In Layman's Terms: Using YouTube videos

Todd Seifert


We’ve been exploring topics the past few weeks about copyright law compliance. We’ve taken a look at song lyrics and movies. To wrap up this series, let’s take a look at what you can and shouldn’t use from the popular videos website YouTube.

First, YouTube is a site popular with many demographics, but especially with young adults and teenagers. You can find hours upon hours of entertaining videos on the website, and it can serve as a great archive for your church’s videos, such as recordings of sermons. Just be sure to set up your own channel so people can find you easily.

Because YouTube is a website with about 400 hours’ worth of videos uploaded to it each minute — not a typo — worldwide, surely we can use whatever we find there, right?

Um … not quite.

As much as it tries to patrol its own site, the volume of videos uploaded makes it very difficult for YouTube to police the sharing of copyrighted content. And, yes, you can get into trouble using videos downloaded from YouTube. So you have to take steps to protect your church.

One way is to use only videos that come from an official channel. This is a home page or gallery of sorts on YouTube that allows a company, group or person to post their videos in a way that allows other people to access them easily.

These channels will either have a download button, a link or instructions on how to download the video. If the channel doesn’t have any of those components — and videos not in an official channel almost certainly won’t have them — then you should assume they are not for use in a public setting such as a worship service.

Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman is one of my all-time favorite artists. His YouTube channel, for example, has a link on how to download his music videos.

Many websites that deal with copyright topics recommend churches seeking written permission from YouTube channels if you want to use one of their videos. It’s almost certain that if you are pulling movie or television clips from YouTube to use with sermons that you’re violating copyright law. Protect yourself and your church by obtaining a CVLI license (as I shared last time).

For example, if you want to use a movie clip and find it on that movie studio’s YouTube channel, you have two avenues to travel that will allow you to legally use that clip. One is to contact the studio and obtain written permission. The easier route is to obtain a CVLI license and either use the clip from the official studio YouTube channel or use a purchased or rented copy of the movie.

Scenes uploaded by individuals such as fans should be avoided at all times.
A more and more popular use of videos in worship is lyric videos to provide an influx of contemporary music or to fill in for when the church organist or pianist is absent. It would seem reasonable to most people that if the lyrics have been provided on a video, that the person intended for it to be used in worship.

But consider who actually uploaded the video. Under the person’s name on the left, immediately under the video, is usually a “Show More” button. When you click that, you should see information like the example above for Christian singer Phil Wickham. By doing so, we can see that this has been licensed to YouTube. That means the performer has made it available to YouTube in a revenue-sharing agreement.

This is where you have to assess risk. Technically, you should receive written permission unless the notes on the official channel say the video was produced for use in worship services. But it’s reasonable to think that a lyrics video on an official channel was meant for use in such a way as a worship service.

I won’t tell you officially that it’s OK to use such lyrics videos, but I have a hard time believing a Christian artist and Christian music production company is going to be upset with a church using a video they posted — with lyrics to allow for singing along.

That said, I am most definitely not an attorney. My official advice would be only to use these videos as a last resort unless, again, they are posted to an official YouTube channel and have a statement that gives consent for use.

So, in this series of four blogs, we’ve taken a look at CCLI licensing for the projection of song lyrics. We’ve looked at how you can legally use movies and TV shows in sermons or show movies as a ministry of the church. And in this one we looked at some aspects that require thought about use of YouTube videos.

Hopefully, these tips will help your church as you use these great tools to augment your ministry.

In case you missed previous blogs, here are a few links: Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached via phone at 785-414-4224, or via email at Opinions expressed are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Great Plains Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter, @ToddSeifert.