04 October 2021

Copyright – The Bigger Picture

In our connected world, we are so used to seeing all kinds of images, videos and text extracts that we don’t always realise each piece of material is someone’s intellectual property. In this blog Beth Dufour,
Freelance Permissions Editor, helps to explain copyright and how to avoid copyright infringements and potential fines.

As a church, there might be all kinds of communications that you release; from newsletters and leaflets, to social media posts and posters. You’ll always want to make these attractive and appealing by including material from other places, but doing this can risk copyright infringement, which can bring unexpected costs and penalties.

To help avoid unnecessary problems with rights and risks, there are some very helpful guidelines on the Methodist Church in Britain website. These are mainly focussed on worship resources, so we’ve also put together a few notes here, to help you get on the right(s!) track for all your other print and digital communications.

 Artists, writers, photographers, musicians and designers invest years in honing their craft, hours creating their material and small fortunes on the equipment they use. This all costs time, skill and money; copyright is there to support their rights in the work they create.

The moment anything is created from scratch: a photo, a poem, some text, a song or any other material you can possibly imagine; a new copyright exists and there is a rightsholder. If you want to include any material in your church communications that someone else created, you must ask the rightsholder for permission. This gives them the opportunity to benefit from their work.

 Occasionally, a creator might release material under a special licence that may allow you to use it freely, but if you are not absolutely certain that the licence covers what you want to do, it’s always best to ask.

There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, anything released by a church can be seen as commercial use, because it relates to a business organisation, even if you are a charity or not-for-profit; secondly, religion can be a very sensitive area, so asking permission gives a rightsholder the opportunity to refuse, if they are not comfortable with their material being used in this way.

 A permission is a formal request that shows the rightsholder what you want to use and how you want to use it. When asking for permission you should confirm: what your communication release is; what you want to use and how you will credit it; how many copies or users you expect; where it will be available; whether it is in print or online and how long it will be available for.

Some rightsholders might want to see their material in the context of the communication, or have other questions, but they’ll let you know if they want more detail.

 You need to allow plenty of time to get a permission; it can take 3-4 months, as you must give the rightsholder several chances to reply. You should consider sending a chase one month or so after your first request and then one more chase a month after that, allowing plenty of time for a response.

Many rightsholders are very happy for churches to use their material and may even grant permission for free, but always be prepared that some might refuse, or may charge a fee and have their own terms of use. You can try to negotiate if the fee is too high, but if you cannot get a fee that works for your budget (if you have one!) then you must remove the material.

Unfortunately, sometimes you won’t be able to find the rightsholder or, if you can find them, you can’t get a reply. If that happens, you must remove the material. Do not try to adapt or redraw the material instead, as usually an adaptation still requires permission from the rightsholder.

Recently, there have been some cases where churches have been challenged by rightsholders for using material without permission. These rightsholders have charged penalty fees, in addition to the permissions fee that would have been due in the first place and the total charges have come to several hundred pounds in each case, which is a large, unexpected cost to bear.

Most of these challenges involved recent photographs, which are often available quite easily through stock libraries. Although stock libraries charge fees, there are some that can be very reasonable. Some work on a one-time fee per image, such as Alamy and Mary Evans; others work on a credits system like Adobe and Shutterstock.  (These sites are for guidance and not recommendation.) 

Generally, you should expect to pay a fee of between £25 and £100 for an image from a reputable library or rightsholder. Some images cost a lot more, so you might want to look for a couple of options, just in case. If a fee sounds too good to be true, be wary that the rightsholder might not be getting their fair share.

If you are using any photos that include people, they should also sign a separate consent form. You can find out more in the Photography and Video Consent guidelines and policies. The Policies section includes consent forms for minors, but you would also need signed forms for any adults. If you are using images from a stock library, they may have already got consent, or be able to confirm when it is not needed.

Be careful with disreputable stock libraries that state that their images are free to use. Often they call themselves community libraries and there have been occasions where images has been made available on these without the rightsholders knowing, which has later caused problems with fines and infringement.

Photographic rights can be complicated, so be careful and do not go ahead if you are unsure. If you cannot be certain an image is definitely safe to use and cannot get permission, or order it from a reputable stock library for a fee that works for you, do not use it.

Copyright is there to support the creators and the rightsholders. There is a lot of wonderful material out there, with generous rightsholders who are happy to give permission to churches, so you should be able to find just the text or image to complement your communications without risking any infringement. However, if you cannot get the permission to use your first choice, remember: A picture may paint a thousand words, but sometimes it can be better to use the words, especially if they’re all your own!

Miss Beth Dufour
Freelance Permissions Editor – ClearPermissions

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