ASCAP Celebrates 100 Years Promoting Performance Rights for Songwriters

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is celebrating “100 Days, 100 Years”  on their website, featuring historical milestones over their 100 year history, and interviews with writers and artists, like Amy Grant. CCS congratulates ASCAP on 100 years of promoting, protecting, collecting and paying royalties for songs on behalf of writers and publishers.

On February 13, 1914, at the Hotel Claridge in New York City, a group of prominent, visionary music creators founded ASCAP. Some of the charter members included composer Victor Herbert, Gustave Kerker, Raymond Hubbell, Harry Tierney, Louis A. Hirsch, Rudolf Friml, Robert Hood Bowers, Silvio Hein, Alfred Baldwin Sloane and Irving Berlin. ASCAP’s first president was George Maxwell.

ASCAP is one of three performance rights organizations (PROs) in the U.S., along with BMI and SESAC. ASCAP has distributed $4.2 billion to its members over the past five years. Revenue distributed by PROs last year to writers and publishers was more than $1.75 billion.

Music performance rights represent a fairly simple concept, but one that is often misunderstood by churches. Myths often spread when there are misunderstandings, so this paper focuses on identifying five common myths in regards to the performance rights for songs and music in the context of church activities.

Performance Rights Basics

Let’s look at some brief definitions to help lay the groundwork for understanding performance licensing. First, the legal definition of a performance is

“…an instance of music being performed “in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”

Most church performances fit those criteria. A performance license grants permission to have these public performances, whether it is a live performance or playing of pre-recorded music.

Performance licenses are controlled and managed by performing rights organizations or “PROs.” The three PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Every songwriter and publisher who wants to be paid performance royalties is registered with one of these three organizations, which represent more than 16 million songs. PROs collect performance license fees for a wide range of uses, from Internet, radio and TV broadcast to stadiums and restaurants.

Churches qualify for an important exemption in the U.S. Copyright Law (section 110[3]), but it is vital that church leaders understand which performances qualify for the exemption and which do not. According to the exemption, the following performances are not infringements of copyright:

“Performance of a nondramatic music work or of a dramatico-music work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.”

Licensing is required, however, when churches perform and play music outside of their religious services, including special holiday programs. Here’s a list of some of the activities and events where you may need performance licensing:

  • Christmas caroling
  • Holiday concerts and programs
  • Wedding receptions
  • Fundraisers and social events
  • Youth events
  • Dance/aerobic classes
  • Streaming your services or events online

CCS is honored to partner with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC  to provide one-stop performance licenses for churches and non-profit ministries with our PERFORMmusic License and WORSHIPcast License for internet streaming. Both licenses make copyright coverage simple and affordable for churches and provide a strong revenue source for worship songwriters and publishers.

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