February 21, 2015

We had an overwhelming response to our first webinar last week on “Copyrights 101: Basic Building Blocks,” and we are so excited by the participation and great questions we received. One of those questions is a very common one that often comes up when analyzing the Religious Service Exemption (RSE), so we thought we’d share it with you.


Q: Our Board at church is working on a policy for copyright issues.  The Board is divided and a couple have checked with attorneys that are not versed in copyright law.  They look at the religious exemption and told us it should be okay to make overheads and printed copies of the lyrics of music because of the religious exemption.  Part of that states:  “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. From the U.S. Copyright Law of the United Stated of America:


To “display” a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images nonsequentially.


My question is what do they mean by display?  Some on our board members interpret that to mean we can “display” the lyrics to the song on a screen and print in the bulletin.  I tell them it does not cover the copying or printing of lyrics.  We can sing the song and the Music Director can play the song however, we cannot make copies of the lyrics for the overhead screen or printed in the bulletins without permission.  We do have a CCLI license and are using it however, we want to make a policy in case someone wants a song that is not covered.


I’m not sure how to make it clear that the word display in the Religious Exemption does not mean that we can copy and print the lyrics.  If I am incorrect on this please let me know, however, everything I am reading on this seems to be clear that we cannot copy the lyrics without permission or unless it is Public Domain even if we own a copy of the music or hymnal.


Does display mean that we could set one of the hymnals that we own at the front of the church open to a certain page and display it but, not copy the words for print on a bulletin or to put on a screen?


A: Thank you for attending our webinar and for your detailed question. This is an area that is rather complex and is often questioned when it comes to the Religious Service Exemption. Let me first say that I think you have a very good understanding of this issue. It does require that you focus on the “exclusive rights” that are included in the exemption, and then follow through with the logic of what exclusive rights are NOT included in the exemption, such as REPRODUCTION or rights or the right to MAKE COPIES.


I think your example is precisely on target. There is an exemption when it comes to DISPLAYING a work, but if you have first had to make a copy, then that involves the a different right that requires permission or a license. If you have legally purchased a copy and then display it, then you probably don’t need a license. The only rights addressed in the RSE are DISPLAY and PERFORMANCE, and then only in the course of a religious service in a place of worship.


When you cite the CCLI License, you are correct in understanding that it does not cover DISPLAY rightS or PERFORMANCE rights, but it does allow you make copies, which is usually necessary for making overhead transparencies or a digital copy to store in your computer for projection. For songs not included in the CCLI license (or the or OneLicense.Net), you would need a license from each individual song that is copied. I hope this information helps you and your staff in understanding what the RSE does and does NOT cover.


Our next webinar will focus on the Religious Service Exemption. We know how overwhelming it can all be, so we’ve decided to invite you to join us for 30-45 minutes with the COPYRIGHT COACH with an exclusive FREE webinar on “Unlocking the Religious Service Exemption” Tuesday, November 18 at 12:00 pm CST. I will be your personal Copyright Coach, and I have consulted and worked with churches like Prestonwood Baptist, Saddleback, Gateway and Woodside Bible to name a few. You can sign up online, but space is limited to 50 seats, so be sure to register now.


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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