Practical Church Copyright Guide – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part article that features a step-by-step guide to help church leaders navigate the path to copyright compliance.

BY SUSAN FONTAINE GODWIN: If you’re like most church leaders, you wear a lot of hats and juggle multiple responsibilities. Perhaps you’ve been assigned the often confusing and overwhelming task of making sure your church is copyright compliant. We’d like to to help make your job easier by providing a step-by-step Church Copyright Guide

Thank you for taking on the daunting project of researching and securing the proper licensing for your church’s copyright requirements. This resource was designed especially for you. You may be just beginning to research the necessary copyrights for your church, or you may have extensive copyright knowledge. In any case, we want to equip you with tools and resources to assist you, as you seek to educate and inform other ministry leaders.

This “Church Copyright Guide” contains the following sections:

  1. Why Honoring Copyrights Is Important to Your Church
  2. The Beauty of Blanket Licenses

Blanket Licensing

Understanding Blanket Licensing Options

Blanket License Coverage Chart

Streaming License Comparison

  1. Understanding the Basic Building Blocks of Copyrights
  2. Common Church Copyright Needs
  3. Special Projects
  4. Very Specific Concerns
  5. CCS Licensing Cost
  6. Additional Resources

Why Honoring Copyrights Is Important for Your Church

When church leaders or decision makers establish the commitment to BECOMING copyright compliant, it’s essential that they communicate the why, or the reason behind copyright policies and procedures. It really helps to involve your teams and ministries in a unified approach to honoring copyrights. Here are just a few reasons.

Honoring copyrights blesses the entire Body of Believers:

Church copyright compliance helps support and promote the creation of new music and resources for the use of the Church. Copyrighted materials we use in worship and ministry are available to us because someone was called by God to create them, took the time and care to craft them, and used their resources to share them with the world. Making sure these creative individuals are paid for their work allows them to continue in their ministries, and allows our ministries to continue to be blessed by their work!

Honoring copyrights honors the Law:

U.S Copyright Law (section 110[3]) states that churches, and any religious organization, do not have to get permission to perform or play music (or a non-dramatic literary work) during a religious service at a place of worship or other religious assembly. This is often referred to as the “Religious Service Exemption.” Beyond this exemption, however, churches MUST secure licensing for almost any activity and manner in which they use copyrighted materials, just like any other organization or business.

Copyright compliance helps your church avoid lawsuits, fines and large punitive fees. Copyright non-compliance can lead to a civil lawsuit against your church or ministry; pastors, elders and others in leadership could be held personally liable. Courts can impose stiff fines, and authors and publishers could require large, retroactive fees for the unauthorized use of their works. It’s vital for church leaders to have knowledge of all the types of works that can be copyrighted, because of the increasing use of a variety of creative works and the growing risk of liabilities. Copyright infringement penalties can be severe, up to $150,000 for each infringement.

Your church’s compliance will ensure that you avoid the many negative implications of a legal dispute over copyrights.

Honoring copyrights honors God:

Romans 13:1 instructs us that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” So, whether or not we feel copyright compliance should be required for the Church, once we understand that it is required by law, we should diligently work to become compliant.

Honoring copyrights honors songwriters and artists:

When church leaders obtain proper copyright licensing, churches play a significant role in helping to support songwriters and artists, so they are free to focus on their calling and create more works that will bless the Body of Christ.

Common Church Copyright Needs

There are several types of activities in which most churches typically use copyrighted material. For these areas, blanket licenses offer the simplest and most cost effective solution for broad, pre-approved copyright license coverage. The term “blanket license” is used to indicate that copyright owners have granted permission to use their catalogs of copyrighted works in situations where issuing individual licenses would be cumbersome and impractical.

In the Christian community, a blanket license provides pre-approved authorization for your church or ministry to use a particular group of copyrights for very specific uses or rights. In most cases, a group of copyright owners and a third party have developed a licensing solution to simplify legal use of copyrights and assure royalty payments are disbursed to the correct copyright owners.

