Five Common Copyright Mistakes When Planning Easter Programs

Easter presents an opportunity to minister to your community in an extraordinary way. It can also be a challenging season for music ministers and creative arts directors who may feel the pressure of putting on dynamic and engaging events and programs.  

We know a lot goes into planning an Easter production for your church or ministry. While we can’t audition talent or set up rehearsals for you, we can offer practical and straightforward advice on incorporating copyright clearances into your program planning. The more creative your program, the more complex copyright issues can surface so we’ve outlined five common mistakes churches make.

Mistake #1: Assume the Religious Service Exemption covers all your church activities  

The religious service exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law (Section 110[3]) is probably the most critical part of the law for churches because it states that you don’t have to get permission to perform music or display the lyrics of a work in a religious service. However, 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.” 

Mistake #2 – Failure to learn copyright basics 

Three building blocks are essential for Christian leaders to understand which blanket licenses you need and what they cover: 

  1. What is a copyright, and what works, and rights do the U.S. Copyright Law protect? 
  2. What are the creative works that can be copyrighted? 
  3. What are the exclusive rights of copyright owners, and how do they impact the church’s use of copyrighted material? 

Mistake # 3 – Not having a PLAN for copyright compliance 

The key to copyright compliance is organizing and having a PLAN: 

Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work you plan on using for each program or event. Budget for royalties and license fees. 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. 

Never use copyright material without permission or exemption. 

Mistake #4 – Not maximizing blanket licenses

Annual blanket licenses are the easiest and most cost-effective way to provide coverage for activities that use copyrighted material. Many church leaders make the mistake of not fully utilizing all of the licenses created especially for churches and ministries. One of the great features of blanket licenses is that you can sign up online and obtain immediate coverage for any of your programs or activities. 

But don’t assume that one church blanket license includes every type of copyrighted work, and any way you want to use it. It’s essential to understand what each license covers.

Most churches greatly benefit from having multiple blanket licenses in place. Simplify and maximize your “pre-approved” licensing coverage by putting together a mosaic of these licenses for optimum coverage. 

Mistake #5 – Failure to communicate church copyright policies and procedures 

It’s the responsibility of church leaders to communicate copyright compliance policies and procedures with all of their employees and volunteers. Copyright compliance is a process, and it takes time. Still, you can start by targeting the key areas where there may currently be risks and liabilities in your church activities, especially on your websites. 

It’s crucial to do a comprehensive evaluation of what copyrights you’re using before you can optimize the various licensing solutions.  

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. Follow us onTwitterFacebookInstagram, andYoutube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.