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Getting to grips with copyright

Getting to grips copyright image

A free guide to help churches and church organisations understand copyright. 

Why is copyright important? 

Copyright is complicated and not following it can result in you breaking the law! We hope this free guide, which, whilst not claiming to be a definitive guide, will help you navigate your way through the potential minefield of copyright law and how it affects churches.

As many of you will already know, agencies exist, such as the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) and One License (formerly Calamus). These companies offer a variety of licences that cover a range of copyrighted material that is often used by churches. 

This guide sets out to do two things: to take you through some of these licences and agencies, explaining how and when each should be used; and to look at a variety of common copyright scenarios that churches may find themselves in – such as using sheet music, showing TV programmes or photocopying from magazines. 

 These days it is very easy to ‘copy’ anything – from the words of a poem or a hymn, or the pages of a book, to film sequences or all-singing–alldancing video clips of the latest music sensation. And we all know how such things can light up a Sunday service or evening entertainment in the church. But do you have the ‘right’ to copy any of those things? 

Copyright is not meant to stop you copying and using other people’s work. It is a legal protection for the people who create original material of all kinds: words and music, drama and film. It protects their intellectual property rights at the same time as establishing a way in which you can copy responsibly and with respect for the people who created what you are so anxious to share.

Copyright law – and it is law, operating currently under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 – is designed to recognise and recompense the authors and musicians, the singers and actors, the directors and producers, who invested their time and talents into creating the work in the first place. The Act gives the originators two main rights, one moral and the other economic. 

The moral right is the right to be identified as the author and protects the work from any changes they would not want to see – that is to recognise them as the originator. The economic right allows them to charge anyone who wants to copy, record or perform the work – that is to recompense them financially for the use of their work; it is the way, after all, that some writers and composers make a living.

To make it easier for churches to deal responsibly with copyright, a number of agencies, such as the CCLI and One License, have brought together a large number of people
who originate church material to offer a series of licences that cover the vast majority of copyright needs for many churches. 

Instead of dealing with writers, musicians or publishers, one-by-one, your church can buy whatever licences you need for an annual subscription. Many of these agencies also produce detailed fact sheets and clear breakdowns on the individual copyright licences they offer churches. 

Copyright is a vast and intricate subject and this guide does not aim to give you every last bit of information. What it does aim to do is give you a starting point into the complex and often bewildering world of copyright.

No simple answer...

People are often looking for a simple one-size-fits-all answer to their copyright queries. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Or there is one very unsatisfying answer: always check and double check – because there is no licence in the world that covers you for every instance of using original material. 

Let’s start by looking at who owns copyright and how long it lasts. Copyright is usually owned by the creator of the work and it begins as a matter of course when the work is created, with no need for any formal registration. But copyright can be assigned to someone else, so do not assume it stays with the author.

In the main, the work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years – regardless of whom owns the copyright. That means the hymns of Isaac Watts are well out of copyright but the hymns of Fred Kaan, who died in 2009, have a long way to go. However, it is not only the hymns that are copyright: the publisher has a copyright in the printed page – in the actual typescript of both words and music in a hymn or song book – and that lasts for 25 years.

It is also possible, although rarer, for the publisher, owner or estate of the copyright to renew it for a further 70 years on some pieces of work. So be careful before you photocopy that Watts hymn. After all, the publisher has invested time and talent in designing and inputting all that typography.

You are, of course, free to invest your own time and talent in designing and inputting your own typescript version of the hymn – your own work, your own copyright. There’s no longer a copyright in Watts’ words – but that approach would not work for a Fred Kaan hymn.

So much is traditional copyright territory. Today, with digital media, copyright is much more complex. Don’t just assume you can use that YouTube clip! (Copyright aside, please note that YouTube’s own terms of service state that the service is for domestic/personal use only and perhaps should not be used in church services at all …)

Computergenerated works, sound recordings, films and broadcasts – all formerly protected for 50 years – are now copyright for 70 years, following legislation to bring UK copyright in recorded music into line with most of Europe.

When the copyright protection runs out, the work becomes free of copyright and enters what is called the public domain. Once in the public domain you are free to use it as when and how you like without prior permission or a copyright licence from an agency. 

Looking at some licences

So, as we said, the good news is that churches do not need to obtain copyright permission for every song they want to sing or piece of music they want to play. Using an agency that offers a relevant range of copyright material is much easier. In all, we’ll be looking at a few agencies and quite a number of licences. 

