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Cyber Considerations - Check your website for hidden dangers

Check your website for these hidden dangers

As churches expand their use of technology to enhance worship and evangelism, a web presence is becoming a standard part of their outreach efforts. This is great for reaching a more tech-savvy population. But it isn't so great if it exposes a church to potential claims.

The following general information provides an overview of certain areas of consideration related to a church's website. It is not intended as legal advice and, as always, a church should consult its own legal adviser regarding how best to protect against potential liability. In working with its legal adviser, a church might want to consider the following:

1. Copyright infringement

Because it's so easy to access information on the internet, it's easy to forget the material is "published" online and copyrighted. Since copyrights are legally protected, be careful to use only materials that:

  • You own. If you create it, you own it. Or if a church employee prepared the work for a church, it may be owned by the church as a "work for hire."
  • You have permission to use. Written permission should be obtained.
  • Are considered "fair use." Fair use refers to use of a copyrighted work in a reasonable manner without the consent of the copyright owner. Fair use depends on the facts and circumstances and involves a myriad of considerations. As always, it is prudent to consult your legal counsel regarding what constitutes fair use.

Examples of web content that may need copyright review includes:

  • Pre-recorded and downloadable audio segments.
  • Background music that is unlicensed and copyrighted.
  • Images and graphics that are not stock images or that you didn't create.
  • Bible verses. Translations of the Bible are copyrighted, so you'll need to check the appropriate publisher's website for terms of use. For example, visit ThomasNelson.com for the New King James Version.

2. Trademark infringement

Slogans, names and symbols are often used to set apart a person's goods or services from those used by other persons. Trademarks and service marks are legally protected against infringement, so it is important never to use another person's trademark or service mark without written permission. For example, make sure you secure written permission to use brand names or trademarks displayed on your site, even in invisible content such as metatags.

3. Linking liability

Linking content from another website can be an easy way to enhance your website. However, as described above, you must be careful not to infringe copyrights, trademarks or service marks. Also, there is the possibility that you might be viewed as endorsing the content of the linked website or otherwise responsible in some manner for the accuracy or appropriateness of the linked content. Consider working with your legal adviser to craft an appropriate disclaimer stating that you are not responsible for services or information contained on linked sites.

4. Appropriate terms of use and disclaimers

Your legal adviser will be in the best position to protect your organization against potential liabilities. For example, your legal adviser might suggest that your website include terms of use and various disclaimers. It is important to consider carefully both content and conspicuousness of any such protective language.

To stay current and have the maximum impact on your community, your ministry can benefit from an online presence. But play it cyber safe and work with your legal adviser to limit potential liability from your website.

The GuideStone Property and Casualty Program seeks to provide tools and education to help churches and other ministries reduce their risk. To learn more about how you can protect your ministry, call the GuideStone Property and Casualty Program at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).