Church Leaders, Are You Obliviously Stealing?

I am a huge proponent of churches using blogs, social media, websites, and other digital means to reach and teach their respective communities; however, I regularly notice the use of copyrighted images across each of these digital platforms. To be sure, I don’t think this is purposeful, but most of the time just a lack of knowledge. I won’t argue ethics here, assuming that ever pastor would want to stay within the law in regards to the use of digital content. I am not an attorney, but I own a digital marketing company;  I am just sharing what I have learned over the years on this issue. In this post,  I am going to specifically address the use of digital images; I hope to have a guest blogger write on the issues of movies, music, and other copyrighted content at a later time.


False Assumptions

  • If an image is not marked “copyrighted” it is fair game.
  • If we give credit, that is enough.
  • If I am not selling anything, I can use copyrighted images

Just because there isn’t a watermark, doesn’t mean that an image isn’t copyrighted. To be safe, it is best to assume that images you search for on Google or other search engines are copyrighted unless marked otherwise. Using these pictures not only crosses ethical lines, but can also jeopardize your organization legally.

Photographers and graphic designers put a ton of effort and resources into their crafts; they don’t want others taking their art without permission, any more than a painter would want you to walk in her studio and take a piece off the wall. The bottom line is, using copyrighted images on your blog, PowerPoint, or any other platform (without consent), is stealing.

Fair Use

I am not a lawyer and so I will not even attempt to unpack, “Fair Use Act.” What I will say, is that fair use, at best, is really murky water. There is not a cut-and-dry answer as to whether or not something would be deemed as fair use; the courts handle these situations on a case-by-case basis. It is best just to refrain from using copyrighted material.

Free Resources

The good news is there are cheap and free images available. is an incredible resource for royalty-free stock photography, music, and graphic designs. Additionally, there are several churches that offer free resources such as Life Church, New Spring, and Church on the Move.  Graceway Media has a free section as well; if your church can swing it, I highly recommend purchasing their full package. Their work is incredible, and won’t break the bank.

If you are bent towards Google Images, there is a trick that you can use to help you find royalty-free images. When you are searching for pictures, under “Images,” click on “Tools” and then “Usage rights.” You can then search for photos that are labeled for “noncommercial reuse.” ›

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 8.18.37 AM

There are also reasonable stock photography sites in which you can purchase digital images. My favorite is You can get small images for under two dollars.

Another good option is to start your own media-ministry team. You might be shocked at who in your church can help you with original content. In my small church, I have two professional photographers, two film professionals, and at least two graphic designers and web developers. What a great way to utilize their gifts for Kingdom purposes!

For a long time, I was oblivious to copyright laws that pertained to digital content. If I am honest, I really didn’t care. Since being in the digital marketing business, my eyes have been opened. I hope yours have too.


Cheering You On,


Chris May





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