To help you keep track of them, a list of copyright agencies and licences is in Appendix 1 of the full PDF version of this guide .

We’ll start by looking at some of the licences offered by CCLI. These licenses are generally priced based on the average size of your church congregation and/or the number of events and live performances you have per year.

CCLI: Five key licences

It’s sensible to consider these CCLI licences in sets. First, the Church Copyright Licence (CCL) and the Music Reproduction Licence (MRL); the PRS for Music Church Licence, coupled with the Phonographic
Performance Ltd Licence (PPL) and the PRS for Music Church licence. Read this section in some detail and don’t assume you need all five licences!

The CCL and the MRL 

Together, these two licences cover your copyright requirements for most of the worship music needs of your church. Put simply, the CCL covers you for reproducing the words and music to hymns or worship songs and the MRL for photocopying and digitally scanning from music publications. 

The CCL allows churches to reproduce hymns on service sheets or store them in a computer or onto acetate slides for projection. It gives access to a library of around 175,000 copyright-protected hymns and worship songs and allows you to print song/service sheets, make OHP acetates and store song words on a computer for projection.

In the UK the CCL also includes a Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) right which allows you to make audio or video recordings of your services,  including the live music for limited non-commercial distribution.

Churches that photocopy or download the words and/or music of a hymn or worship song for distribution to choristers,  instrumentalists or congregation, will also need a MRL and CCLI offers this as a supplement to the CCL.

It includes permission to make digital copies of certain songs from authorised music publications including Mission Praise, Songs of Fellowship, The Source, Praise, Spring Harvest Praise, Church Hymnary, and work from publishers such as Kingsway Music, A & C Black, Kevin Mayhew, Oxford University Press and Stainer & Bell Ltd. For more, see the authorised publications list on the CCLI website.

NB: Some publications include permission to photocopy in the purchase price, so it’s always worth checking the copyright  information printed in the front of the book.

The PRS and the PPL

These two licences allow churches to play any religious or secular music live or mechanically – from a CD or an MP3 player – on their premises. Most churches will need these two licences because they allow the church to play live or recorded background music at church events. 

If you perform or host have less than six live events a year you can now purchase the CCLI and PRS for Music Church Licence which we will address in the next section. For more than six events you will need the full PRS and the PPL licence directly from them, as explained here. 

PRS for Music is a merger of the Performing Right Society (PRS), which represents songwriters, composers and publishers when a piece of music is performed live in public, and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), which represents creator rights when the work is reproduced as a physical product or for broadcast or online.

A change in copyright law that came into force in 2012 means that to play music from a commercial recording (CD, MP3 etc) churches now need a Phonographic Performance Ltd Licence (PPL) as well as a PRS for Music Church Licence.

Previously churches were totally exempt from PPL but that exemption has been removed and churches now need a PPL licence to play recorded music at any church event, including youth and children’s clubs, discos, keep-fit classes, or as background music at coffee mornings or fetes.

Whereas PRS represents the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers, PPL represents the rights of performers and record companies. To cover this, CCLI offers a PPL Church Licence. 

Neither the PPL nor the PRS for Music licence are required for commercial music performed or played within services of divine worship in church (where no charge is made to attend).

This includes weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and funerals, as well as the usual Sunday and mid-week services and any other study or prayer meetings. 

This is a dispensation, a gift, given to the churches by talented people who write church material. Such a gift makes it all the more important that churches should respect copyright on other occasions. And, sorry to say, having a hymn at the start of a film night, youth club or the church Christmas party does not make it an act of worship!

Do note that, unlike other licences, the PRS for Music Church Licence is premises based, so if your church hall is a separate building it might need a separate licence but if it can be accessed internally from the main church building one licence is enough. If you are unsure you can call CCLI or PRS directly to see whether additional halls can be covered on just one licence.

If you hire out your church space to external events such as exercise classes, children’s clubs or anything else; it is worth noting that the church itself is responsible for having the PRS/PPL licence in place and not the
person or company using the space. 

CCLI and PRS for Music Church Licence

CCLI now offers a PRS for Music Church Licence to cover churches to play music or carry out performances on their premises. Churches do not require a licence to do this for a church service itself, which is classified  as an act of worship, but you do need this for other events your church might host. On it’s own, the PRS for Music Church Licence covers live music performances including up to six concerts or recitals a year (above) which you will require a licence directly from PRS for Music).

