Five Mistakes Church Leaders Make in Church Copyright Planning

August 17, 2015

If you’re like most church leaders, you want to make sure your staff and volunteers are honoring copyrights and AVOIDING RISKS of copyright infringement. The fall is a great time to put policies and procedures in place to insure that your music activities are covered, but SOMEHOW it’s way too easy to let other priorities crowd out things like music licensing. 

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

  • 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 out 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.

  • 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 great 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. The 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. Anuual 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’sWORSHIPcast License covers 17 million songs, including Easter, holiday and secular music and starts as low as $225 for an annual fee.

  • Believe One License Covers Everything

One of the biggest MISTAKES churches make is assuming or believing that ONE church blanket license covers every type of copyrighted work and ANY way they want to use it. Here’s a great example:

The CCLI Church License covers 300,000 Christian songs and allow churches to reproduce, duplicate or copy those songs for five different congregational singing activities (see list on our Blanket License Fact Sheet for details). Churches often think that this license allows them to PERFORM or PLAY those songs in bookstores, coffee shops or at a concert or that they can then STREAM the songs on their website. It does NOT. But it’s important to understand that each blanket license covers the following critical elements to consider:

  1. What type of copyright is covered in the license; e.g., is it songs only, or videos (audiovisual) or sound recordings?
  2. What type of right(s) is authorized by the license? There are six different exclusive rights that the copyright owner has and the right to reproduce is only one. For example, the PERFORMANCE (or right to play or perform music) is only included in the PERFORMmusic License and WORSHIPcast License.
  3. The group or catalog of copyrights is specific to each license. For example, the CCLI Licenses include 300,000 Christian songs, and the PERFORMmusic and WORSHIPcast Licenses include 20 million Christian and secular songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.
  4. What specific uses or activities are included in the license? The CCLI license is restricted to congregational singing, so the right to make an audio recording of a song from an event (like a holiday program or concert) that doesn’t include congregational singing is NOT covered. The PERFORMmusic allows you to play and/or perform 17 million songs, but it doesn’t allow you to REPRODUCE or record those songs on a video or sound recording.

Most churches can greatly benefit from having most (if not all) of these licenses in place to simplify and maximize your “pre-approved” licensing coverage.

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

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

1) 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;

2) Learn the basics of the Copyright Law or let a copyright professional help with research and licenses;

3) Allow enough time to research and obtain permission, usually 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 12 weeks for secular;

4) 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.

  • 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:

1) REPRODUCE (make a duplicate or copy) a copyrighted work;

2) DISTRIBUTE the work;

3) make a DERIVATIVE work (like a translation or arrangement) or;

4) 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”

Download and read our FREE “Copyrights 101” Fact Sheet for more details about copyrighted works and the owner’s bundle of exclusive rights.
If you need any help avoid these five common MISTAKES, feel free to call one of the CCS reps at 855-5SOLVER (576-5837) for assistance.

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

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