The Legal Use of Videos

The Legal Use of Videos

Posted on 25. Feb, 2009 by in Audio & Video, Technology


Before reading any of the legal information on this site, be advised that I am not a lawyer!!!  I am a church planter that has looked up some information on the legal use of video for my own understanding. I am sharing with you what I have found on the internet about the subject. I have not consulted a copyright or fair use attorney or any other legal counsel. It is your responsibility to know the law and determine whether or not your use of a copywrited video is legal. 

Further, if you want to know more about this topic seek legal counsel.  Keep in mind that it is best to talk to an attorney that is working for you! Attorneys are hired to protect people’s legal right. If you talk to a lawyer representing a motion picture company or a company that provides a user license agreement for motion pictures, that lawyer is likely to be more concerned with protecting the copyright holder’s rights than your rights. As you will see in this posting there are two protections given by US law, one for the copyright holder and one for the end user. If you want to know what your rights are for the legal use of video clips, I think that talking to an attorney that is represnting you the user and not the copyright holder makes more sense. Think of it this way, who should you ask if you need to buy an umbrella for protection: an umbrella salesman or a meterologist?

Is it legal to use copyrighted material such as movies and television shows as illustrations in your sermon?

There is no clear-cut, black and white answer to this question. Issues regarding use of videos falls under two areas of the law: “copyright” and “fair use.” To briefly summarize the two: copyright protects the producerand fair use offers protection for the user. The US House report no. 94–1476 states: Although the courts have considered and ruled upon the fair use doctrine over and over again, no real definition of the concept has ever emerged. Indeed, since the doctrine is an equitable rule of reason, no generally applicable definition is possible, and each case raising the question must be decided on its own facts. On the other hand, the courts have evolved a set of criteria which, though in no case definitive or determinative, provide some gauge for balancing the equities. These criteria have been stated in various ways, but essentially they can all be reduced to the four standards which have been adopted in section 107. (see the next heading)

Whether or not the use of any copyighted work is considered fair use is a very subjective conclusion. The Supreme Court has rendered several split decisions on Fair Use cases and the decision is often changed back and forth as it goes through the District Court and the Court of Appeals. This goes to show that even well-educated jurists are capable of disagreeing on the application of this doctrine.  Copyright Office document FL102 puts it this way: “The distinction between ‘fair use’ and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.” I think the way that courts have ruled on copyright/fair use is on the side of being able to use movie/tv clips for sermon illustrations. The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law., provides the following examples of activities that courts have held to be fair use:  Quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment;  Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work or illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; Reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson. The way that a video clip is used in a sermon is similar to these uses. Read on for some more current examples of case law involving fair use and the similarities to how pastor’s can use movie and television clips in sermons.

The Four Standards for Determining What is Fair Use of a Copyrighted Work (Video)

This is taken from the UNITED STATES CODE: TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > SECTION 107, Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The US House report no. 94–1476 also says this about section 107:
“…they give some idea of the sort of activities the courts might regard as fair use under the circumstances… reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson…”

The fair use statute favors a Bible teacher’s fair use of a copyrighted video clip in the following areas.

Based on what I have read, here are my observations, remember I am not a lawyer.

