Chances are your church is using computers somewhere on campus. Sometimes computers are donated, purchased through a special offering or they just “show up” and nobody knows anything about them. Pretty much every church in America has succumbed to the rise of technology and is now using computers and video as a part of its ministry. Whether you’re at a mega-church with voice over I.P., or you’re a small community church with only one Pentium 3 and a typewriter, chances are church work is being done using some form of technology. And as we are all thrust forward into this fast-paced future, there seems to be a lack of ethics that sometimes follows. We all know someone who can get us a copy of the latest Disney DVD “for free” or perhaps we have seen where we can purchase an “unlocked cell phone.” And now more than ever it is all too easy to simply download our music without paying for it. It’s easily justifiable when we say, “they charge too much” or “I will buy it legally later if I like it;” and the hard truth is technology is becoming easier and easier to steal. But just because a church is non-profit, or makes very little money does not exclude it from acting with integrity. With this in mind, it should be all the more important for our churches to do business legally. And while it is true that expense is what usually keeps churches from operating within the law, don’t let this be a deterrent because there are still several options. Computers The basic tool that handles al of our email, web servers, worship presentation software, spreadsheets, church directories and more – should be the first place that we start… (Let me first apologize to all of my Macintosh brothers and sisters out there, but the majority of institutions use a Microsoft based pc, so that is where this article will focus.) There are two aspects to every computer – hardware and software. The computer itself either donated or purchased obviously belongs to the church, so naturally all of the “software” (or programs) on the computer should also be the property of the church. An easy way to determine this is to find out if the church owns the original CD’s and software licenses for each program that it uses. Keep in mind that just because a member of the church “owns the software” and installed it, does not mean that “the church” owns the software. More often than not, each software license is only valid for 1 computer – as soon as the software is passed around from office to office that is considered “theft.” Another way to check software ownership is to visit the Microsoft Validation website. Microsoft will walk you through the steps to finding out if your church legally owns its Windows and Office software. Going forward legally can take one of three routes: 1. The Microsoft route: if you want to use Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, then do it as cheaply as possible. Do not go to the store and simply buy them off the shelf. You want to first get your tax exempt forms and take the steps to qualify for a “volume license” as a “charity reseller.” Your church will pay one low price for all your software and licenses for every pc that is on your campus. This is probably going to be the most popular choice as Microsoft is the most familiar option. You can begin that process here: Microsoft Licensing 2. If you bought your computer in the past few years, then chances are it came with a legal copy of windows, but no office/spreadsheet software. Fortunately the Cheaper Route also has several options: □ Libre Office □ Open Office □ Neo Office (for Macs) These will do the work of Microsoft Office, but it will initially take some re-training to get to that point. Mozilla Thunderbird is also available as a free “Microsoft Outlook” alternative. Microsoft also has free viewer programs available for download for all of their Office suites, installing those would still enable your staff to be able to receive “office documents” and view them. 3. The Free Route: If you want all free software, it is possible and legal, but it requires changing the way your church office does computer work. You have probably heard about “Open Source Software.” Though this is a completely free alternative, you will need a knowledgeable computer technician to properly obtain and install them. □ Linux can be a complete and free operating system alternative that is made by software developers. □ Ubuntu is a beautiful Windows alternative that is quickly developing lots of free addons and applications. Well that’s a good head start on software, but let’s look at a few more areas where we need to make sure we are operating within the law… Songs Worship has come a long way from the days of the hymnal, most of how we worship is now being projected on large screens with scrolling backgrounds. However songs, just like anything else today, contain its own copyright. Make sure you have a CCLI license and that it is up to date. This is your church copyright license and this ensures that you are paying royalties to the artists and labels of the music you are singing. Periodically CCLI will audit your church and ask you to keep a record of which songs your church uses. You can get all the information you need here: CCLI Images Today, worship pastors are not just planning which songs will help create a sense of worship, now they also spend time picking the best “pictures” and “images” to help create a beautiful worship environment. But even though there seems to be thousands of options on the web, churches can still be guilty of “breaking the law” if they do not take care of a few things. Make sure that the pictures and video loops that you use in worship are royalty free. An internet search for the word “worship background” does not ensure that the images that you download for display are for public use. Just because you found it on the internet, does not give you the right to use it in church. There are hundreds of worship image websites that either allow you to have a yearly subscription or allow you to purchase images and movies on CD. Or you can always locate some “royalty free” image sharing sites. Movies Chances are you have seen a pastor use a movie clip as part of a sermon point, or maybe your children’s pastor had a church showing of the Chronicles of Narnia. Well, regardless if it is two minutes or two hours, to legally show movies in your church, you need to make sure that you have a Church Video License as well. The Federal Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that pre-recorded videos are authorized for personal home use only. Special permission must be granted for any public performance (including churches). Violations can sometimes result in huge fines and can be up to $30,000 per infringement. You can get your license and all of your questions answered here: CVLI One Last Note Obviously the cheaper the route you take, the more “alternative” the software; and that can mean compatibility issues and perhaps even unavailable resources. It can also sometime mean less tech support for any issues that may arise. However, if you go with more reliable and “name brand software,” then church operation means a higher cost and yearly upkeep. But regardless of the path you take, your church should always be the example of honesty and integrity.