Summer Church Activities and the Religious Service Exemption

May 3, 2022

With temperatures on the rise and the welcoming of May, it won’t be long until summer break is here. As you make your plans and finalize details on programs, it’s important to look at how the Religious Service Exemption (RSE) affects your summer church activities. While it would be easier if the RSE allowed religious organizations to use copyrights any way they want, the exemption doesn’t take a vacation during the summer months. 

Before going any further, let’s look at the specifics; the U.S. Religious Service Exemption is in the Copyright Law Section (110[3])  states the following:

“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 an infringement of copyright.

In other words, you don’t 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. While the RSE allows churches to play and perform music in worship services, it doesn’t allow churches to use music freely in activities outside of services. In most cases, using copyrighted songs outside of religious services requires performance licensing.

But what is a performance? We often associate the word with a formal presentation such as a band, a soloist, or a choir. However, performance licensing is required whether the music is played or performed by a professional string quartet or sung by amateur musicians at camp. 

Summer provides an opportunity for different types of worship. Let’s look at just a few of the instances your ministry may require licensing this summer.

Patriotic Holiday Programs

Holidays programs for Memorial Day and the 4th of July do not fall under the exemption. Your church may have an event and want to feature patriotic songs that aren’t included in standard Christian worship catalogs like:

  • God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood
  • American Soldier by Toby Keith
  • This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
  • In America by Charlie Daniels
  • Arlington by Trace Adkins
  • (They’re Coming to) America by Neil Diamond

Because the PERFORMmusic Onsite Facilities License covers more than 28 million secular and non-secular songs, your ministry can use these and many more!

Youth Activities

We get a lot of questions about music in VBS programs and what licensing churches need to keep it legal. Typically, most of the “packaged” VBS kits that are available simplify the planning by bringing everything together with songs, lessons, skits, and decorations. But it is still your responsibility to ensure copyright clearance is part of that package. Other youth activities that may require music licensing include:

  • Mom’s Day Out
  • Movie nights
  • Camps
  • Drama & music classes
  • Sing-a-longs

Community Outreach

In addition – the PERFORMmusic License gives your church tremendous freedom to play artist recordings or perform Christian and secular music anywhere in your facilities and satellite campuses. 

  • Drive-In Events
  • Concerts 
  • Dance & aerobics class
  • BBQs & social events
  • Satellite Campuses & Offsite Events 

While the Religious Service Exemption is helpful, it doesn’t cover many ways we play or perform music today. CCS’ PERFORMmusic license provides an easy one-stop solution to legally play and perform more than 28 million songs from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC anywhere in your facilities or satellite campuses. 

Those patriotic songs? Covered. 

Late-night singing around the campfire? Covered.

Please visit our Learning Center and download FREE resources on various copyright issues, including the RSE. You can also contact support@copyrightsolutions.com or call 855-576-5837 with specific questions. 

About Christian Copyright Solutions:

CCS is a leading authority on church music copyrights. Our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches and representation, administration, and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. This information is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. 


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