There’s been a lot of discussion recently about legal issues surrounding the intellectual property rights to a pastor’s sermons, sparked by a recent Christianity Today article. According to author Bob Smietana:
“When it comes to intellectual property rights, pastors and churches have three basic options:
1. A pastor can set up a separate nonprofit ministry, which holds the copyright to his sermons. The nonprofit ministry can then handle the proceeds from royalties, speaking engagements, and broadcast appearances outside the church.
2. The pastor does all the writing—for sermons and for books—on personal time, using his or her own computer and software. In that case, pastors would have to reimburse their churches for sermon copies made by staff or using church equipment, reproducing the sermon on audio and so forth. The church and pastor would also sign a written contract that assigns all the intellectual property rights to the pastor.
3. The pastor can assign all the rights to the church. The second approach involved too many headaches for Mike Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, a megachurch south of Nashville. So when Glenn finished his recent book The Gospel of Yes, he assigned all the copyrights to the church. “In a way it was a relief to say to the church, ‘This is yours,'” said Glenn.
Brentwood Baptist is one of a number of congregations with a formal intellectual property policy for staff. It’s pretty straightforward: Anything that staff members create as part of their job duties—[such as] the pastor’s sermons—belongs to the church as work for hire. Anything staff members create during their spare time, using their own resources, belongs to them.
The rights to anything that’s created using substantial church resources—[such as] books or songs—are transferred from the staff member to the church, under an agreement signed by both parties.
“Preaching is the main part of my job, so the sermons belong to the church,” said Glenn. “At some time, the church might decide to give me the rights. But they belong to the church.”
LifeChurch.tv, an Edmond, Okla.-based multisite congregation, has a similar intellectual property policy. The church gives away all of it resources, including sermon videos, children’s curricula, and its YouVersion Bible app. So it was essential for them to have a clear intellectual property policy, said Bobby Gruenewald, innovation leader at LifeChurch.tv. “If we are going to give away content for free, we couldn’t be in a situation where we are paying royalties.”
The church also holds copyrights to all of the sermons by LifeChurch.tv pastor Craig Groeschel, who has written several books; but he wrote them on his own time, then adapted them for sermon series.” (Click here to read the full article.)