Where Do You Get Your Videos? Part 7: Is it Legal?

This post is the seventh and final in a series in which I try to answer the question I’m asked most frequently when I preach, other than questions about the actual content, of course:

Where do you get your videos?

Part 3, was an interview with Brad Huddleston, an international expert on the use of technology in ministry.

Part 4, began the discussion of some of the technical and mechanical issues of downloading and editing video, which continued in Part 5.

In Part 6, I discussed video editing software.

In the final segment, Part 7 answers (sort of) the question: Is it legal to show copyrighted video clips in your teaching?

I have a strong and clear answer for you: Maybe. Well, probably. Kinda.

It is largely a subjective issue and appears to be getting moreso. There are, of course, copyright laws that, rightly, protect copyright owners and the content they own. However, the law also recognizes that it can be of benefit to the copyright owner, as well as society at large, to allow limited use (“fair use”) of copyrighted content without prior permission – such as the use of copyrighted content for teaching. You’ll find a discussion of that limited use here.

Actually, the answer is mostly yes to the question but the point is that there is no simple resolution. A better answer is, “It depends.”

As you might imagine, there is plenty of information available to you Internet-wide.

The difference with this post is that I’ll give you the highlights only and let you research the details elsewhere. See the video clip and reference sources below.

I am not an attorney and this isn’t legal advice. (Actually, I’m not sure who in their right mind would show up in court and decide to defend their actions by saying – “A blogger said it was OK.” But, in case that’s on your mind, make sure the judge reads this paragraph.)

When some friends and I formed a leadership, teaching and consulting company a few years back, we paid (handsomely) for legal advice on the issue.

Here, in essence, was the attorney’s advice on using video clips – particularly from movies – in our teaching:

  • It is legal based on the idea of fair use. The following cautions apply:
    • Focus on use in the activity of teaching and/or scholarship.
    • Be careful of the length you use. There is no “magic legal length” but avoid using a “substantial” amount of the work. I’ve always used 2-4 minutes for a 100-minute film as a guide.
    • Don’t use the name of the movie in the name of the sermon or teaching. For instance, avoid “Private Ryan Gets Saved” or “Remembering the Titans.”
    • Don’t promote the teaching/message based on the inclusion of the clip. In other words, if you advertise your church and/or sermon in the newspaper, do not make any reference to the clip.
    • Just because something is on YouTube – or anywhere else on the Internet for that matter – doesn’t mean it’s copyright free. However, many producers creating content under that scenario desire liberal use of their material.

The attorney also added that, when in doubt, ask yourself: Is my use of this video clip going to in any way harm the business prospects of the copyright owner?

I use video content, but I do it carefully. I stay away from newer films or recent television shows just to be additionally careful. Obviously integrity is crucial in the context of Biblical teaching and preaching.