Legal Issues

Does Your Company or Church Need an Intellectual Property Policy?

Suppose you’re a pastor on staff at a church. Or a reporter for your hometown newspaper. Or you’re employed by a Christian ministry. Or volunteer at a neighborhood agency. And suppose you spend time writing stuff for your church, employer, ministry, or agency.

When you do, who owns what you write?

Maybe you’ve never had to ask that question; but if you’re a writer, maybe you should. If you and your company or church haven’t already thought through issues of intellectual property, you probably should. The day may come when the ownership of something you write becomes an issue.

Years ago, when I was on staff at a Christian ministry’s magazine, the understanding was that all writing I produced—even if it was after work hours, at home, on my own computer—was the property of the ministry. That may sound extreme, but I never challenged it.

Many years later, after I had written numerous books and articles as a full-time writer, I was asked to take a paid pastoral position on the staff of the fast-growing church my wife and I helped to plant. I accepted and began carefully dividing my time between my ministry as an author and speaker and my ministry as a pastor and preacher. I knew the issue of intellectual property would arise sooner or later, so I asked our church’s leadership team to adopt a policy, not only to clarify matters for me but also for other staff and volunteers. It wasn’t perfect, by any means; but here’s the policy as it was adopted at that time:

[Church Name] policy seeks to encourage creativity while conserving the resources and protecting the interests of the church. Therefore, intellectual property of a scholarly or artistic nature (such as sermons and music) shall be the sole property of the creator unless a specific contract with alternative provisions has been negotiated prior to the creation of the property. However, any works so created within the scope of a staff member’s paid employment may (in their original form) be used, reproduced, and sold by [Church Name] without further compensation to the employee unless a specific contract with alternative provisions is agreed to by both the employee and the church. All such contracts as mentioned in this paragraph must be approved by the [Church Name] Leadership Team.

So, in practical terms, when I wrote a sermon to preach at church, the written words belonged to me; but the recordings of my sermons were the church’s property. The same would apply, say, to a song composed by the worship pastor or a play created by a staff member for the church to perform.

Other churches and businesses tackle the issue differently—for example, making the origination of the intellectual property the determining factor. (That is, if my editor assigns me a story to write, it belongs to the company. But if I take the initiative and write a story and offer it to the company, it belongs to me.)

You may think that it’s no big deal in your situation, and you’d be right—until it is. (Steve Laube knows of a case where a former pastor sued his previous church over this issue.) So, it’s best not to wait until it becomes a big deal. Clarify and codify intellectual-property decisions before they become an issue; and you’ll do yourself and your church, employer, ministry, or agency a valuable service.

For more details, see this helpful article from the Church Law and Tax site:



Leave a Comment

The Quest for Originality

Are you tired of being told by a publisher “We simply don’t do books like that”? or “Yours is certainly out of the box, but is not what we are looking for at this time”? What’s the Deal with Boxes? In general all books are sold under a category. Be …

Read More

Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

Read More

Don’t Sweat the Big Stuff?

Author Richard Carlson and his 1996 book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff encouraged a generation to put priorities in order and prevent someone from missing the forest for the trees. I am afraid many aspiring authors are doing just the opposite by not worrying about the big stuff either. Everything …

Read More

Morality and the Book Contract

Seven years ago I wrote a post about the morality clause in book contracts. It was met with a collective yawn. Today the landscape is a little different and I hope you will take the time to read this carefully. From Hollywood suddenly trying to find a moral compass to …

Read More

When Does a Book Become Public Domain?

Writers frequently ask about whether they need permission to quote from another book. The answer is usually yes. But if the book is in the public domain that permission is unnecessary. I don’t want to tackle the issue of “Fair Use” today, but instead provide a few links that you can use to find out if a book is in the public domain, or not.

First, use this form (
This form searches the U. S. copyright renewal records database. Any book published during the years 1923-1963 which is found in this file is still under copyright, as are all books published after 1964 (although until 1989 they still had to have proper notice and registration). Books published before 1923, or before Jan. 1, 1964 and not renewed (in the 28th year after publication), are out of copyright and therefore in the public domain. The form only searches books, not music, etc.

Read More

Fake News and the Christian Author

Most book authors do not work their way up through the ranks beginning with a college degree in journalism. Because of this, many have no exposure to the best practices of career writers and journalists. Sure, book authors might be very creative, insightful and able to recite large sections of …

Read More

Family Christian Stores Closes All Locations

Last Thursday Family Christian Stores (FCS) announced they will be closing all 240 locations in 36 states, liquidating their inventory, and laying off over 3,000 employees. It is a sad day for Christian retail. In this case, the only surprise is that it came so soon after their previous bankruptcy …

Read More

Family Christian Stores Survive Bankruptcy

In case you missed the news, last Tuesday the court approved the sale of the Family Christian Stores (FCS) to FCS Acquisitions. The new owner is basically the previous owner since Richard Jackson was part of that company too (which I have written about before-click to read). This sale, in …

Read More