Five Common Copyright Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Church leaders wear many hats and juggle multiple responsibilities. Adding copyright licensing to the mix may not be a top priority, and we know it can also be overwhelming and confusing. So it’s not surprising there are some common mistakes often made by churches on copyright issues.

We’ve identified the five most common mistakes churches make that greatly increase risks of infringement. If you address these issues, you’ll make great strides towards reaching your goal of honoring copyright owners.

#1 – Forget to Evaluate Church Copyright Activities

It’s easy to avoid the pitfall of copyright infringement by answering just 12 questions. If you have five minutes to spare, we encourage you to take our free online, interactive Copyright Compliance Report Card. You’ll get your church’s score AND find out how to quickly strengthen your music license coverage, or change the way you are using copyrighted material. Once you get your results, you’ll have a simple way to make sure your church ministries are legally covered to use the music they want.

#2 – Allow Insufficient Time for Clearances

Most church leaders excel when it comes to planning and organizing church events and programs, but copyright clearances are frequently left off the checklist for planning and production. It takes time to locate the correct copyright owner(s) or administrator, communicate details of your activity and obtain the license. We suggest allowing at least three to four weeks for Christian music and up to three months for secular songs and recordings approval. 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.

#3 – Don’t Maximize 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. One of the best features of blanket licenses is that you can sign up online and obtain immediate coverage for any of your programs or activities. Our Blanket License Fact Sheet provides details on all the available church blanket licenses and outlines what’s covered and what’s not. You can obtain several church blanket licenses to create a mosaic of coverage that dramatically simplifies your licensing requirements.

An Onsite Facilities Music License is necessary for most Church activities and programs. CCS’s PERFORMmusic license is the only one-stop Church Performance License available in the U.S. and covers over 20 million songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. The PERFORMmusic license covers a wide range of performances of live and pre-recorded music outside of religious services.

If you want to webcast or stream your program online, you’ll need an Online Streaming License. The WORSHIPcast license allows you to webcast your performances of copyrighted music of over 20 million songs. These webcasts can be live or on-demand and webcasting isn’t limited to worship services and also covers concerts and studio recordings of your worship team. Both of these licenses are available separately, or as a BUNDLE license with one low annual fee. 

#4 – Forget to P.L.A.N. for Copyright Compliance

The key to copyright compliance is organizing and having a P.L.A.N. Ideally, if you begin planning three months prior to major seasonal productions, like Easter and Christmas, you will allow time for clearances and avoid high fees and penalties.

  • Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work you plan on using for each program or event. You can include this list in your creative program checklist: 
  • Learn the basics of the copyright law or let a copyright professional help with research and licenses.
  • Allow enough time to research and obtain permission, usually 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 12 weeks for secular.
  • Never use copyright 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.

#5 – 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:

  • Reproduce (make a duplicate or copy) a copyrighted work;
  • Distribute the work;
  • Make a derivative work (like a translation or arrangement);
  • 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”.

More questions? Call us at 1-877-394-5566 or live chat with one of our copyright experts right here on our site.

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.

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