  1. The first is that it is a non-commercial use and such use would likely not cause the court to assume market harm to the copyright license holder.  In other words, is someone less likely to rent or buy a movie like The Truman Show because you used a 30 second clip of it in your sermon?  If anything, the use of a video clip in a sermon would probably make people more likely to go out and purchase or rent the video.  I have been asked more than once about the video clips I have shown on a Sunday morning by attendees that wanted to go rent or buy a movie that I showed a clip from in a sermon. In Hofheinz v. Discovery Communs., Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14752 (SNDY 2001) the court ruled in favor of fair use and said it was because the quoted material did not substitute for the viewing of the original films, and the clips were used for the transformative purpose of enriching the commentary. Using a clip to enrich a sermon is a similar parallel pointing to a transformitive use (see #4 below for further discussion on “transformative”). Based on the comment that CVLI’s lawyer posted on this site, CVLI’s position is that the use of movie clips would harm their ability to collect licensing fees and thus cause market harm. William Patry, who according to his blog (The Patry of Copyright Blog) is a copyright lawyer, points out that potential licensing revenue is currently an unsolved conundrum. “Hence a perceived dilemma: if one includes the potential loss of licensing fees in evaluating the fourth factor (and the defense as a whole), are you prematurely making a decision that the use isn’t fair, thereby prejudicing the outcome. On the other hand, if you exclude potential lost licensing fees on that ground, aren’t you also prejudicing the outcome the opposite direction?” This makes looking at other factors in fair use likely more pertinent to deciding a case involving the use of movie clips as a sermon illustration. There is an interesting comment on Patry’s blog about this topic: “Lost licensing opportunity has always bothered me a bit because, as you said, it assumes the use is unfair and, of course, virtually all copyright owners want to be paid a license for use. I prefer that this factor focus more on the “superseded the market” theory – that the consumer will no longer be interested in paying for the plaintiff’s work because they have, essentially, experienced the work through defendant’s work. On the other hand, if there will still be a market for plaintiff’s work, then the factor should way in favor of defendant. In other words, are people no longer going to buy andread “Gone With The Wind” because they read “WindDone Gone”? I think not.” I thought it was interesting to find someone else come to the same conclusion I did when it comes to determining what it means to “effect potential market value”. Every copyright holder could create a licensing program similar to what CVLI has done for every derivative use of their original created work even if that use falls under the fair use provision.  
  2. The length of the clip used in relation to the length of the whole work is ought to be small. One of the things that is often looked at by the courts is how much of the plot of the movie is contained in the clip. In other words, would someone get the gist of the movie’s plot from watching the clip. This was one of the factors in Hofheinz v. Discovery Communications, Inc., 2001 that upheld fair use. Also in Monster Communications v. Turner Broadcasting System, 1996 concerning a TNT made-for-TV documentary, Ali-The Whole Story, which used two minutes of clips from When We Were Kings. The court found that the material taken was small, both quantitatively and qualititatively, and that the commercial prospects of the original film were not likely to be affected. If on the other hand you were doing a marriage sermon series and are showing key parts of a movie like fireproof each week for several weeks; you are giving people no reason to need to see the movie. After watching so much of the key parts of the movie at your church, people will feel like they’ve already seen the movie and have no need or desire to pay to see the movie. In this case it could be ruled that you are effecting the potential market value of the copyrighted work and not covered under the fair use provision. As you will see in other posts on this subject about using video, shorter clips are better anyway for sermon illustrations. You want people focused on the storyline of the biblical text and not the movie’s storyline.  Keep in mind though that even if only a small portion of the work is used, if that portion is “qualitatively substantial,” e.g., if the portion used is essentially the heart of the work, that use will be deemed to have been “substantial,” and could go against a finding of fair use. This was why the court ruled against fair use in Roy Export Co. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, 503 F.Supp. 1137 (S.D.N.Y. 1980). Even though they only used 55 seconds of 89-minute film it was deemed “qualitatively substantial”.
  3. A good pastor is using the 25-45 minutes they have on Sunday mornings for biblical education. Therefore, the use of a video clip is for “nonprofit educational purposes.” I went in search of finding out whether or not “educational use” was limited to a degree-based school or classroom setting and it isn’t: see Consumers Union v. General Signal Corp., 724 F.2d 1044, 1047 (2nd Cir. 1983).  In this case the use of one of Consumer Report magazine’s reviews of a vacuum cleaner in an advertisement was a fair use, in part because the purpose and character of the advertisement was in part to educate consumers. Churches have long been a center for community education. Small group and Sunday school studieson things like marriage and parenting are as educationalas anything I have witnessed at a secular community educational center.  Further, while the term “sermon” has a variety of different meanings to people, for me the sermon in a church servce is a time for teaching God’s word. The aim of the sermon is to both educate people about what God’s Word says and exhort people to do what it says. Again I am not a lawyer, but I don’t see why a  court would limit the definition of “educational purpose” to exclude religious education, especially if the difinition of education can include teaching the general public about a vacuum. On the other hand, I have been in a number of churches that seem to use the Sunday morning church time more for “entertaining people in Jesus’ name.” If Christian entertainment is one’s purpose at a church meeting, then it would be harder for someone to argue that it is an educational setting.       
  4. In 1994 the courts indicated that a critical consideration in evaluating most (if not all) of the above 4 factors, is whether the use can be considered “transformative” – whether it “adds something new, with a further purpose of different character…” If that is the case, the first factor can weigh in favor of fair use even if the use is “commercial” in character. Using a movie clip to illustrate and teach a biblical truth is “transformative”, adding something new with a further purpose of different character. This is similar to the way that documentary film makers use video clips to illustrate things. (Read below about the Standard of Best Practices by Documentary Film Makers and you’ll see the parallels to the use of a video clip in a sermon.) For instance, using a clip that gives the congregation an insight as to how people today view marriage or God is using that clip in a different way than it was used in the movie and is a transformation of the context and setting of the scene. The scene as it us shown in the sermon is no longer a part of the movie’s plot, but rather it’s a window into how pop culture views marriage and God. Further, the church’s goals and agenda for using a video clip in a sermon is to teach God’s Word and make fully developed followers of Jesus Christ. That is certainly a transformation of what the original directors intended, except perhaps in the the case of a movie like The Passion of the Christ or a movie like Fireproof. But keep in mind that if the clip you are using isn’t closely connected to the sermon and is used more to “get a laugh” or to “entertain” people, then you are moving in a direction that is outside the fair use protection. This was the case with Elvis Presley Enters., Inc. v. Passport Video, 2003.  Passport Video’s fair use claim was denied by the courts because in their 16-part video documentary on Elvis Presley’s life there were extended performance scenes of Elvis Presley that were unrelated to the narrative voice-over. These clips were not deemed to be used in a transformativemannersincetheywere not used by the documentary film maker to illustrate a point, and thus were not covered by fair use.  The following quote from the case is of note, stating that the extended concert footage used “serves the same intrinsic entertainment value that is protected by Plaintiff’s copyrights.” What the courts were saying in the ruling was that the way they used other clips of Elvis performing was ok because they were using it to illustrate something whereas in this instance they were using the clip of Elvis singing to entertain the documentary film’s audience in the same way that the copyright holder would seek to use the clip.
  5. Another thing that weighs in on this issue is a comment from the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2006 fair use case concerning the use of photos of the Grateful Dead. The decision in this case notes that “most fair uses are conducted for profit.” In other words, the motion picture and television industry to date hasn’t looked to seek a definitive decision from the courts regarding the nonprofit use of video clips in churches or other similar non-profit institutions. Perhaps in the future they might, but it seems for now that the use of a minor portion of a TV show or movie for a non-profit use isn’t something they have felt was worth the legal fees to get the courts to draw a line between fair use and copyright. Or it might be beacause the use of video clips as sermon illustrations are in fact within the fair use provision. We don’t know the reasons, all we know is that as of 2006 the bulk of fair use case law concerns for profit uses. 

