Myth Solvers: Summer Church Activities

Copyright myths are plentiful when it comes to churches using copyrighted material. Summer is no exception. A common misunderstanding is believing the religious service exemption applies to all uses of copyrighted music, regardless of the context. However, this isn’t the case. Outside of religious services, churches have the same copyright responsibilities as a restaurant, business, or stadium.

Today we’re looking at common copyright myths as they pertain to a few summer church activities. 

MYTH: My church doesn’t need a performance license in order to play music for our VBS programs.

FACT: 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[3])as a religious service, which covers “during the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.”

MYTH: Our church summer camp programs don’t need a performance license to cover playing music or performing songs during any camp activity or event.

FACT: 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. 

MYTH: 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.

FACT: 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. 

MYTH: My church doesn’t perform music outside of services.

FACT: 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 doesn’t apply to music performed outside of services, often the immediate response is, “We don’t play any music outside of services.” But, after some quick reflection, most churches recognize that they are playing lots of music outside of their worship services, including many popular summertime events:

  • Picnics & BBQs
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Camps
  • Concerts
  • Retreats
  • Singles groups
  • Dances
  • Exercise classes
  • Movie nights
  • Youth group gatherings
  • Guest speakers
  • Patriotic community events

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. Licensing can be secured from individual song owners, the PROs or with CCS’s PERFORMmusic Facilities License. Streaming on your website also requires a digital or streaming performance license. CCS’s WORSHIPcast Streaming License allows you to stream your performances of more than 25 million songs from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

If you have any questions we encourage you to download our FREE fact sheet “Why Your Church Needs Performance Licensing”. We also urge you to call us at 877-394-5566 or log on to chat with one of our copyright experts.

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.