A word to
original article (below) was written for an audience
of celebrants. It does, however, explain why your
celebrant will acknowledge the author of any poem or
reading used in your ceremony.
DISCLAIMER: The content of
this article is intended to provide a general guide
and heads-up to celebrants about the basics of
copyright and moral rights. You should familiarize
yourself with the specific intellectual property
legislation in your own country.
Copyright is an exclusive property right.
is the legal right of the creator, or someone the
creator has assigned copyright to, to control and
profit from how creative material, as an object, and
therefore an asset, is used. Since the invention of
the printing press opened the way for easy
reproduction of text, in particular, it has been an
important protection for the creators of original
literary “works”. In the 21st century it has become
even more important, thanks to the way Google and
SEO respond to multiple copies of the same material.
However, misconceptions are widespread.
A little bit of history
The Berne Convention (1886) established recognition
of copyrights amongst sovereign nations, allowing
foreign and domestic authors being treated
equivalently in any country that is a signatory. In
1995, The World Trade Organization incorporated the
Berne Convention regulations into its TRIPS
agreement, giving creators of “works” close to
global copyright protection.
Some basic facts about
- Copyright is an intellectual property right
that gives the owner of a creative 'work' the
exclusive right to make copies of that 'work'.
- Copyright subsists in the 'work' once it is
fixed in tangible form. What this means for a
celebrant is that once you have created a
ceremony script, for example, it is
copyright-protected. An extempore ceremony would
not be protected.
- To be eligible for copyright protection a
'work' must be an original 'work' that meets the
requirements for copyrighted material. The
operative word is original, which does not
necessarily mean that the 'work' is unique. It
is conceivable that two different authors may
own copyright on substantially identical
'works', as long as it can be determined that
the apparent duplication was coincidental, and
neither 'work' was copied from the other.
- Copyright is separate from the property right
in an object. Owning a book does not give you
ownership of the copyright, unless it has
been assigned to you by the copyright holder.
Likewise, if you give a copy of their ceremony
script to a couple you retain the copyright
unless you also assign your copyright in that
ceremony to them.
Things that can't be
No one can copyright ideas or information, You can
only copyright the form or manner in which
those ideas or that information is expressed. For
example, if you have developed a symbolic ritual you
cannot copyright the idea of that symbolic ritual,
however original it might be, but the text you
created in relation for that ritual is protected.
Other things of relevance to a celebrant that can’t
- Names, including Business Names, Titles of
a 'work' (eg a poem or a book), Slogans, or
Short Phrases. These may, however, be
trademarked, an expensive and quite difficult
process that requires you to meet a high
threshold of originality. For example, while my
application to trademark Pride Ceremonies® was
successful, my application to trademark Warm and
Wonderful Weekday Weddings was rejected on the
grounds that if failed to meet the threshold of
- Non-transcribed speeches (unless it has
been recorded on video). Worth noting if you are
a celebrant who “wings it”.
- Ideas and Concepts
In addition, a celebrant cannot claim copyright over
a ceremony, for example, which is highly derivative.
To put it bluntly, if you knocked off significant
amounts of someone else’s 'work' and are passing it
off as your own, even in a highly adapted form, you
cannot claim copyright over the whole work, even if
it is partly your original work. This applies to
websites and blogs as well.
EDIT: This article was
written before the celebrants started to get all
excited about the possibility of using
Artificial Intelligence tools to write
ceremonies. So the whole question of copyright
as it might apply to bot-written works has not
been tested in court. However, the basic
principle would suggest that a celebrant could
not claim copyright over a 'work' wholly or
partly created by an artificial intelligence
What does copyright allow
you to do?
As with any other form of property, copyright gives
you, as the owner, the right to decide whether
someone else can use the 'work' and how they can use
it. As the copyright holder you have the legal right
to allow or stop someone else from
- Reproducing it in various forms, for example,
a printed publication or a sound recording
- Performing it in public, or broadcasting it to
- Making copies and distributing them
- Translating it into another language
- Adapting it
What do you have to do to
assert your copyright in a 'work' you have
In most countries you are not required to register
or apply for copyright in your 'work'. Nonetheless,
where your country’s laws provide for registration
there could be some monetary benefits in registering
it should your copyright be infringed.
Regardless of whether you have registered it or not,
it is best practice to attach a copyright notice to
each 'work', including your website. Such a notice
would include ©, the letter C inside a circle, or
the word Copyright
, followed by the year of
the first publication of the 'work' and your name.
What if you are an
employee working for someone else?
Let’s say you are a “staff celebrant” for a
business, perhaps a funeral home or wedding venue.
As a paid employee any ceremony or other material
you create will be a “work for hire”, and as such,
your employer will own the copyright.
It is therefore important to clarify that you retain
the intellectual property when you are create a
ceremony for a couple who have hired you directly,
and to detail that in your contract, together with
what you give them permission to do with it. You
should also put a copyright statement on every
How long does your
Original 'works' are copyright-protected for a
certain number of years after the death of the
creator. Generally that period will be for 70 years,
though some jurisdictions specify a shorter or
longer period. Some jurisdictions allow copyright to
be extended. Others do not.
What happens when you die?
Because it is a property right, you can bequeath
your copyright to anyone you wish. In your will.
How might your
copyright be infringed?
your 'work' is reproduced or otherwise used by
someone who has no legal right to do so, that person
infringes your copyright. The most likely ways in
which someone might infringe a celebrant’s copyright
would be by downloading and uploading to their own
website, republishing in any form, adapting and
using or publishing, or performing the 'work' in a
public space without having your permission to do
so. A 'work' does not have to be copied in its
entirety for that copying to be classified as
you need to know
- There is a difference between a published
“work” and one that is in the public domain
Regardless of how freely accessible it might be,
publishing a 'work' is not the same as putting
it in the public domain, though people often
confuse the two. So publishing on your website
where anyone can find it, does not mean that the
work has entered the public domain, where it can
be freely used by anyone.
- Infringement and profit
Not making any money from copyright infringing
use of someone else’s copyrighted material does
not let you off the hook.
- The threshold of originality
To even qualify to be protected by copyright a
'work' must meet (quite low) standards of
originality. In Australia, for example, the
author has to have exercised some skill,
labour, and effort, and in the UK, some
skill, labour, and judgment . Being required to
pass a test of originality does not mean that
the 'work' has to be totally unique (as in new
and novel). By its nature, for example, a
wedding ceremony can be original, but will
hardly be unique, given the numbers of wedding
ceremonies created and conducted every day..
- Fair use
Usage that would otherwise be an infringement is
allowed under the doctrine of 'fair use', often
referred to as the 10% rule. The problem is that
it is not the amount, but the way in which that
amount is used, that defines whether the usage
is fair. You can quote in review or criticism,
in new reporting, in research, and for
educational purposes (eg in an essay written as
a student). And that’s it. Celebrant use falls
outside of these.
- Giving the original author proper credit
does not absolve anyone from infringing
- Copying licences exist. In Australia,
Celebrant Associations commonly obtain a group
copying licence on behalf of members. It is
worth exploring whether you can be covered by
one if you are based in another country.
Licences are available in the UK, New Zealand
and Canada and may be available in other
Thanks for reading!