Music Copyright Laws for Church Praise & Worship

By Cindy Hill

Music is an integral and much-loved part of the worship services of churches and other religious institutions. A large portion of the music sung by church choirs and congregations and played by organists or other musicians is protected by copyright law. Churches are exempt from some copyright laws regarding performances, but nonprofit religious institutions must honor all other copyright laws regarding copying and recording music for praise and worship.

Music is an integral and much-loved part of the worship services of churches and other religious institutions. A large portion of the music sung by church choirs and congregations and played by organists or other musicians is protected by copyright law. Churches are exempt from some copyright laws regarding performances, but nonprofit religious institutions must honor all other copyright laws regarding copying and recording music for praise and worship.

Copies

Churches may not photocopy, scan, hand-copy or otherwise duplicate copyrighted music without the permission of the copyright holder. Copying and distributing written music are some of the key rights reserved to the composer, lyricist or publisher of musical pieces. Unauthorized copying of sheet music or songs from hymnal books violates copyright law and infringes on the copyright owner's intellectual property rights.

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Performances

The copyright owner of a piece of music has the exclusive right, subject to limitations, to publicly perform that music or to license its public performance. Among the many limitations to the copyright owner's exclusive right to publicly perform his work is an exemption for performance in the course of church praise and worship, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. The Copyright Act, Section 110 (3) of Title 117 of the United States Code, exempts from copyright protection the performance of a musical work "in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly." The performers can not photocopy their music, scores or scripts; each copy utilized must have been appropriately purchased or licensed by the copyright holder to lawfully invoke this performance exemption.

Recording

The copyright law exemption for religious performance of music only exempts live performance, and does not authorize video or audio recording of that performance, according to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The person seeking permission to record should locate the copyright holder through searching the copyright registration database of the U.S. Copyright Office or through an internet search, and request permission to record the performance. The name of the copyright holder usually appears on published music or after each song in a hymnal. If the recording is for noncommercial purposes, such as to provide each choir member with a copy of his or her performance, the copyright holder may grant permission for free or for a minimal fee. Otherwise, a compulsory license is available for a modest, set fee under copyright law, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Public Domain

Old, traditional hymns may well be in the public domain and free of copyright law protections if their copyrights have expired. Religious institutions and others can make copies, create new arrangements, or write new words to spiritual music that is in the public domain. Take care to ensure that both the music and the lyrics are in the public domain before assuming that copyright does not apply, however. Some composers and hymn writers have also broadly licensed their copyrighted works to the public by way of a Creative Commons license that allows certain kinds of public use as long as the composer is recognized in the performance, copies or recording.

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The Rules for Playing Copyrighted Worship Songs

References

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Copyright Laws on Using Music in a Slideshow

Copyrights give the authors of artistic works the right to keep other people from using and copying their works without the authors' permission. Under U.S. copyright law, a slideshow is considered to be an "audiovisual work" or "multimedia work" that must comply with American copyright rules. If you add music to a slideshow, that music is governed by the same copyright laws that protect music appearing in sheet music and on sound recordings.

Music Copyright Guidelines

Copyrights apply to all original works of authorship, including music. Under U.S. copyright law, a composer of original music has the exclusive right to publicly perform his music, reproduce his music for sale and distribution, and license others to publicly perform or record his music. If you want to publicly perform, record, photocopy or distribute copyrighted music, you must comply with U.S. copyright law and guidelines to avoid committing copyright infringement.

Copyright Issues With Playing Published Music in Public

The U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 creates a monopoly for authors of original musical works. This means that only the copyright holder is allowed to profit from her creation. Included in this monopoly is the right to perform the work in public. As long as you hold the copyright, you can sing your songs as often as you like, in front of as many people as you want. On the other hand, if someone else performs your work in public without permission or paying a royalty, he may have infringed your copyright.

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