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Many churches and ministries use media for presentations (like MediaShout Worship Software), bulletins, websites, and other displays. There are tons of ways to access media all around us for our use. However, many churches don’t understand copyright and violate copyright laws (many times unintentionally). So, why is finding and using media legally important?

1) We are called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us,
2) Any media we use is to enhance and engage, not distract from the message,
3) Selecting media can not be random choices, but must be intentional,
4) And from a legal standpoint, we must have integrity and be above reproach.

So since copyright is so important, we have to take time and understand how it affects us (ignorance is not a valid excuse).


There are three main types of copyright options. Each has its place and we will discuss what each is and how we can use it legally:


“The public domain consists of all the creative works to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable.”
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain


“A Creative Commons (CC) license is a public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted ‘work’. A CC license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that the author has created.”
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license


“Copyright is a legal right, existing in many countries, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. This is usually only for a limited time.”
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright


Looking at the above graphic, you can see that Public Domain is at the top and Copyright is at the bottom. Between those two, you will see a number of options for Creative Commons which tells you how you can use something that is licensed that way. So, what do each of those symbols mean?

CC0 – nearest to Public Domain, a CC0 license means it is free to use, share, remix (edit), and use in commercial pieces.
BY – This means that you have to include attribution to the original creator of the work.
SA – This means Share-Alike (or “copyleft”) which means you can remix or edit the original work.
NC – This means Non-Commercial, which means you can not use it in commercial pieces. As a note, public use in churches may be considered commercial by some.
ND – This means No Derivatives, which means you can edit, add-to, or change the original media at all.

So, armed with this information, you can see that most churches will need to stay focused on CC0 or Public Domain media to prevent additional costs or legal issues. As a note, many media providers for the church will include a license to use and edit the media (but not distribute) when you purchase the license. Read the specific details and license from the provider for their specific restrictions.



One of the first places people go for media is Google Images. While this provides easy access to tons of images found all over the internet, many of these images are protected by copyright. However, Google does give us an easy way to filter out the images we can use in our church setting. In a Google Image search, you can click the TOOLS button on the right to change the settings for the Usage Rights to “Labeled for Reuse with Modification.”

Google Image Search Usage.png

However, understand that although an image may be labeled this way, it is still up to you to determine if the image is legally usable from the website. Although this often will work, it is risky.


There are some great websites out there that provide CC0 media (that cane be used in any Church Presentation Software) in an easily searchable format. Be aware that any of these sites may update to include non-CC0 media, so always check the license when downloading. Some of my favorites are:

Unsplash – Beautiful, free images and photos that you can download and use for any project.
Pexels – Free stock photos you can use everywhere. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.
Church Media Drop – Free Media For Churches by Churches – created to help churches share what they have created.
Barn Images – Beautiful high-resolution photography for everyone. Free for personal and commercial use. No attribution needed.

There are tons of other websites as well, but make sure you read any license to make sure they truly are CC0 websites (some sites will include a few CC0 images, but the majority will require a purchase or specific license that makes it difficult for churches to use in their worship software).


There are also some great church media providers who license their media for your use within the church for what you need. Many have subscription models that give you access to a ton of media while others will sell the media pieces a la carte. In either case, make sure you read their license carefully to know all that you can and can’t use them for. Some of my favorite church media providers are:

Worship House Media – One-stop shop for your church media and video ministry, featuring video illustrations, mini-movies, and more.
Twelve:Thirty Media – High-quality, low-cost video and graphic design content made specifically for your church.
Church Motion Graphics – Motion backgrounds, slide templates, and social graphics for churches.
Shift Worship – Creates worship backgrounds, videos, and print files to create a cohesive worship service.
MediaShout Plus Membership – Are you a MediaShout Presentation Software Customer? If so, our Plus Membership includes monthly background media packs that would look great in your church presentations! A monthly or yearly subscription will certainly help with this as well as tons of support options with us!

I’ve personally worked with all three of these companies and would highly recommend them for church media needs.


Often the discussion of YouTube videos comes up. According to YouTube’s Terms of Service (TOS), it is designed for personal use and does not permit downloading of videos outside of YouTube’s allowed abilities (for more information, check out YouTube’s TOS parts 4C, 5B, 6B, 6C, and 6D). Essentially, this means that YouTube videos can not be played in a public setting (like a church) and that you can’t use any type of third-party software or website to download YouTube videos. So, is there any way to actually use YouTube? There is!

1) Resource – use YouTube to find media that you like and could be beneficial for your service.
2) Contact Poster – Find out if they are the original poster and own the rights to all video and audio elements of the media.
3) Get Permission – Email the poster and ask permission to use the media in a public setting at your church.
4) Get Files – Request the original file from the poster (which is often better quality than what is on YouTube since those are compressed).
5) Present – Display the media in your church.

Of course, this is much more difficult than just simply downloading the file or
 playing it through the YouTube website, but it is the ONLY legal way to use YouTube.


Copyright was designed to not only protect the creator and their works but also provide a means for others to use the created work while compensating the creator (“…for the worker deserves his wages…” -Luke 10:7). Here are some additional things to remember about Copyright:

1) It sets a legal standard – as more legal cases are argued in court, the results can affect anyone who is involved in Copyright.
2) Don’t violate it – If you violate a Copyright (even with the best intentions), you can receive a large fine or other penalties.
3) Give it time – if you do try to license a copyrighted work, give yourself time to complete. It will not happen overnight.


You may hear some people mention “Fair Use” and that giving them permission to use copyrighted work. Unfortunately, that is not true. Fair Use is a defense stance when you have been taken to court for violation of Copyright. To meet a legal definition of Fair Use, it has to meet one of four requirements that a judge will decide if you actually met them. Fair Use does not give anyone permission to use Copyrighted work in any circumstance.


As you can see, there are great free and paid options for media out there specifically for churches. Remember that if you want to get Copyrighted or protected media, that you do it legally. No matter the size of your church, you are called to be good stewards, full of integrity, and above reproach. Just because something is easy to do, does not make it legal or right. Make sure you are following the legal precedents that are set as well as what scripture says and you will be just fine. However, if you have any questions about a specific need, feel free to reach out to us. Do you have any suggestions for great places to get media? Feel free to let us know.

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