Do I need a license from CVLI (Church Video Licensing International)?

It’s up to you to make this decision.  Once again, I would encourage you to consult a fair use attorney that works for you instead of just calling up CVLI and asking their legal department if they think you need to buy a license from them.  Whether or not you need a license depends on what video clips you plan to use and how you use them. I do not use  CVLI for two reasons.  The first because I feel that the way that I use videos is already allowed under the “fair use” provisions of the law.  The second is because CVLI does not provide protection for the way I use video clips and it does not provide permission for some of the video clips I use.  Read below what I mean.

  •  The license only allows you to play the video clip from the original source in an unaltered form.
    Here is an exerptfromtheLicensing Terms for CVLI  1. Christian Video Licensing International, LLC (“CVLI”) grants LICENSEE a non-exclusive license (” License”) to publicly perform copyrighted motion pictures andotherlicensedprograms from any legally obtained source intended for personal, private, home use only – such as home videocassettes and DVDs, in its facility(ies), under the Terms and Conditions specified herein.  8. LICENSEE may not duplicate, edit or otherwise modify the Videos obtained for public performance purposes under the Agreement. Therefor you cannot capture a clip off a DVD or use a movie clip downloaded from YouTube and be covered by CVLI according to what I have read. Instead you would need to have a DVD player with the origional DVD in it and have the clip cued up and ready to play. This method takes a lot of practice and coordination to pull of smoothly in a service. If you do not have a good multi-video input source switcher, a sound booth TV monitor to make sure the video is cued up right, and a well trained A/V tech to switch the video input source and start and stop the video with percision, then you will have a really hard time using video clips in a worship service.  CVLI now has partnered with a company called which has some clips that do not require you to play the clip from the original source like a DVD or VHS. I haven’t read too much about this service, but it looks like in order to be able to download most of the clips you have to pay for a ScreenVuemembershipinaddition to paying for a CVLI license. If you want to limit your use of video to what is available from online companieslikethis then this is a viable option. If this is the route you take, then instead of reading up on fair use protections, I would recommend carefully reading all the parameters for use that are outlined in the user agreements for CVLI and 
  • The license only covers select motion picture companies. There are two levels of CVLI. The lower cost only covers a limited number of motion picture companies. The higher cost package covers most, but not all the major motion picture companies the last time I checked. Further, based on what I read none of the CVLI packages cover the use of television clips as of 11/1/2008. Here is an exerpt fromthe Licensing Terms for CVLI:  6. The specific titles which may be publicly performed by LICENSEE under the Agreement are motion pictures produced and/or distributed by CVLI affiliated motion picture companies only. CVLI represents that it or its motion picture company licensors may not possess the appropriate rights to certain individual titles, or, due to the expiration of those rights during the term of the Agreement. If you are relying solely on your CVLI license for protection, make sure you know exactly what clips you are allowed to use and use them exactly like they are licensing you to use them.

