We seek to honour the work of all God’s people.

Portraits of people of many cultures and ages are arranged in a circular pattern that seems to retreat into the distance, with the photos in the centre getting smaller and smaller.
Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Our commitment to being an anti-racist, intercultural, anti-oppressive, and affirming church compels us to…articulate other ways to honour music, words, and images, and to remunerate their creators, whether communities or particular persons.

The United Church of Canada seeks to honour and value equally the creative contributions of individuals and communities.

Copyright justice is one of the ways we reflect our commitments to becoming an intercultural, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and affirming church, and the work towards reconciliation and right relationships. A commitment to robust principles of copyright is a commitment to deepening just relationships and building the beloved community.

This page summarizes the theology explained in more detail in Living with Respect: A Theology of Copyright and a related blog on the Then Let Us Sing! website.

If you are looking for more details on copyright law as it applies to churches, visit The Presbyterian Church of Canada's excellent Copyright Information webpage.

Theological and Scriptural Reflections

Scriptural themes of love, justice, and care for community (including seeking the common good of all) inform this statement on a theology of copyright.

As followers of Jesus, we strive to live into the aspiration of well-being for all that Jesus proclaimed. We recognize that, for us as Christians, the kin-dom of God is “already” and “not yet” here—we live in this gap. At times, we are able to live into the fullness of life that Jesus calls us to; at other times, we fail to do so. This theology of copyright resource is a step towards helping us to live faithfully, by seeking the good of all with respect to creators of intellectual property, especially including musicians, composers, arrangers: all those whose creativity enlivens our worship and community of faith life together.

Legal, Moral, and Community Obligations

Copyright communicates what rights we have to copy, use, or make a duplicate of something that does not belong to us. Various factors complicate what it means to duplicate content and how rights are understood and communicated. If a sermon is inspired by the analysis of someone else, or if a musical composition borrows its main theme from another work, is this considered inspiration, tribute, or duplication? Who determines our rights to use the materials of others? What are we obliged to follow first: legal requirements, moral obligations, or community standards?

Honouring the Work of Individuals and Communities

A copyright license and crediting intellectual property to the creators recognizes, values, and compensates those who have put time, energy, thought, and prayer into creating content that enhances our lives together. Honouring the work that others have done happens in multiple ways, and in a Western cultural framework, payment is part of how we honour the work of others. This is true for worship and music resources within the church as well as within broader Canadian society.

At the same time, intellectual property, including especially worship and music, are often created and “owned” by community. A commitment to interculturality means that we must be aware that in many places, worship is experienced in community and “ownership” rests with the gathered community, rather than the person or persons who created/presented/shared it. Worship and worship resources are also often understood to belong to God.

We also recognize that in the United Church, due to colonialism and the resulting structural systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, etc., our system is skewed toward Western capitalist cultural practices. This has meant that it is easier for us to honour Euro-Western resources (music, words, images). Our commitment to being an anti-racist, intercultural, anti-oppressive, and affirming church compels us to go beyond this limited view and articulate other ways to honour music, words, and images, and to remunerate their creators, whether communities or particular persons.

Best Practices and Legal Requirements

It is suggested, at minimum, that all bodies of the church adhere to the following practices:

  • Follow all legal requirements around intellectual property laws. Refer to the Copyright Guide for Congregations for more information.
  • Attempt to deepen relationships. In using material that has not originated from your community, seek ways to deepen your understanding of the work, its intent, and the context that it came from.
  • Work towards reparation, restoration, and right relations. In the use of material that has not originated from you or your community, remunerate the creators of the work, value relationship over experience, and seek to restore broken relationships when work has been misused or exploited.
  • Seek justice and equity at all times. Advocate for creators to keep their copyright and be paid fairly for their work.