Guidelines for Use of Copyrighted Materials

In this day of instant access to images, music, words and ideas, it’s become almost too easy to lift a phrase from here or a picture from there and put them together for your church’s worship, web site or materials. But to paraphrase Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, with that ease comes great responsibility—responsibility to ensure copyrights are being respected.

In 2012, The Northern and Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conferences approved “Guidelines for Congregations and Agencies of the Moravian Church in America For the Use of Copyrighted Materials.” Assembled by Moravian Music Foundation Executive Director Nola Knouse, this document offers an overview of what copyright is, what copyright applies to and how to remain within the law when using copyrighted materials.

What is copyright?

The Copyright Act declares that “copyright” in an original work belongs to the creator of the work—whether the work is a visual creation, musical composition, arrangement or accompaniment of a piece of music, words to a hymn or sermon, video, web site, piece of software or other protected work. The creator of the work is the first owner of the copyright and may transfer all or part of that ownership to others by assignment of licensing. The owner of a copyright holds five rights exclusively: the rights

  • to reproduce the work
  • to adapt the work
  • to distribute the work or sell it
  • to display it publicly
  • to perform the work for the public

This means that anyone other than the creator (or the person or company to whom the creator has assigned or licensed the copyright) who wants to make copies of something, adapt it, sell it, display it, or perform it, has to have permission. Copyright includes such things as photocopies, printing the text in a bulletin, projecting it on a screen, including it on a CD or cassette for distribution to members or friends—anything other than its use in its original format in a “live” situation.

What does that mean to you? If you want to use a work that someone else created, you need to determine its copyright status—the simple lack of a © symbol does not mean it is not copyrighted. If someone owns copyright on it, you must obtain permission to use it.

In the digital realm

Materials on the internet are notoriously easy to copy: It is easy to download a file from a Web page—a posted graphic, original material, or even music files. However, copyright laws presently apply to anything that is posted on the Web, whether it carries a copyright notice or not.

Don’t presume that material you find on the Web is free for the taking and for unrestricted use. Make sure that if you decide to use something you have found in cyberspace, you are as diligent about determining the material’s copyright status as you would be if the material was found in a book or hymnal.

Purchasing or renting a video does not give the right to show it anywhere other than for your personal use, and generally only in your own home. That means generally that any other use would require permission from the owner of the copyright in the video; as a specific example, you need a license in order to show videos to your youth group!

Computer software is generally protected by Federal copyrights and licensing agreements. While some creators of software expressly allow use of the software by others, this is an exception, not the general rule.

Getting permission

Obtaining permission to use copyrighted materials should not be difficult if you plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute! Most often, obtaining permission requires making a written request or phone call (followed up by a confirming written communication, such as an e-mail) to the copyright owner with this information:

  • What do you want to use?
  • How and when will you use it? (one-time bulletin, permanent publication, recording; date of use and the type of event – concert or worship service)
  • How many copies do you plan to make?
  • Do you plan to sell or lease any copies?
  • What is the organization and contact person, with address, telephone and email?

After you have made a request, you will receive a written response indicating that you have the permission, or if permission is not granted, a reason why you may not use the work. There may be a fee to reproduce the work. The fee is usually based on the way you plan to use the work. You will usually also receive a copyright permission line that you will be expected to print with the copied text, in a program or bulletin, or elsewhere.

Song books and hymnals like the Moravian Book of Worship provide copyright information either on the page of each hymn or in an acknowledgments section usually located at the back of the book. Contact information for copyright holders and administrators may also be included in the book. If no copyright is listed for the hymn, it may be in the public domain and, if it is, may be reprinted without additional permission.

Separate copyrights can be applied to the hymn tune, musical arrangement, text, or translation. In other words, each of those types of copyrightable works may be created separately and be subject to a different claim of copyright.

Moravian congregations can reproduce for worship or educational purposes materials in the Moravian Book of Worship that do not contain a separate copyright notice. When materials are used, they should be accompanied by the following attribution: “Reprinted from the 1995 Moravian Book of Worship with the permission of the Interprovincial Board of Communication of the Moravian Church in America.” If there is a copyright notice below the hymn for tune and/or text, permission must be sought from the copyright holder.

The Policy

Each person, congregation, board, and agency of the Moravian Church has a clear responsibility to adhere to the laws of our land. “We will be subject to the civil authorities as the powers ordained of God, in accordance with the admonitions of Scripture (Rom. 13:1) (I Peter 2:13-14) and will in nowise evade the taxes and other obligations which are lawfully required of us (Rom. 13:7).” (Moravian Covenant for Christian Living, section IV, “The Witness of a Christian Citizen”, paragraph A, “Recognition of Civil Authority”). The Ten Commandants also declare, “Thou shalt not steal.” (Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:19)

The copyright laws of the United States and Canada protect musical compositions, written prayers, sermons, poems, hymn and song lyrics, liturgies, videos, web sites, and software. Our commitment to Christ calls us to respect the rights of others as well as the law of the land. Each Moravian congregation, board, and agency should ensure compliance with the following policies:

  1.  Hymn and song texts and music, prayers, liturgies, and other worship materials shall not be copied, printed, posted on web sites, or projected without the copyright permissions and citations required by law.
  2. All worship materials in the public domain may be used, but careful investigation will first be made before any materials are considered to be in the public domain. If clear evidence of public domain status cannot be found, the materials will be treated as subject to copyright protection.
  3. Unauthorized photocopies, including choir music, will not be used… Warnings shall be posted at copy machines.
  4. Videos shall not be shown in our churches or other public places without the proper licenses.
  5. Text, videos, or pictures found on web sites shall not be copied, displayed, projected, or printed without permission.
  6.  Computer software shall be used only in compliance with the license purchased. If the software is licensed for use on one computer, it shall be used on one computer only.
  7. It is the responsibility of each individual to comply with these guidelines and with U.S. and Canadian Copyright laws. No one shall instruct another person to act in contradiction to these policies, and each employee or volunteer shall have the right and responsibility to refuse to act in contradiction to these policies or to the law as he/she understands it.

Learning more
The full guidelines document, which includes additional information on copyright, fair use, copyright permissions, copyright licenses and additional resources, is available here.

If you have specific copyright questions for materials produced by the Interprovincial Board of Communication, contact the IBOC at [email protected] for questions about music copyrights, contact the Moravian Music Foundation at [email protected] 

From the March 2013 Moravian Magazine