Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Who owns sermons?

When someone preaches in a church, who owns the sermon, from a copyright point of view?

It's a more complex question than you might think. Technically, as the person who delivers the sermon, the preacher owns it. And yet, the church is likely to fairly freely make use of it - put recordings on websites, distribute copies of sermon notes, possibly use extracts in various contexts. And also the church has probably paid the speaker to speak. What rights has that bought? Normally it's not a big deal - the preacher and the church exist in a relationship with one another: the church promotes and uses the preacher's teaching material; the preacher is supported by the church. As an example of the lack of clarity about this which exists, in one church I visit, I kind of discovered that although there was no apparent microphone, my talks were being recorded to listen to later. I wasn't particularly bothered, though.

But there are some circumstances when it may become more of an issue. For example, what if the church wants to use the sermons in another context - perhaps for radio broadcasts, or for publication in a book. Who decides? If royalties are generated, who should get them? Or supposing there is a breakdown in the relationship between church and preacher? This article in Christianity Today discusses the issue. It suggests that the most natural approach is probably to consider that the copyright is owned by the speaker, but he in effect grants the church a royalty-free licence to use his written or recorded material.

What does this mean? It means that the church can basically get on and use the material as they would normally do, and the speaker would implicitly accept that. But the speaker still has control if the church were to decide that it was worth doing something different with the material.

I am involved with a Christian conference, and this raises another bunch of complications. Again, it's reasonable for the conference to use messages from speakers as though this royalty-free licence exists. But since the conference organisation exists in effect as a group of people who make up an ad hoc committee once a year, plus people who work on particular tasks pretty much on their own, how do we decide - or rather, who decides - what use the conference can reasonably make of material that's produced? To what extent should we be telling the speaker exactly how their sermon is to be used? Ideas on a postcard, please ....

1 comment:

Matt Maxson said...

Theological implications aside, I've always preferred to look at it like a programmer, engineer, or car designer:

The employer owns what is produced on "company time" or "for the company."

I know this isn't how many people see it, but I've always thought my employer owns whatever I produce for them on their time. This means that I've got to have a clear division between "company" and "not company" when it comes to programming tasks not for work. However, it is certainly dooable.

The best way to clarify this--just like with any employer/employee relationship--is to clarify it in the employment contract. What is allowed, what isn't allowed, etc.... This could also be done with guest speakers through a waiver of some sort...then, no one has any questions.

I would further say that I think the church should use the copyright to materials to make them freely available. License them under one of the creative commons licenses that allows for redistribution for non-commercial use.

Again, this could all be handled though the employment contract (or in the case of a waiver, etc... for the conference).