When combined with the PPL Church Licence (see above), these licences permit you to play commercial music recordings on your premises, for example, during fetes or coffee mornings, where you are playing music in the background, exercise classes or public hire events. As with other licences it is priced based on the size of the congregation in your church. The PRS for Music Church Licence is a venue-based licence, meaning it only covers your premises. This does have the advantage that third-parties are covered by your licence when they hire or use your premises.

Operating CCLI licences

As we saw, CCLI copyright licences cover a large selection of the Christian hymn writers, composers and publishers who produce worship material. But not all! Checking is always key in copyright and, especially if your church has specific needs, it’s good to check exactly what any licence covers before investing in it. 

We’ll come later to some of the other agencies, but most copyright licences operate in much the same way: there is a need to record copyright and to report the use of copyright materials. Again, we’ll look here at CCLI licences. First, how to record copyright and show the work is used under licence. 

It is important that you always display the copyright information under any item that you print, project or publish even if you have sought permission to use it. Displaying this copyright line is important, and is part of the licence terms of agreement.

The ‘copyright line’ or ‘proprietary data’ should give the author, the copyright symbol, the year of origination and the owner of the copyright, then the number of the licence you are using.

So, your copyright tag would look like this: [author] © [year, owner], [your licence number]. Completed example: Fred Smiley © 2007 Happy Music Ltd, CCL No 12345.

For general copyright tag layout, the individual author, agency or owner will usually advise you on how they require it to be noted. However, they all contain the same key information of the author/writer/performer’s name, the year it was created and the publisher’s information. The agency ID or number would go at the end if the work is covered by an agency like CCLI or One License.

Reporting is a key stage of holding a licence with an agency. They need to know the songs, publications and recordings you have printed, projected and recorded, to be able to distribute royalties to the owners of the works you use.

Agencies generally use a document you can download known as a Copy Report, which should include material used for special festivals, weddings and funerals as well as your own church services. Remember, only commercial PRS/PPL covered music is free for use within an act of worship. All other music, hymns and materials must have a licence for this and have their use reported.

Reporting is usually online and should be kept up to date, preferably weekly. Each church needs to appoint one person to be the main respondent – or ‘active contact’ for CCLI but a number of people can share reporting duties.

These duties are not onerous but they are quite involved, so you need somebody with a fairly clear mind and a bit of patience. And help is always at hand – most effectively online, so, it’s useful to have someone confident with basic computing, too. 

Fees for all CCLI licences are listed on its website. Fees for annual licences, as used by most churches, increase in relation to the size of the congregation. It is also possible to take out a licence for a one-off event, useful for workshops or a special outreach occasion, when fees depend on the number of people taking part. 

One License

Another agency popular with many churches is One License, which was previously known as Calamus and Decani Music. One License administers copyrights of hymns and other liturgical music in the UK for much of the repertoire used in Catholic Liturgy today. Of added interest to many churches, they are the copyright agents for the Taizé community. 

If you wish simply to sing Taizé songs in worship, no permission is needed. Permission is needed to project, copy or print the songs on paper or use them on the internet. The One License licence allows the reproduction of the words and melody line of the Taizé pieces covered under the scheme. There is a separate Taizé-only licence that allows reproduction of the words and the four-part harmony.

Wild Goose Publications, the publishing house of the Iona Community that includes the work of John L Bell and Graham Maule is another popular worship source; this music is covered by both CCL and Calamus licences so you can search on their websites to see which songs are covered by each agency.

A list of general authors whose work is licensed by One License can be accessed on its website. Fees for annual and once-only licences are listed on their website as well and increase cost breakdowns for four-part harmony or instrumental copies.

A wider look at copyright

Now that we’ve looked at a few licences in some detail, we are ready to take a wider look at copyright. The bad news is there are many more licences out there! But the good news is that few churches will need all of them.

As is already clear, copyright law can be complicated and detailed and you can need more than one licence to cover just one work – at its simplest, one for the words and one for the music. But the key to good copyright housekeeping is to check what is covered in each licence against what you actually need and use.

It is also important to remember that if the material is not covered by any of these company licences you must contact the owner yourself to seek copyright permission before you use the work in any way. You can do that
by phone, email or letter to the copyright holder directly. 

