Q+A :: Church Copyright Law for Logos

Kent Shaffer —  January 10, 2009

QUESTION:
Q+AAre the logos on your website copyrighted? We are looking for a logo for the church I attend and found one on the site we really like. Is it something we can use?
- Jaime :: Wisconsin

ANSWER
You may absolutely not use the logos highlighted on Church Relevance’s top church logos list. Here is why:

  1. Copyright Law (indicates authorship/creation)
    The logos are copyrighted and using them is illegal. Copyright gives the creator of an original work certain exclusive rights on the usage of the work. Logo designers have federal copyright as soon as the logo is created. The logo does not need a copyright notice or to be registered.
  2. Trademark Law (indicates origin)
    The logos are trademarked at varying degrees and using them is illegal. A trademark gives its owner exclusive rights to a specific name, symbol, logo, or combination of these items.
  3. It misrepresents you.
    Your logo should communicate one or a few unique qualities about your church. Copying another church’s logo is almost certainly like pursuing another church’s unique calling. There is a good chance you would misrepresent yourself or at least not reach your full branding potential.
  4. It misrepresents the other church.
    If you copy another church’s logo, you dilute their brand by associating your church brand with their logo. It also risks confusion, which may, particularly on the Internet, blend the two churches’ true identities or messages.

Ideally, a church should have its own custom logo. Good custom branding can be a powerful thing.

Of course, legally using a high quality premade logo does not mean your church will fail. In fact, I have seen many successful church sub-ministries share a logo. Oneighty (Tulsa, OK) used to franchise their youth ministry brand (e.g., FL, KS, TN, WI).

The key is to have a high quality logo that reflects your brand and is used with consistency throughout your church communications.

As a disclaimer, I am not an expert so please do not take my opinion or any opinions in the comments as legal advice.

For Discussion:
- Did I miss anything?
- What do you think about using another church’s logo?

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

6 responses to Q+A :: Church Copyright Law for Logos

  1. I think copying another church’s logo usually means (1) a lack of effort and (2) a lack of vision. This can be from either the church or the designer end. At it’s root, the church is paying a huge complement to the designer of the logo by wanting to copy it but is doing a greater disservice by taking the power of the logo and clipping its wings. Logos have a purpose to stand out. When they can no longer do that their purpose is no longer achieved. I think it’s sad for all of the churches that use Papyrus in their logo. Besides the fact that “middle eastern ancient text” usually doesn’t fit the American church, it is widely overused and as “cool” as some think it is, it has no power.

    As for the lack of vision, a logo should be a huge point of prayer for a ministry. How many copied logos did God lead the team to copy? Most likely few if any. “God, who do you want us to reach and how can our logo help us attract those people?” is a good place to start. As odd as it may sound, contemporary and young logos attract contemporary and young people. “Big church” logos attract those that like the orchestras and ornate buildings. It’s a fact of human nature and we must play the hand we’ve been dealt. Vision will lead us to understanding who God wants us to reach and how to effectively do so – in this case in the form of a logo.

    Sorry for my book but you can guess I am passionate about this. :)

  2. And happy early birthday according to Facebook.

  3. let’s hope church logos are God inspired so God is the creator…and I think he would like us to share the outputs of the gifts he gives us.

    if someone wants to copy any of my stuff…go for it…how do I know how God will use it?!

    christians can choose to be different in terms of what we share and why we share…we dont have to follow the patterns of this world :-)

  4. ooops click though url on my name had a typo (if anyone cares…i like to be transparent in these things)

  5. Although each church body is unique, aren’t we all oriented towards the same general goal(s)? It’s not surprising that smaller, less creative ministries are drawn towards already-existing logos and identities that they associate with rather than striking out on their own.

    As a designer, I think stealing any copyrighted design is horrible. But I do think savvy designers could promote Creative Commons-licensed logos that to help unify the message of smaller organizations, rather than always needing to emphasize an independent identity for each church.

    From another perspective, as irksome as it is to see someone take your work, didn’t Jesus promote the idea of giving your neighbor the shirt off your back if he asked for it? :-)

  6. I have written many copyrights over the years pertaining to IT Security and recently completed a work on science and the bible I could not locate a sponsor for this work to publish biblically based so I had to turn this over as a copyright it is a shame when legal issues hinder the work of God and a artist cannot make a living at the same time that provides for family security called roof over your head in bad economic times. I think a good biblical principle says not to store your treasure’s here on earth but at the same time people need to make a living to feed a family this should be taken into account what a shame we cannot have a balance