Copyright for Streaming in the Church

Copyright Issues To Keep In Mind When Live Streaming from Your Ministry

Live streaming your church’s services is an incredible engagement tool and social media platforms like Facebook Live and YouTube provide the ability to broadcast video live and reach a wider audience across the globe. However, while streaming on these social channels is free, it is important to consider copyright issues that may arise from streaming video through these platforms. Let’s explore how these can hamper your ability to connect with your community and what you can do to ensure your message reaches your audience.

When video is live streamed, there are algorithms that scan and compare audio and music to a bank of existing content. As per the YouTube Terms & Conditions regarding copyright:

“All live broadcasts are scanned for matches to third party content, including copyrighted content in the form of another live broadcast, like a sporting event. When third party content is identified, a placeholder image may replace your live broadcast until our system no longer detects third party content. In some cases, we may terminate your live broadcast.”

In the event that copyrighted content is detected in your live stream, you will receive a notification and may even find yourself subject to a temporary block depending on the severity and the frequency of the infraction. As the Facebook and YouTube algorithms are automated processes, it’s not uncommon for these scans to sometimes terminate live streams that were mistakenly marked as violating copyright.

What Counts As A Copyright Violation?   

While the Religious Service Exemption in US copyright law outlines the permissions for churches to perform songs that are copyrighted during their religious services, it does not permit that performance to be streamed or broadcast over the Internet.

Should you live stream your services, songs performed by the worship band could count as a copyright infringement if you haven’t obtained a performance license. In addition, if there is music being played over the church’s audio system and is captured on mic during the service, it could be considered re-broadcasting copyrighted material.

When playing or performing copyrighted works, it’s important to properly understand the laws and regulations. The Religious Service Exemption has many subtleties and is not a carte-blanche for performing during religious services – when in doubt, consult with a professional to help you better understand what is and is not covered.

With all that said, what are some of the things that you should keep in mind before live streaming your services?

Outline the Entire Service

A good start would be to prepare a plan for the entire order of service, listing all components of the service including songs performed by the worship band, as well as video and audio that will be played during the service or in between sermons. Several Church Management Software programs exist, including Planning Center, which allow you to create a run sheet that outlines the entire service. Being able to lay out all the components of the service makes it easier than ever to be fully aware of all the content and prepare for any copyright issues.  

Prepare Alternative Content

If there’s a portion of the service that does infringe on a copyright (for example, say that your pastor’s message series carries a ‘movie night’ theme, and he wants to play a movie clip to illustrate a point in the sermon), an option would be to prepare an alternative video to stream during the time that copyrighted content would be being viewed. That way, your online audience would remain engaged throughout the service and you don’t have to worry about your live stream being taken down due to the broadcasting of copyrighted content.

Purchase a License

If the content and worship experience is just as important for the online audience as it is for those worshipping in person, there are still a variety of resources available to ensure that you properly understand copyright and are protected with a performance license.  Resources such as CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) and CCS (Christian Copyright Solutions) are available to you. In addition to purchasing performance licenses for religious as well as secular works, these organizations can provide you with knowledge and expertise to navigate and understand copyright as it pertains to worship performances.

Consider Your Hosting Options

Social media sites can be fallible in how they manage content and how they censor it.  We’ve actually had clients tell us that their own worship band was playing original music they had written and copyrighted and YouTube still shut them down because the algorithm couldn’t differentiate between musicians who own the content and those simply playing the same song.

By using a stand alone online video platform (OVP), you won’t have to worry about your content being flagged for copyright violations you haven’t committed. A professional OVP also provides real time statistics and analytics to help your ministry make better growth related decisions.

Live video streaming your ministry’s services is a great way to help spread your message to persons who might not be able to physically attend your services, and is a proven method of growing your ministry.

Have questions?

Our experts share their best practices for growing your ministry with streaming video in our Guide to Online Ministry.

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