One of the pitfalls that too many congregations have fallen into is theft.  Now we don’t call it that, or often see it that way, but theft it is.  What I am talking about is when you just need a few more copies of that music piece, or you find a great photo to use on your special event flyer, or you want to project words to a song, or the youth/children want to watch a movie. Great possibilities but without the proper permission or license each of these is theft and can cost the church in painful ways. I am personally aware of a $1,000 fine a church had to pay because it used a photo on its website without written permission. Whether the use is intentional or unintentional the fines and loss of trust still can hit hard.  

So what are ways to use the music, photos, or movies with permission and integrity? Simply put…get permission.  Where? Here are some places where you can do just that:

 Photos/Illustrations: You can buy the rights from photographers or you can take your own and create a library of images. Are there professional or near professional photographers or videographers in your congregation who would be willing to offer their services in this way?  If so you could tailor make photos for your needs.

If you want a huge library of photographs to pick from at a low cost try:  This site, if you sign up for the free account, gives free photos, videos, and music clips away for your use. If you purchase material you pay in credits (ranging in price from $1.60/credit to $2/credit) and depending on the size and resolution of the material purchased the cost can be just a couple dollars to over $100. 

 Life Church’s Open program provides many excellent background loops and graphics free of charge.  You can find them at  

Music: There are several places where you can obtain a copyright license for music.  One of the things to watch for is which musical publishers the particular license covers. Also look at what kind of license you need: is it for a special event, for all year, or for some other situation.  Some providers are: Provides a general license for most ‘contemporary’ style music administrators. Prices for an annual license start at $55 and go up based on congregation size. Provide general license for more ‘traditional’ style music hymnals/administrators. You can purchase an annual license (beginning from $75 and go up depending on size), an event license, or a one day license. is the licensing arm of New Dawn Music and its annual licenses start from $89 depending on congregation size.  It works with liturgical music primarily. (for artists or pieces)  (for artist or pieces) (for artist or pieces)

 Motion Pictures/Videos:

Perhaps one of the most frequent breaches of copyright law has to do with showing movies. If you want to show a movie clip or the full movie you need to get a license.  The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation writes ( Motion pictures and other audiovisual works that are available for rental or purchase are intended for personal, private, home use only. If you wish to show the work in any other place, you must have a separate license that specifically authorizes the public performance of that work.

These rules are detailed in the federal Copyright Act, as amended, Title 17 of the United States Code.

  • The rental or purchase of a motion picture or other audiovisual work does not bear the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly. (Section 202)
  • Films may be shown without a separate license in the home to “a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances” (Section 101) because such showings are not considered “public.” 
  • All other public performances of motion pictures and other audiovisual works are illegal unless they have been authorized by license. Even “performances in ‘semipublic’ places such as summer camps and schools are ‘public performances’ subject to copyright control.” (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 60; House Report No. 94-1476, page 64). 
  • Both for-profit organizations and non-profit institutions must secure a license to show films, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged. (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No.94-1476, page 62) 
Unlicensed public performances are federal crimes and can be subject to a $150,000 penalty per exhibition and other penalties (Sections 502-506).

 These licenses can be obtained from several places but some only provide short clips and not the entire movie.  Again, be sure you know what you want to use the movie for and whether you will use enough to justify an annual licensing fee or just need a single use license. (fees based on church size) Church Video License provides legal coverage for churches and for other ministry organizations to show DVDs and videocassettes of motion pictures. Coverage includes playing just a few seconds of a movie all the way up to showing the full-length feature.

 Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) partnered with Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), to create Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI). MPLC has long been the leader in public performance licensing for movies, while CCLI is a respected pioneer in music copyright licensing services for churches. CVLI was created to serve the video licensing needs of the faith-based community with a simple, affordable license. The result was the CVLI Video License which works just like the Umbrella License, it simply has a different name. Mosques, Temples, and Synagogues continue to be licensed through the MPLC. (annual fee based on size, frequency of showing, etc.) Over 4,000 video sermon illustrations for purchase ($15-20) Videos for worship from $5.99 as well as video loops for backgrounds and videos for youth.  A site that contains clips from movies that can be used for various themes.  Subscriptions start at $70/year. A site providing movie clips for a free regular subscription or for a premium subscription of $14.95/month, $119/year (difference is in resolution, online technical support and multiple formats).  Fee includes copyright permission to use clips.  Releases 5 videos x 4/year.  They are sermon starters and run from 1-5 minutes.  Subscription price bring cost to $40-50 set.  Videos for Sermons (30+) for sale from $8-50, banner loops and other video material.  A full year subscription is available for $99.  Two comedians who produce skits for worship or youth meetings. Starting at $15.


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