I would like to use music and/or image files on my site. Is this legal?
It depends. If the music or image is your own original work, then of course it is perfectly legal for you to use it. But if the image or music was created by someone else, you are required to comply with copyright law by obtaining permission from the person(s) who created it, both the original work (for example, the composer and lyricist of a song) and the derivative work (e.g., a third party's rendition of it) you wish to publish.
What if I have permission from the website owner where I found the image or music?
Again, it depends. Does the website owner really own the image or music piece? If they are not the original composer, artist, lyricist, singer, etc., then they are not the owner. And even if they are one of these, it doesn't mean they own all copyrights. For example, if I draw a picture of Charlie Brown and put him on my website, I might consider myself the "original artist," but I would be breaking the law to publish it unless I have permission from United Features Syndicate (the copyright owner of the Peanuts comic strip) to use Charlie Brown's likeness. And even if I have this permission, I would need distribution rights in order to give another person permission to use it.
The website owner has permission to publish the image or music. Does that mean they are authorized to give me permission, too?
Not necessarily. The website owner would have to have distribution rights granted by the copyright owner.
What about MIDI files? I heard it was legal to use those without permission.
Unfortunately, this is a common misconeption. A lot of MIDI music on the Internet has been made available to the public by the producer of the MIDI file, but most composers/creators have never given permission to the producer to create the MIDI nor have they given permission to allow it to be distributed freely.
Who owns the copyright to the MIDI files, then?
There can be several owners. Most people think there is only one copyright, but in reality a recorded piece of music is a subject of two separate, but layered copyrights sometimes referred to as copyright © and copyright (P) (should be a circle with a P in it).
The creation copyright of the author is most commonly understood and respected. The composer owns this right to his music. In most cases this copyright is assigned to a publisher to "sell" the song.
The other is the recording performance production copyright, which is the right of the performing recording artist to their specific interpretation (production/performance) of the song/music.
What this means is that in order for it to be legal to play a piece of music on a website, first, the performer must have received permission from the creator to create the performance, and second, both the creator and the performer must agree to make the performance freely available to the public.
How can I legally put music or pictures on my site?
Music. There are some websites that offer musical selections that are either public domain (the copyright expired — many older hymns fall under this category) or they are original pieces of music that are given away freely as a ministry. Here are some free resources to try. Please be considerate and follow the website's usage instructions:
If you want to use popular music found on a CD or heard on the radio, you'll probably be required to pay royalties every time someone visits your site. For more information, please do a web search.
Images. You can either use original photos and artwork, do a search for freely available original artwork, or purchase images from a stock photo house such as Corbis. Here are some sources for free images. Please be considerate and follow the website's usage instructions:
Free stock images from Stock.xchng: http://www.sxc.hu/
Photos offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association: http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/
Professional quality "retired" stock photos. Use the search feature to find what you need: http://www.morguefile.com/
What about all the other webmasters who break copyright laws?
You will certainly find sites — even Christian sites — that use music and images without permission, and we believe most do so in ignorance without malice. Our intention is not to police the Internet but to do what we believe is right here at OurChurch.Com.
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