Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Will They Sue Our Church for Infringement?

Dear Rich: I work at a church and am conducting our services online. I do a PowerPoint and export it to video. If we are not making money off the videos (they are not monetized on YouTube and won't be), and we are a non-profit, is it a fair use of images to include pictures as long as I reference the source? Can we argue that a church service is educational on a spiritual level? 
Before we provide our standard fair use explanation, let's make a short risk analysis. What are the odds of being discovered, and what are the chances that the copyright owners will pursue an action against your church?
Seek, and ye shall find. As copyright owners employ more sophisticated copyright bots (content recognition software), the chances increase that infringement will be discovered. On the other hand, Content-ID (Google's YouTube bot) searches for audio and video but does not seek out individual images within a video. So, the chances of your video being dinged by a bot are slim. (However, beware that if you post an unauthorized image on a web page, it is easy to discover using Google's Reverse Image Search.) Two other factors can influence whether an infringement is identified: disgruntled employees, competitors, or others may report the offense, and the more popular your work becomes, the more likely you become a target for a takedown. 
Vengeance is mine. What are the chances that a copyright owner -- once the infringement is discovered -- will pursue a claim against your church? Apparently, copyright owners are not shy about suing churches, causing many religious institutions to reach into the collection box to pay off damage awards.
Thou shalt not steal. Does fair use shield you from a lawsuit? Even if your potential infringement qualified as fair use (and we lack the details to guess), that does not automatically shield you from a lawsuit. That's because fair use can only be determined by a court. In other words, a fair use defense is usually useless if you can't afford to "lawyer up."
The wise are cautious and avoid danger. Although the chances of a copyright owner discovering infringing images within your video are slim, and although your use may ultimately qualify for fair use, we think the more prudent course is to be copyright compliant. Fortunately, there are numerous Internet resources to help you do that, including church copyright guidelines, tips for finding free Christian imagery, church copyright fact sheets, religious copyright compliance suggestions, public domain Christian clipart, and lots more.
PS. And in other religious copyright news, this just in ...

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