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Last updated 8th April 2024

Copyright guidance for images, music and text

Copyright is an intellectual property protection which affects the use of liturgy, music, images and other resources or text in worship, online (via PCs smartphones or tablets) and in print.

This page of our diocesan website has links to advice for working within the law. 

Fact Files

The Christian Copyright Licensing Agency (CCLI) has produced a number of resources to help you find the licence you need for your church. 

Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) contact details can be found here

Use of pictures and copyright

Copyright infringement

We have heard reports of parishes in other Dioceses which have recently been approached by representatives of a picture agency in regard to the unlicensed use of a photograph. 

We want to remind parishes of the importance of using copyright free images.

There are many great copyright free images on the web and every image sitting alongside this article is copyright free from one of the websites mentioned further below. 

Copyright holders are increasingly using ‘bots’ to scour the internet and spot unlawful use of copyrighted material. So you need to be VERY careful what you use.

Images play a vital role in conveying information, helping to illustrate a story or market a product, service or event. The hundreds of millions of images that are easily accessible on the internet have led to the common misconception that ‘free-to-view' also means ‘free-to-use'. 

This may be true in some cases, but the vast majority of images on the internet are not available for others to re-publish at will.  This is why more and more people, companies and charities, including churches, are finding themselves in legal hot water. 

It’s also worth remembering that photographers have to make a living and it would simply be wrong to take what they have worked to produce without asking or paying for it. As members of the Church, we should be leading from the front in making sure we don’t fall foul of copyright regulations. It is like stealing from somebody.  

One of the other big misunderstandings about illustrations or photographs is that they are only protected under the laws of copyright if accompanied by a copyright symbol. Again, not true.  

Copyright automatically applies to any original illustration or photograph as soon as it is created. The creator of that image is the copyright holder by default and does not have to mark their work with a symbol or register it with any governing body for their copyright to come into existence. It is immediate.  

All types of visual art are subject to copyright, including photos, maps, paintings, sketches etc. 

So it is crucial that any images parishes use on their websites; social media channels; printed publications etc have been taken by the parish directly or are 'creative commons' (copyright free). 

Legal ownership 

The copyright holder has the right to decide how their image can be used and by whom. If their copyrighted material is published by someone else, without their permission, then they may choose to take legal action and seek financial compensation.  

In the majority of cases of copyright infringement action is not taken, sometimes, because the copywriter holder doesn't mind or perhaps doesn't even know that others are using their image; how would they know when the internet is so vast? 

This used to be the case but with the advancements in search technology, a copyright holder, looking for websites using their image without permission can perform a comprehensive search in a matter of seconds. 

  • Scenario: You innocently include an image in your social media post, assuming it’s fair game. 
  • Consequence: The copyright owner might discover your usage of their image and issue a takedown notice or demand compensation. Ignorance won’t shield you from infringement claims. Even unintentional violations can be liable.  

How to avoid copyright claims 

The best way to avoid any potential copyright claims is to use images that you have created yourself, or where you have the express permission from the copyright holder.  

This doesn't mean that you can't use any images you find on the web as there are many hundreds of thousands of free-to-use images available; the important thing is to ensure is that permission has been granted for you to use the image in question.  

NEVER copy images from image libraries, direct from Google (or other search engines) or from news sites etc; they are someone else’s work and you could be liable for a fine. As a general rule, images are normally copyright unless it specifically says otherwise on the site you get them from. 

The good news 

There are several websites that provide high-quality images, for free, that you can use on your website and social media posts 'royalty-free' (without paying any fees).  

Copyright for the images still exists, but the copyright holders have given their permission for their images to be used by others for free.  

If you need to access copyright-free pictures for use online (such the pictures featured in this article) we recommend which has a huge variety of excellent pictures available free of charge and - crucially - free of copyright. Another good option is Pixabay. 

Diocesan website images

If you want to use an image you have seen on the Diocesan website that would also still be OK to do but it is still important you email to check first.  

We will get back to you asap and advise you. Most of the time using the image should be fine as it will have been taken for Diocesan use and as a parish you are part of the Diocese. But there may be specific reasons why we can’t give permission; hence the need to check

Parish magazines

Please be aware that copyright could also apply to written material you may feature in your parish magazines or websites.

If in doubt, please check the copyright position of material you are planning to use as using the intellectual property of someone else without permission could a costly and embarrassing mistake.

There are various organisations that monitor usage of text and music as well as images so make sure you are on the right side of the law. 

PLEASE NOTE: All original stories and other material published on the Diocese of Blackburn website are available for inclusion in parish magazines. This is your Diocesan website and the material we produce here is for everyone in the Diocese to use. However, this rule obviously does not apply to any material we link to on other websites. 

Visit this helpful page (on the Diocese of London website) for more information about how and when to be aware of copyright, as well as useful additional links to further information.





Ronnie Semley

last updated April 2024



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