Copyright Infringement on Your Church’s Website

by Heather Kimmel, UCC General Counsel

Many of you have heard me hammer on the topic of ensuring that you have a license for all the material that is on your website that you did not create. I am going to continue to raise this issue.

Over the past year, our Conferences, and some of our Local Churches, have collectively paid thousands of dollars to settle claims of copyright infringement relating to stock photography or downloaded images for which you have not purchased licenses being displayed on websites. Some of these include claims for images which were removed, but still existed in accessible “archive” files. These “archive” files are accessible by the automated “copyright bots” that troll websites looking for infringing materials. Copyright claims are 100% preventable on a going-forward basis.

Here are some tips:

  • If you get a letter that purports to be an agent of an artist alleging copyright infringement, do not ignore it. Call me, or call your Conference Attorney. (Let’s also not ignore the justice issue that intellectual property is valuable property, and people should be compensated for the use of their property.) The amount they are asking for may be negotiable.
  • Go through your website and take down all materials (photos, poems, articles) that are not owned by the Conference or for which you cannot establish that you have permission (a license) to use. Move any archives offline so that they are not accessible to the bots. While this not prevent all claims for past use, it will start the clock running on the ability of an owner to file a claim.
  • On a going-forward basis, document the permission/license you have for all content that you post which the Conference does not own.

As always, thanks for paying attention to these issues. Remember that copyright infringement claims are essentially strict liability and are not covered by insurance.