Live-streaming and Licenses
The global Covid-19 pandemic has been the cause of a fast-paced evolution for churches. The pandemically popularized catch phrase of “social distancing” has pushed Cumberland Presbyterians to socially and spiritually connect in creative ways. Particularly, the live-streaming of Cumberland Presbyterian worship has grown significantly. However, I fear many have jumped into these new ventures without first carefully considering the legality of their actions.
The summary of everything below is this: If you have not paid a composer/author/creator to use his or her copyrighted work, then you cannot use that work in the context of a worship live-stream. Here you will find shared resources both for paying to use those works and for finding works that don’t require payment. While there are many great works that are free to use, the payments required for licensing newer material are not as expensive as you might think! As a result, every church that desires to do a live-stream should be able to do so.
Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let’s start at the beginning. Every creative work (music, poetry, sermons, paintings, everything) is protected under copyright law, whether or not it is registered with the US Copyright Office. Registration is required for prosecution and litigation of copyright violations, but a work becomes protected the moment it is created and tangible (written on a computer, written on a piece of paper, or written however). For the purposes of this look at copyright law, we will be talking exclusively about music. However, if a pastor preaches a sermon written by someone else, be very sure to have permission to use that before live-streaming it!
As creative works age, copyrights to those works can expire without being renewed. For example, the oft sung Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was written both by our Methodist friend Charles Wesley and by composer Felix Mendelssohn, but the words and music were not put together until William H. Cummings combined them after both the original authors were dead. But any copyright protection for the three who created the work has expired, leaving the song free for all of us to use as we would like. A great resource for finding Public Domain hymns is pdhymns.com. It is updated regularly with newly expired copyrights; and as of this writing, is just short of 4,000 total hymns. A great place to start is with the “Great Hymns Project,” created in 2018. The “Great Hymns Project” is a hymnbook of the 500 most popular hymns, all free to print and use!
For a church interested in singing newer music that would still have copyright protections, licenses are available for purchase. The two best known licensing companies are CCLI and One License, and both work in very similar ways. The license that most of us have seen is the core license you purchase to give you permission to use most (not 100%) of contemporary copyrighted music within your church community. This is the license most CP churches have. It allows you to print lyrics, project lyrics, play and sing with audio recordings, and record the services for in-church use. HOWEVER, this does not allow you to sing/play/use those songs in a public way. If you are outside your church for a large public event (trunk or treat, 4th of July, etc.), you are not covered by your license to sing copyrighted songs to and with the public. Similarly, you are not covered by that license to have a public live-stream out into the internet. There are two solutions to this copyright violation:
- Have a private live-stream. An internet broadcast of a worship service works in the same way as recording the worship service. It’s protected under your core license, but only as long as it is only for your church community. If you post the video or live-stream of a worship service within a private Facebook group or within a password-protected website so that only your church community can view it, then it is still protected.
- Purchase an additional license for a public live-stream. These are less expensive than you might imagine and run only a few dollars a week for an annual streaming add-on license, but purchasing that license allows you to expand your digital ministry and allows others to find your church through the internet.