In Search of (Maintaining) the Truth: The Use of Copyright Law by Religious Organizations

63 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2009 Last revised: 11 Jan 2012

See all articles by David A. Simon

David A. Simon

Northeastern University School of Law

Date Written: August 31, 2009


Individuals often view copyright law as a tool authors or media conglomerates use to advance their interests. But other entities also use copyright law to benefit themselves. One such entity, upon which this Article focuses, is the religious organization. While religious organizations employ copyright law for a number of reasons, they have two primary motivations for doing so: to censor others and to preserve the purity of their religion’s doctrine. These two motivations steer religious groups into court where their objectives meet the limits of copyright law head on.

Before reaching the issues that arise in court, however, this Article lays the groundwork for that discussion, exploring how religious motivations align or conflict with the underlying theories of copyright law. This exploration starts with an explanation of three theories, or justifications, of copyright law. After explicating these theories, they are compared to the religious motivations for seeking copyright. This analysis reveals that religious motivations for pursuing copyright protection conflict with each of these theories’, and thus copyright law’s, underlying principles.

Once this groundwork has been laid, the doctrinal questions presented by religious uses of copyright law are analyzed. This analysis focuses on whether various copyright doctrines, such as the merger doctrine and fair use, aid or inhibit the objectives of religious groups seeking copyright protection. After describing and analyzing various copyright doctrines vis-à-vis religious motivations, this Article concludes that copyright law cannot wholly achieve the aims of religious organizations that use copyright law. In sum, the two primary motivations religious organizations have for seeking copyright conflict with copyright law’s underlying purposes and its substantive doctrines. This clash illustrates that religious organizations should not use copyright law to achieve their religious objectives.

Keywords: religion, copyright, identity, doctrine, doctrinal, purity, censor, censorship, silence, competition, stifle, principles

Suggested Citation

Simon, David A., In Search of (Maintaining) the Truth: The Use of Copyright Law by Religious Organizations (August 31, 2009). Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review, Vol. 16, p. 355, 2010, Available at SSRN:

David A. Simon (Contact Author)

Northeastern University School of Law ( email )

United States

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