Myth #3: “The religious service exemption allows me to broadcast my church’s performances.”

Susan Godwin CCS Photo
Today’s guest post is the first of a six-part series from Christian Copyright Solutions Founder and President Susan Fontaine Godwin, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 28 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management.

I love worship music. A church’s praise and worship time means so much to me so I’m always bummed out when I’m watching a worship service online or on television, and there’s that awkward transition from announcements or a public domain hymn to the scripture reading and sermon. Wait, did I miss something? Yes I did. Chances are, there were a few praise songs or a great anthem that had to be unceremoniously chopped out of the broadcast.
Why? Because the church or the television station didn’t have permission to broadcast the performances of those songs.
When I first found a church website that replayed their entire services, including worship sets with the most up-to-date songs, my first reaction was like a third grader at the lunch table, witnessing a kid throwing his pudding pack across the table. I let out the “tattle siren”: Ummmmmmmmmmmm! Ms. Davis, Billy threw his puuuuudding! Or rather, Ummmmmmmmmmmm! BMI, First Church is illegally broadcasting your sooooooongs!
What? There’s a license you can get for that? Never mind.
It’s true that the Religious Service Exemption does not cover musical performances in a broadcasted service (even if the service is being broadcast directly from the place of worship), but churches can get an Internet performance license (often referred to as an Internet streaming license) if there are copyrighted songs included. If a church is going to have its services on TV or radio, those stations will need to have a performance license.
This was a real grey area until 2006, when a publisher named Simpleville took a radio station to court for rebroadcasting several churches’ services, including the music portion. The defendant’s argument against liability was that he could broadcast the songs because the songs had been performed during church services. The court rejected the argument, stating that the exemption applies only to performances that occur at the place of worship; it does not extend to broadcasts of those performances.

If you want to broadcast your services via the Internet, radio, or TV, don’t cut out the musical performances and rob worship-lovers like me of a great praise anthem. Just make sure your church or the station broadcasting your services is covered by the right performance license from ASPCA, BMI and SESAC.

Want to know more about copyright myths that put your church at risk? Watch this helpful video from Christian Copyright Solutions and download their free downloadable resource to worship ministers – 6 Myths About Copyrights That Put Your Church at Risk. CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.” CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners.

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