Are Churches Exempt from Copyright Music Laws?
During religious services at a church, the U.S. Copyright Law provides a small exemption to the churches in order for them to perform musical compositions. However, the performances have to be at a place of worship or at religious assemblies. The church cannot broadcast the musical components of their services and they cannot use dramatic secular works.
The Copyright Law applies to all forms of music – but what about religious music? Religious music is exempt from copyright law in some cases, but determining whether or not your church falls under this exemption can be difficult.
In order to help you better understand the laws governing copyright for Churches, we will discuss both the basics of Copyright Law and provide detailed information on how these laws apply to Churches.
Table of Contents
Is Copyright Law applicable to Churches?
There’s a small exemption from music licensing requirements provided by the U.S. Copyright Law to churches for musical performances during religious services. Let’s dive into the topic below…
Do Church Bands Have to Pay Royalties?
During religious services at a church, the U.S. Copyright Law provides a small exemption to the churches in order for them to perform musical compositions.
Church bands can perform nondramatic music or literary work, as well as dramatico-musical works of religious nature without having to acquire licenses or pay royalties. However, the performances have to be at a place of worship or at religious assemblies.
There are several wrinkles to this exemption, though:
They can’t perform dramatic secular works.
During the religious services, church bands cannot perform dramatic secular works such as plays or operas without permission or a license. So, if your church band, for instance, wanted to perform the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” they would have to obtain permission or pay royalties.
The exemption does not apply outside of services.
This exemption applies only during religious services at a place of worship or at an organized assembly connected with the service. If your band wants to perform or play copyrighted music in public, the church has to obtain a license from the copyright holder.
Churches cannot broadcast the musical components of their services.
So, while they are allowed to perform music, churches cannot broadcast the musical component of their services. This includes recordings as well as broadcasts over media such as television or radio.
In general, that means that recorded performances by a church band do not qualify for the exemption from copyright law because they are being broadcasted to members outside of the service assembly itself.
Fortunately, there are various royalty-free music services that offer 100% free music for churches. One such online service is Stream Lofi. At StreamLofi.com, you can download and use free music for your church services or projects. The service has a wide range of genres, and you can even use the music in videos.
Can Churches Distribute Lyrics?
As discussed above, churches may use some copyrighted music during religious services without obtaining licenses or paying royalties. However, churches cannot distribute lyrics to copyrighted music without a license from the copyright holder of those lyrics.
In general, this means that if you want your church members to have the lyrics to a copyrighted song that you intend to sing during a religious service, you must obtain a license from the copyright holder of the lyrics.
One of the legal ways to around this is purchasing the hymnals that contain the lyrics of popular songs. This way, your church is paying for a license to distribute these hymnals to its members.
However, the church still doesn’t have the right to photocopy hymnal pages or copy the hymnal lyrics to, say, projector slides. They will still need a license to be able to able to do this.
A church choir may want to rehearse for a service using a backing track. It is important to note that backing tracks are often copyrighted.
So burning multiple copies of such tracks to C.D.s will be infringing copyright law. Again, churches can use services like Stream Lofi to obtain royalty-free backing tracks for their services.
Using Online Video Clips
Video clips uploaded to online sites like YouTube are always copyrighted, and a church cannot use them without permission. It is, therefore, important for the church to contact the owner of the copyrighted material and ask for a license to use it.
Note that this online material includes sermons from other churches as well. If a church wants to use online sermons in their service, they will need permission from the copyright holders of those videos.
How Churches Can Do It Legally
Use royalty-free material
Churches can stay within the legal boundaries of copyright law by using royalty-free material for their services. Stream Lofi is a royalty-free music website for churches, bands, podcasters, and other media creators.
The site offers 100% free music without copyright restrictions or download fees of any kind. You can even use the music in videos you monetize on YouTube.
Obtain permission when using copyrighted music
When not within the exemption of the law, churches can avoid infringing copyright by obtaining permission from the copyright holder. If a church wants to use online sermons in its service, it will need permission from the copyright holders of those videos.
Comply with fair use guidelines
This is another way that churches can stay within the legal boundaries of copyright law. However, fair use is a complicated concept that requires careful application.
The best way to ensure compliance with fair use guidelines is by consulting an intellectual property attorney or your church’s minister about how much-copyrighted material you are allowed to use in your service without infringing on copyrights.
Purchase a blanket license
Churches can also purchase a blanket license that allows them to use certain music without obtaining permission from the publisher of each piece. This is a practical way for churches that use music extensively in their services to avoid infringing on copyrights.
However, the churches must first understand what the license covers and does not cover. For example, a blanket license will only allow the church to use certain songs under copyright law without having to obtain separate licenses for each song being used in services.
The churches must still have their own anti-piracy system that protects copyrighted material from illegal reproduction and distribution on its premises.
While the Copyright Law exempts churches from copyright infringement for the purpose of religious services, they must still be mindful not to infringe on copyrights.
There are ways that churches can stay within legal boundaries by using royalty-free material and obtaining permission or a blanket license when needed. We hope this article has been helpful and informative.
Keep in mind this is not legal advice if you have any questions you should reach out to an attorney of law.