How to Avoid 5 Common Mistakes for Copyright Licensing

August 26, 2016

Church leaders wear many hats and juggle multiple responsibilities. Adding copyright licensing to the mix may not be the top priority, plus it can be overwhelming and confusing. So it’s not surprising that mistakes are often made by churches on copyright issues.

We have identified 5 COMMON MISTAKES churches make that can greatly increase risks of infringement. If you address these mistakes, you’ll make great stride towards reaching your goal of honoring copyright owners.

1. Forget to Evaluate Church Copyright Activities

It’s easy to avoid the pitfall of copyright infringement by answering 12 questions. Invest just 5 minutes and take our FREE online interactive Copyright Compliance Report Card….you’ll get your church’s score and find out how to quickly strengthen your music license coverage, or change the way you are using copyrighted material.

When you get your Report Card test results, you’ll have a SIMPLE and easy way to make sure your church ministries are legally covered to use the music they want. If you’re PLANNING for your church holiday programs this will help assure your creative ideas are covered by EASY and affordable blanket licenses like CCS’s PERFORMmusic premise license and WORSHIPcast streaming license.

2. Allow Insufficient Time for Clearances

Most church leaders excel when it comes to planning and organizing for church events and programs, but for some reason copyright clearances are frequently left off the all important checklist for planning and production. One of the EASIEST ways to incur high licensing fees and penalties or even infringement lawsuits is to try to get permissions and licensing at the LAST MINUTE. It’s especially high risk to request licensing after the fact.

It often takes time to locate the correct copyright owner(s) or administrator, communicate details of your activity and obtain the license. We suggest that you allow at least 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 3 months for some secular songs and recordings approval.

3. Don’t Maximize Blanket Licenses

Annual blanket licenses are the EASIEST, quickest and most cost effective way to provide coverage in advance for many of your activities that use copyrighted material. One of the best features of blanket licenses is that you can sign up online and obtain immediate coverage for any of your programs or activities. Our FREE Blanket License Fact Sheet provides details on all of the available church blanket licenses and outlines what’s covered and what’s not. You can obtain several church blanket licenses to create a mosaic of coverage that dramatically simplifies your licensing requirements.

A Performance Facilities and Event License is necessary for most Church activities and programs. CCS’s PERFORMmusic license is the only ONE-STOP Church Performance License available in the U.S. and covers 20 million songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Annual fees start at $299.

If you want to webcast or stream your program online, you’ll need a Music Internet Performance License. CCLI’s Streaming License covers 300,000 Christian songs, and the CCC’s WORSHIPcast License covers 17 million songs, including Easter, holiday and secular music and starts as low as $225 for an annual fee.

4. Forget to P.L.A.N. for Copyright Compliance

The key to copyright compliance is organizing and having a P.L.A.N.:

  • Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work you plan on using for each program or event. You can include this list in your creative program checklist.
  • Learn the basics of the copyright law or let a copyright professional help with research and licenses.
  • Allow enough time to research and obtain permission, usually 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 12 weeks for secular.
  • Never use copyright material without permission or exemption. If you don’t have permission, then find another way of creatively expressing your ideas. Perhaps one of your team members can write a new song to fit the concept you’re developing.

Ideally, if you begin planning three months prior to major seasonal productions, like Easter and Christmas, you will allow time for clearances and avoid high fees and penalties.

5. Assume the Religious Service Exemption Covers Everything

The religious service exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law  (Section 110[3]) is probably the most important part of the law for churches, 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. This 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:

  • REPRODUCE (make a duplicate or copy) a copyrighted work
  • DISTRIBUTE the work
  • Make a DERIVATIVE work (like a translation or arrangement)
  • PERFORM a digital sound recording (through digital transmission on the Internet)

It’s also critical to note that it does NOT cover activity outside your religious service. Remember the exemption only applies “…in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly”.

More questions? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually talk to a live person about your copyright needs? That’s exactly why CCS offers a FREE 20-minute consultation. Call 1-877-394-5566 to schedule your FREE Consultation today!

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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