Who Owns a Pastor's Sermon?

Who Owns a Pastor's Sermon?

Intellectual Property Ownership in Churches

As a pastor and preacher, I produce a lot.  Sermons, liturgies, lesson plans, newsletters, articles, devotionals - the list can go on and on.  In addition to my many other hobbies, I like to read collections of sermons that have been published by other great preachers I admire.  I often like to humor myself and think that one day I, too, will publish a collection of sermons and liturgies that I have composed after many years as a preacher.  This brings up a perplexing question:

Who owns a pastor's sermon?

Up until recently, I was like most pastors who assumed that I had the right to use, distribute, and publish any sermon I wrote or any piece of liturgy I composed.  However, as it turns out, any and all sermons, liturgies, etc. that are produced while I'm employed at a church are legally the intellectual property of said church.

So the answer to my question of "who owns a pastor's sermon?"  Technically, the church and not the pastor.

This statement can be a little disconcerting for someone like me who is at the beginning of their career and is in the process of building a portfolio of things for future publishing.

In addition to my future aspirations of being published, it turns out that I'm breaking copyright law here and now!  I enjoy blogging and sharing my liturgy and sermons with others via the inter-webs but it turns out that, by doing so, I am currently breaking copyright laws by publishing materials I myself have composed!  

Well, dang.  What to do?  Well, as it turns out, a friend of mine is a lawyer in Atlanta who practices intellectual property law and she gave me some advice.  It turns out that a pastor can make an agreement with her or his church to maintain copyright ownership of all materials composed during their tenure at the church.

Therefore, what I'm doing with Shelter Island Presbyterian Church is that we are entering into our minutes (at our next session meeting) the following agreement that will be signed by the clerk of session and me.  This agreement was written by Elizabeth Borland who is a partner in an intellectual property practice and she has granted me permission to share this agreement on this website.  

“Effective as of [date], [name] shall be granted copyright ownership to all material, in form, content, and creative content, including to but not limited to sermons, hymns, and presentations, developed by him during his/her tenure at [name of church].  The church shall have the right to use [name]’s image and materials in its ministries without payment or royalties during his/her tenure.  Materials developed for use in the church may be produced and used without payments of royalties to [name] after his/her tenure ends.”

So if, at the end of the day, you're wondering who owns a pastor's sermon, I hope this is informative and helpful.  What is your experience with intellectual property concerns in the ministry?

While you're in this neck of the woods, click here for original advent liturgies and hymns by Stephen M. Fearing.


Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.