A Conversation about Using Copyrighted Materials at Home and Church
June 1985

“A Conversation about Using Copyrighted Materials at Home and Church,” Ensign, June 1985, 76–77

A Conversation about Using Copyrighted Materials at Home and Church

Because questions are often asked about the use of copyrighted materials in Church activities, the Ensign spoke with Carl Johnson, manager of the Church Copyrights and Permissions Office, in an attempt to answer most frequently asked questions.

Q: What is copyright and why is it important?

A: Copyright is the protection given by law to “original works of authorship” such as literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works as well as art, photography, sculpture, and audiovisual and sound recordings.

Q: How can I tell if a work is copyrighted?

A: All unpublished work is automatically protected by copyright. Works published in the United States should bear a notice such as “Copyright ©1985 by John Smith.” Materials published without the copyright notice affixed can be presumed to be in the public domain and can be freely copied or used.

Q: If material is copyrighted, does one automatically assume that it can’t be copied?

A: Not necessarily. You may do anything you want with copyrighted material, provided you first get the owner’s permission. Also, the law allows limited use of copyrighted works for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (which includes multiple copies for classroom use, but not for sale), scholarship, or research.

Q: Does that mean it’s all right to photocopy published materials to pass out in Relief Society classes, family home evenings, and so forth?

A: On uncopyrighted materials there is no problem. If materials are copyrighted by the Church (by Corporation of the President or by the earlier designations of Trustee-in-trust, Deseret Sunday School Union, etc., of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), it is permissible to make copies for use in home or Church activities but not for any commercial use. In magazines or manuals the Church may frequently reproduce songs, poetry, paintings, or other materials that are not owned by the Church but are used by permission. Where this appears to be the case, the Church has no authority to permit additional usage and caution should be taken. But making copies may still be permissible if the situation meets the requirements explained in the answer to the previous question.

Patterns or instructions for making clothing, needlework, dolls, toys, and similar items copyrighted by anyone other than the Church should not be duplicated for group handicraft sessions. The copying of any item that would otherwise be purchased is viewed as adversely affecting the market for that item.

Q: Can I photocopy music to provide enough copies for the ward choir?

A: For music copyrighted by anyone other than the Church, definitely not. Other churches have been held liable in multimillion dollar lawsuits for such practices. However, it is generally permissible to reproduce music copyrighted by the Church on programs handed out to the congregation for stake conferences or other large gatherings. (The copyright notices must be reproduced with the music.) Remember that not all music appearing in Church publications is owned by the Church; only Church-copyrighted music can be duplicated on such occasions.

Q: Without permission, may we perform plays and musicals copyrighted by anyone other than the Church, if no admission is charged?

A: No. Performance of all or part of a copyrighted play in a Church building or other public place requires the permission of the copyright owner, whether or not admission is charged. If the copyright is owned by the Church, such permission is not required.

Q: Is it all right to write our own words to popular songs and perform them in roadshows?

A: Copyrighted music may be played if there is no admission charged and none of the performers or directors are paid. Such music may be played as an accompaniment or as part of an original skit or road-show. Recordings of such music may also be used.

Q: Are there any problems in showing rented movies on VCR sets, either at a meetinghouse or at a member’s home where a class or priesthood quorum is gathered for a social?

A: There could be. The prerecorded videocassettes and videodiscs most commonly available for rent or purchase are designated for home use only. The purchaser or renter may not exhibit such materials in any type of public performance beyond the scope of the family and close social acquaintances. Class or quorum activities (even if held in the home) would be considered a public performance.

Q: What about using commercial recordings, videotapes, and instruction manuals in ward or stake approved aerobic exercise classes?

A: Check materials carefully for any notice of restrictions or requirements before using. If no such warnings exist, books and records may be utilized. Also, some video recordings of this type carry specific statements allowing group use, and so may be used without any problem.

Q: Three questions: 1) May I tape general conference and other Church-related events on my audio or video tape recorders at home? 2) May I duplicate Church-produced films and videos? 3) May my church unit record Church-sponsored satellite broadcasts?

A: 1) Yes. Individuals may record any program broadcast over television or radio for their own personal, noncommercial use.

2) No. Church-made films and video materials must not be duplicated—either by individuals or Church units—except as directed or approved by Church Headquarters.

3) Yes. When a satellite broadcast is intended for recording—such as general conference or a Church fireside—a statement of permission to record for Church purposes is included in the notice of the broadcast. Each meeting-house in a stake is authorized to have a copy of such broadcasts in its library, and copyright notices shown in the telecast must be included on and in each copy. No commercial gain is allowed—that is, copies must not be sold or rented and no admission fees can be charged. “Music and the Spoken Word,” BYU sports events, and other programs which are also broadcast by commercial stations must not be reproduced by local Church units unless specific permission is granted by the sponsors and copyright owners.

Photography by Longin Lonczyna