Copyright myths are prevalent and plentiful when it comes to churches using copyrighted material. What exactly is a myth? One definition is “a widely held but false belief or idea,” and there are many ideas that lead church leaders to infringement risks. When it comes to music performance rights, we’d like to address five of the most common myths.
My church doesn’t need a performance license in order to play music for our VBS programs? True or False?
FALSE. When you play recorded music or perform songs outside of a religious service, your church needs a performance license from the song copyright owners, or with the performance rights organizations, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Your church VBS program does NOT qualify under the Religious Service Exemption (U.S. Copyright Law (Section 110)as a religious service, which covers “during the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.” CCS’s PERFORMmusic Facilities License provides easy, immediate and cost-effective performance blanket coverage for 20 million songs (Christian, holiday and secular) from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Our church summer camp programs don’t need a performance license to cover playing music or performing songs during any camp activity or event. True or False?
FALSE: Camp programs often feature recorded music at various events and activities, as well as performing music at sing-alongs, concerts and during worship. These public performances and uses require performance licensing and can be secured from individual song owners, or ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, or CCS’s PERFORMmusic Facilities License.
If we make a memory video of a youth event or mission trip, we don’t need a synchronization license to feature a song or background music with the video because it’s for a good cause. True or False?
FALSE: You need a synchronization (sync) license to legally reproduce a copyrighted song in timed relation with visual images; e.g., motion pictures, video, promo audiovisuals, etc. Requests for sync licenses can be denied by the publisher, so it’s important to obtain a license prior to producing the video. In addition, publishers can set any rate they want for these licenses. If you also reproduce a third party’s recording of the song, you will also need to get a master sync license from the owner of the recording, which is a separate copyright from the musical composition. If you want to stream the video on your website, you will also need a digital or streaming performance license. CCS’s WORSHIPcast Streaming License allows you to stream your performances of more than 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
“Churches are exempt from performance licensing.” True or False?
FALSE. Another common misunderstanding of the copyright exemption is when churches believe that the exemption applies to all of their activities and use of copyrighted music, regardless of the context. This is not the case. The religious service exemption applies only to actual religious services. All other performances require a performance license, as stated below:
“…in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.”
Outside of religious services, churches have the same copyright responsibilities as a restaurant, business or stadium.
“My church does not perform music outside of services.” True or False?
While we can’t exactly answer this one for you, this is very rarely the case, When church leaders realize that the religious service exemption does not apply to music performed outside of services, often the immediate response is, “We don’t play any music outside of services.” But, aAfter some quick reflection, most churches recognize that they are playing lots of music outside of their worship services, including:
- Picnics & BBQs
- Vacation Bible School
- Carnivals & Festivals
- Award ceremonies
- Coffee shops
- Singles groups
- Testimonials & Retirements
- Dance classes
- Exercise classes
- Conferences & Seminars
- Sporting events
- Movie nights
- Youth group gatherings
- Guest speakers
- Wedding receptions
- On-hold music
- Music before & after service
- Community events
- Retirement home visits
Each church should review its music uses to determine if it needs a performance license. Most will find that they do. While the Religious Service Exemption is definitely helpful, it doesn’t cover many of the ways we play or perform music today. If you have any questions please visit our Learning Center and download FREE informational sheets on a wide variety of copyright issues. We also urge you to call us at 877-394-5566 or log on to chat with one of our copyright experts.
Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 32 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.