For a list of some major copyright sources, see Appendix 1 of the full PDF version of this guide. Make sure you are clear on the purpose for which you are using the material and say that you are asking permission on behalf of a church and for charitable reasons.

We’ll now look at some other copyright needs and the cover offered for them taking CCLI as our example again. For a table of CCLI licences showing which licence you need for what purpose, see Appendix 1 of the full PDF version of this guide on the inside back cover. If you access the table online, links take you direct to detailed explanations.

Choir/band practice

No licence is required to play sound recordings or watch YouTube clips of a musical recording as part of your rehearsal as this is considered private. But, as we have seen, you will need a MRL to photocopy sheet music or distribute digital copies obtained online. 

TV/radio in the church

An ordinary TV licence is required to show live television or listen to live radio programmes during any and all church activities, including worship. This does not, however, give permission to use copyright material in a public place, which a church is deemed to be. 

Following a recent change to Section 72 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, the licensing required to show television broadcasts is now more complicated.Whereas before, you could play ‘live’ television broadcasts in church with a TV Licence, PRS for Music Church Licence and PPL Church Licence, now, in addition, churches may well need a CCLI Church Video Licence.

CCLI offers an online guide on what your church may or may not need. More detailed information can be found here

So, if your church is broadcasting the live two minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday, for example, you are breaking the law by not having the standard PRS Music licence in place.

Film nights

To show a film for entertainment at a social evening, you need another licence. The Church Video Licence (CVL) from CCLI gives you the right to show films from most major film distributors, including Disney and 20th Century Fox. In this context, ‘films’ do not stop at Hollywood. 

They also include DVDs of television favourites but exclude recordings of TV programmes you have made for personal use under the ‘timeshifting rules‘ (that is where a TV programme has been recorded solely for the purpose of enabling it to be viewed or listened to at a more convenient time).

As films, pre-recorded DVDs, Blu-Ray DVDs and videos, invariably include music on the soundtrack, you will also need that PRS for Music Church Licence. An additional PPL Church Licence is not required. Under CVL terms, you can’t charge for admission though you can take a free-will offering.

Advertising must be within the church community only and, yet again, the film or television series chosen must be covered by the licence.

Remember, images are another copyright pitfall so you cannot include the film poster on the advertising without permission, even within your church community, as you are reproducing it. We will go more into images and use later on. 

Should you want to branch out and put on a one-off film show to a paid audience, you can obtain permission for a Single Title Screening Licence (costing around £70) from FilmBank. If you just want to show film scenes in church services, you still need a CVL, though, as we’ve seen, no additional PRS for Music licence is needed during worship.

Copying from magazines and books

Churches that want to reproduce the words from magazines or other printed publications – say prose, poetry or prayers – for their newsletters, booklets, handouts or church website, need a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), a not-for-profit organisation that operates on behalf of a large number of publishers, authors and visual artists by issuing licences to organisations that want to copy and re-use their published work.

If a member of the congregation has found or sent something for inclusion in a newsletter it is vital that the copyright permission on it is checked and granted before including and circulating it. Otherwise, you are in breach of copyright. 

If you are in any doubt of the copyright status or ownership don’t publish it! There have been many examples of Churches being pursued in legal battles over used material, so it’s always better to be certain of the source.

CCLI administers the CLA Church Licence. This licence allows you to photocopy most things you’d want to use regularly: articles from magazines about evangelism, worship, health and safety; pages from study guides; games and puzzles for children’s/youth groups; scripts for drama groups or your Easter or Christmas plays; quizzes for social activities. 

The licence is designed to cover most church needs but, as ever with copyright, there are limits.

These are easy to check on the list of excluded works on the CLA website. Again, it’s worth checking to see if any particular publication includes permission to photocopy in the purchase price.

Even short quotes from the Bible can be a copyright problem. Most Bible publishers allow a certain amount of Scripture text to be reproduced without permission. The standard maximum use for Bible quotes before needing permission is between 200-500 verses however do check the copyright details in the front pages of the particular version or translation you want to use as permissions may differ.

Sometimes you might want to discuss a published article or book in your newsletter or with a study group. In this case you are free to copy short, relevant extracts of the work under a process known as ‘fair dealing’. Fair dealing for criticism, review or quotation is allowed for any type of copyright work, including the news reporting of current events.

