DULUTH – With the online model of church gaining popularity due to the spread of the coronavirus, churches need to be aware of copyright laws for the music and media they use in their services.
While playing a song and sharing the lyrics onscreen during a worship service is likely covered in the license that the church purchased, it is very likely that the church isn’t legally covered to use that same music for a Facebook livestream or on their website, Jon Duncan, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Worship and Music catalyst, shared.
“The surefire way to protect yourself is to use songs or hymns in the public domain,” Duncan added. “In general, these are songs written before 1925, though there are exceptions such as ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’”
But for those who chose to add a modern flair to their services, the simplest and most comprehensive way to be covered either for in-person services or to stream services using music produced after 1925 is by purchasing the appropriate subscription service for their needs through Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), Duncan said, or another similar service such as Christian Copyright Solutions.
“The CCLI license is for lyrics but separate from streaming. There are limitations,” Duncan explained. “For instance, CCLI doesn’t cover the case where a singer doesn’t have a band and downloads prerecorded tracks to play along with a live service.”
Other restrictions include the reposting of YouTube videos. This, in particular, requires express permission from the copyright owner, as it is not covered by provisions for worship services in the Copyright Act.
A basic CCLI Church Copyright License covers the following actions, the CCLI website shares:
- Storing lyrics
- Printing songs
- Recording services, “audio and video, provided you only are recording live music”
- Making custom arrangements
- Projection or display
- Translating songs.
However, it should be noted that streaming the services does require an additional license that is not covered in the basic license. It’s appropriately named a “Streaming License,” and is “an optional coverage designed to enable streaming or podcasting of recorded worship services. The Streaming License provides coverage for every one of the 300,000 songs covered under the CCLI Copyright License.”
Additionally, when worship service eventually get back to normal, music ministers may want to consider the “Rehearsal License,” that enables duplication and sharing of commercial audio recordings when sharing via email, external drives, or with worship planning software and sites.
It should be noted that multi-site churches, traveling ministry, and one-time events all need to consider the appropriate licensing for their ministry as well.
To further avoid confusion, a church could always utilize LifeWay Worship and worshiplyricvideos.com, Duncan suggests. These companies are allowing a church to use their files – stems, tracks, etc. – with no worries about copyrights.
“Facebook is set up in such a way that there is a ton of pressure by artists to police using their material without a license. If a church uses Facebook illegally in this way, then Facebook can temporarily shut down the account,” Duncan said. “I’ve heard of a church in another state that got in trouble this way.”
He added, “It’s not about being intentional in taking the wrong steps, but churches just need to know what materials are fair to use.”
In addition to information about licensing and streaming, CCLI has provided links to helpful how-tos for successfully streaming a worship service.
To find the appropriate license for your church’s worship and streaming needs, visit CCLI.com or call 1-800-234-2446. Scrolling to the bottom of the page reveals prices according to needs and size of the church.
Myriah Snyder serves as content editor of The Christian Index.