4 Webcasting Rules for Your Online Church Services

church webcasting

Today’s guest post is by Susan Fontaine Godwin, founder and president of Christian Copyright Solutions—a leading authority on church-music copyrights. She is frequently featured in Christian magazines, where she equips teams and churches to honor copyright law and use the best materials available for their worship.

Webcasting offers churches and ministries a dynamic vehicle to communicate with their congregations and reach out to their surrounding communities. Many churches are already harnessing robust and inexpensive webcasting technologies to put a public face on their church. While churches increase visibility online, they also increase their vulnerability to potential copyright infringement.

Churches most often use webcasting to feature church services, which are sometimes broadcast live or archived to be viewed later. Prior to the availability of inexpensive digital video cameras and the widespread penetration of broadband, these webcasts were usually audio only. Broader availability of new tech has led to more churches offering video webcasts.

US Copyright Law provides a Religious Service Exemption (Section 110 [3]}, which allows performance and display of certain copyrighted works in a religious service without permission or royalty payments.

This exemption does not extend to webcasting. When it comes to webcasting, churches and ministries have no special rights over companies or private individuals.

Generally, there are fewer copyright issues involved in webcasting the sermon or message part of a service, but permission may be required from the pastor or speaker if he or she owns the copyright to the literary work of the sermon. Many churches only webcast the message and avoid some of the more complicated copyrights issues. However, as demand grows for access to the entire service, churches need to educate themselves about the copyright issues that surround webcasting complete services.

Here are four ways copyrights most often show up in webcasting:

1. Webcasting copyrighted songs

Copyrighted songs are used in worship services in several ways. Each use of songs has its own particular copyright issues that need to be addressed.

Performance of songs

The most common form of song usage is performance—when the worship team and congregation sings songs together. For a church to legally stream its performances of copyrighted music, it must secure an Internet performance license from song owners or their agents. Christian Copyright Solutions (CCS) offers a one-stop annual Internet performance license for churches and ministries called WORSHIPcast. The WORSHIPcast license allows churches and ministries to stream their performance of every song licensed by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, representing more than 17 million Christian and secular songs.

CCLI also now offers the church streaming/podcasting license, which allows churches to stream or podcast their performances of about 300,000 Christian songs. The license is limited to worship services only. You must have a basic CCLI license to get the streaming license, but no additional reporting is required. Annual fees are calculated on several tiered levels based on your congregation’s size.

Display of lyrics

It is common practice to put song lyrics up on a screen during song performances. The CCLI license allows churches to make copies of the lyrics required to do this, but does not cover the webcasting of these lyrics. Permission is required from the song’s owner to webcast these lyrics. Many churches avoid the problem by keeping their lyric screens out of frame when recording the service.

Usage of audio

Commercial sound recordings are often played during services. These recordings might be background music on animations or professional split tracks. In order to webcast these recordings, permission must be obtained from the owner of the recording, often the record label. A license may also be available through SoundExchange. SoundExchange is an independent nonprofit performance-rights organization that collects and distributes digital-performance royalties to featured artists and copyright holders for sound recordings.

There isn’t a simple blanket license or mechanism for securing these licenses, but some record labels will issue licenses for webcasting their recording. This can be complicated, especially for weekly activities. As a result, it’s probably best for webcasting churches to avoid using commercial song recordings. They should also ensure that Internet rights are included for split tracks they purchase.

2. Webcasting copyrighted images

Churches frequently use photos and drawings to illustrate points during a sermon or to provide a backdrop to a performer. It is important to secure permission to webcast any copyrighted image. If the image is provided by a church member, be certain to get a release form signed by them. To ensure that your images can be webcast, stick to royalty-free catalogs like iStockPhoto and Getty Images. You can also import graphics from Logos Bible Software resources directly into your Proclaim presentations.

3. Webcasting copyrighted video

Video and animations are also commonly featured in services. Video clips from popular culture are often used to highlight points in sermons. While the CVLI license allows churches to play or perform many of these videos on the church premises, it does not allow editing, reproduction, or webcasting the videos. While it is possible to get permission for webcasts from movie studios, it can be very time consuming and expensive. It is recommended that churches avoid including commercial video clips in the webcast of their services.

Many churches use animations to “jazz up” their services. These animations take the form of “service-starting” countdowns and transitions between segments of the service. Be certain to confirm that you have permission to webcast these animations if you use them as part of your service. The contracts that many animation distributors have with their filmmakers often do not allow for webcasting.

Christian media companies like Igniter Media, SermonSpice, and WorshipVue offer a variety of still images, countdowns, loops and mini films. The purchase of these products does not usually include permission to reproduce, edit, or webcast their material. Licenses can often be obtained to legally stream the material, and royalty fees can be very reasonable. The key is to request permission from the companies prior to using the material in any way that is not detailed in the terms and conditions that come with the purchased product. CCS offers preapproved licensing for some Igniter Media products.

Proclaim, however, allows you to webcast Proclaim and Pro Media content for as long as you are a subscriber.

4. Webcasting literary works

Literary works include sermons, poems, books, essays, and articles. As mentioned earlier, if the church owns the sermon, then no permission is required. If not, then a simple letter of permission from the pastor should be documented. The Religious Service Exemption allows churches to perform (or read publicly) literary works during the service, but the exemption does not extend to streaming performances of literary works online. Permission would be required from the author(s) if it is not in the public domain.


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Written by
Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson is a writer for OverviewBible, where he uses Logos to explore the characters, groups, places, and books of the Bible. He has served in a variety of volunteer ministry positions, primarily through Young Life.

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Written by Ryan Nelson