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Play movies with purpose and legal permission

SUMMARY: Movie plot staples are proof that Hollywood learned a long time ago about the modern-day morality issues that pastors address weekly from the pulpit. Consider these: unwavering faith in the face of overwhelming adversity; uncompromising commitment to do what is right, even when the wrong path is more lucrative; and unshakable devotion to a true love, despite temptation.

It is no wonder religious leaders use movie clips to illustrate their sermons. After all, audiences are conditioned by memorable movie moments that seem to span generations.

The tricky part is using the poignant imagery of a movie scene without running afoul of copyright laws. The Federal Copyright Act of 1976 stipulates that prerecorded videocassettes and DVDs be authorized for personal home use only, unless permission is granted for a public performance. That permission process can be time-consuming and costly.

Maybe your church doesn’t use movie clips during sermons. However, do you use movies to connect with your congregation during Sunday school or host movie nights?

Helping churches to stay on the right side of the law is Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI), an independent agency that sells annual licenses to churches and religious schools that show video material.

The licenses, with prices based on the movie and congregation size, offer blanket copyright coverage for video titles from more than 100 producers. The least-expensive license is geared toward churches using religious and family-based videos. The more expensive licenses expand the package by including big-name studios such as Disney, Warner Brothers and Sony. To purchase or get detailed information about the CVLI license check out United Methodist Communication's CVLI store.

But CVLI does more than keep your church video use legal. It offers access to an excellent resource, ScreenVue, which offers more than 1,200 illustration ideas. Need a movie or just a clip to illustrate “awkwardness”? ScreenVue will give you 18 options. Talking about “impossible odds”? You will have about 25 choices.

ScreenVue’s free package includes a scene summary, themes, Scripture references, start/stop times and more. You can rent or purchase the movies on your own. ScreenVue, however, also offers a $34.95 annual package upgrade that allows you to download scenes from selected movies and hard-to-find independent/Christian films.

ScreenVue also has a "free promos" section where you can download clips for free. Current clips offered in this section include first-run movie titles such as “Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian,” “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Aliens in the Attic” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

Potential uses for movies and clips in religious education are limitless. Appropriateness and relevance are the keys.

For example, Trinity United Methodist Church, Salina, Kan., hosts a free nine-week movie-night series this summer using films based on inspirational true stories, including “Rudy,” “Apollo 13” and “We Are Marshall.” The church offers alternative child-friendly movies such as “Wall-E” and “Madagascar” at the same time.

The use of movies in church dates back to the early 1900s. The New York Times reported in 1915 that the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church approved using “moving-picture performances” as a way to draw churchgoers.

Today, more than 60,000 churches, camps, Christian schools and childcare centers across North America rely on CVLI licenses for copyright protection.

If you would like to show movies at your church, you can purchase the CVLI license at the United Methodist Communication's CVLI store.