Blanket Licensing

Each blanket license covers a specific catalog of copyrights for specific uses for a specific period of time (usually one year). The catalogs each license covers may vary greatly, so it’s important to consider the songs your church uses, to ensure you’re getting the best coverage to meet your church’s needs. The annual fees for most blanket licenses are based on the size of your congregation, which greatly facilitates budgeting.

Using blanket licenses will ensure that you have the coverage you need year-round, without requiring you to get individual permissions every time you want to use a copyrighted work.

To be fully compliant, some churches will need just one blanket license. Others will require several. The key is to consider how your church uses copyrighted music and to put together the mosaic of blanket licensing that is right for you. In our “Understanding Blanket Licensing Options” section (below) we will address the various church blanket licenses and explain what each does and does not cover.

Why isn’t there just one license that covers everything? The simple answer is: “Because one size does not fit all.”

Understanding Blanket Licensing Options

There is a lot of confusion regarding what is covered by the various church blanket licenses. Each of them covers very distinct rights and uses with very little overlap between them. Used in combination, they provide the mosaic of coverage churches need. The first step in determining which of these licenses to purchase is to understand what they cover and what they do not cover.

Here are the categories we will address, and the activities each covers:

  • Performance Licensing – Required anytime copyrighted songs are publicly played or performed outside of worship services
  • Streaming Licensing – Required to stream copyrighted songs online
  • Reproduction Licensing – Required to print lyrics in bulletins, song sheets or for use on overhead projectors, for congregational singing
  • Rehearsal Licensing – Required to duplicate sound recording for rehearsals and practice
  • Video Licensing – Required to show videos in your church facilities

When it comes to copyrights, the most foundational action your church should take towards compliance is securing performance licensing.

The U.S Copyright Law (section 110[3]) Religious Service Exemption (as stated above), specifically applies to performances that take place during a worship service, it DOES NOT exempt churches from the requirement for performance licensing outside of services.

Most churches require performance licensing for playing or performing copyrighted music in routine ministry activities, as well as special events, including:

Youth Events Vacation Bible School

Concerts Exercise & Dance Classes

Retreats Music-on-Hold

Conferences & Seminars Camps

Wedding Receptions Music Before & After Service

Plays and Programs Christmas Caroling

Picnics & Barbecues Karaoke

The CCS PERFORMmusic Blanket License is the ONLY one-stop church blanket performance license available in the U.S. and covers more than 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Download our FREE Blanket License Fact Sheet for details on all the available blanket licenses.

Special Projects

Special projects, such as the creation of a CD or DVD, are very individualized and, therefore, are not covered by any blanket license. Depending on the project, you will need to obtain master recording licenses, mechanical licenses, synchronization licenses and/or other special licenses. These licenses can take 4-12 weeks to obtain, so you’ll want to start early. To begin the project, you’ll need to compile the following information for each song you will use:

  • Names of songs(s)
  • Names of writer(s), author(s) and/or producer(s)
  • Who is performing the song version you are using (your praise team, the original artist, or someone else)
  • How you are using the song (video, CD, etc.)
  • Where you are distributing the song (website, live presentations, etc.)

The more complete details you have on your project, obtaining licensing will be faster and easier. Once you have compiled all of the information for your project, you need to contact each individual copyright owner for each song you want to use. Each song may have more than one copyright owner so it’s important to do thorough research. Also, be aware that it is up to the copyright owner(s) as to whether permission for each song use is granted, or not.

If you need individual licenses for songs and sound recordings owned by CCS INDIEadmin clients (like Don Moen and Brooklyn Tabernacle), visit INDIEadmin, scroll down the page and click on the license holder’s logo in order to submit a license request online.  For others copyrights, you can find online licensing at several sites like Music Services and Capitol CMG Publishing.

In Part 2 of this article, we will address: 1) Copyrights 101; 2) Policies and Procedures; 2) Budgeting and Planning.

CCS’s Founder and CVO, Susan Fontaine Godwin is an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 30 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.

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