Is there a point when enforcing copyright laws become sinful?

Now I agree that one should not pirate a movie, song, etc.

I also agree that one should not take credit for something someone else makes.

What I find problematic are situations where I think the copyright holder is being greedy our our freedom of expression is being violated.

For example:

  • When somebody got in trouble for having an episode of The Simpsons on their TV in the background in a random home video.

  • A daycare was threatened by a lawsuit by Disney for drawing Disney characters on their walls.

  • Being sued for playing a cover song for non-profit (while acknowledging the original artist) at a local bar.

I’m just wondering where the line between a legitimate gripe by the copyright owner and a violation of freedom of expression is.

This seems like something that could go too far and could be to the point where we are not even allowed to hum our favorite song in public or anything like that.


The line is between you expressing your own ideas, artwork, and songs and expressing someone else’s. Feel free to paint original paintings on your wall, sing original songs at a bar, and show original videos. You are not free to use those that belong to others in performances or by painting them on your place of business.

It may be your opinion that they businesses are going overboard, but they have a right to protect their brands and trademarks.

In the case of Disney, it was 3 daycares in Florida with 5 foot tall characters painted on them. If Disney didn’t act, they could lose trademark protections. Also since the daycares were in FL where Disney has its theme park, there were also questions of false advertising and confusing consumers into thinking the daycares were affiliated with Disney.

What is “original” content?

Someone will take a family picture and all the people are wearing brand named clothes. People who have tatoos take pictures and they got in trouble with the tattoo artist (as the case of Rasheed Wallace from the Detroit Pistons) Some performers copyright their name, so you could get in trouble just by mentioning them in a work or art…technically, humming another artist’s song in public could probably be a “infringing public performance”…having someone’s song at a party or a show on the tv in the background of a home video could be infringement.

This has the potential to open pandora’s box and become a way for someone to nickel and dime you for very small things.

These are copyright laws and their legal interpretation by lawyers and the courts. If you want to change the laws, you should contact your elected representative and see how far you get with these lawyers.

Speaking generally, some people think freedom is the ability to do or say whatever pops into their heads. At this point in our media culture, I think anyone who knows what the words appropriate, decent or tasteful mean would automatically avoid a lot of it. With freedom comes responsibility. There is a false tension between appropriate limits and ‘I can do whatever I want.’ The balance has turned into a massive imbalance. Pirate what you want. Steal images. Put them wherever.

The FBI will tell you that showing something, even without personal gain, is a violation of someone’s hard work and right to distribute.

I did not hear about the Disney suit so I can’t comment about it, but I know for a fact that similar things have happened.

The song in a bar suit does not bring to mind other incidents, but it does raise a simple question for all of the above:

“Why not ask for permission?” All of the words and images, and songs, owned by anybody are copyright. That simply means they alone have the right to make copies of their work and decide how it is distributed or performed. I think that’s fair. Even the Church has a “rights and permissions” system. You just contact them to get their permission.

I don’t think sin enters the picture. And I have heard about how greedy big corporations are. But think about it. How about putting $100 million dollars into a movie that tanks at the box office? Hollywood can’t put out all winners. We never hear about singers who put out one album and they’re gone but they exist. The same with books and other media.

However, copyright, and trademark, protection exists because a lot of time, effort and money went into making that song, movie, TV show, etc. The owner(s) deserve to make as much as they do. Even if some are billion dollar corporations.

We’ve been involved in a few legal actions involving a few things but believe me, lawyers aren’t cheap. It’s not fun and it’s a drain on your time.

Hope this helps,

Copyright laws are more like speeding laws. They are wrong to violate only in so far as it is wrong to violate the laws of the state. They are not wrong in the same way it is wrong to murder someone. They are also ultimately arbitrary. Was it wrong to make a copy of a book fourteen years after the date it was published back when the law limited copyright to that length of time?

Personally I don’t believe copyright law is good, certainly not what we have today. As for the line at which it becomes bad that is a personal mater for those who do believe in the goodness of copyright law. I imagine some, hopefully most, Christians would think if you had to pay a license fee to read from the Bible in church that would be too far.

What I’m trying to say is it is come to a point in our media age where it is close to impossible to avoid all copyright infringement. For example, the family picture with the people happening to wear brand named clothes.

