Have you ever actually read that little FBI warning at the beginning of a movie? Well, luckily (and unluckily) for us, that has absolutely nothing to do with showing movies in church settings. But you still need to be aware of the ins and outs of having a church movie license.
Throughout my years in youth ministry, I’ve moved through the following progression regarding the issue of copyright and movies.
- intentional ignorance on the legal matter
- learning a little but then not caring too much
- taking the issue pretty seriously
Long ago, when everyone was rocking Napster (the illegal predecessor to napster.com), I began researching why violating music copyright was so bad. Hopefully, we’re all on board with that by now. But that got me thinking about other areas of copyright law, including having a church movie license.
As a representative of Christ and my church, I need to play by the rules. Not only does that help me live a life “above reproach,” but it also prevents me from stealing.
Church Movie License: 6 Common Misconceptions
1. The FBI warning says I can’t charge money for people to watch the movie, so my event is okay.
The FBI warning actually does pertain to an individual showing a movie within the home.
2. As long I’m using the movie as a church event, I’m within the copyright laws.
This is a false statement. The only instance in which a movie may be screened outside of a home without a license is in a nonprofit educational setting with “face-to-face instruction.”
3. If I make a lesson out of the movie I want to show, I’ll be within the copyright laws.
A nonprofit educational setting is specifically defined as a nonprofit academic institution. The main activity of a church is not academics.
4. My church has the CVLI, so we can show movies at any church event we hold.
This license pertains only to a church showing movies “in its facility(ies).” This means if you have a current CVLI (Church Video License), you may show any legally obtained movie in your church property. (See points 1 and 4 on this page at CVLI.com.)
CVLI covers those movies “produced and/or distributed by CVLI affiliated motion picture companies only,” according to point 6. This means your CVLI license doesn’t cover all films. So you may need to purchase a license to show certain films. You may be able to contact the motion picture company for written permission to show the movie. If that company is the copyright holder, it can waive its rights and grant a church or ministry permission to show the movie. Warning: Do this well in advance, because the process is s-l-o-w.
5. I can hang up a sheet and use a PA system and projector to show the movie in the church yard. After all, that’s within church property.
The CVLI specifically says you can screen movies in its facilities. I asked a CVLI rep to clarify “in facilities.” The answer? You’d most likely be within the spirit of the agreement if you screen the movie outdoors only if the area is secluded. No chance can exist of the general public seeing or hearing any portion of the movie.
6. Because I’m not charging a fee, showing the movie inside my church, and have the CVLI, I can advertise the event in any fashion I want.
In case you missed reading point 4 of the CVLI terms, “No specific titles, or any characters from such titles, or producers’ names will be advertised or publicized to the general public unless authorized by certain producers.”
Church Movie License: Next Steps
- Make sure your church has a current CVLI.
- Determine if your CVLI covers a particular movie. Obtain the proper license for films that aren’t covered.
- The license restricts showings to a physical location. So show movies only at church youth ministry events or at a camp location that has its own license.
- Invite a few students to your house. There you can show a movie inside without any advertising of any sort through the church.
It’s possible to still do a movie event for the public. You’ll still need to procure a license from mplc.org, but follow their guidelines.
I hope this helps clear up some church movie license and copyright confusion. I’m a youth pastor, not a copyright lawyer. So I’m not giving out any legal advice, just a few tips and pointers.
If you have questions, chat with your church’s attorney or contact an attorney who specializes in copyright law. This is a very in-depth subject, which you noticed if you checked out copyright.gov.