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Copyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church

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jCopyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church
by on Aug 27, 2006 at 7:35:06 pm

I have been doing some video work for a church, one thing they recently asked me to do was to edit together some clips from movies relating to a sermon.

Do churches fall under the fair use guidelines for educational facilities, and if so, does this meet the criteria? (i assume it would)

Secondly, there will be 2 services back to back using the same presentation materials. Does this violate the 'one time' use part? (i assume it does)

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Mark SuszkoRe: Copyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church
by on Aug 28, 2006 at 1:55:58 pm

While not a lawyer, I believe the church cannot claim "fair use" in this case. The bottom line for myself is, if the church takes donations, and they are showing the copyrighted material at the same service where donations are being accepted, they cannot claim fair use. Educational fair use is probably what they are thinking they have, but I don't think they can meet the tests a court would apply. Maybe if they didn't take up a collection that day... but really, I still don't think they'd really be in the clear. A divinity school, where the teacher puts together clips for a classroom lecture, is more likely to be able to claim fair use.

When Mel Gibson was showing Passion of the Christ in various churches to generate interest and buzz, it made the news thatsome church got ahold of a bootleg copy and charged admission to parishioners to see it. I wanted to ask them what bible they were using that had only nine commandments in it.

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JNeo25Re: Copyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church
by on Aug 28, 2006 at 7:36:34 pm

Unless you're advertising and charging admission under the pretense of showing movies at said church event, I really don't think you have anything to worry about.

Most of the folks in Hollywood who would care wouldn't be caught dead near a church. I think it's a lightning/doorknob thing.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Copyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church
by on Aug 28, 2006 at 8:16:13 pm

Will they (the church) get away with it if you go ahead? Most likely. Are they on solid legal ground? Almost surely not. Could it come back to haunt you? Very possibly.

Worst that could happen? Yes, a lawsuit, and you as the pro who should know better and made it happen anyway would in all likelihood become one of the named defendants. Worst case, if all of that happens and they go for big damages, you could lose your rig, even your house, if you work from home.

Is this likely? No, it is exceptionally low in probability but while the suit is a low probability, it remains *possible*. Even if you go to court and win, can you afford the time and costs to defend yourself against Hollywood studio lawyers? And when those lawyers browse the internet for your name during discovery and find this thread, evidence you weren't sure it was right, and asked for opinions and read warnings before going ahead with the violation, you are toast.

I wouldn't touch it myself, not under the circumstances. I can't afford to gamble, when the stakes are high as this.

I would see if there were ways to get this done using permission from the copyright owners, or if you can get sample footage or stills from a stock footage house that pre-clears such things. Otherwise, I'd turn the job down as too legally questionable.

"Be just, and fear not."
-It's in the Bible AND Rocky Horror!

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JNeo25Re: Copyright & Fair Use Guidlines in the Church
by on Aug 28, 2006 at 9:06:24 pm

Mark, that's alot of fire and brimstone! You should start your own church. I'd go! :-).

Could you imagine the crapstorm of bad PR if a preacher gave a sermon on friendship and showed a clip from "Beaches", and then Miramax came and took his house and put his family in the street?

Actually, for a preacher, that's an amazing way to get new folks in the church-get martyred by hollywood. Usually you'd have to get caught in a hotel with a stripper/pornstar/crackhead for that type of press.

I think my point is, unless you're a giant church on Santa Monica BLVD, getting busted for showing a clip during a sermon in a small town is about as likely as getting hit by a meteorite while traveling on a train, and then getting struck by lightening at the exact same moment to boot. I've seen this done so many times in churches, schools, kids events, etc. Once, (back when I was a kid) my church had a big group of churches get together and showed Lady and the Tramp to about a thousand people. I'm absolutely positive that there was zero licensing involved.

I ain't sayin' it's right, I'm just sayin' it's really, really unlikely that anything would happen.

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Mike_SOnce, and then again ...
by on Aug 29, 2006 at 8:10:52 am

Do it once, of course, and what will they come back to you for the next time ...? You'd already have shown you have no regard for copyright, performance rights. An amateur might get away with it.

If they really want to do this, of course you could always get a list of desired scenes / movies, contact the rights holders, and ask them for a freebie for the church, or what might want to charge ..

Alternatively, you could suggest putting together a bunch of cameo scenes that make similar points, and filming them (with congregation members as actors? With local pro actors? ) ...

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JNeo25Re: Once, and then again ...
by on Aug 29, 2006 at 9:44:36 am

Good point. You don't want it becoming a habit.

John Davidson____ writer | producer | director____

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shvrRe: Once, and then again ...
by on Aug 29, 2006 at 8:23:56 pm

The other issue, not mentioned, in order to edit various scenes together, you would need to circumvent copyright technology which is against the law independent of the actual copyright issues.

I would suggest the preacher simply show one or two scenes straight off the dvds, putting the fair use burden on his shoulders and leaving you out of it.

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