By Val Harlynn, Associate for Communications

Music and Copyright for Online Worship 

Please note this is not legal copyright advice, I’m not a copyright lawyer. This is a list of resources to help understand more about online worship and copyright law. If you want to learn more about intellectual property online, this video is a quick summary that focuses on YouTube.

From the ELCA Starter Guide: “If you stream music, you will need to obtain clearance to stream any copyrighted music being used in worship. Christian Copyright Licensing International (ccli.com) and One License (onelicense.net) both offer licenses for streaming worship music, with rates based on average attendance. One License is currently offering gratis license options for new users through April 15. Subscriptions to sundaysandseasons.com and to the Augsburg Fortress liturgies licenses include permission for live streaming Augsburg Fortress and ELCA liturgical text and music content which is copyrighted or administered by Augsburg Fortress. Augsburg Fortress is temporarily expanding permission for all ELCA and ELCIC congregations and worshiping communities to include Augsburg Fortress administered liturgical text and liturgical music copyrights in a live stream or podcast. More details are available at www.augsburgfortress.org/temporary-licensing.” 

Calvin College offers two straightforward articles about copyright: 

United Methodist Church articles on this topic: 

Overview of the big two licensing companies: 

Note about Licensing
Please note that a CCLI, One License, or CCS license for live streaming means streaming of performances that are not copyrighted (examples would be recorded music from a CD, or YouTube). These licenses also do not cover readings, Bible translations, or liturgy you may be using. Read the fine print on your licenses and in any materials you may be using and the distribution channels.

Copyright “Strikes” or Takedown Notices
Unfortunately, even when you cover all the bases you might receive a notice of a copyright complaint. This means that someone or some publishing group is trying to claim the rights to the music/text. Sometimes these notices happen in error and you are able to dispute. There are people who try to swoop in and file complaints. There is also the problem of A.I. copyright protection, where computers (bots) scan the audio files for matches and flag video for something that it matches as copyrighted work even if the work is covered by public domain, fair use, or your streaming license.

There have been some examples of this happening with online worship services in the last few days. Anecdotally, there seems to be some connection between using music and free-to-use images from online overlaid with the music. It’s possible that the bots scan these video files more closely or carefully. 

Other tools for finding tunes and accompaniment

Hymnary.org is an ecumenical resource with songs from many hymnals across denominations. You can see tunes, copyright information on both text and tune, and much more.

FlexPresent: Hymnary has a cool new (beta) tool that visualizes the music and words with accompaniment.

SmallChurchMusic.com 15,000 public domain audio files please note: that doesn’t mean the live streaming of the song and text is covered, just the recording of the accompaniment

https://www.pdhymns.com/ A great deal of sheet music and PowerPoint lyric files of public domain hymns


Disclaimer: links, articles, tools and blog posts shared are not necessarily an endorsement from the Office of Bishop. They are merely a sharing of resources and news. 

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