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?