There has to be a line somewhere or else we shouldn’t bother taking pictures, record home movies, humming tunes, having music at parties, because we are “breaking the law”.

When in doubt, contact the Copyright Office.

I don’t think this situation needs to be presented in such an extreme way. Our “media age” includes people who either don’t understand copyright law or those who don’t care.

For example, I grab an image I like from some site and have no clue where they got it from, and I post it on my blog because I like it. Later, I get an e-mail from the copyright holder asking me to take it down. So, then what? Do I throw a fit? Tell them I got the image from bob211 from wherever? Or do I take it down? Since there a lot of anonymous people out there, be careful. And posing in a family photo while wearing brand name clothes? What’s the big deal? If it’s on your facebook page, it’s not an ad for the clothes, it’s about the people in the picture.

Hope this helps,

Specifically on the Disney issue, the media likes to paint Disney as a big corporate bully, but the other poster is right: especially in one of Disney’s home states, allowing an unaffiliated business to display 5-foot Dismey characters not only leads to confusion and undermining of trademarks, but in our litigious society, all it would take would be for a daycare child to get hurt there, and Disney to find itself included in a shotgun lawsuit where tort lawyers file against everyone in sight.

Something you made yourself. Your own characters, and your own story.

You have probably noticed the long lists of credits when you watch a movie. Read those, some time. You’ll see that they had to get permission for every detail that was not original to the story itself - if a character drank a can of soda in a scene of the movie, the people who made the soda get credit for it in the credits reel. If there was a song playing on the radio in the background of a scene, the singer and the writer of the song, along with the distributor, get credits for it.

Every detail is important.

And if you have a FaceBook page, or a blog, you are a “content producer” and bound by the same rules as all content producers.

It has been done - at least in the past - where a soda pop can was digitally inserted in the reruns of a particular TV show. It looked like it belonged there.

Boy - content producer - who came up with that? A box of cereal has contents but people? Did they take down the door signs for all the artists and writers and replace it with “content producer”?


I have never seen such a thing. Can you give an example of a movie where the credits reflect this? I know there is often product placement where Jack Bauer will be driving a Ford, or looking at his Samsung phone, or talking with international leaders on a Cisco videoconference system, etc. But such placement is generally “under the table” from the audience’s perspective. There is a good chance there will be Ford commercials during the show, but they are not legally bound to give credit when you watch the credits on videotape, and if there is mention it will probably be in the “Special Thanks to…” section along with the California Film Board, Sloppy Joe’s Bar, and whoever else made their job easier.

[quote=jmcrae]If there was a song playing on the radio in the background of a scene, the singer and the writer of the song, along with the distributor, get credits for it.

Actually I heard an independent filmmaker explain that if the radio is playing in the background (in a driving scene for his film) you can use that music as recorded like any other ambient sound. Big Hollywood movies don’t go that route because they are likely to do multiple takes and edits, which will make the music choppy and unpredictable ahead of time. Plus they have the bucks to buy the rights, and may want to put out a soundtrack. The law may be different in Canada.

Exactly. There is no intrinsic morality to copyright laws or their violation. Rather, our society has chosen to protect original content in order to promote the creative economy. A good idea IMO, but not one that every society has chosen, and not one that the Church has weighed in on.

[quote=Ben Sinner]What I’m trying to say is it is come to a point in our media age where it is close to impossible to avoid all copyright infringement. For example, the family picture with the people happening to wear brand named clothes.

There has to be a line somewhere or else we shouldn’t bother taking pictures, record home movies, humming tunes, having music at parties, because we are “breaking the law”.

In fact there are lines. Copyright law is fairly detailed in most countries, and provides guidance on what is allowed and what is not. But I think in most cases, your innocent use of photos on your Facebook page, or singing “Happy Birthday” at your brother’s birthday party is not going to be much of an issue.

Keep in mind that because it is sometimes murky, copyright holders often seek to protect their intellectual property by educating violators when they believe a violation occurs. I realize that your question was more theoretical, but practically speaking when you get big enough to be contacted about such issues, then you can consult your own legal experts on how to respond and whether your are in fact violating copyright.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit