LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kentucky Baptist churches are moving to an online streaming model to reproduce Sunday morning worship services in the homes of church members.
This transition has raised concern regarding the legality of streaming copyrighted content — such as song arrangements and song lyrics — and what illegal use of material could mean for Kentucky Baptist churches in violation of copyright law.
Jason “Bubba” Stewart, the worship and music ministry consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said that copyright permission boils down to ownership.
“You wouldn’t drive your neighbor’s truck without permission,” he said. “So why would you use copyrighted material without permission? It’s the same principle in that you do not own the material. In this case, it’s the songs you’re singing in church.”
While some songs, including certain hymns, fall under public domain—which do not require permission to be reproduced, distributed, or streamed—most songs utilized by churches are protected by copyright law. Stewart said, as a rule of thumb, to scrutinize any content that is not produced or published by your church.
“If you project lyrics and/or stream music of songs that you do not own and do not have permission to use, then you are in violation,” he said.
Stewart suggests that Kentucky Baptist churches purchase the required permissions prior to streaming their services.
While churches can contact, set up an agreement with, and pay royalties to copyright owners each week, there are subscription services that work with churches to ensure their streaming activities adhere to copyright law. Organizations like Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) and Christian Copyright Solutions stand in this gap.
“With a subscription, a church can legally cover the bases to project lyrics and stream most copyrighted songs,” Stewart said. “Annual subscriptions are based on your church’s worship membership attendance. The cost is extremely minimal.”
Most importantly, the cost offsets the legal and moral complications of streaming copyrighted materials without the appropriate licensing.
“Churches could be sued by those who own the copyright, just like any other source that is infringed upon without proper permission,” Stewart said.
But regardless of how churches pursue copyright licensing, Stewart is concerned about the integrity of Kentucky Baptists.
“Please do not break the laws concerning copyrighted material,” he said. “I know you may not think it is not a big deal, but you are breaking the law by not getting the proper permissions before streaming. I encourage churches to make sure they have their CCLI subscription up to date and that they model integrity for their congregations.”