Sunday Software


Copyright Guidelines for Christian Educators

by Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software

~An article written with Rotation Model churches, Computer labs and Resource Centers in mind~


Copying a product to avoid purchasing it is stealing. It is also against the law.

HOWEVER: Copying that amounts to "Excerpting" for the purposes of educational use or commentary is generally not against the law. (Excerpting means fractions of the work, not whole parts).

AND..... the playing of legally purchased or rented videos to STUDENTS is generally protected "fair use" according to both the US and Canadian copyright laws. 

Operative word: "students" ...not "kids". Note: Children in "worship" or "fellowship group" are not classified as "students."

A PROBLEM: Is that some licensing agencies and library websites have wrong or mis-leading information.

THIS article quotes the actual LAW. It is not an opinion.

So can we show a purchased or rented video in Sunday School -in the US and Canada?


US Federal Copyright Law (Section 110) specifically GRANTS educational groups the right to show lawfully obtained videos/movies and other such materials in  teaching settings.   

Excerpt from Section 110:

the following are not infringements of copyright:
(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face 
    teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place 
    devoted to instruction....

If you're teaching with it in a setting which is primarily instructional, you're fine. If you're simply entertaining a group with a video, it's not fine. So if you want to show a blockbuster video in worship or fellowship you need to have a "public performance" license from the Motion Picture Licensing Corp.  If you want to show it in Sunday School or Bible study, you don't need a special license.

Please note: you still have to buy/rent the product. Having the right to use in a certain way doesn't also give you the right to steal the material.

Canadians will be happy to know that their copyright law (Section 29.4) spells out the educational performance exception in even greater detail than even the US exemption. You can read the Canadian copyright law here.

29.5 It is not an infringement of copyright for an educational institution or a person acting under its authority to do the following acts if they are done on the premises of an educational institution for educational or training purposes and not for profit, before an audience consisting primarily of students of the educational institution, instructors acting under the authority of the educational institution or any person who is directly responsible for setting a curriculum for the educational institution:
(a) the live performance in public, primarily by students of the educational institution, of a work;
(b) the performance in public of a sound recording or of a work or performer’s performance that is embodied in a sound recording; and
(c) the performance in public of a work or other subject-matter at the time of its communication to the public by telecommunication.


Some licensing websites, publishers, and library websites have the WRONG or MISLEADING information about your rights to show videos in educational situations.

The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation ( which sells licenses to show videos has FINALLY made their website MORE ACCURATELY reflect Federal Copyright Law's exemption for "face to face teaching situations."

While a cursory reading of their main page used to lead one to believe you need a license to show ANY video in Sunday School, in fact, their own new detailed description of your rights clearly now describes what Federal Copyright Law and this article have been saying all along.


  • Showing Charleton Heston's  Ten Commandments VIDEO for teaching purposes is protected by Federal law because you are not publicly performing it for entertainment purposes. 
  • Showing the Ten Commandments VIDEO at an overnight lock-in (i.e. not an educational use) should be considered public performance and is not protected (unless you buy a license from
  • Copying an individual article from time to time as a class supplement to your curriculum is OK.
    Copying the entire magazine, or repeatedly copying articles from the same source, however, is copyright infringement. It's a matter of "degree" and frequency.
  • Copying substantial parts of a curriculum or a student workbook is copyright infringement.
  • Copying someone's art lesson is copyright infringement (unless permission is stated or granted). However, taking the general idea of that art lesson, describing it in your own words and blending it with some of your own material is NOT copyright infringement.
  • Copying Curriculum in an effort not to buy the correct number of booklets or CD IS a violation of Fair Use.
  • Copying software to have a back up copy is ok. Making copies of a CD for use on multiple computer because you don't want to pay for extra copies is illegal.
  • Copying an audio CD to cassette so you can play it on your cassette player is fine. Copying an audio CD to give to a friend so they don't have to buy it is illegal.

Fair Use in a Face to Face Teaching Situation does not exempt you from having to purchase the material. You can not borrow a Veggie Tale DVD or movie from a friend and make a complete copy of it for "educational use" ...when in fact you should go out and buy it. You could, however, "excerpt" a portion of it from someone's copy for educational use.

You CANNOT buy one piece of software and make copies of it for "educational purposes."  It may be Fair Use to copy an excerpt from a software program. But technically that's pretty difficult to do.

So as you can see, "Fair Use"  and Copyrights are about "DEGREES" and "INTENT" and "FREQUENCY" of use. If your intent is to avoid paying for something, it's wrong. If you use something often, you may have crossed the threshold where you need to make sure you own it. And if you're NOT using the material in an educational setting, then your copyrights are even fewer and more strict.

*"How long you want to use it" or "how poor your church is" or "how expensive the product is" are not legal defenses for copying or stealing.


When it is OK to copy, quote or excerpt an author's work?

The Copyright Act of 1976 recognizes that copying a protected work "for purposes of criticism, comment, news, reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research," can be considered "fair use" provided the use is

Notice the "and" in the above statement.
Using something for educational purposes is not carte blanc to copy.

If you're copying CDs to avoid buying the right number of them, you can't hide behind your educational use exemption. If you're excerpting a portion of a work, you can generally do so provided it's for educational purposes, and your excerpt is a minor portion of the work, and your intent isn't to circumvent purchasing. A judge would go easy on excerpting a magazine article for school, but would rule against you if you were copying curriculum for your classroom use. What you're excerpting matters as much as how much and why.


Software has been treated like a book by copyright laws, not as videotape. It is generally considered to be a one-user/computer-at-a-time medium. Because of the nature of the computer medium, they are not so concerned with use in public settings. They are mainly concerned with illegal copying.

Therefore, most software copyrights usually state that ONE program can only be used on ONE computer at a time. You cannot make a copy of one program onto two computers but only use one of the computers at a time. It is a violation of most software to have ONE purchased copy existing in TWO separate places at the same time regardless of whether they are being used at the same time. The only exceptions to this are "network copies" and "site licenses."

What if the CD has no license info on it? Lack of such is not permission to make copies! All owners have an implied right to protection. If in doubt, ask the owner. It's their property afterall. Some computer programs can be purchased with a license that grants you the right to make/install copies on up to X number of computers. The license is specific to the program and does not cover other software.

Thus, a teacher cannot have a "teacher's copy" on their home computer, if that one copy of the program is already loaded somewhere else. To be legal, you would need to delete the program from the church's computer to have the teacher preview it at home. This assumes the program installs completely onto the harddrive. See the CD Tech Note below.

You can MOVE software from one computer to another in order to transfer it. You can lend it to another church provided the data doesn't physically exist in two place/computers at the same time. When you purchase a CD program, you are purchasing the right to use it on one computer. You don't own the data. Same with books. When you buy the latest novel, you don't own the text, you own the paper it is written on, that's all. So you can't copy the entire text and give it away to others.

Exception: Software owners MAY maintain a backup copy of all programs, provided that backup copy is put away and not being used.

Making Back-up Copies:

Your are entirely within your rights to make archival, back-up emergency copies of any copyrighted material, including software, provided you put the back-up copy away and don't use it when the other original copy is functional.