Sung Worship and Copyright in Online Services
Ensuring we comply with copyright laws and licences can feel overwhelming. How can we include sung worship in our live streams and online services?
Musicians and artists put a lot of work into composing, arranging, performing, and recording their songs and are rightly remunerated for this when their music is played or heard through copyrighting licences.
This includes songs used in sung worship in churches across the world, for which your church should already have the CCLI Church Copyright Licence for. This covers the display and/or printing of words to songs and hymns when performed during ‘Acts of Worship’.1
However, with many churches streaming their services online, further licences are needed to be covered legally and ensure artists receive the correct attribution.
To make things more complicated, the licencing isn’t clear and there are automatic checks online too which may get it wrong! Read on as I try to explain...
Live Streaming Music
For live streaming the CCLI Streaming Licence is required. This covers the right to stream sung worship and display lyrics as part of an online service using a third party such as YouTube or Facebook.
You can check to see if your planned songs are covered by this licence on the CCLI website. To hold this licence, you must already have the CCLI Church Copyright Licence.
Please note that this only covers music that is performed on your video. If you want to use pre-recorded music by the artist in your live stream, you will need additional licences from PRS for Music. Please contact them for more details.
Having thought through all of this to ensure the correct licences are in place, YouTube and Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) checkers may mute or block live broadcasts for copyright violations without warning – even with the correct licences in place. Although this can be resolved afterwards, the risk of your live service being blocked or muted mid-stream for a music-related copyright claim is always present.
You might find that live streaming your service isn’t a necessity. In this case there are still ways to communally watch a sermon at the same time as a church even when not gathered in the same place.
Pre-recorded services, sermons, prayers, and devotions can be published on YouTube or Facebook as a ‘premiere’: uploaded before hand and only available to view from a certain time (you can find instructions on premieres from YouTube and Facebook on their support websites). These could then be watched simultaneously by the church - even though the videos are pre-recorded.
To include sung worship in these videos, your Church Copyright Licence (CCL), which includes a Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) right, should cover you (as long as they are not for commercial use).
Music included in these pre-recorded videos will be automatically identified by the video platforms and you will usually be given two choices: accept adverts on your video (which you may not have any control over) or dispute the claim.
At this point you are able to dispute any copyright infringement with YouTube or Facebook with your CCLI Licence before the video is due to be published.
Public Domain Music
One safe way of including music in your stream or video is to use music which is in the Public Domain. This music has no copyright on it and is therefore free to be used online.
Music in the Public Domain has either had its copyright expire (in the UK that is 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the last surviving writer or composer has passed away) or has specifically been put into the Public Domain by the artist.
Although some US artists have given permission for the use of their music online, this doesn’t necessarily apply to UK law. However, many old hymns will now be in the Public Domain.
You can find out whether music is in the Public Domain in the UK on a song by song basis using CCLI’s Song Select website.
Some in FIEC churches have been thinking through helping others out with this:
Rory McClure (Parkside Evangelical Church, Littlehampton) has performed and recorded a number hymns in the Public Domain and added them to his YouTube channel, with download links, for churches to use. Please contact Rory by email if you would like to contribute any of your own recordings to this list.
The fool-proof way to ensure no copyright infringements occur is to use no music in your live streams or videos whatsoever. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t share sung worship to be a part of your service.
You could share a list of songs with your church to accompany your sermon to be sung beforehand at home, or you could create a YouTube playlist or Spotify playlist of songs for each online service. For example, see Beeston Free Church’s (Nottingham) service playlist.
You could even create a playlist on YouTube which includes a mix of worship videos and pre-recorded videos from the church (eg. sermons, prayers, Bible readings) to be watched in order. For example, see Moorside Church’s (Drighlington, Leeds) service playlist.
Or you could use a free website that has been recently created called Church Service Planner, which allows you to drag and drop YouTube videos, texts, and other links and download into a webpage to be sent to your church members.