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Churches: Licensing Rights to Use Songs for Live Streaming

03.23.2020 Written by: Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd.

Churches: Licensing rights to use music, lyrics, and titles in brodcasts, streaming, and websites

Many of our church clients are offering worship services and other programs over the internet through live streaming, podcasts, and other such means. We admire how they’re finding ways to share the Gospel using new and innovative methods during this COVID-19 tragedy.

There are, however, legal considerations associated with online worship and programming. While a thorough discussion is not possible through this general, birds’-eye-view, we want to remind our church clients of a few of the legal issues churches should think about as they plan and put in place live streaming or any kind of broadcasting of their worship services, pastors’ messages, or other programming.

To begin with, churches need licenses to live stream or otherwise broadcast copyrighted music, its lyrics, and performances of the music. Likewise, churches need licenses to post music (again, including its score, lyrics, and performances) on its website or to include the same in a printed church newsletter or other such communication, whether distributed in print or on a website. Also, the title of a song or other music may be subject to trademark protection.

Is Your Church’s General License Enough?

Churches typically get a general license (that comes with a denomination’s or publisher’s hymnal/music book) which covers the use of music during worship gatherings or other church programs. These general licenses ordinarily do not grant the rights to:

  • Live stream
  • Post on a website
  • Use the title in any way
  • Broadcast the music or performances of the music 

Doing these things could be violating copyright.  

To complicate things, the holder of copyright for the performance of music may be different from the holder of copyright for the lyrics, and the trademark holder for the title may even be someone else.

How Can You Be Sure You’re Not Violating Copyright?

There are several sources for licensing such music and lyrics use, broadcast, streaming or posting to a website licenses. Two examples are Christian Copyright Solutions (CCS) and Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Licensors like these offer a large number of hymns, songs, and other music they can grant licenses for a church to use in many different ways. Churches should carefully read an offered license to make sure:

  • It includes the specific music the church wants to use
  • Allows any desired use of the lyrics and title
  • Authorizes all of the church’s intended uses of the music (streaming, broadcasting, posting on a website or use in print or other electronic communication) 

Live streaming church services will become increasingly important as congregations engage in more and more creative, electronic solutions to getting their message out to members and the public.  

Please contact this firm if you have questions about or desire guidance with complying with copyright.

JIM SNOXELL chairs the Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd. Business Law and Nonprofit Organizations Department. He works primarily with the firm’s business and nonprofit clients by advising about business and corporate law issues. 

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