Live-streaming: Copyright | Tech, No Babel

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On today’s Tech, No Babel: Live-streaming: Copyright

I’ve heard it all. “Hymns aren’t under copyright because they’re based on the Bible.” “If you only sing hymns, you never need to worry about copyright.” Unfortunately, neither are true.

According to my research (although, I’m not a lawyer, so this isn’t legal advice), both of those statements are false. If I write a song today that is composed of only the words from one of the Psalms, it will be under copyright 70 years after I’m dead or 50 years after it’s published (whichever is shorter). How can that be? While the words would be a derivative work of scripture, their arrangement and the music they’re sung to are both new. That makes the song a new work that’s under copyright from the instant I make it (under US law).

To further complicate things, two hymns can be just a year apart in age and one be under copyright for a few more years, while the other be in public domain since 1997. Which two? “Great is thy faithfulness” and “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”. Which is which? If you guessed that “Great is thy faithfulness” (which is based in part on scripture by the way) is in the public domain, you’d be wrong. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” is. (For more information, check out this article.)

For a live-stream, the best way to deal with this is by getting a license from either CCLI ( or the Church Copyright Solutions ( The former is less expensive than the latter, but that’s because it only covers Christian music.

A lot of churches may think they’re covered because they don’t typically do secular music. The problem is that secular music is deep in our culture and we might not even think that we’re using it when we are.

Imagine singing “Happy Birthday” to the deacon who just turned 100. Is it possible that such an old song would cause a violation? Yep.

These issues are complex, so if I were you, I’d consult a lawyer and see what it takes to get your church to the point of being above reproach.

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Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines.