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Do you find copyright rules confusing? Having trouble knowing which images are safe to use? If so, join the club!

Churches and individuals generally desire and intend to use images, songs, and videos that are legal and free to use in worship or on websites. But most of us don’t know where to begin. In addition, the internet makes it so easy to download, print, and share content.

So, what ARE the criteria for what can, or cannot, be used?

A basic understanding of copyright helps. For starters, an idea cannot be copyrighted. Copyright exists (for a period of time) once you actually create a work. A “work” is a short word that encompasses many things, such as a poem, a song, a painting, a photograph, a podcast, and even, to some degree, an email! Copyrights give the owner of the work control over what happens to their created work, as well as commercial rights.

Does this mean everything is copyrighted and nothing is free to use? Not necessarily. There are ways to find content on the internet that can be shared and used by your church.

I am no expert (and this list is far from comprehensive) but here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Look for Explicit Permission. Whenever possible, try to find works/images that are labeled with a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons allows the owner to give specific permissions for how other can reuse their content. Be sure to read any restrictions that still exist. For more information, check out this helpful video about copyright licenses on the Creative Commons website.
  • When in Doubt, Ask. If you come across something on the internet and you aren’t sure whether it can be printed, distributed, or re-published, take a moment to email or contact the author or owner and ask for permission.
  • Stay Legal. Looking specifically for images to use in worship or on a website? Check out this article for helpful tips on finding images. What about the legal use of music? Check out this webinar for practical advice for worship leaders and anyone involved in music.  
  • Better Safe than Sorry. The laws on copyright (especially related to the internet) are constantly evolving and gray area still exists. You may assume you are safe because you have not been caught (and may never get caught). But I encourage you to be cautious and not make assumptions that because it is on the internet, it is free to use.

This is a very BASIC guide to just a few Copyright issues. If you (or someone you know) could build on this topic and would be willing to share your expertise, please leave a comment below or email [email protected].

How have copyright concerns impacted your church? What have you learned?

Let's share our stories (and collective knowledge) below!  


Thanks for being so concise and honest about this rather complicated subject, Staci. It's important but hard to really grasp all the implications sometimes for us in ministry. If people want more info related to worship and copyrights - especially music, projection, etc, here are a few more articles they can check out. 
Copyright Info-Clearing Up the Confusion (Maybe!)

Is Your Church Breaking Copyright Law?

How to Project and Reprint Legally


Thank you Diane and Staci for the helpful resources that you provided. Copyrights are very complicated and in general when in doubt, it is best to ask. Check out the resources offered in Staci's post or Diane's comments for a great starting place for helpful information and if you have questions please email us. We are here to help you navigate permissions and copyrights. Please feel free to email [email protected] with your questions. 

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