After all, authors want their work to be widely reviewed or discussed and the extensive book review pages of national newspapers would be impossible without it. Just make sure you acknowledge the source fully and that it really is a fair use with a short section and not pages worth.

If you are copying, but not photocopying, a small proportion of the work – e.g. a sentence or two from a news article or three paragraphs from a novel – then you will almost always be legal. But a line or two from a short poem or prayer? That’s not so clear.

The clearest balance for fair dealing is usually whether the reproduction or performance of a work will have any economic impact on the copyright owner. If there’s any chance it could, an application for use should be made to the owner.

Rejoice and Sing

At this point we’ll take a special look at our own United Reformed Church hymn book Rejoice and Sing. You might feel absolutely sure you don’t need permission to copy any hymn you like from it. After all, Rejoice and Sing belongs to the URC! Well, not all material in the URC hymnbook is the sole copyright of the URC. 

Almost half the rights to the lyrics of hymns in Rejoice and Sing belong to either Oxford University Press, who published it for the URC, or various other publishing houses. Some of the hymns (words only) are covered by a CCL licence. Rejoice and Sing, itself, carries nine pages of copyright acknowledgements. 

And it’s not one of the publications that include permission to photocopy in the purchase price. It carries the familiar legend: ‘All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form … without the prior permission of Oxford University Press or the appropriate copyright holder.’ 

There are some copyright anomalies. One relates to the Revd David Fox, a URC minister who tragically died on a walking holiday in Eastern Europe. He left no instruction regarding the copyright of his hymns, some of which are in Rejoice and Sing. In his lifetime, however, he always gave permission to the URC to use his hymns freely, and the URC are benefactors of his estate.

In such cases you can use a disclaimer such as: ‘Copyright of this hymn is presumed to be held by the United Reformed Church. We have no wish to infringe anyone’s copyright – if you have knowledge of an individual or organisation claiming copyright for this material, please contact the publisher.’

Sometimes the copyright contact has been lost over time and cannot be traced and the right may have passed to a relative now unknown to the URC. To discuss using such material, you could contact the URC communications department at United Reformed Church House in London who may be able to assist you. 

Poetry and Prose Readings

Reading a written work aloud when there is no commercial purpose does not need a licence. So, no copyright is involved in an evening of prose and poetry readings when there is no entry charge. However, if you want to photocopy or reproduce the words in any way you will need a CLA Church Licence, as already discussed.  

SongSearch and SongSelect

Should you wish to track down the proprietary data or the ownership of a song or hymn a good place to begin would be CCLI’s SongSearch. SongSearch is linked to the CCLI reporting system meaning those wishing to track down song ownership, administrator details or the year a song came into copyright can do so with little more than the song title or first line.

Churches that wish to obtain music resources instantly, or lead songs from an IPad or similar, may wish to look at CCLI’s SongSelect, a comprehensive paid for resource with a wide, downloadable collection of worship song lyrics, chords and lead sheets. 

SongSelect comes in two packages: Advanced and Premium. SongSelect Advanced offers lyrics, chords and lead sheets. SongSelect Premium offers lyrics, chords, lead sheets, vocal sheets and ChordPro downloads.
Any church holding a CCLI CCL can apply for one of the SongSelect subscriptions.

Any church holding a CCLI CCL can apply for one of the SongSelect subscriptions. Other agencies such as One License have their own search options to see which artists are covered by them.

The most common copyright agencies and licences

  • Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) 
  • One License (formerly called Calamus at Decani Music) 
  • Church Copyright Licence (CCL) 
  • Church Video Licence (CVL) 
  • Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) 
  • Creative Commons licences (CC) 
  • Limited Manufacture Licence (LM) 
  • Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) 
  • Music Reproduction Licence (MRL) 
  • PPL Church Licence 
  • PRS for Music Church Licence

Protecting your own work 

Although this guide is meant to help you to respect the copyright of other people, you – or your church members – could be creating new copyrights for yourselves. So, what about that? A newly written piece of work is protected from the moment it’s written down or recorded in some physical or tangible format. 

People who create new work often post a copy, perhaps as a transcript, CD, memory stick, back to themselves by recorded delivery so that they have a sealed, dated copy to keep – unopened of course! – should anyone challenge their copyright. It doesn’t prove they actually wrote the piece, just that they were in possession of it at that time. 

