Who Owns Your Content? The Church or You?

IP snip it

When a church employee writes a song, who owns it?

When a church employee creates a video for the church, can they sell it to another church?

When a church employee writes curriculum for a regional literature company, who gets paid?

When a church employee writes a book, who owns the content?

And if you have answers to all those questions, what if in all those cases the employee used church resources to create those things (computer, time, and other staff)?

If your church and its leadership don’t have answers to these questions, you‘re potentially setting yourself up for tenuous personnel situations, such as: employees abusing the church’s resources, your church abusing the employee’s talent, and perhaps even litigation.

As I did above, I could provide countless examples of intellectual property occurrences, but the point is your church needs to have a policy that deals effectively with intellectual property rights as situations occur.

“Music City,” the city I live in has a lot of talented people. And this means the church I serve has a lot of talented people, including its employees. This means there’s a lot of intellectual property (IP) being developed around me. And whether your church is in a “music city” or not, you no doubt have talented people. Talented enough they get paid to create content in their talent-field.

In my church’s case, it means we need a policy to clarify IP ownership. Our church leadership had the foresight to create a policy years ago. It clearly delineated which IP was the church’s and which was the employee’s. Over time, as more of our church staff created IP, we found that our policy only addressed a portion of the various styles of IP. It dealt greatly with book writing, but not as much with other areas.

In developing a revised policy, we collaborated and learned from some experts in the field. As a team, we had four goals in revising our IP rights policy:

  1. Protect Brentwood Baptist Church
  2. Protect Brentwood Baptist employees
  3. Inspire and allow for creativity among employees
  4. Clearly state to all impacted how we handle IP

After several drafts, we were able to accomplish those goals and develop a policy. The policy itself is lengthy and goes into quite a bit of detail. We also created examples of IP types that are produced and how we handle each one. I’ve included an abridged version of this policy here.

We determined that all IP will be allocated into one of three buckets: 1) “Employee Created – assigned to Church,” 2) Work for Hire—owned by Church,” 3) Employee Creation – not owned by Church. For each bucket, we have supporting material to deal with the various nuances of each.

If you would like to view our full policy or the other supporting documents, you can link to my website’s free resources.

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