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Hey, Fletch: Is Our Church Website Violating Copyright Law?

Streaming music and other activities raise several legal issues.

Hey, Fletch: Is Our Church Website Violating Copyright Law?
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We live-stream our worship service and also have some recorded worship songs on our website. Someone asked me if these activities are legal. Thoughts?

That is a huge can of worms. Actually it is two cans’ worth. The first issue is live-streaming your worship and the second is using recorded songs on your website.

You will want to get this one right. Otherwise, the penalties can be stiff. There is an organization that you need to check out: Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Here is why you need CCLI. A 2017 ChurchLeaders.com article stated:

Yesh Music (Richard Cupolo and John Emanuele) filed a complaint on October 28, 2011, claiming that First Baptist Church Smyrna (TN) used two of Yesh’s compositions in videos streamed from (the church’s) website. The complaint also details Yesh’s assertion that no license was granted for this use. Yesh is seeking $150,000 for each infringement in addition to attorneys’ fees.

When I said the penalties could be stiff, that was an understatement. There is the fine to consider. There is also the public relations nightmare of having your church in the news and in a lawsuit. Your church’s integrity will be tarnished.

CCLI offers three types of licenses of interest to churches:

  • The CCLI Copyright License covers projecting lyrics in worship and providing song sheets and songbooks. You can record your worship services, provided it involves live music (no accompaniment tracks).

  • The CCLI Streaming License enables you to live stream or podcast live-recorded services. (Note: This does not cover secular songs.)

  • The CCLI Rehearsal License goes even further.

See the CCLI website for details, including various pricing packages.

The CCLI prices are fair and help support the original artists. If you don’t get a license, you are stealing from the artists. Get the license that fits your needs and be legal! If you don’t get a license, you are stealing from the artists. Get the license that fits your needs and be legal!

Related Article:

Related Resource: Attorney Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax, delves further into copyright law and licensing in the Essential Guide to Copyright Law for Churches .

David Fletcher has more than 35 years of experience as a pastoral leader in churches. In 2003, he founded XPastor, a resource website for executive pastors, and XP-Seminar, an annual church leadership conference.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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  • October 16, 2018

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