Churches need to be mindful of copyright law whenever your community is gathered in-person, digitally or both. Any material that is not an original creation of the church – be it music, imagery, liturgies, or poems – may be subject to copyright. Your stream may be blocked, and your church could be sued, if you violate copyright law. Your church’s non-profit status does not afford any legal protections under copyright law.

Copyright is also a justice issue: it ensures that writers and composers are properly compensated for their work. 

Licensing Basics

To use a copyrighted work that will be reprinted or broadcasted you must either obtain written permission from the copyright holder, or obtain a license through a licensing administrator or provider. They offer pre-packaged licensing bundles for a variety of licensing scenarios on behalf of publishers and artists. Listed below are a few of the common copyright licensing scenarios:   

  • Print/Reprint – This is most common and familiar to church pastors, musicians, organists and choir directors. This license grants permission to reprint lyrics and song scores in worship guides or bulletins.
  • Mechanical – a license that allows a piece to be used in audio form such as a when a choir makes a recording of a concert and offers it on CD or as a digital download.   
  • Video Synchronization – this type of license allows a portion of a song to added to a video as a backing track, or background music in a video.
  • Performance – the public performance of a piece.
  • Streaming – a blend of a mechanical license and a performance license. The 1976 Religious Worship Service Exemption does not apply to livestreaming.
  • Master License – held by licensing providers such as OneLicense, CCLI, CCS, etc. They hold these master licenses in order to offer services to churches and other organizations. 

Licensing Music

There are three main licensing administrators that provide licenses for church music.
They are:

Their fee structure is based on your community's average weekly church attendance of in-person or live digital services. These companies cover different publishers and genres, so you’ll want to choose the one that covers music that reflects your community's context. 

Most content found in the New Century and Pilgrim Hymnals are covered by a OneLicense Annual License. A base license allows churches permission to print and reprint lyrics of hymns into worship guides and bulletins, allows for the projection of lyrics on courtesy and IMAG video monitors in the physical worship space as well as displaying of lyrics within a digital service that is livestreamed. 

A bundled streaming/podcasting add-on license grants the church permission to actually stream licensed music performed by the church to social media platforms as well as YouTube, Vimeo/Livestream and your church's website for a period of one year. Services should be removed from your website before one year to limit the number of views after the specific date of the service. The streaming add-on license fee structure is roughly forty-percent of your base license. 

Past worship services can remain on the above platforms as long as the license holder renews their annual coverage. If a church decides not to renew, all content covered by a OneLicense streaming bundle must be removed from those platforms.

If the piece that you wish to perform is not listed in any of the providers you have subscribed to, you must seek permission from the copyright holder directly.   

It is not enough, however, to just obtain the license. You must search for each song on the license website, and report that you are using it. That is how the artists receive compensation for their creative work. Simply subscribing to a licensing plan does not cover all responsibilities, you must report each musical selection used. 


Licensing Video

Video hosted online (such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) as well as pre-recorded DVDs, HD-DVDs, Blu-rays or VHS tapes are intended for personal, home use only. They generally do not carry licenses for public showings. Viewing to a large group outside the intended audience requires a license granting specific authorization. This is the case for each organization that uses videos—even for nonprofit groups, even if admission is not being charged, and even if the video has been purchased.

The Copyright Act of 1976 gives copyright owners almost total control of the use of their copyrighted works, including the right to perform films and videocassettes. By law, pre-recorded videocassettes and videodiscs are for home use only, unless you have permission to show them in public. Without permission, you may be in violation of the Copyright Act and subject to substantial penalties.

Permission granted
Churches and other ministry organizations can show videos and be in accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act by using one of the following methods:

Showing videos which have "Public Performance Rights,"
Receiving written permission prior to using the video, or
Obtaining coverage with the Church Video License

For information on obtaining public performance rights go to or call 1-888-771-2854. 



The specific © copyright information for each title with the license number needs to be clearly displayed either at the bottom of the title or can be made into a list of titles at the end of your stream. Please clearly identify the © copyright information & license number for each title. Edit the following example with information specific to the title you are using and your organization's OneLicense number:

Words: John Doe, © 1988 ABC Music Co.; Music: Jim Brown, © 1990 XYZ Publications. All rights reserved. Reprinted under OneLicense #A-000000.


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