7 Common Mistakes with Easter Program Copyright Licensing

Happy spring! The spring equinox (March 20) reminds us that warmer, sunnier days are just around the corner, despite relentless snow and winds in some parts of the country. As church leaders prepare for Easter celebrations, here are some guidelines for avoiding risks of copyright infringement that could dampen the joy of the season.

We have identified 7 COMMON MISTAKES churches make on planning Easter programs that can greatly increase risks of infringement. If you address these mistakes, you’ll help your church  “do music right.”  

MISTAKE #1 – Fail to Learn the Basics of Copyrights 101

There are three building blocks that are essential for Christian leaders to understand which blanket licenses you need and what they cover:

  1. What is a copyright, and what works and rights do the U.S. Copyright Law protect?
  2. What are the creative works that can be copyrighted?
  3. What are the exclusive rights of copyright owners and how do they impact the church’s use of copyrighted material?

Once you have a grasp on the building blocks you will be prepared to begin your journey towards copyright compliance.

MISTAKE #2 – Allow Insufficient Time for Clearances

This can be difficult with weekly services and activities and last minute changes, and that’s why BLANKET LICENSES are so important, as well as policies and procedures. Most church leaders excel when it comes to planning and organizing for church events and programs, but copyright clearances are frequently left 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 to clear licenses. Further, working this far in advance allows you time to adjust your program if a license is denied.

MISTAKE #3 – Not Maximizing Blanket Licenses

Annual blanket licenses are the EASIEST, quickest and most cost-effective way to provide coverage IN ADVANCE for many of your activities that use copyrighted material. Many church leaders make the mistake of not fully utilizing all of the licenses especially created for churches and ministries. 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.

MISTAKE #4 – Assume One License Covers Everything

One of the biggest MISTAKES churches make is assuming that ONE church blanket license covers every type of copyrighted work and any way they want to use it. Here’s a great example:

The CCLI Church License covers more than 300,000 Christian songs and allows churches to reproduce, duplicate or copy those songs for five different congregational singing activities (see list on our Blanket License Fact Sheet for details). Churches often think that this license allows them to PERFORM or PLAY those songs in bookstores, coffee shops or at a concert or that they can then STREAM the songs on their website. It does NOT. But it’s important to understand what each blanket license covers by considering the following critical questions:

  1. What type of copyright is covered in the license?
  2. What type of right(s) is authorized by the license? There are six different exclusive rights that the copyright owner has and the right to reproduce is only one.
  3. What group or catalog of copyrights is included in each license?
  4. What specific uses or activities are included in the license? The CCLI license is restricted to congregational singing, so the right to make an audio recording of a song from an event (like a holiday program or concert) that doesn’t include congregational singing is NOT covered. The PERFORMmusic allows you to play and/or perform 20 million songs, but it doesn’t allow you to REPRODUCE or record those songs on a video or sound recording.

Most churches greatly benefit from having multiple blanket licenses in place. Simplify and maximize your “pre-approved” licensing coverage by putting together a MOSAIC of these licenses for optimum coverage.

MISTAKE # 5 – Forget to PLAN for Copyright Compliance

The key to copyright compliance is organizing and having a PLAN:

  1. Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work you plan on using for each program or event. Budget for royalties and license fees. You can include this list in your creative program checklist;
  2. Learn the basics of the Copyright Law or let a copyright professional help with research and licenses;
  3. Allow enough time to research and obtain permission, usually 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 12 weeks for secular;
  4. Never use copyrighted material without permission or exemption. If you don’t have permission, then find another way of creatively expressing your ideas. Perhaps one of your team members can write a new song to fit the concept you’re developing.

MISTAKE #6 – Assume the Religious Service Exemption Covers Everything

The religious service exemption 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”

MISTAKE #7 – Fail to Communicate Church Copyright Policies and Procedures

It’s the responsibility of church worship leaders, administrators, and senior leadership to communicate copyright compliance policies and procedure with all of their employees and volunteers. This will probably take time and many discussions to formulate specific policies, but clear communication of expectations is the key. Remember…copyright compliance is a process and it takes time, but you can start by targeting the key areas where there may currently be risks and liabilities in your church activities, especially on your websites.

If you’re feeling a little lost and you’re not sure how to evaluate how your church is doing right now, we have a wonderful tool we recently developed. Download the FREE Church Copyright Toolkit, today and you’ll learn how copyrights work, what kind of licensing your church needs based on your usage, and receive step-by-step instructions on how to become compliant and avoid any potential copyright infringement going forward.

As we discussed, it’s really important to do a comprehensive evaluation of what copyrights you’re using before you can really optimize the various licensing solutions. If you have any questions please contact one of our copyright experts at 877-394-5566. Or log onto our website and chat live now.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 30 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.

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, Facebook, and YouTube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.