Thanks to today’s technology, we now live in a fantastic electronic age, where worship events can be recorded by good quality (but still inexpensive) video and audio equipment and then quickly posted on Vimeo, Facebook, or YouTube for the world to see. All of this is a great ministry for shut-in’s, people checking out your church, outreach, and more. In addition, DVD’s can be burnt in no time and distributed… allowing the VBS Friday night celebration or the Christmas children’s choir to be captured quickly, as we know parents love these mementos. But, these tools need to be used correctly.
Over the last few years, our permissions department at LifeWay has received numerous requests from well-intentioned folks who have a feeling what they are intending is not legal. Let’s be clear, there is an exemption in U.S. Copyright Law for religious services – Sect. 110 if you want to look it up. It says…
“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 “ (emphasis added).
Note this covers the PERFORMANCE only. Not the recording of the worship service nor making copies of the recording. Each of these are different and separate rights under U.S. Law. It also does not give the Church the right to digitally transmit (stream) the service on the internet. This is performance in the strictest meaning… the live performance of the worship leader and band, choir, organ, piano at the time of the service. This also does not cover any films, clips, or other visual aids created by the media ministry team that contain portions of other owners’ material.
So to avoid breaking the law (and becoming a pirate!), any other use requires some kind of license from the copyright holder. Obviously, this would be a terrible task, assuming you are using songs from various sources and composers/publishers. Two of the best sources are Christian Copyright Licensing International at www.CCLI.org and Christian Copyright Solutions at www.ChristianCopyrightSolutions.com. Each site has great information about their licensing services and what is and isn’t normally legal in the Church’s use of music and video.
On a similar note, in many church choirs, times are tough and sheet music seems expensive. It’s pretty “old school” to talk about photocopying being copyright infringement. But, it happens. And even with downloaded music, it is only fair that publishers ask how many hard copies you intend to make and charge accordingly. Paying for 25 copies and then making 50 is still infringement. Publishers do see a cost savings by storing electronically and providing means for the Church to download what they need. Just be honest. Check out www.LifewayWorship.com as an example for music charts, tracks and more that can be purchased for your use.
No doubt there is a wide variety of styles of worship before the Lord. Songwriter’s and publisher’s livelihood is based on creating these works and receiving the proper payment for their use, which allows them to create more. Please think about your use of media in service and online, and review these links above to do it the right and legal way.
Alan Phillips is an Associate General Counsel for LifeWay, and the above article is for general education and discussion only, not as legal advice for any specific reader or circumstances. If you have questions, always refer to an attorney in your area familiar with copyright law.