There are a lot of myths surrounding copyrighted material and its use in the church. We’ve assembled a list of the the most common myths we come across, along with explanations, to better inform the Christian community of its requirements and responsibilities when using copyrighted works.
If I only use 10 seconds of a song or of a video clip, we don’t need to ask permission.
False. In most cases, the length of a recording or any copyrighted
material does not alter the requirement to obtain permission from the copyright
owner. In some cases, it may impact the cost or rate of the license, but it does
not exempt you from first asking and receiving copyright clearance from the owner
before using it. Some may argue that the Copyright Law fair use doctrine allows
for using a small portion of a copyrighted work without permission, but this doctrine
is quite complicated in its application and we recommend that you either obtain
legal advice from an attorney about your particular situation or read this article on fair use by Brock Shinen, Esq. before
assuming fair use applies to your use. There are some pretty interesting court rulings
that have found in favor of the copyright owner for use of as little as 1% of copied
material, as well as 29 seconds of a 40-minute copyrighted musical work. (See pg.
90 of "Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches" by Richard R. Hammar, J.D.,
If we’re not selling the CDs or DVDs we make, we don’t have to get a license for recording songs. We’re not making money on what we’re doing.
False. Whether you are selling or making a commercial profit does not affect your legal obligation to obtain permission from the copyright owner. The right to reproduce the original copyright, in this case in the form of making copies of CDs and DVDs, is the exclusive right of the copyright owner and requires permission. Copyright owners may consider granting gratis permission in some cases, but they will usually issue a license for the right to reproduce the song and charge some type of royalty fee (the current rate for CDs is $.091 per song per unit 5:00 minutes or under). A statutory compulsory license can also be obtained through the U.S. Copyright Office for the right to mechanically record in audio format a song that has been recorded at least once prior to your reproduction of it.
The religious service exemption allows me to broadcast my church's performances.
False. While the U.S. Copyright Law religious service exemption allows churches to play and perform copyrighted music in a religious service without paying royalties, this exemption does not extend to re-transmission of the service. This may have been a grey area until 2006, when a publisher named Simpleville took a radio station to court for rebroadcasting several churches’ services, including the music portion. The defendant’s argument against liability was that he could broadcast the songs because the songs had been performed during church services. The court rejected the argument, stating that the exemption applies only to performances that occur at the place of worship; it does not extend to broadcasts of those performances. The Congressional history shows that the exemption does "not extend to religious broadcasts or other transmissions to the public at large, even when the transmissions were sent from a place of worship." If a church is going to have its services on TV or radio, those stations will need to have a performance license. If a church is going to webcast its services, it will at least need a performance license if it is performing copyrighted music.
Performance rights licenses are expensive and difficult to obtain.
False. Many folks believe that performance licenses are difficult and expensive to maintain, but this is not true. Christian Copyright Solutions offers two licenses that cover more than 17 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. The PERFORMmusic license (starting at $199) provides churches and ministries with a license for the performance of live and pre-recorded music in their facilities, including satellite campuses. The WORSHIPcast license allows churches and ministries to webcast their performances of more than 17 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and starts as low as $225.
I'm only changing a few words in the lyrics so I don't need permission, right?
False. Changing, modifying or revising lyrics to a copyrighted song is the exclusive derivative right of the song owner and requires permission from the owner or his/her administrator. This also applies to translating songs from the original language into a second language; e.g., translating from English to Spanish.
I can make any change I want with lyrics and music for songs in the public domain.
True. If a song is in the pubic domain, you can make any changes you want to it, including changing lyrics, or adding a verse or chorus. You can also set new music to existing public domain lyrics or text. A great example of adapting or modifying a public domain song, is Chris Tomlin’s contemporary adaptation of "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)."
Christian Copyright Solutions
P.O. Box 1252
Fairhope, Alabama 36533
Phone: 855-5SOLVER (576-5837)