What Is Your Church’s Copyright Policy?

With summer officially coming to a close it’s a great time to address your church’s copyright policy before the full out fall frenzy begins. Copyright policy? What’s that you may ask? Does your ministry have one? If you don’t – this is a great place to start.

CCS works with thousands of churches and ministries nationwide and one thing we’ve discovered is how few churches have Copyright Compliance statements in place that clearly spell out to employees and volunteers what is and is not acceptable regarding the use of copyrighted materials. So, if your church has not yet tackled this important project, you’re not alone.

We get it – church leaders and administrators are busy and copyright compliance can be overlooked, BUT it is very important to take the time to address this vital topic. Under the U.S. Copyright Law’s “Religious Service Exemption,” churches are granted the free use of some copyrighted materials, under specific, limited circumstances in religious services. However, it’s critical for ministry leaders to know and understand the exceptions—as well as what activities require licensing.

Otherwise, you may face risks and liabilities (including hefty fines) for allegedly featuring copyrighted music without first obtaining permission. Of course, there are also many important spiritual reasons to honor copyrights.

How To Create An Effective Copyright Policy. Copyright issues can be confusing and complex so, at first, the idea of developing a policy can be overwhelming. We’d like to help by offering five steps in working towards an effective Copyright Compliance Policy.

  1. Appoint a Gatekeeper – This person could be someone who has some basic copyright knowledge—your music director or a church member with a legal background—or it could be someone with a vested interest in learning more—a worship leader or choir volunteer. The important thing is that this person is willing to learn about copyrights, consistently convey that information to the church and possess the personal attributes necessary to step in and point out when copyright infringement may be occurring; they have to be willing, at times, to not be the most popular person in the room.
  2. Education: Evaluate How You’re Doing – There are more resources than one might believe when it comes to educating yourself and/or ministry on copyrights! CCS also offers a wealth of FREE educational materials, including fact sheets in our learning library, webinars, blog articles, a downloadable copyright toolkit – or if you have specific questions you can live chat with one of our copyright experts. Our Copyright Compliance Report Card is also a very helpful tool to assist you in analyzing how your church uses copyrighted materials, where you’re doing well, and where you might be falling short.
  3. Make the Most of Blanket Licenses – Unfortunately, one license does not cover all uses of copyrighted material, but you can tremendously expand your overall coverage by obtaining several church blanket licenses. Your Copyright Gatekeeper should first assess all the ways your church uses copyrighted material and make sure you have all of the necessary licenses in place. For example, you may have a CCLI license to print lyrics for projection during services, but that’s only part of the equation. Most churches also need a separate blanket license, CCS’ PERFORMmusic, to legally perform music outside of worship services. Churches that want to stream their music online will also need a streaming license. WORSHIPcast does just that – allowing churches to stream over 20 million songs from the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC catalogs.
  4. Communicate With Your Staff – Once you have licensing in place, it’s important to convey your church’s copyright compliance standards through a written Copyright Commitment. Make sure each person in a leadership position has a copy and post it above copiers, near computers, in your music room and anywhere you think copyright issues might come into play. You may want to use the following example or develop one of your own:

(Our Church)’s Copyright Compliance Commitment

As Christians, we believe it is our duty to live our lives and conduct our ministry in accordance with God’s directive to honor the laws of our land.

The Lord provides us with a wealth of musicians, composers, writers and artists who share their God-given talents with us so that, through the use of their copyrighted works, we can honor Him as we share the message of our faith.

We honor copyrights because:

  • They are protected by U.S. Copyright Law and it is our duty to abide by the laws of the land (Rom. 13:1-6).
  • The Scriptures support and command us to do so (see 1 Tim 5:18, Ex. 20:15, and Mal. 3:10).
  • It is our responsibility to avoid risks and liabilities for the church.
  • We support the creative arts that help provide expressions of worship and honor to God.
  • It sends a message to the next generation and presents an authentic model for our youth regarding respecting and protecting other people’s property. 

Copyright Compliance is one area of responsibility for which we must be ever-vigilant. With that in mind, we have adopted the following Copyright Compliance Policy:

  • As a church body, we will maintain proper licensing.
  • We will never violate explicit or implied copyright laws.
  • Where we have a question, we will ask for guidance and obtain understanding before moving forward with the use of copyrighted materials.
  • We will not limit the Spirit’s direction in growing and developing our ministry out of fear of copyright concerns. Instead, we will seek to understand the necessary issues so that we can move forward in full compliance.

We believe that, as we seek to honor the Lord in this way, our ministry will be blessed. Please address any of your questions to our Copyright Gatekeeper (Name).

  1. Reach out to Copyright Experts. When you have questions or you’re not sure how to handle a copyright compliance issue, there are professional resources you can utilize, whether consulting a copyright attorney or a church copyright service like Christian Copyright Solutions.

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.