HomeSundaysAudiovisualUnderstanding Church Copyright Licensing

Understanding Church Copyright Licensing


The word “copyright” can scare those of us who aren’t attorneys. Copyright law can be downright confusing. Sometimes, it feels easier to bury our heads in the sand than make sure we are 100% legal. But, the truth is it’s not all that confusing.

First of all, why is copyright important?

We all agree that the creators and producers of the lyrics and songs we sing in worship don’t typically do it for free. In fact, their songwriting abilities may be their livelihood. Just like the builders who constructed the sanctuary, the doctor who cares for our loved ones, and the teacher who helps guide our children, these songwriters and producers do work and deserve to be compensated for that work (Luke 10:7). They have copyrighted that work to protect it so they can get compensated. However, paying each individual writer and producer would be a long and daunting task.

That’s why there are companies who are devoted to helping you do this.

The various copyright companies work directly with songwriters and producers to create an agreement for payment for their works. This agreement allows these companies to collect a blanket amount from churches and organizations. They then distribute the payment (or royalties) according to reports presented by the individual churches. So instead of each of us having to contact a publishing company and report that we used a certain song in our worship service, these organizations do that on our behalf. This not only keeps us as churches from having to contact multiple publishing companies, but also keeps the publishing companies from getting thousands of little bitty checks from thousands of different churches. Whether you’re simply displaying lyrics in a bulletin or on a screen, or you’re doing a full web stream of your worship service, you need to make sure you are compensating these workers for their work.

So what’s the next step?

There are a ton of church copyright solutions out there that cover modern worship, classic hymns (that aren’t public domain), and everything in between. This includes the ability to record, stream, or display lyrics. The most common copyright solutions include Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. or CCLI, Christian Copyright Solutions, and OneLicense.

There are also other companies that specialize in certain regions of the world or specific styles of music. Those include LicenSing, Music Services, and Word of Life. If you have questions about costs, what’s covered and what’s not, and how to report, contact the individual companies for more details.

Now, all these companies require some sort of reporting as well as display of the copyright information (in printed form or on a screen for the congregation to see). If you use MediaShout 6 (or a similar presentation program) it makes it easy to add the necessary copyright information to your slides so that you’re in compliance with their requirements.

However, when it comes to reporting for these organizations, MediaShout 6 is the only software that provides you with a specific lyric reporting tool that makes it easy to track Lyric usage, create reports, and export to a CSV file for reporting purposes. It’s simple, effective, and saves a lot of time.

See, that’s not so scary.

A reasonable annual fee, along with a few reports as requested and the copyright info displayed, and you can get your head back out of the sand! The church, the publishing companies, songwriters, and producers will appreciate you taking the time to make sure everyone is taken care of.

Aaron West
Aaron West
Aaron is the Director of MediaShout User Experience. He works daily with customers to make sure they have a great experience with the software. He also runs a church A/V/L consulting company. Previously he was the A/V Director for Dave Ramsey (Ramsey Solutions) and the Tech Director for Bethel Church in Fargo, ND.


  1. Aaron – If a church has paid for the rights for their choir to sing the songs in their hymnals, or by purchasing copies of sheet music for specific songs, would audio streaming to a limited number of parishioners be in violation of any copyright laws? Thanks! – Tom

    • Hey Tom – Streaming anything that is copyrighted (whether it is audio or video) takes on a whole new level. The standard copyright license typically is designed for live performances contained to a certain audience capacity (number of people who can possibly experience it). When you step into streaming, you now have no way to identify or calculate the possible number of people who would experience it, thus a streaming license is separate. For most Public Domain songs, you won’t have an issue (there are some exceptions). But for anything copyrighted, purchasing the hymnal or sheet music does not grant you the license to stream the singing of that to an unknown number of listeners. If you do any copyrighted music and don’t have any licenses for public performance (including inside your own church), I recommend reaching out to one of the above companies (and even talk to them all to find the best option for your situation). They can also advise on streaming licenses as most of them also offer that in addition. Thanks for asking and making sure that you cover all of your bases. Be blessed!

  2. I’ve kept pretty close track of copyright issues for years. I am recently puzzled by the way lyrics are posted freely on the internet, often with no copyright information included. Are there no legal ramifications for this? Do copyright holders know about all these websites? Do they do anything about them?

    • Michael – you are right on. In many cases, the lyrics you see posted on a video on YouTube for example do not have the permission and are not paying copyright fees to do that. It is illegal. YouTube has gotten better about removing copyrighted material when the owner notifies them. However, it is put up faster than YouTube can take it down in most cases. In the last 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases involving copyright violations and the church is no exception. As Christians, we are called to a high level of integrity and excellence in what we do. Using copyrighted material without permission or paying for it is illegal and a form of stealing. The best thing to do is always, ALWAYS err on the side of being cautious with this. If you don’t have permission, don’t use it.


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