The “Why?” Behind Church Music Licensing PART 2

July 11, 2017

Yesterday, we began a blog series focusing on questions we’ve received regarding the “why?” behind Christian copyrights. Today we’d like to go a little more in-depth with how the copyright process works and answer questions as they specifically relate to obtaining clearance.

Q: Maybe you can answer.  I video special occasions at church….First Communion, special Holy days, etc.  The choir purchases music books and there are several hundred of the books in pews. ALL PURCHASED OF COURSE. Now, if I send a video to YouTube they won’t use because I’m using copyrighted material.  How do I show the church has purchased the books for service and my video has the choir in the background? (Submitted by Robert Denoncour)

A: That’s a great question. First, let me commend you and your church for purchasing the number of music books your congregation needs to sing the songs during your service. However, making a video recording of your events and including the songs and music your choir sings is a separate right and requires licensing for the songs and any possible sound recordings included (if the choir sings to a soundtrack recording). When a video is streamed online, whether on your church website or uploaded to YouTube, there is also a performance streaming right. YouTube is saying that you are required to have the proper licensing in place for the video you want to upload. You would need to get a sync license from the song publishers, and you would need a performance license from the performance rights organizations, or PROs – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. YouTube has performance licenses with the PROs, but if you showed it on your church website, you need to have the licenses yourself. CCS’s WORSHIPcast Streaming License provides churches with a simple, one-stop licensing solution for 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

Q: I have a radio spot for our church that uses what I consider Fair Use clips of three secular songs, but the radio station won’t accept it for fear of copyright violations and attempts to contact the copyright holders never elicited a response.

A: I can understand why the radio station is reticent to accept your claim of Fair Use, and here’s why. The Fair Use Doctrine is a defense to copyright infringement. It’s one of the most common defenses used by people charged with copyright infringement but it’s very difficult to define. Section 107 of the Copyright Act does not actually define it but instead lists “factors to be considered,” presumably by a court. When it comes to Fair Use, there are four Fair Use factors that must be considered as a whole. Each case must be decided on its own facts.

The US Copyright Office says, “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”

That’s why it’s important to obtain legal advice specific to your particular use of copyrighted material if you believe it qualifies for all four factors of Fair Use. Attorney Brock Shinen has a great article on the Application of Fair Use.

We encourage you to submit questions or comments below, on Facebook, or via e-mail so we can continue to provide the information you need to make educated and informed copyright decisions.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s Founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 32 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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