Following Copyright Rules When Pairing Music with Virtual Worship

Following Copyright Rules When Pairing Music with Virtual Worship

Copyright – the exclusive right of the owner of an intellectual property – protects the creator's work from unauthorized duplication or use. This is a necessary component to make sure that artists, creators, and writers are properly compensated – something that I am passionate about, given the fact that I am an artist too. 
That being said, copyright law has easily been the biggest challenge for my church to overcome while performing music during virtual worship. 
Without getting too technical, there is a significant difference between having things done in person inside a building versus online.  There is a perceived element of control one can wrest with live performance inside, because its understood that it really doesn't leave the space.  However, once things are on the web, it changes the whole ballgame, because its much harder (and in some cases impossible) to control things once they are online. 
Online does limit the range of our media, as compared to in-person, but we have licenses that we use as guidelines for what we can and cannot use, including:
  • The One-License, which covers congregational singing and the majority of our two primary hymnals.  It also covers many major publishers of choral music, provided there are opportunities for congregational singing.  I have had to take it upon myself to do the required, but often overlooked, reporting which is the primary mechanism royalties to creators are paid. 
  • The CCLI license, which opens up a large library of contemporary music with which our contemporary choir has taken advantage. ​
      Editor’s note: In both of these cases, streaming licenses need to be added on to the regular license for
      streaming musical performances.

We also try to use public domain music whenever possible.  Generally, everything before 1925 is considered public domain in 2020, provided that additional copyrights haven't been added.  That is the true headache; take a hymn like The Old Rugged Cross – originally published in 1913 – which is very much public domain, but by adding other copyrights, the hymn did not officially go into public domain until 2018. 
In every video, there are specific rules for how to cite the usage of materials, both in our online bulletins and our videos.  As we've learned more, we've adjusted.  Its impossible to know everything about this topic unless you run one of these licenses, and even then the rules are always changing, but I believe we've done our very best to be conservative in our usage, and there can be no doubt we've done our best to be on the right side of the law. 
Unfortunately, the YouTube and Facebook bots (automated software that scans posts, images, and videos for copyright infringement and blocks the content) don't always understand the nuances of each license, but we've only had to adjust something once. 
Churches should also bear in mind that adhering to copyright law does not just apply to music. Copyright also applies to images, graphics and even text, so the use of poetry and other materials must also be checked.  Public domain is considered to be 1925 across all media.
For additional information, please note the Copyright and Streaming page of the Conference website:
  • Sign up for the December 1, 2020, Conference Webinar that looks at copyright and how it relates to livestreaming worship: Copyright and Livestreaming


Dan Brownell

Minister of Music,  First United Church of Christ, Congregational in Milford, CT

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