Can You Use Copyrighted Photos as Sermon Illustrations?

By Timothy Mucciante

A copyright issued by the U.S. Copyright Office protects original creative works, including literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works, as well as photographs and films. This protection does come with a limitation, referred to as the “fair use” doctrine. The public may use portions of copyrighted materials assuming that the fair use conditions are met.

A copyright issued by the U.S. Copyright Office protects original creative works, including literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works, as well as photographs and films. This protection does come with a limitation, referred to as the “fair use” doctrine. The public may use portions of copyrighted materials assuming that the fair use conditions are met.

Fair Use

Four factors must be considered in determining the fair use of copyrighted materials. The actual use of the copyrighted work -- whether it is of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes -- determines the intent of the user. The nature of the copyrighted work and the amount of the material actually used -- compared to the whole work -- shows the user's intent to subvert the owner's lawful copyright protection. Ultimately, the creator's future marketing potential for the work needs to be evaluated.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Purpose and Character

Fair use of copyrighted material by a nonprofit organization, such as a church, is favored over use of the same material by a commercial organization. Seven appropriate circumstances are listed in the fair use statute: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Using a copyrighted photo in a sermon to demonstrate a point or to educate the congregation may fall into one of these seven purposes. Several court opinions have favored the concept of a copyrighted work being "transformed," such as using a photograph as part of a presentation, media event, montage or collage.

Nature of Copyrighted Material

Original, creative works are generally less available for fair use. If a novel has yet to be published, or a film is not yet released, courts may tend to give greater protection to the owner of the copyright, since the creator should have the discretion as to when and where to release his work. Because creative works are more protected, fair use may be better applied to nonfiction and copyrighted works with limited original creativity, such as media, advertising or promotional photos.

The Portion Used

The fair use statute does not set any type of quantity for how much is too much of the whole work to be used. The portion is relative to the length of the entire work. Another factor is the importance of the material used to the work as a whole. Photos, in particular, could be a problem, since, in general, the whole work needs to be used to be effective. Because the photo would be used as part of the sermon, a cropped version of the photo may be used or one of lower resolution.

Effect on Future Value

Assuming the public user lawfully owns his copy of the work, such as a picture, using it in connection with a sermon probably would not have a negative economic effect on the copyright owner. However, if use of the protected work could reduce sales of the original, this might significantly impair the owner's potential marketing of the original work. For example, if a picture used in connection with a sermon were reproduced and distributed to church members, the copyright owner might lose sales revenue from those in attendance, who might have bought a copy of the work instead.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Can I Record Someone Else's Song and Change the Words in Parody Law?

References

Resources

Related articles

Pros & Cons of Copyright Laws

A copyright is a legal monopoly, granted by the federal government, that allows the creator of an original work of authorship to prevent others from using, displaying, profiting from or adapting that work. Copyrights protect both artistic works and computer software programs. Copyright law is designed to balance the economic and moral rights of creators with the interest of society in using and enjoying works of authorship.

Copyrights: How to Protect Something That Is Photocopied

The owner of a copyright holds exclusive rights over the copyright material, including the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the work, even if the work is photocopied. Copying copyrighted work via a photocopier can be copyright infringement if the photocopied content is used to share with colleagues, customers, an entire organization or the general public, for example. The question of how to protect copyrighted content when it is photocopied is the same as protecting copyrighted content. Except for fair use or if some other exemption applies, only the holder of the copyright or his agent has the right to make and distribute copies, including photocopiesof his copyrighted work. Copyright law allows copyright holders to sue for lost profits or statutory damages that result from copyright infringement, in trials that are usually long and expensive. Federal registration provides the best protection over the original works of authorship, over any additional copies and over any unauthorized use of the material. The owner should proactively protect his work, through federal registration and deposit the original copy with the Library of Congress, noting the copyright date and owner's name on each copy. Subsequent registration with the U.S. Custom Service can deter illegal importation of unauthorized copies.

Copyright Rules & Time Limits

U.S. federal laws provide the basis for copyright rules and time limits. The general purpose of copyright law is to encourage and protect artistic and literary creativity by giving artists and authors legal protection over their creations. However, because the general public also has an interest in acquiring the right to use those creations, copyrights do not exist in perpetuity.

Related articles

Fair Use Exceptions to Copyright Law

Under the copyright law, the creator of the original work is known as its author. U.S. Copyright law provides authors ...

Copyright Laws & Guidelines

There are many laws and guidelines related to applying for copyright registration, the basis for bringing a lawsuit for ...

Most Frequent Copyright Violations

Copyright law protects original works of authorship by providing the copyright holder with a legal monopoly on the ...

Song Lyrics & Copyright Laws

Copyright law protects all aspects of an artistic work, as long as the work is original and has been reduced to a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED