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The NFL Threatens to Sue Churches

Written by Raul Rivera on Sep 13, 2010

A church Super Bowl party

A church in Indianapolis decided to have a Super Bowl party during which they wanted to project the game on a large screen.  With an expectation of more than a 1,000 people in attendance, the pastor felt that it would be a great tool for sharing the gospel and promoting the church.  After publishing it on their website, they received a letter from the NFL stating they were in violation of copyright law and were prohibited from projecting the Super Bowl on the large screen.  Did the NFL have the right to prohibit a large screen Super Bowl party?  Was the church breaking the law if they disregarded the NFL's letter and showed it on the big screen?  Can a church be sued by the NFL for such parties?

This article has an important update

The law on copyrighted football games

Whether we like it or not, the law is on the side of the NFL.  Under the copyright laws, an NFL football game that is broadcasted is property of the NFL and viewers watch it according to specific terms set forth by the owner.   In 2007, the Indianapolis church planned to host the Super Bowl party and advertised their plans on the church website by stating they would be showing the game on a super large projection screen and that around 1,000 people were expected.  After discovering this church's website, the NFL sent a letter to the church demanding that the game not be shown on the church's wall projector. The NFL's long-standing policy has been to ban "mass out-of-home viewing."  It has been reported that the NFL scans church websites looking for Super Bowl parties to see whether or not those churches are in violation of the NFL's terms of use. 

What does a church do?

What does a church do?  The Indianapolis church pastor announced to his church that the Super Bowl party was a way for them to reach out to the community and that the NFL should not be allowed to stop it.  Following are some thoughts that may help to answer this dilemma.  First, we need to know that this type of copyright violation could cost the church over $100,000.00 in fines. Secondly, if we better understand how the NFL and TV contracts work, we will see why the NFL makes attempts to limit mass Super Bowl parties.  The NFL has contracts with TV networks and the value of those contracts is based on the Nielsen ratings.  The Nielson ratings do not count out of home viewing.  So, to maximize their ratings, the NFL has a term of use that any out of home viewing on a screen larger than 55 inches is prohibited, except for bars and restaurants.  When thousands and thousands of church Super Bowl parties are held, in the name of reaching souls, the NFL takes a big hit in its Nielson ratings, which lowers the value of the NFL's contract. 

My opinion

I do not like it, but it is the law and we need to abide by it.  A football game is the intellectual property of the NFL, not mine.  They have the right to declare a terms of use for those who watch.  I would never go to a Christian bookstore and steal a Bible to give away as a means to minister to someone.  Why would we do it with an NFL broadcast?  What if a pastor has a sermon series or music album that he recorded and sells as he travels to different churches?  What if someone took it and made thousands of copies and gave them away?  Wouldn't that affect his income and also be a disrespect of his property?

Today's laws are complex and many churches large and small will suffer consequences! Many sports, music, movie and television distributors of electronic intellectual property have set up monitors to catch illegal use of their electronic property.  Whether it's the IRS, the state, or some other entity, we need to be diligent to ensure that we properly run our ministries.

Have you ever wondered about copyright law?

Whether it's an intellectual propertry agreement between the pastor and the church, music used in praise and worship, or any book written or sermon preached by the pastor or staff member, how do you know who is the legal owner?  Let us teach you at one of our conferences.  Our new and improved conference manual covers many new topics and updates, as well as over 300 additional pages of Interenet linked forms and resources.

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera


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