If you have an active church website, you should have regular updates to news, events, sermons, and perhaps even a blog or two. Posting all of this information is great, and one possible goal is to share this content with others. However, have you considered what copyright restrictions you wish to have on this content? Solve these problems by integrating Creative Commons Licenses into your content strategy document. You can eliminate a lot of confusion and even legal battles if you are proactive on licensing your content.
Plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery. It is also a bad practice in academia and on the Internet. I found out about this first hand when I was looking for an article I had written about a year ago. Instead of using internal search, I wanted to see how Google was ranking my site based on certain keywords. This was not only to see where I ranked, but to see if there were other sites with similar content. I came across a site that copied a few of my articles verbatim, but with no back links or credit. To make matters worse, this other site ranked higher than my original posts!
The conversation with the webmaster brought to light the fact that I did not have any licensing agreement information for my content. There was nothing explicit about who "owned" the articles. It was something I had never considered when I first started writing. I was wondering if someone would actually read my articles, let alone steal them. Hence I will address the key questions you must answer if you want to share any of your church website's content.
Are you going to allow others to copy your content and re-post it on their site? Obviously if the answer here is "no", you can probably stop reading this article. However many content producers such as your church, want their message to be spread as wide and far as possible. Hence you most likely want to allow people to re-post your content and ensure a wider dissemination of your message.
If you allow people to re-post your content, do you want to receive credit? In many cases you will want to receive credit. Hopefully that credit will also include a link back to your site or the original post, but that is often not required. In an effort to spread particular messages as easily as possible, you may not require this. Short messages such as ones you would send out on Twitter are a prime example of this "giveaway" content.
Can it Change?
Do you want your content to be delivered as originally composed, or can the person re-distributing your work edit it slightly. If you provide free worship music for download, can they remix it to fit their church's particular worship style? If you are providing written content, can they edit the structure to fit their established branding guidelines? Depending on how guarded you feel over your content, this may or may not be a good idea. In an agreement with FaithVilliage.com, I gave them this freedom. They make minor editorial changes, but still give me credit as the author.
Making a Profit
Can the person re-posting your content make any profit from it? Your original thought might be "no way!". However, what if a group is selling a DVD of collected sermons using proceeds to fund a mission trip. Depending on the situation, it might be advantageous to partnering with such an activity.
Examine the various types of content you have on your website. Certain kinds of content will warrant different licenses. To help you decide what license to use, check out the Creative Commons License Picker. Additionally, if you are running WordPress, I can recommend the Creative Commons Configurator plugin. Then post those copyright and licensing notices before a situation like mine arises and you need to take action against plagiarism.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Schuster