Church Summer Programs and the Religious Service Exemption

Regular church attendance may wane in summer months, but it’s a perfect time to focus on innovative outreach programs. We know that God doesn’t take a sabbatical from June to September, and neither do church leaders. Instead, it’s  an ideal season to develop fresh outreach events in their communities. Here are 18 great ideas from LifeWay.

Many ministry leaders wonder how the Religious Service Exemption (RSE) impacts copyright licensing for summer programs presented by a church or religious organization.

Let’s face it, wouldn’t it be nice if the RSE allowed religious organizations to use copyrights any way they want for their programs? BUT, the exemption does not take a vacation during summer month, and it is very specific in what is and is NOT included in its limitations.

The U.S. Religious Service Exemption in the Copyright Law Section (110[3]) allows you to freely perform copyrighted music in your worship service. But did you know that many camps and church summer programs are at risk and out of compliance for performing or playing music in a non-exempt setting? In most cases, using copyrighted songs outside of religious services requires performance licensing.

There is a lot of misinformation or myths when it comes to the RSE, so let’s analyze it in simple terms and address common questions. First, here’s what the exemption states:

“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.

Let’s break it down into three important elements:

  1. Types of copyrights: Only musical works and non-dramatic literary works (like poems, prose, short stories, books, periodicals) are exempt. These are only two of the eight types of works that can be copyrighted.
  2. Types of rights: Only “public performance” and “public display of the works are covered. These are only two of the six rights of the copyright owner.
  3. Location and setting: During the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.

In other words, you do not have to get permission from the copyright owner or pay royalties to perform or play 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 (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 or by satellite).

The Good News is that it’s simple, easy and affordable to obtain performance licensing for more than 19 million songs. CCS’s PERFORMmusic License covers ONSITE performance licensing (in any of your facilities or campuses) for copyrighted musical works from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. You just pay one annual fee (based on the size of your congregation) and then you can legally play and perform music ONSITE and ONLINE in all of your summer activities, as well as year-round programs. For streaming musical performances ONLINE, CCS’s WORSHIPcast License provides comprehensive coverage as well.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and 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 Pinterest. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.