Four Steps for Church Leaders to Avoid Copyright Infringement

January 20, 2016

This is the second in a three-part series on how churches can plan and budget for copyright compliance for all their year-round activities.


Copyright compliance doesn’t just happen, but it requires strategic and intentional planning by church leaders. January is the perfect time to create YOUR PLAN for copyright compliance. We use a simple acronym as a guideline for planning, P.L.A.N., to understand four of the key elements for copyright compliance.

P = PREPARE policies, procedures & planning

L = LEARN the basics of U.S. Copyright Law

A = ALLOW enough time for obtaining permissions

N = NEVER assume it’s OK to use copyrighted material without licensing

PREPARE – Planning and Budget

Review of projected copyright uses for major productions should be incorporated into annual budgets. Reviewing possible uses of copyrighted works in your special holiday programs and projects requires that you understand what creative works can be copyrighted and protected under U.S. Copyright Law.

By far, the easiest, simplest and most affordable way to plan ahead for compliance is to leverage available blanket licenses. You can refer to our Blanket Licenses FACT SHEET, print it out and share with your Executive Administrative Team; there’s even is a checklist on the last page that shows what’s covered by each license. CCS’s Performance BLANKET License provides ONSITE and ONLINE licensing for performance rights allowing you to play and perform more than 20 million songs with one easy annual payment.

Be sure to Incorporate copyright clearance planning into your creative planning process throughout the year.

LEARN – Review the following

  1. Definition of Copyright
  2. Works that can be copyrighted
  3. Rights of owners
  4. Religious Service Exemption

For more information on learning about the basic building blocks of copyrights, download our FREE Copyrights 101 Fact Sheet.


We understand how difficult this can be with weekly services and activities and last minute changes, and that’s why BLANKET LICENSES are so important, as well as policies and procedures. Budgeting for licenses and royalties is also vital. If you can’t get permission in time, this could be a good opportunity for greater creativity with your team…perhaps someone takes the photo of what you want to express, or writes a song, or produces a short film. More and more churches are taking this approach.


Lastly, you should never assume you can use copyrighted material without permission. Be sure you obtain permission BEFORE reproducing copyrighted material. Making this assumption can prove costly to churches resulting in high copyright infringement fees and fines, even legal suits. We’re often asked for examples of churches that have been sued or fined and what type of fines or fees they have had to pay. Two churches were recently sued (one for $300,000 and one for $3 million) for copyright infringement , raising the awareness of potential risks and liability for copyright infringement today with church and ministry leaders.

If Blanket Licenses are not available for your specific uses, and purchasing individual products for all of your needs is not a feasible option, you will need to request permission directly from the copyright owner(s).

You can find much more detail on how to P.L.A.N. by downloading CCS’s Free eBook, SOLVE THE PUZZLE OF COPYRIGHTS: Six Steps to Learning How to Do Music Right,” by Susan Fontaine Godwin, in which Chapter 5 focuses on “Planning and Budgeting for Copyright Compliance.” You can also call and talk to one of CCS’s Copyright experts at 855-576-5837.

Part 3 in this PLANNING series will focus on budgeting and establishing copyright policies in your church or ministry.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s founder/CVO, 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.

If you have questions about this or any other copyright-related activity for your church, contact our copyright expert at 1-855-5SOLVER (576-5837). Or visit to access our LEARNING CENTER and download FREE fact sheets, blog and other informative resources.

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