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Copyright Laws: 6 Myths on Showing Films at Church and Youth Events

copyright laws

Copyright laws apply to churches, and you 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 copyright laws 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 laws was so bad. Hopefully, we’re all on board with that by now. But that got me thinking about other copyright laws, including having a church movie license.

As a representative of Christ and my church, I must play by the rules. Not only does that help me live a life “above reproach,” but it also prevents me from stealing.

Copyright Laws: 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 at a church event, I’m within copyright laws.

This is false. A movie may be screened outside a home without a license only in a nonprofit educational setting with “face-to-face instruction.”

3. If I make a lesson out of the movie, I’ll be within 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 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.