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Q&A: Does the church need permission to use copyrighted material?
By Duman & Fiero - 10/12/2005 - 09:57 PM EDT

Hi Jon & Gian.

I sing in a church choir and a question about copyrighting came up and I'd like to know if you can answer it.

Each Sunday our church records our services which include the choir's selections for the day. This is not original material. They are songs that have been recorded by various popular Gospel artists. The DVDs, CDs, VHSs are sold for a given price.

My question is this: Does the church need permission to use copyrighted material, even if the CDs, DVDs, and tapes aren't sold "for profit"?


Hi Sheryl.

Your question is quite prevalent among church musicians and choir directors.

You'll be happy to know that "the religious services exemption" in the Copyright Law permits for the performance of copyrighted religious works in the course of services at places of worship or at religious assemblies. However, performance licenses must be obtained from the copyright owner for any musical performance outside of a specific "worship service" - including concerts and special musical programs.

With regard to the recordings that you are selling after the service, you must contact the copyright owner and obtain a "mechanical license." You will be charged a fee, the amount of which is determined by the "statutory rate" as set forth in the Copyright Law. The current statutory rate for the period of January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2005 is 8.5 cents, and for the period of January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2007, it will be 9.1 cents. This includes recordings of church services, concerts, musicals, or any programs that include copyrighted music - regardless of whether or not they are sold for profit.


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