Copyright Best Practices

by | Apr 9, 2020

The new realities of doing church online have brought questions regarding copyright for both print and webcast to the forefront for those creating bulletins and recorded or live streamed services.

In 1976, a lawsuit against a Roman Catholic Archdiocese brought to light the common practice of churches printing materials without copyright permissions, especially music. After a guilty verdict was reached in 1990, the Archdiocese paid out over 4 million dollars. For a time, this raised awareness of the need to purchase licenses and acknowledge in print materials the creators of the music and texts used.

Since then however many in the church have grown lax in their practices of acknowledging copyright. Added to that are some common misunderstandings about copyright, the most popular being that, if we have copies of the material in the pew, we can print that many copies each week.

Over the last year of serving as the diocesan liturgist, I have seen copyright violations in almost every bulletin from the smallest to the largest churches in our diocese.

Copyrights are not there to produce headaches for church administrators and clergy, but rather to give credit–and compensation–to church poets, musicians, and liturgy creators for their work. This is a justice concern and one the church should get correct.

The wonderful news for all of us is that many of the licencing companies have made reporting and finding copyright for music and texts simple.

Even better, if we are producing works in print or online on a regular basis, the weekly costs are reasonable and based on weekly attendance records, soo smaller churches pay less. And best of all, the two  major copyright licensing companies for church music–OneLicense and CCLI–have agreements with multiple individuals and publishing houses so most of us no longer have to seek individual copyright permissions through multiple publishers.

Some things to keep in mind as you produce materials for your congregations:

  1. All materials have been created by someone–even those in the public domain–and as such an acknowledgement should be noted in your work whether it is in print or online.
  2. When material is not in the public domain, permission for use must be obtained.
  3. In your copyright acknowledgement, always state the origin, creator, copyright date, and publishing house for each of the liturgical text(s) and music pieces used.
  4. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is public domain, but not all material produced by Church Publishing is–so check for copyright (and remember point 1 above).
  5. Licensing statements for podcast/live streaming must be posted near the links to your online offerings on your website.
  6. If you post content with copyrighted material to a YouTube channel, you must include any copyright acknowledgement in the description. If you use another platform (Facebook, Vimeo, etc.), research and follow the best practices for copyright adherence for that platform.
  7. Most purchases of music for choirs and instrumental works include a performance clause and do not need copyright acknowledgement when sung or played, but follow point 3 above in your productions whether in print or online.
  8. Report usage of all materials to the licensing company that grants your permission for use.
  9. Assign a troubleshooter to monitor any live productions for issues that might arise.

For more information about copyright and licensing companies, check out the Liturgy and Music section of our Worship and Pastoral Care page on the website.

I welcome your questions and am happy to guide you through the process of selecting which company is better for your congregation, what kind of a license you may need, how to do acknowledgements and report usage for your congregation’s  licensing company.

I promise, once you have done it a few times, this process gets easier.

The Ven. Steve Seely, archdeacon and diocesan liturgist