Recently a reader asked Worship Facilities Magazine about the legality of playing commercially available music (such as Christian music purchased on CD or via iTunes) for pre-service and post-service music.
I was asked to take a stab at the topic, and would like to present here what I confirmed/learned.
First, I must point out that I am absolutely not a copyright attorney, nor have I ever played one on TV. I haven't even dressed up as one for trick-or-treat.
None of what you are about to read should be taken as legal advice. If you have concerns about your use of copyrighted material, you should consult with a copyright attorney who can take into considerations all the details of your specific situation.
Second, I must compliment the reader on their concern about wanting to remain above-board in their dealings with copyrighted material, and "submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (1 Peter 2:13-14, NIV ). (In fact, including this NIV bible reference would be a copyright violation if the footnoted reference text was not included.)
Far too many churches violate copyright law; some out of ignorance of the law, and some unfortunately because they know but don't care.
That being said, let's dive in.
I would like to thank Susan Fontaine Godwin of Christian Copyright Solutions, an organization that provides churches with copyright education and provides music performance licenses for churches wanting to do things such as what the above-mentioned reader inquired about, for our discussion on this issue.
To avoid the risk of her quotes being taken as legal advice, I am choosing to not present the information gleaned from her as quotes. However, her input was invaluable. They also provide educational resources at https://www.christiancopyrightsolutions.com/resources/.
One of the most relevant sections of the US copyright law to this question is section 110, part 3, which reads it is not a copyright violation if "performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatic-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".
Therefore, if it is used within the context of the service, it is not likely a copyright violation to play a track from a CD, for example.
However, the operative phrase is "in the course of a service". The question was talking about pre- and post-service playback, the language of the question implicitly placing the use of the copyrighted material outside of the actual service. Some would say this is a gray area, and that the pre- and post-service music is part of their service. Would that argument fly? We'll speculate about that in part 2 of this article.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Jim Kumorek is the owner of Spreading Flames Media, providing video production, photography and writing services. He has also been an editor at Church Production Magazine and Worship Facilities Magazine, and a church technical director responsible for audio, video and lighting systems. He can be contacted at email@example.com.