Church and ministry leaders certainly want to avoid the risks and liabilities of copyright infringement, but lack of knowledge often creates mistakes that can be costly. Here is how you can avoid six of the most common mistakes:

#1 Allow Sufficient Time for Clearances

Most church leaders excel when it comes to planning and organizing for church events and programs, but for some reason copyright clearances are frequently left out of the all-important checklist for planning and production. One of the easiest ways to incur high licensing fees and penalties, or even infringement lawsuits, is to try to get permissions and licensing at the last minute. It is an especially high risk to request licensing after the fact.

It often takes time to locate the correct copyright owner(s) or administrator, communicate details of your activity and obtain the license. We suggest that you allow at least 3-4 weeks for Christian music and up to 3 months for approval for some secular songs and recordings.

#2 Maximize Blanket Licenses

Annual blanket licenses are the easiest, quickest and most cost-effective way to provide coverage, in advance, for many of your activities that use copyrighted material. One of the great features of blanket licenses is that you can sign up online and obtain immediate coverage for any of your programs and activities. You can create a mosaic of coverage that that dramatically simplifies your licensing requirements. (CCS provides an informative “Blanket License” fact sheet that explains the various blanket licenses available to churches and ministries.)

#3 Understand that One License Does NOT Cover Everything

One of the biggest mistakes ministries make is assuming or believing that one church blanket license covers every type of copyrighted work any way they want to use it. Here’s a great example:

The CCLI Church Copyright License allows churches to reproduce, duplicate or copy 300,000 Christian songs for five different singing activities (see the list on our “Blanket License” fact sheet for details). Church and ministry leaders often think that this license allows them to perform or play those songs or that they can stream the songs on their website. It does not.

 #4 Communicate Clear Policies and Procedures

The right formula for compliance starts with ministry leaders implementing policies, procedures, and planning for staff and volunteers. It’s important to note that copyright compliance is a process, and it takes time to turn the ship. It does need to start from the top down I order to set the bar for how you will reach the goal of honoring copyrights. One important foundational element is ensuring that all involved with the ministry agree to not use copyrighted materials without obtaining permission.

#5 Realize that the Religious Service Exemption Does Not Cover Everything

The Religious Service Exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law (Section 110[3]) is probably the most important part of the law for churches, because it provides that “performance of a non-dramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly” shall not constitute infringement of copyright. In other words, you do not have to get permission from the copyright owner or pay royalties to perform music or display the lyrics of a work in a religious service. This applies to the performance and display rights, which are only two of the six rights of the copyright owner. The exemption does not apply to reproduction, distribution, making a derivative work or performing. It is also important to note that it does not cover activity outside your religious service.

#6 Get Professional Help When You Need It

Help is available when you need it. CCS provides onsite consulting for training, evaluation and assessment, upon request. We also offer a wealth of fact sheets, webinars and other information on our CCS website and our Copyright Coach website. In addition, it is wise to obtain legal advice from an intellectual property attorney, if and when you need it.

by Susan Fontaine Godwin /

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