Even so, this is common practice and it is advocated by the UK Intellectual Property Office, the official government body responsible for intellectual property rights, including copyright – and, by the way, another source of support in the complex world of copyright.

Your church and the internet

Your church may have a website. Your church may have chosen to stream parts of the service live over the internet. Your church may like to stream clips from the news. If your church is doing all this, then thumbs up for creativity. The internet is a major growth area for churches but so far we have just mentioned it in passing. Now we will look at what you need to make sure you are appropriately covered for any and all copyright material on the internet. 

Putting the Sunday service online

A number of churches are now making their main Sunday services available on the internet, either as a live stream or a downloadable, sometimes edited, podcast, so that the service can be shared by those unable to attend church. You may need at least one and possibly two new licences. Your PRS for Music Church Licence does not cover music used in the service for use online.

Recently the guidance and options regarding copyright have changed dramatically.  CCLI introduced a streaming licence in mid-March to make things easier for churches. It is available to any church which holds the ‘base’ ‘Church Copyright Licence’. For many churches, this licence will cover them for their streaming activity.

For churches who are streaming their services via YouTube or Facebook, the CCLI Streaming Licence will cover them for live worship music performed as part of that stream. (This would include services streamed or webcast via YouTube but embedded into the church’s own website). This is because YouTube and Facebook have their own blanket agreements with PRS for Music, negating the need for a church to obtain the LOML.

If the church is hosting the stream/webcast on their own website, or a video-conferencing platform such as Zoom, they will need the PRS for Music Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) in addition to the CCLI Streaming Licence.

The CCLI Streaming Licence includes the right to show the words on screen. It also allows a church to make recordings of the services available on their website indefinitely. 

These licences cover ‘live’ music performances. If a church is using recorded music as part of the stream, additional rights come into play. There are several Christian organisations that provide apps or software that provide backing tracks for worship. We know that two of these, iSingWorship and Worship Backing Band are giving churches permission to use their pre-recorded tracks as part of their streams. However, CCLI’s advice would be to check, and ensure you have permission before playing a pre-recorded track as part of the stream. The understanding is that the PRS for Music Limited Manufacture (LM) licence would NOT cover the capture of pre-recorded music during a stream. There is currently no blanket solution for this.

Note that, unfortunately, even with the correct permissions in place, it is still possible for you to receive a copyright strike from Facebook or YouTube, especially if pre-recorded music is being played during the stream and is picked up by their algorithms. This is usually because those platforms cannot know who has obtained permission and who hasn’t. In this case, having first obtained the correct licences/permissions, you would be able to successfully overturn this.

Permission should also be sought from the owner(s) of any other creative works included in the service. If reproducing bible verses, or liturgy, usually there will be copyright information in the front of the publication, and usually they will allow for a certain proportion to be reproduced. For any images etc. the same rules would apply as in normal circumstances. Never assume that you can take an image found on Google and use it in a church service or include it in a service sheet or similar without permission. Although CCLI do not cover images, I know of several people who have had to agree a financial settlement with the owner of an image, where the owner has discovered that image in a blog post or article that the individual has published.

With regard to a Service Sheet, as long as there are appropriate licences/permissions in place, making that service sheet available online should be fine.

Don’t overlook the fact that you also need permission to record from people taking part in the service – musicians, singers, readers or preachers – and that these people retain the copyright in their ‘performance’ for 70 years.

If, however, the only material you are making available on your church’s website is the preacher’s sermon, either as a live stream or a downloadable podcast, you simply need the agreement of the preacher. No extra  permission or licence is needed as you are not including live music or performance in your service. The copyright remains with the preacher.

Similarly, no additional licence is needed for a service where all the hymns/ songs and music, all the spoken words, are in the public domain or are your own copyright, and no sound recordings are used.

Remember it is vital to be 100 percent certain that all the material you are using is in the public domain, otherwise you are breaking the law. If in doubt it is always better to have the license(s) in place to cover you.

Just make sure the hymns included in your broadcast are definitely all held with the agency (CCLI, One Licence and so on.) If they are held with more than one agency you would require licences from all of them. So, it’s always wise to pick and check your hymns very carefully before hand.

Although much the same process applies to recording ‘special services’ such as weddings – whether made by a professional videographer or on a family phone-camera – it is advised that, as the church has no control of the recording, wedding couples should secure their own licences from PRS for Music that would cover both the wedding service and the wedding reception. 

