What does copyright have to do with Vacation Bible School?

copyright on Vacation Bible School materials

What does copyright have to do with Vacation Bible School?

Oh, that terrible word: “copyright”.  What does it have to do with Vacation Bible School?

First, let us consider this: Is copyright truly a terrible thing?

Most of us have to work for a living.  Sometimes compensation is rather straightforward: your boss tells you to dig a ditch; you spend the next eight hours digging the ditch; he hands you a check for $100.

Other times it is a little complicated: you spend a whole year writing songs and pay $1000 to have them professionally recorded; one person buys a copy of your CD for $15, and ten other people feel they have the right to copy the first CD rather than purchasing it from you directly.

The laborer’s reward

Copyright protects the rights of an author or artist to distribute their own work and to receive payment for all the time, money and effort they have devoted to that work.  It is not greedy to expect payment for services or goods provided!

The Bible makes it clear: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” (I Timothy 5:18)

It is a fact of life that it is hard to appreciate the time and effort applied to a task until you try to do it yourself!  But as Christians, we should be willing to at least try to understand the hard work of others.  “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Copyright in VBS

So, what are some places that we may be touched by the implications of copyright as we prepare for our Vacation Bible School?  Three areas come to my mind.  These are: the actual program materials you purchase, the songs you plan to sing, and photographs or images you plan to show.

Program materials

When you purchase Vacation Bible School materials to support your VBS program, you are purchasing that particular copy of the worksheets/stories/instructions/etcetera.  Sometimes, the copyright holder will give you the right to copy some of the materials for use in your program.

For example, when you buy a complete VBS program from Hasten Home, you automatically receive a copy of all the worksheets for three different age groups and ten days of programming.  You are free to copy the worksheets as needed to support your church’s VBS (in other words, to make sure the children all get a copy of all the worksheets).

What you are not allowed to do is print up Vacation Bible School worksheets to give away to other churches or to sell, etcetera.  Additionally, the teacher guides are meant for your reference only—not for copying.

If you know of another church that likes the Vacation Bible School curriculum that you have purchased, the best thing to do is refer that church to the place where you bought the curriculum.  (The authors will be very grateful!)

You have to be careful and take the time to find out just what is (or is not) allowed with the particular Vacation Bible School curriculum you purchase, as each copyright holder has their own approach to what they choose to allow others to do with their work—and they may even choose to take a different approach between their own various works.

Often a copyrighted work will have a note which names the copyright holder and the date of copyright (either at the bottom of a page or on one of the first pages of a book, for example).  It is important to note, though, that current copyright law does not mandate this practice.  In other words, just because there is no note, does not mean that the work is free to copy and/or distribute.


Another issue that may arise is that of using copyrighted songs.  There is no question that singing is a vital part of Vacation Bible School, but did you know that even the singing of copyrighted songs in a public worship service may be governed by copyright laws?

Songs that were created prior to the year 1923 are considered in the public domain—many older hymns fall into this category, and these you may use freely in your VBS.

However, restrictions usually apply to the public singing of newer, currently copyrighted works.  Plus, the copying/printing of currently copyrighted songs and/or lyrics is definitely restricted (even on PowerPoint!).

(If your congregation would like to use newer songs in your worship services, your church may want to look into the “blanket” copyright license for worship services.  (Perhaps you already have it.)  You can check this out by visiting CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) on the web at www.ccli.com; or you may contact CCLI by mail or phone: CCLI, 17201 NE Sacramento Street, Portland, OR 97230; (503) 257-2230 (International Dialing: +1 (503) 257-2230; Toll Free Phone: 1 (800) 234-2446).)


Copyright also governs the right to copy and/or publicly display photographs and other images.  This even applies for non-tangible displays, such as PowerPoint presentations.  If you plan to use PowerPoint for your Vacation Bible School’s closing program, it is important to know that not all images are freely available for use.

There are plenty of options available—especially for non-commercial (that is basically, non-business-related) use.  Two great resources online are the Creative Commons licensed photographs section of Flickr and the Visual Reference section of Biblos.com.

The blessing in respecting

Be sure to read and understand the restrictions and allowances on whatever resource you choose to use to be sure that you are respecting the author or artist’s wishes regarding their work.

We must remember that we, as God’s people, are a team.  By respecting one another’s work, we avoid putting others in difficult places, and we can confidently ask God’s blessing on our own labors for the children.

For further information, visit the U.S. Copyright office online.

~Do you know of other online resources that would be helpful to VBS Leaders?

~Do you have questions about the implications of copyright for Vacation Bible School that were not covered here?

~Did I miss any points that you think are worthy of mention?

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