For more about CVLI and their Licensing Terms check it out here:

Links and Sources Used in this Article

Please be advised: The following documents and websites may or may not have not been authored or reviewed by a lawyer and should not be considered by the reader as legal advice. You are advised to seek legal counsel regarding all legal issues described in this document and those listed below.  Further reading on the legal issues regarding the fair use of copyrighted material can be found at the following sites:

Here is a extended quote from the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices In Fair Use

by Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers | Independent Feature Project | International Documentary Association | National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture | Women in Film and Video, Washington, D.C., Chapter | Quoted from Pages 6 & 7


Here the concern is with material (again of whatever kind) that is quoted not because it is, in itself, the object of critique but because it aptly illustrates some argument or point that a film maker is developing—as clips from fiction films might be used (for example) to demonstrate changing American attitudes toward race.

PRINCIPLE: Once again, this sort of quotation should generally be considered as fair use. The possibility that the quotes might entertain and engage an audience as well as illustrate a fi lmmaker’s argument takes nothing away from the fair use claim. Works of popular culture typically have illustrative power, and in analogous situations, writers in print media do not hesitate to use illustrative quotations (both words and images). In documentary film making, such a privileged use will be both subordinate to the larger intellectual or artistic purpose of the documentary and important to its realization. The film maker is not presenting the quoted material for its original purpose but harnessing it for a new one. This is an attempt to add significant new value, not a form of “free riding”
—the mere exploitation of existing value.

LIMITATIONS: Documentarians will be best positioned to assert fair use claims if they assure that:
_ the material is properly attributed, either through an accompanying on-screen identification or a mention in the fi lm’s fi nal credits;
_ to the extent possible and appropriate, quotations are drawn from a range of different sources;
_ each quotation (however many may be employed to create an overall pattern of illustrations) is no longer than is necessary to achieve the intended effect;
_ the quoted material is not employed merely in order to avoid the cost or inconvenience of shooting equivalent footage.

Parallels Between Sermon Illustrations and Documentary Illustrations

Since there are few (or none) court decisions that involve the use of video clips in sermons, we have to lookat court rulings in parallel fields to shape our understanding of how the court would rule if such a case were to come before the courts. The closest parallels that I have found are the use of video clips by documentary filmmakers. There are quite a few cases that have been decided in which the courts have drawn a line between fair use andcopyrightprotections concerning documentaries. If you know of any court cases that involve a church or invovleause that has similarities to how a vidoe clip is would be used in a sermon setting please let me know by leaving a comment.

When preaching on the John 8:32, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” my goal that morning was to teach what Jesus meant when he said “the truth will set you free.” I started the message off by using video clips to illustrate the pervasive misuse of Jesus’ words. There were several 1-5 second clips of people saying “and the truth will set you free!” One of the clips in that montage was from the movie Liar Liar where Jim Carry is in the court room and says the quote at the end of his court case. This use is very similar to how documentary film makers use video clips to illustrate things. The use of the clips in this montage closely followed the Best Practices In Fair Use listed above. 

Another way that I have used videos is to illustrate how lost people think about Church and Christianity. The world of television and moviesprovidesawindowinto pop culture. The clips used in this series were taken from Seinfeld, Desperate Housewives, and a few other TV shows. The clips were set up by telling the audience what to lookfor in the clips, namely how Christians are perceived. Note the parallel of this use and the example given in the first paragraph under Best Practices in Fair Use above. In my case I was using the clips to show America’s attitude toward Church instead of race. The teaching that followed had to do with evangelism and how to reach people in our culture. The commentary given before andaftertheclips was very similar to the way a documentary filmmaker narrates the showing of video clips. What I am doing with the video clips in a live setting is the same as what the documentarianisdoing when recording the film with a voice-over narration.

Related posts:

  1. Where to Get Videos (Links)
  2. Getting Videos From YouTube to PowerPoint
  3. Using Video Clips in Sermons
  4. Other Video Uses at Church
  5. 5 Apps Every Church Planter Should Have



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19. Aug, 2013

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30. Apr, 2014

At they provide movie clips that are already approved for use in churches or schools to illustrate the sermon or teaching.
Most clips cost a few bucks but that’s a small fraction of the cost to license it any other way. They always have free promotional video clips from new movies.


30. Apr, 2014

At provides movie clips that are already approved for use in churches or schools to illustrate the sermon or teaching.
Most clips cost a few bucks but that’s a small fraction of the cost to license it any other way. They always have free promotional video clips from new movies.

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