3 Ways Your Church Can Avoid Copyright Infringement

Church leaders all want to AVOID RISKS of copyright infringement. The fall is a great time to put policies and procedures in place to insure that your music activities are legally covered, but somehow it’s way too easy to let other priorities crowd out things like music licensing.

Here are 3 COMMON MISTAKES churches make that can greatly increase risks of infringement. If you address these errors, you can avoid the hazards and liabilities of high fines and even possible lawsuits, and have peace of mind knowing you’re legally using copyrighted material.

1) Don’t Maximize Blanket Licenses

Annual blanket licenses are the EASIEST, quickest and most cost effective way to provide pre-authorize coverage for the majority of your activities that use copyrighted material. One of the great features of blanket licenses is that you can sign up online and obtain immediate coverage for any of your programs or activities. Our FREE Blanket License Fact Sheet provides details on all of the available church blanket licenses and outlines what’s covered and what’s not. You can obtain several church blanket licenses to create a mosaic of coverage that dramatically simplifies your licensing requirements.

A Performance Facilities and Event License is necessary for most Church activities and programs. The CCS’s PERFORMmusic license is the only ONE-STOP Church Performance License available in the U.S. and covers 20 million songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Annual fees start at $299.

If you want to webcast or stream your program online, you’ll need a Music Internet Performance License. CCLI’s Streaming License covers more than 300,000 Christian songs, and the CCC’s WORSHIPcast License covers 20 million songs, including Easter, holiday and secular music and starts as low as $225 for an annual fee.

2) Don’t Allow Enough Time for Clearances

Most church leaders excel when it comes to planning and organizing for church events and programs, but copyright clearances are frequently left out off the all important checklist for planning and production. One of the EASIEST ways to incur high licensing fees and penalties or even infringement lawsuits is to try to get permissions and licensing at the LAST MINUTE. It’s especially high risk to request licensing after the fact.

It often takes time to locate the correct copyright owner(s) or administrator, communicate details of your activity and obtain the license. We suggest that you allow at least 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 3 months for some secular songs and recordings approval.

3) Assume the Religious Service Exemption Covers Everything

The religious service exemption (RSE) of the U.S. Copyright Law  (Section 110[3]) is probably the most important part of the law for churches, because it provides that:

“performance of a non-dramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly” shall not constitute infringement of copyright.

In other words, you do not have to get permission from the copyright owner or pay royalties to perform music or display the lyrics of a work in a religious service. This applies to the “performance” and “display” rights, which are only two of the six rights of the copyright owner.

The exemption does NOT apply to the exclusive rights of the copyright owner to:

1) REPRODUCE (make a duplicate or copy) a copyrighted work;

2) DISTRIBUTE the work;

3) make a DERIVATIVE work (like a translation or arrangement) or;

4) PERFORM a digital sound recording (through digital transmission on the Internet).

It’s also critical to note that it does NOT cover activity outside your religious service. Remember the exemption only applies “…in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.”

You’ll find a lot more details on the RSE in Chapter 3 of our FREE eBook, Solve the Puzzle of Copyrights: Six Steps To Learning How To Do Music Right” by Susan Fontaine Godwin. You can download the eBook for FREE here. for more details about copyrighted works and the owner’s bundle of exclusive rights.

If you need any help avoid these three common MISTAKES, feel free to call one of the CCS reps at 855-5SOLVER (576-5837) for assistance.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, and Facebook.   The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.