Friday, February 18, 2011

We recently received this information  from the Baptist Union. Please be aware...


One of our churches recently found itself embroiled in a legal challenge over copyright infringement after its pastor chose to use a poem as an introduction to a sermon.

The pastor had become aware of the poem from a funeral he attended many years before. The funeral folder did not give an author or copyright details, and so the pastor’s sermon simply indicated that this was an unattributed piece of prose. Six months after preaching the sermon, the church placed a transcript on their web site. The author of the poetry, based overseas, had apparently employed a copyright lawyer to monitor the internet for unauthorised use of their works. The quote was discovered, and a legal letter sent to the church. Immediate action was taken –the sermon transcript was removed and a letter of apology sent, but the legal response continued.

It is important to understand how easily this situation can arise. The use of the poem unattributed was a simple error born of naivety. No attempt at attribution was made, although attribution would not have changed the author’s response but may have tempered the claim. No harm was meant, and you could be forgiven for thinking that there was little gain (particularly of a financial nature) that could be directly attributed to the quote. The author’s lawyers took a different view – that a license fee ought to have been paid prior to quoting from the poem, and that it was impossible to calculate how much benefit had been obtained through its misuse. Despite several legal obstacles to a successful prosecution, the church leadership (after legal advice) ultimately recognised there had been something inappropriate done, and a negotiated settlement would be better than a protracted legal battle. The overseas lawyers would not accept any compromise and ultimately a five figure sum had to be paid.

The case highlights the dangers associated with quoting stories, poems, images and text from sources without attribution and appropriate recognition of copyright. This is particularly true when transcripts of messages are uploaded onto the internet, as on-line search tools are incredibly sophisticated and powerful.
The lessons from this difficult situation include:

· Know the sources of your quotations and attribute them properly.
· Investigate whether copyright applies to a particular work and abide by the restrictions placed by the owners, even if they appear unfair.
· If an item is copyright you cannot include it in any published work (even an online sermon) without written permission and paying any required fee. Attribution is not enough to remove copyright infringement.
· If you are producing a transcript of a message, include footnotes to cover attribution, in more detail than you would tend to mention in a spoken message.
· Recognise that publishing material on-line makes it available to a much greater audience than your circle of contacts.
· If you receive a letter regarding copyright infringement, take it seriously and act quickly to minimise the damage caused. We recommend that you contact your State Director of Administration as soon as possible.

Having paid up an entitlement to CCLI (as most churches do) or even CAL (as some churches also do), does not absolve you of responsibility to correctly attribute works, nor do they provide blanket coverage of all copyright issues. These licenses are basically to allow you to use material within your church and to produce them in any written form for a wider audience (such as the web).

Phillip McCallum,
Director of Administrative Services,
Queensland Baptists

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