The religious service exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law (Section 110) is probably the most important part of the law for churches and religious organizations to understand, 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.
It’s important to note that the exemption states:
“…in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.”
As long as services are being conducted at a religious service gathering, the exemption will apply even if they are held in “non-religious” venues such as an auditorium, stadium or theater. The exemption allows you to play or perform music, and this includes playing recordings of music. The exemption excludes and does not apply to performance activities at a place of worship that are for social, educational, fund raising or entertainment purposes.
This limitation 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:
1) reproduce a copyrighted work;
2) distribute the work;
3) make a derivative work (like a translation or arrangement) or;
4) perform a digital sound recording (through digital transmission on the Internet).
Download and read our FREE Religious Service Exemption Fact Sheet for more details about how churches and ministries can benefit from the exemption, as well as information on copyrighted works and the owner’s bundle of exclusive rights.
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.