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Friday, February 08, 2008
Should churches be able to ignore the NFL's I.P. rights?

My emeritus colleague Howard Friedman has a post on his Religion Clause blog about Senator Specter's effort to exempt churches from federal copyright law in connection with rebroadcasting NFL games:
Bill Introduced In Congress To Permit Church Super Bowl Parties

As previously reported, the National Football League again this year told churches that the copyright law limited their ability to host Super Bowl parties in auditoriums larger than 2000 square feet if the bowl game was shown on TV screens larger than 55 inches. This creates problems for churches that wish to offer an alcohol-free family-friendly alternative for watching the game. So this week, Sen. Arlen Specter introduced S.2591, a bill to permit churches to display televised professional football contests free of copyright concerns, so long as no direct charge is made for viewing the game, no money is received by the church during the broadcast, and the game is not further retransmitted by the church. Yesterday's Christian Post reports that Rep. Heath Shuler plans to introduce a similar bill in the House of Representatives


Great idea, but it would've been even better if the NFL conceded this point on their own accord. I cannot think of a legitimate reason for the NFL to not allow churches to show the superbowl (regardless of screen size), especially when you take into account the number of consumers that the rule angers. Their is something wrong when I can go to the nearest sports bar and watch the game on a large screen projection, but I can't go to my local church and do the same.

Blogger Andy -- 2/08/2008 1:02 PM  

I'd love to hear a full explanation of how such a showing would constitute a copyright violation. Is the argument that churches would effectively profit from the undertaking in some manner? What if they're organized as a non-profit? It all seems a bit confusing. I thought that the point of copyright was to protect the copyright holder's ability to profit from their production, not to shut down all potential uses and derivatives of it?

Blogger Ben -- 2/08/2008 1:13 PM  

Am I only one rankled by this proposal? Why should churches be preferred over other non-profit social organizations?

Amending the copyright act to extend the exemption (say to larger screens and floor areas) in the case of a non-profit which is not charging its members for the event is reasonable. Amending it to specifically exempt churches stings.

Blogger Lior -- 2/08/2008 1:17 PM  

"Why should churches be preferred over other non-profit social organizations?"

I'm with you Lior. If churches get that set up, I'll start my own church and invite friends over.

Now if you want to revoke the tax exempt status of all churches and let them have the SuperBowl instead, I'm good for that.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/08/2008 1:50 PM  

That's really why I was wondering about the actual law around the situation. Where's the harm? This question could be applied broadly to any non-profit.

Blogger Ben -- 2/08/2008 1:52 PM  

What specifically did the NFL actually say to churches with respect to this issue? Andy, is it possible that the NFL isn't conceding anything because everything Congressman Spector says might not be entirely accurate? I have yet to read the NFL's response to Congressman Spector's assertions. Shouldn't Congressman Spector at least wait for that response before introducing legislation? The Super Bowl is over -- Why is this such an urgent issue that must be dealt with by Congressman Spector right now this minute? Sorry if these are just irrelevant questions I have....

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 2/08/2008 2:56 PM  

What happen to "Church" being a place to worship God. With Mega and Simi-Mega Churches that look more like franchises religion is now to a point that it's a BIG business. Sad to say, it's a long way from the days of simply worshiping God.

I find it very hard to supports something that is clearly a business move and nothing to do with freedom to worship. What's next, movies shown at Church with offensive scenes removed.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/08/2008 3:04 PM  

My son attended a Super Bowl watch at church near his college. They didn't violate the screen size but may have violated the square foot portion.

Yeah you can watch in a bar but the bar should have already paid a license fee for that sort of thing.

I find the whole watch party thing disappointing and its not just the NFL. The Oscar folks do the same thing.

When a non-profit group isn't attempting to profit from a showing it ought to be fair use.

Blogger Mark -- 2/08/2008 5:20 PM  

Professor Karcher:

I remembered the rumblings about this started during the 2007 SuperBowl. I dug up this article which explains why the NFL "shut down" SuperBowl parties in Indiana churches last year:,2933,249539,00.html

I do agree that churches should not be able to profit from showings of the SuperBowl without paying a licensing fee (I think everyone can agree on that). However, if they are organizing a free party, I find the NFL's rationale regarding Nielson ratings to be rather strange. Unless I'm mistaken, aren't those ratings only calculated by using boxes placed in select homes? How significantly would this exception actually affect the ratings? Is Nielson not smart enough to create an equation that can account for the number of viewers at non-profit parties (since apparently they are able to estimate the number of viewers watching from sports bars and large home parties)? I wonder if the NFL has considered the fact that these types of parties often attract people who would not otherwise watch the game at a private residence? How much is the good will of the consumer worth? Maybe I am expecting too much for bureaucratic corporations to look beyond the numbers on their reports.

An exception like this does pose many questions though. What limit would there be square footage and screen size? Why only an exception for churches, and not other non-religious groups? This does seem like an issue the NFL should evaluate on their own accord; it certainly does not sound like an issue for the political system to evaluate.

Obviously I am no expert, but these are just some of the thoughts that popped into my head upon reading Sen. Specter's proposal. I do share similar views with you regarding Sen. Specter - he has been looking more and more like an angered sports fan, and less like a political representative over these past few weeks.

Blogger Andy -- 2/09/2008 2:48 PM  

wouldn't a special exception for churches open the door for any other non profit to challenge the constitutionality of the rule? Creating a slippery slope for the
NFL. Praise Jebus

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