Does the Pastor Own the Sermon?

New Resource Helps Churches and Other Non-Profit Organizations Develop and Own Their Creative Works

Houston – Does the pastor own the sermon? This question has an obvious answer. However, depending on a particular situation, there can be a different legal answer. Contrary to conventional beliefs, pastors do not automatically own their sermons. A pastor’s arrangement with the church (some pastors are not formal church employees) can determine the ownership of sermons and other intellectual property. Attorney Darcell Walker says, “the creator of a work such as a sermon, song or book is the owner of the work. However, if there is a prior agreement between the creator and an entity that hired the creator such as an employer or organization, then the hiring entity may own the work.” Sermons are not the only works created as part of ministry activities where ownership issues can arise. Through various activities such as worship services, educational classes, events, or community programs, ministries and other non-profit organizations create a large number of works and products.

In a new resource, “Does the Pastor Own the Sermon,” Darcell Walker, a lawyer with over 25 years of experience in intellectual property matters, including patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and product licensing, provides guidance to non-profit organizations on how to establish ownership of works created through various activities. This resource contains instructional images, reference materials and sample legal documents that will help churches and other non-profit organizations identify, assess and establish clear ownership and protection of their creative works. This resource addresses “How organizations can secure clear ownership of their creative works” and discusses:

• Various ministry/community areas where creativity occurs
• Steps to establish ownership of creative works
• Reasons to secure and protect ownership of ministry works
• Different forms of protection for ministry creativity

Walker does state that ownership issues regarding sermons and other works usually do not surface in churches or organizations; however, if these issues do arise and there is no mechanism in place to address them, they can be difficult to resolve. For example, ownership issues can arise when a volunteer creates a ministry resource that can have some commercial value outside that ministry. At that point, legal ownership of the work can be a major issue. In another case, disputes have arisen over ownership of promotional materials (in particular artwork) created for events such as conferences, retreats, and concerts. Walker recalls a rare case where a church lost the right to use the name of one of its ministries because they did not have clear ownership of that name. As previously stated, these cases are exceptions, but they can happen. However, with more ministry products having commercial value, Walker believes, similar to commercial businesses, churches and other non-profit organizations should be aware of these types of ownership issues and how to address them.

In addition to his legal experience, Attorney Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Prairie View A&M University, a master’s degree in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, and a Master of Divinity degree from Southern Methodist University. Walker is the author of the book “Godly Ideas – Developing and Protecting Your God-Given Ideas.”(published by AuthorHouse). He has also created another resource titled “Start Pursuing Your Passion Today!” that helps individuals begin the process of turning their ideas into commercial products. Walker has worked with large corporations, small businesses, individuals, and churches on matters related to developing and protecting ideas.


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