Church Staff Intellectual Property Rights

Started by JMK, October 06, 2015, 03:18:58 PM

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JMK

I have a question that I think was explored at one time. But, I don't remember how well it was hashed out. It has to do with intellectual property that a pastor or staff member puts together while serving in a parish. The question relates to clergy putting together material that can be used for books sold, or church secretaries that put material together involving templates that are given away and/or used at other churches for a fee? Or, it could also apply to music ministers that compose songs that are copyrighted for their own use while being in a staff position. How have you all thought through the ethics of copyright jurisdiction?

Can a church tell their staff (secretaries, music ministers, etc.) that whatever they produce is not really their intellectual property to do as they please? Or, is it a shared arrangement?


Eileen Smith

Interesting topic!  Unfortunately, I have no answer except to say that in the private sector positions I held I always signed ethics agreements allowing that anything that I developed was owned by the company. 

Would it be possible to say a bit more about your question - is there a specific situation that you are questioning.  The reason I ask is that I could see where a pastor might develop something that s/he might wish to take to a next call.  Two musicians came to mind, Calvin Hampton and Charles Schramm - both of whom served congregations but were prolific composers (most especially Hampton).   I know that the the congregation(s) that Schramm served did sing his music; however, it was copyrighted by Shramm and distributed, I believe, by CPH.  All that to say that I am not certain a musician would write solely for a congregation - although I could be very wrong. 




JMK

QuoteInteresting topic!  Unfortunately, I have no answer except to say that in the private sector positions I held I always signed ethics agreements allowing that anything that I developed was owned by the company.

Would it be possible to say a bit more about your question - is there a specific situation that you are questioning... - Eileen

Thanks for your comment.

Well, the question first came up when a certain secretary who created templates (in conjunction with a senior pastor) was requested by a church really close by to provide their templates for free so that they would not have to pay for a competent secretary to create similar templates for their own purposes. Part of me thinks, "freely you have been given, freely give." On the other hand,???.... (I honestly don't know what to think). Is it the senior pastor who owns the intellectual property (i.e. templates), is it the church as a whole or is it some sort of combination of both - like in a marriage? The question got me thinking about a whole host of other questions related to intellectual property rights in the church.

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: Johannes Andreas Quenstedt on October 06, 2015, 04:24:42 PM
QuoteInteresting topic!  Unfortunately, I have no answer except to say that in the private sector positions I held I always signed ethics agreements allowing that anything that I developed was owned by the company.

Would it be possible to say a bit more about your question - is there a specific situation that you are questioning... - Eileen

Thanks for your comment.

Well, the question first came up when a certain secretary who created templates (in conjunction with a senior pastor) was requested by a church really close by to provide their templates for free so that they would not have to pay for a competent secretary to create similar templates for their own purposes. Part of me thinks, "freely you have been given, freely give." On the other hand,???.... (I honestly don't know what to think). Is it the senior pastor who owns the intellectual property (i.e. templates), is it the church as a whole or is it some sort of combination of both - like in a marriage? The question got me thinking about a whole host of other questions related to intellectual property rights in the church.


The discussion could even include sermons. Do they belong to the pastor or to the congregation that has paid the pastor to produce those sermons?
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Mark Brown

This is actually a fascinating question, although probably not really a practical one as I doubt many churches would feel moved to sue a former employee over IP rights.  But, given that, most employees for private and public companies give up IP rights as part of taking the job.  Tech workers often can and do negotiate opt out clauses from such automatic granting of all IP to the company, but most don't or don't have the negotiating leverage.  But Pastors and ministerial folks get real interesting.  They are in that category of not really employees.  This is actually how all the "star" mega-church pastors make the big bucks.  They have the platform as the minister of the church, but everything they produce, even sermons given at the church, is their IP.  They turn around and sell the IP in books for which the advance or any payments goes directly to the person.

This is one place where Rick Warren, unless he has changed, should probably be commended.  When he sold a bazillion copies of the Purpose Driven Life, he first gave 90% and then 99% of the proceeds away.  He kept enough to pay the taxes.

Charles Austin

Eileen is correct. When I worked for newspapers, there was no such agreement and I would have been able to use some things I created for the newspapers in other works (sometimes bounded by the usual copyright regulations.) And I suppose one could ask a church employee to sign an agreement that things created - computer programs, templates, spreadsheet applications - belonged to the church and any money they earned was the church's money.
But without such an agreement....
Iowa-born. Long-time in NY/New Jersey, former LWF staff in Geneva.
ELCA PASTOR, ordained 1967. Former journalist. Retired in Minneapolis.
GUILTY on ALL 34 counts

Eileen Smith

Quote from: Johannes Andreas Quenstedt on October 06, 2015, 04:24:42 PM
QuoteInteresting topic!  Unfortunately, I have no answer except to say that in the private sector positions I held I always signed ethics agreements allowing that anything that I developed was owned by the company.

Would it be possible to say a bit more about your question - is there a specific situation that you are questioning... - Eileen

Thanks for your comment.

Well, the question first came up when a certain secretary who created templates (in conjunction with a senior pastor) was requested by a church really close by to provide their templates for free so that they would not have to pay for a competent secretary to create similar templates for their own purposes. Part of me thinks, "freely you have been given, freely give." On the other hand,???.... (I honestly don't know what to think). Is it the senior pastor who owns the intellectual property (i.e. templates), is it the church as a whole or is it some sort of combination of both - like in a marriage? The question got me thinking about a whole host of other questions related to intellectual property rights in the church.

Thanks for the clarification.  Again, it really is a very interesting area to explore.  On the one hand, I think of someone like Peter Steinke who has developed church programs and training for those programs at a cost.  On the other hand I think of a pastor I know who has had tremendous success (if that's the right word to use) retaining young people through a program she calls Confirmandos.  She has said that she would like to put this program down on paper and share it (freely).  She also started a senior group years ago in her congregation which has also been very successful.  I am one of several with whom she shared her blueprint for this program.  I brought it into our congregation and it has worked beautifully.  We have at least 25 seniors a month and organizations are knocking on our door wanting to speak.   If the work of the church is to make God known - that might mean sharing with our neighbor, albeit our frugal neighbor.  But, I look forward to more responses as I really do think the topic is one worth pursuing.   

Jim Butler

Quote from: Charles Austin on October 06, 2015, 04:52:13 PM
Eileen is correct. When I worked for newspapers, there was no such agreement and I would have been able to use some things I created for the newspapers in other works (sometimes bounded by the usual copyright regulations.) And I suppose one could ask a church employee to sign an agreement that things created - computer programs, templates, spreadsheet applications - belonged to the church and any money they earned was the church's money.
But without such an agreement....

This is actually a very difficult legal question. An argument can be made that sermons and other related items are "work for hire" and covered under those arrangements. There was a huge argument between the family of Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral over his work. The family claimed he owned the copyright; the church claimed it did.

There was an article on this subject in Christianity Today a while back: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/january-february/who-owns-sermon-church-pastor.html?share=a2orwfI/ZxKM5jU9DfDR3eGBP%20TKiD67

Here is another article on the topic:

http://www.churchlawandtax.com/blog/2011/september/who-owns-pastors-sermons.html
"Pastor Butler... [is] deaf to the cries of people like me, dismissing our concerns as Satanic scenarios, denouncing our faith and our very existence."--Charles Austin

Jim_Krauser

I'm sure I'm unrealistic or idealistic in this but when it comes to church work product I'm one who has always believed there should be no copyright protection provided others do not seek to use the material for profit.

My reasoning is thus:  those who create such materials as part of their employment have been compensated already; those for whom it was created have received and used what they have paid for and are entitled to nothing else in return for it, if they share it with others.


Distinctions might be made I suppose for musicians who are compensated for actual performance while material created for perform might be considered their own.
Jim Krauser

Pastor-Grace Evang. Lutheran Church, North Bellmore, NY

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