Keeping Your Easter Production Legal

February 22, 2017

Easter, which falls on April 16th this year, offers churches a rare outreach opportunity to their surrounding community, as well as a holy and joyous time of celebration for their church family.

But let’s be honest. It can also be a challenging, frustrating and exhausting season for music ministers and creative arts directors. With that in mind, we present this five-part series of blog posts on Easter Planning and Production Ideas featuring practical guidelines, tips, resources, and information on how to plan for a successful and stress-free Easter celebration. Before the season picks up, now is an ideal time to address how to incorporate copyright clearances into your program planning.

More and more churches are wisely planning events to allow for timely copyright clearances. This is why we start our series by “Keeping It Legal”, an overview of legal topics to consider to make sure all your copyrighted material is cleared before your Easter production events.

As a pastor, worship leader or creative arts director, you most likely know the feeling of scrambling at the last minute to obtain copyright clearances for rehearsal copies, CD records, DVD videos, and custom arrangements. You may have found it very difficult, if not impossible, to get clearances prior to your production and may have even faced denials, extremely high royalty rates, or even infringement fines.

The more creative your program, the more complex copyright issues can surface.

The key to a copyright compliant Easter program is remembering to P.L.A.N.

Prepare a list of all the details for each copyrighted work.

Learn the basics of Copyright Law or let a copyright professional help you with research and licenses.

Allow enough time to research and obtain permission.

Never use copyrighted materials without permission or exemption.

In the course of planning your program, you may want to use a variety of types of copyrighted material. There are eight works of authorship that can be copyrighted, and here are some of the common ones that are often incorporated into Easter events.

Music – Songs, including arrangements of public domain songs

Sound Recordings – Audio recordings of music, speeches, tracks

Dramatic Works – Such as a screenplay, play or other scripts,  a pantomime, or a choreographic work.

Visual Arts – Include 2D and 3D works of fine, graphic & applied art, photographs, prints & art reproductions, maps, technical drawings &  architectural works

Literary Works – Wide variety of works: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy, compilations of information

Choreography and Pantomime – Specifics steps & moves that are recorded

Audiovisual – A feature film, documentary film, animated film, television show, video, video game, or other audiovisual work


Copyright owners need complete details about the copyright and how you want to use it in order to issue licenses or grant permission. If you provide thorough information in your initial request, the license will be processed much more quickly. If not, your request may sit on someone’s desk for weeks or months. Also remember that copyright owners do not automatically grant permission for use of their copyright. Don’t assume you have the right to use it until you have received written or verbal permission. There are some companies that do not license their master recordings for any reason, and some publishers may deny your request for photocopying print music or synchronizing their song to a video.

When requesting licenses for music copyrights, you need to include: song title, songwriters’ names, catalog/publisher

For sound recordings: title of album, artist name, recording label, product #/UPC

For photo or visual images: title, source, artist name

Note: Google images (or similar web image searches) is not sufficient for the source because the contributor cannot be tracked; however, if you purchased the image from iStockPhoto or Igniter Media that will be sufficient for the source. An ID number from the source is necessary.

Christian copyright owners’ minimum fees often range from $20-$40. Secular copyright owners have much higher minimum licensing fees, ranging from $150-$300 per song. This is also true for sound recordings. The processing time for Christian copyrights is typically 6-8 weeks (although you can obtain some license types online on-demand) while secular copyrights may take up to 12 weeks.

Preparing and Rehearsing Your Performers

You can avoid the hassle of obtaining many copyright licenses by purchasing enough music, drama and media material for each performer. Here are some great resources:

PraiseCharts – Download chord charts and orchestrations – Download charts, chords, and lyrics

CCLI SongSelect – Chord charts, lyrics and SATB parts

CCLI Rehearsal License – Allows making rehearsal copies only of select recordings

Retail PurchasesLifeway Resources, Word, Integrity Direct, Brentwood-Benson

Igniter MediaShort films, backgrounds, visuals

Licensing New Products (Photocopies)

Product that has been on the market for less than 12 months will typically not be available for licensing. In addition please note that Prestonwood product is not available for licensing at any time. We recommend you check with the source for special bulk pricing of product.

Custom Arrangements

Scoring and creating your own custom arrangements may often require obtaining a print and arrangement license from the song publisher if it is not permitted through your CCLI license. The publisher will require the name of the arranger and the instrumentation/voicing of the arrangement.


Licensing is required for each song contained within the medley. The copyright information for the song is usually found in the music on the page where the song changes. On occasion, copyright owners will grant a reduced rate for songs contained in a medley based upon the percentage of the song used.

At the Church or Venue

If your program is not a religious service, it is not exempt from requiring performance licensing. The CCS PERFORMmusic Facilities License allows churches and non-profit ministries to legally play or perform more than 20 million songs from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for non-exempt activities such as special programs, concerts, social and youth events, funerals, conferences and seminars, music-on-hold, exercise classes, and playing music throughout church facilities. No reporting is required unless it is a ticketed event. The license covers church premises, which may include satellite or campus locations that are under the licensee’s legal and financial umbrella. If it is a ticketed event, an additional performance event license is required and can be easily obtained at Christian Copyright Solutions.

If you want to stream your program, WORSHIPcast Streaming License is the only church streaming license that covers internet performance rights for 20 million Christian and secular songs from the catalogs of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. The easy online reporting tool allows you to browse and select the songs you stream so your fees help support your favorite songwriters.

If you plan on broadcasting your program on TV or radio, the broadcasting station is responsible for the appropriate broadcast performance licenses from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

Remembering Your Event

Capturing the memory of your Easter program is a wonderful way to share your event with your congregation, family, and friends. Today’s easy and accessible technology makes it simple to record and create audio recordings, videos, and digital media.

Make sure that your church owns all of the rights to any copyrighted material created by your staff, volunteers, consultants or contractors. This could include music, photographs, dramatic material, literary works, videos, recordings and graphic designs. To assure ownership and the right to use material, be certain that you have work-made-for-hire agreements in place, or a license or letter of permission signed. It is reasonable to ask staff members or volunteers to grant gratis permission for specific uses.

If you have questions regarding copyrights and your Church please contact us at 877-394-5566 to talk to a copyright expert. Or log onto our website and chat live now.

Please be on the lookout next week for tips on finding the right production for your particular 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.

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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