Preload icon
Resources & Curricula
June 14, 2021

Copyright Compliance Health Check

Whether we're familiar with them or not, churches and non-profits are subject to copyright laws that exist to give proper credit to content creators and protect their rights. Unfortunately, many images, graphics, audio and video files that are easily accessible online are not considered "open source," or free for use by others without purchase or without attributing credit, as expressed by the media owner. Consider the following questions to ensure that your church, or any affiliated church group, is operating safely online and in compliance with copyright laws for all digital and printed media content.

Images: Have you published photos on your website, blog, social media, flyers, bulletins, or newsletters that are copyrighted?

Ensure that any image published on behalf of your church have been shared with permission, whether acquired by purchase or by providing appropriate credit to the owner. It can be tempting to do a quick Google image search for a photograph to accompany a post on Facebook or to feature in your print newsletter, but this can lead to trouble. There are many free sources for copyright-free images available for use, as well as paid services where you may purchase photos and images for use without penalty.

  • Lightstock: Offers faith-based, royalty-free stock photos, vectors, and footage for use.
  • Pro Church Media: A publication and resource for Church Creative Leaders to find ideas, get resources, and more.
  • Pexels: Galleries of free images available for personal and commercial use.
  • Pixabay: Over 900,000 free images and videos for use.
  • Adobe Stock ($): Paid subscription providing access to diverse collections of high-resolution, royalty-free, stock assets.
Graphics: Have you used graphics including fonts, images, or icons without permission?

Digital graphics, including image-with-text files, icons, logos, diagrams, graphs, charts, and illustrations are property of the artist / owner. When reproducing or sharing any files of this type, name the author and consider providing a link or URL for the source, in accordance with directives from the owner. There are several free sources of copyright-free graphics, fonts, and icons available for use, as well as paid services where you may purchase or create graphics for use without penalty.

  • Freepik: Offers more than 3 million free vectors, photos, and icons.
  • Flaticon: Vector icons collected into packs for easy browsing.
  • Stock-Graphics: Provides unlimited downloads of royalty free stock photos, vectors, illustrations, icons & textures.
  • Font Ninja: Find the name of any fonts used on a website by hovering over it with this chrome browser extension.
  • Google Fonts: High quality fonts available for download for use on your website.
  • Font Squirrel: Free fonts licensed for commercial work.
  • Canva: Free for nonprofits, Canva allows you to create and design graphics using a vast template database with a user-friendly interface.
Text: Have you used text on your website, blog, social media, flyers, bulletins, or newsletters that are copyrighted?

Any text, including music lyrics, curriculums, prayers, liturgies, and quotations, that is shared verbatim must cite its source and/or utilize quotations, wherever it is published. In many instances, simply add a link to the original source for more information as a best practice for sharing text online that is not original. When in doubt, seek out the copyright information provided by the author / publisher before reprinting or reproducing text content, either online or in print.

  • ($): Provides reprint permissions of copyrighted music for congregational use from an expansive list of Member Publishers. Following a three-step process (Download, Create, Report) a church can easily provide worship aids that will help to encourage participation. The reporting process is a fast, easy, and intuitive way to ensure that composers, authors, and publishers are compensated fairly for their work.
  • CCLI ($): Covers storing lyrics, printing songs, recording services, making custom arrangements, and more. A CCLI license enables you to enjoy the right to reproduce creative product in many forms; be it digital, print or recorded content available from more than 3,000 publishers and song owners. A CCLI license permits the fair and legal use to copy and distribute content and media - to include within printed bulletins, to share in song (or movie clips), and even to deliver later as recorded or streaming services, where applicable.
  • Ritesong ($): A digital library of liturgical music including a growing list of music from The Hymnal 1982; The Hymnal 1982 - Service Music; Wonder, Love and Praise; and others. Search by keyword, or browse the entire library before downloading sheet music and lyrics. Pay for a single song, or annual subscription, with included copyright.
Video, Movie, and Live-streaming: Have you published a video recording or plan to play a movie for public consumption?

Video files are subject to similar protections and copyrights, with varying requirements for acquiring permission to share based on the owner / producer. In general, the right to show any movie to "the public," anyone outside of your immediately family or small group of friends in a home, is limited by law. In most cases, screening a movie at a gathering that is open to members of the community requires a separate "public performance" license from the copyright owner. Obtaining a public performance license can happen in one of two ways: 1) By renting the movie directly from a distributor that is authorized to grant such licenses; or 2) By contacting the copyright holder, generally the studio, directly.

Many shorter videos that are accessible online for public consumption, like on YouTube or Vimeo, may offer the option to download the video file, share digitally via social media or email, or embed the video code on a website. In all of these cases the video may be shared or reproduced with source citation.

Keep in mind that a video recording of a person reading from a book or any unoriginal text, such as the Book of Common Prayer, is also subject to copyright laws, and the authorship must be cited.

Worship services that are livestreamed to the public and include copyrighted music are subject to copyright laws as well. See above section for reference to two services providing streaming licenses for recorded/live music performance.

In General: Have You Skipped Reading the Fine Print?

Churches can become easy targets for vigilant copyright lawyers and online image companies. If a copyrighted image is downloaded and used on a website, social media account, blog, or other digital medium without appropriate attribution or payment, the original owner can trace the file and pursue charges or fees. Anyone who may have used images improperly in the past should remove them and replace with new "open source" images. Always read the fine print if conducting a general online image search or searching for the perfect picture from image libraries like the ones listed above.

Questions? Churches may contact Caroline Mowen, Canon for Administration and Ministry Support, at, or the diocesan Communications Office, at, with copyright questions.


More Articles

Resources & Curricula
February 21, 2024

Council 2024 Reports by Title

Resources & Curricula
January 30, 2024

Studying the Acts of the Apostles

See All Posts