how much a church wants to follow. a copyright is a copyright. a legal and binding ownership of a material. i think it better not use anything, than to disregard the laws entirely, which a lot of churches blatantly do. particularly if this is the example set by larger churches who are influential, post their messages online in their entirety or sell their series/promo packages for profit, etc.

    if a church feels they absolutely need to use copyrighted material to get their point across in a promotional piece or a sermon… then get the proper licensing (which is still cheaper than hiring a lawyer). compliance to the law is the right thing to do, even if it means we can’t show that same old scene from “The Truman Show” or “Forrest Gump” again and again. or use the Beatles or Lifehouse in a promo video/drama. there’s other ways of being creative. There’s millions of free-play music and stock videos, etc. that are available for free to minimal cost. Is it the easiest way? No… but it is the legal way. the right way.

  5. not to nit-pick, but using those songs (as long as they are not reproduced via print or re-distributed via audio or video) is one of the religious services exemptions. in a worship setting one can do a dramatic performance of a work, or use them in a non-derivative manner.

  6. yes, i understand the law. my meaning was as reproduction or re-distribution not as part of a worship service (ie. placing recorded messages containing the copyrighted material online or in promotional materials for resale)

  7. I “starred” this post from awhile back, but wanted to let you know that my friends own this company called Sermon Spice. They chop up pieces of video and use original content to help illustrate sermons. The cool thing about it is that when you purchase the $20 video, part of that video gives you the copyright abilities to show the clip in church or whatever. Check it out,

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