I’ll admit that a long time ago…errrrr, I’d better not admit anything! And thus begins our foray into the realm of copyright law, copyright infringement, and everything you need to know so your church stays out of trouble. As a church, can you play any music you want? Is it ok to show a video clip with “Eye of the Tiger” as the music bed? Much of the copyright infringement that occurs is because many of us have believed three myths. I’m not sure how these false beliefs came about but I can tell you one thing, if you’re reading this, well, go and sin no more.
The Three Big Church Music Copyright Myths
Myth #1: We are a church and therefore are exempt from copyright / performance licensing.
I’ve been there. Or maybe I haven’t. This is the trap in which most people fall. Just because you are a religious organization that gets a tax break, it doesn’t mean you get a copyright break. It doesn’t mean you can use other people’s copyrighted work in any way you see fit. Oh, there are some things you can do, but there is a lot you can’t.
Churches do not need a performance license to play / perform copyrighted music IN A WORSHIP SERVICE. Note the importance of those last words. Your church might play music in their coffee shop. They might play it as part of their telephone’s “on hold” music. Oh, and don’t forget about Vacation Bible School! In such cases, you need to follow copyright protocol and pay for the licensing. It’s only in the case of the worship service that you are free to use the music either by playing it or performing it. There is one exception but let’s keep this simple for now.
Myth #2: Our CCLI license keeps us protected regarding performance licensing.
You wish. The generic CCLI covers printing of songs, hymns, and lyrics for congregational singing. It covers those creative Christmas songbooks your church hands out during the Christmas service…for congregational singing. The CCLI license also covers your lyric projection…for congregational singing. See a trend? But wait, there’s more! The CCLI license covers your bands creative music arrangement and recording of worship services onto recordable media like CD’s and DVD’s…in a LIMITED MANNER.
Think of the CCLI license as a protective measure which covers certain ways in which you can use the music, NOT in how you can perform or broadcast the music. The CCLI license is only a step in following proper copyright usage.
Myth #3: We can broadcast our church service under the religious service copyright exception.
Yes, there is a copyright exemption but it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can broadcast your service, without paying for licensing / royalties AS LONG AS YOU AREN’T BROADCASTING MUSIC THAT WOULD OTHERWISE REQUIRE LICENSING. Let’s put it this way, if you want the band to play “Where the Streets Have No Name,” by U2, then that’s alright AS LONG AS YOU DON’T AIR IT OUTSIDE THE BUILDING. And the same goes for most any copyrighted music.
Even though technology has brought us to a point where we can think of church services as “always online” or “on the radio every Sunday at 8am,” you must think of a church service as an event which occurs at a location where a congregation is present. Any other broadcast or re-broadcast requires special performance licensing. This includes podcasts, radio, internet-streaming and any other form of broadcast / rebroadcast.
Important Notes on Church Music Usage
Before jumping into copyright licensing, let’s look at a simple summation of what’s been described so far:
- Churches do not need a performance license to play / perform copyrighted music in the context of a church service.
- A “generic” CCLI license is a protective measure which covers certain ways in which you can use the music, it’s not a performance license.
- Your church likely uses music outside of the service such as on-hold music, Vacation Bible School, dances, graduations, retreats, etc.
- Broadcasts and re-broadcasts require performance licensing.
All that being said, where do you begin? First of all, access your licensing needs. There are a variety of licensing packages available and you want to get exactly what you need. Do you broadcast/podcast/stream or re-broadcast your services? Do they include the worship portions? Does the pastor ever use music in a sermon illustration? Think man, think! If music get’s played outside of the church service, you better have the licensing for it.
Using the Right License
There are several types of licensing packages you can purchase, on an annual basis. Some are more comprehensive than others. At the end, you’ll find one that is used on a case-by-case basis. The below packages have been created by Christian Copyright Solutions and Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Each package varies in cost. I have listed the costs for a church of under 500 members for easy reference.