On a more low-tech note, just to make a small number of recordings of the Sunday service available to distribute to people unable to attend, CCLI’s CCL, the first and most basic licence we looked at, is enough. 

Putting videos on the internet 

A number of different permissions/licences are required to put videos – even your own – on the internet. To include a copyright music soundtrack, you need the PRS for Music Church Licence plus the Limited Online Music Licence.

If you are including recorded music, such as a track from a commercial CD, you will need a PPL Church Licence plus the additional Limited Manufacture Licence (LM) to allow for ‘re-recording’. 

The LM allows the use of a wide range of music for your own DVDs, CDs or videos, so is useful when preparing material for the internet. It also covers you to make recordings of your church choir / band, either for sale to raise funds or for giving away to family and friends or members of the congregation. Again, you need permission to record from all those taking part and, additionally, their permission to make copies of the recording. 

YouTube operates under a strict guideline that all videos must be copyright cleared by the person placing them on the site. This relates to both the audio and video included in the clip you intend to upload. If the material is not either in the public domain or owned by yourself, you need some permissions, so you might have to ‘chase copyright’, as the saying goes in publishing, where Appendix 1 of the full PDF version of this guide might help.

Using images

Most images you find on the internet – paintings, photographs, cartoons – have some sort of copyright attached to them. Don’t assume that because you can see it freely you can use it freely. To re-use an image, you need permission from the person who has created it – so you need to ask. 

There is a great selection of images that can be used without having to pay a fee, however, and it’s a good idea to build up a catalogue of copyright free images for use in projections and newsletters, magazines and websites. 

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit group that issues a series of copyright licences with a difference. Founded in 2001, it set out to expand the range of creative works that can be shared legally and without charge. It offers several different CC licences that vary from the usual ‘all rights reserved’ copyright line to ‘some rights reserved’. 

The licence asks simply for a credit line to acknowledge the artist. Another confines the use of the work to non-commercial purposes. Yet another waives all copyright interest and places the work as completely as possible in the public domain, where others can use it freely without restriction under copyright.

Creative Commons has grown rapidly. By the end of 2014, there were estimated to be 880 million works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses. Flickr alone then hosted more than 300 million Creative Commons licensed photos. Wikipedia has built up Wikimedia Commons, an online repository of free-use images, sound, and other media files. 

Creative Commons finds great support in the Love to Share report of the World Council of Churches, which talks through the ethics and practice of copyright – together with a plea for the widest possible sharing of worship material. There are also some online sites for finding royalty-free music that you can use in your videos just for the courtesy of a credit, so it’s worth a web search.

Creative Commons is a US database, Copyright Hub is a UK equivalent. 

Static Pexels and Skitter Photo

These are just a couple of examples of sites that are part of the creative commons licencing discussed. If you look at the leader board and popular searches categories on these websites directly, you can browse and search for images that are free to use without needing to get permission or state copyright.

Static Pexels
Skitter Photo

Just be careful to check the details on the images before use as some areas of the sites can send you to other free sites masquerading as ‘free’ when they are not.  

Copyright watchdogs

Don’t be tempted to think a breach of copyright will – always! – go unnoticed. Copyright owners can be on the lookout. The Copyright Licensing Agency has a compliance arm, Copywatch, to counter illegal copying of books, magazines and journals – and it has been known to send people to check Christmas carol services for the odd spot of unlicensed photocopying. 

There have been many cases of law firms searching church newsletters, websites and other content deliberately looking for any breach of copyright. The URC has been involved in several of these along with legal battles due to people not checking on copyright permissions or having licences. It is therefore imperative that you have everything in place before using any form of copyrighted material within your church.

This guide serves as a helpful way for you to get advice on the procedures so that you can operate legally and ethically. If you are still unsure if you need a particular licence for something it is far better to check with the  agency or owner direct than risk getting yourselves, or your church in hot water with the law. 

Pictures/cartoons, particularly those on the internet, can be tempting. But beware! Some organisations, including the famous picture agency Getty Images (formerly the Hulton Picture Library) have people trawling the web for unauthorised re-use. Some photographers/artists go so far as to watermark the pictures they put on the internet with copyright information to discourage what might seem like casual ‘borrowing’. 

Some copyright source contacts

April 2020


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