The Church Copyright License is an agreement with songwriters and publishers. Your church will be authorized to copy songs, from an existing list, for use by / for the congregation.Covers printing lyrics in bulletins, programs, and songsheets for use by the congregation. Also covers creating songbooks for the congregation. Covers displaying lyrics for the congregation on screens. Covers arranging, printing, and copying new arrangements used for the congregation, where no published version is available. Covers recording your worship services but NOT accompaniment tracks. Does allow for charging a limited fee for distribution of recordings (CD, DVD, etc.)Does NOT cover copying instrumental work or song language translation. Does not allow for renting, selling, or lending copies to groups outside of the church or to other churches. Just to clarify, per CCLI, “It is OK to distribute recordings to shut-ins, missionaries or others outside the church.”Cost: Under $300 / year for a church of between 200 and 499 people.Find Out More: CCLI Licensing
Allows for legally streaming / podcasting your live-recorded worship service music on your church’s website or other streaming services. All CCLI songs are covered under the “Church Streaming & Podcast License” however, you must purchase the CCLI Church Copyright License as well.This license does NOT cover the streaming of “secular” songs. This would require a webcasting license from the performance rights societies (ASCAP, BMI, SEASAC).Cost: $75 / year or less for churches under 500 (+ cost of CCLI license)Find Out More: CCLI Streaming and PodCasting License
Allows worship leaders / music directors to copy / share commercial audio recordings via email, flash drives or on worship planning websites like PlanningCenter. Song copies are NOT intended for long term personal use.Cost: $150 / year for churches of 200 and 499 peopleFind Out More: CCLI Church Rehearsal License
This is the end of the CCLI licenses. They cover a lot but they are limited in the amount of material they cover. This is when you need to consider a different package…
4. WorshipCast by Christian Copyright Solutions
Streaming license covering more than 16 million songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. This is for when the CCLI license doesn’t cover the songs you use. CCLI is limited to around 200,000 songs and while that’s a lot, it doesn’t cover the secular side.Webcasts can be live or on-demand and are not limited to worship services. This license also covers concerts and studio recordings of your worship team.This license does NOT cover downloading of music. Webcasting of master recordings or accompaniment tracks requires additional licensing.Reporting: Usage must be reported if the church’s average weekly attendance is 5,000 or more.Cost: $500 / year for churches under 500 peopleFind Out More: WorshipCast
5. PerformMusic by Christian Copyright Solutions
Remember how I mentioned vacation bible school and “On-hold” music, well this is the place for that. PerformMusic covers the 16+ million songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. This license covers anything outside of the church worship service.The PERFORM music license covers live and pre-recorded music including:
- Coffee shops
- Concerts (non-ticketed)
- Picnics & barbecues
- Singles groups
- Dance classes
- Conferences & seminars
- Vacation Bible School
- On-hold music
Reporting: This license requires no reporting.
Cost: $280 / year for churches of 200 and 499 people
Find Out More: PerformMusic
Consider this the “hire as needed” solution. PermissionPLus is useful for securing all of the licenses you need for creating / distributing audio disks, videos, digital downloads, podcasts, and even print projects. Per Christian Copyright Solutions, “You can also use PERMISSIONSplus to register your works with the US Copyright office, CCLI, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, as well as order ISRC and UPC codes.”Cost: Paid for with a crediting system. You buy credits and trade them for the work.Find Out More: PermissionsPlus
The Take Away
Believing the top three church copyright myths can get you into a lot of trouble. You now know the truth and what you need to do. If you think, “awww, no one will notice if we don’t get the license,” then I remind you that you are doing Kingdom work. It’s not the place to cut corners or pretend you don’t need to follow the rules.
*Note this article is based on United States Copyright law.
**This article not available for syndication.
READ THIS NOW! If you still have questions regarding music usage after reading this article, please do NOT leave your question here as I’m not a copyright attorney. Instead, CONTACT Christian Copyright Solutions.
The Next Steps
Your best bet is checking out the Church Copyright Toolkit that covers common questions, outlines the types of licensing solutions, and much more.