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How can we livestream worship legally?

The Rev. Eric Folkerth, senior pastor of Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas is recorded with a cell phone during a service March 15. The church is livestreaming their services on Facebook due to the coronavirus or COVID0-19. Photo by Brett Shipp, courtesy of Kessler Park United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Eric Folkerth, senior pastor of Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas is recorded with a cell phone during a service March 15. The church is livestreaming their services on Facebook due to the coronavirus or COVID0-19. Photo by Brett Shipp, courtesy of Kessler Park United Methodist Church.

Many congregations are considering livestreaming worship services in this time of concern for the health of vulnerable people. Livestreaming can be an effective way for church and community members to remain connected with worship.

There are a number of copyright considerations in order to legally livestream your worship service.

Copyright Permissions or Licenses

All copyrighted content must have specific written permission from the copyright holder(s) or a streaming license that includes that particular copyrighted material in order to be live streamed. Hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal and ritual in the United Methodist Book of Worship (both copyrighted resources) can be used in United Methodist worship services, but cannot be reproduced or livestreamed without written permissions or the appropriate licenses. The ritual resources in The United Methodist Hymnal (the standard Sunday service materials, Psalter (but not music!), funeral, wedding, and morning and evening prayer) and worship resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship are approved for reproduction (no longer livestreaming, since the Covid-19 crisis is declared officially over) by The United Methodist Publishing House. Contact [email protected] to obtain written permission for livestreaming copyrighted ritual resources. 

A word to the wise: It can sometimes take weeks or months to track down and obtain written permissions from copyright holders. If you want to begin livestreaming this Sunday or as soon as possible, purchase a streaming license that covers materials you want to use, and then use only the materials covered by your license in the ways your license permits.

Streaming License

A streaming license is needed in ADDITION TO a standard license your congregation may have from CCLI or OneLicense to reproduce the copyrighted works covered in their catalogs. The standard licenses from CCLI, Song Select, or OneLicense do not permit livestreaming. A separate streaming license is required to livestream the copyrighted songs in their catalogs and is only for congregational singing. These licenses do not cover choir anthems.

CCLI and OneLicense will not sell a streaming license without the purchase of the basic reproduction license for congregational singing.   

Christian Copyright Solutions sells a streaming license as a separate item (it does not offer reproduction licenses). The prices can be a bit higher than those of a reproduction license plus a streaming license from other providers.

License Coverage

A streaming license covers ONLY the materials in the company’s catalog. Before deciding which license to purchase, know exactly which content is actually covered.

While CCLI does NOT cover the photocopying of anthems or other songs not for congregational singing (See Copyright License Manual), the recording and streaming may be covered, as long as the song's catalog is covered per their Copyright Owners Lists. See the Copyright Streaming Terms for additional detail. 

The same is generally true for the streaming license. It covers ONLY the songs in its own catalog. It also limits the number of downloads or viewings permitted (no more than 3X the size of the congregation) before you must take down the video. OneLicense, however, also covers instrumental only performances of copyrighted works in its catalog, while CCLI does not under its streaming license. 

CCS has a bigger catalog (ALL of SESAC, BMI, and ASCAP) but, even here, it does not include all possible copyrighted songs. What CCS does do, explicitly, is permit you to pre-record music in their catalogs and include that in video you assemble for later premiere or include in a livestream. The exclusion here is you may not use anyone else's copyrighted performance as part of what you include. For churches that create a video of several parts and premiere it later, CCS may be the simplest option.  

None of these licenses permit you to stream pre-recorded copyrighted music or music videos created by anyone else or using any copyrighted elements created by anyone else. 

CCLI does not state it permits you to include pre-recorded copyrighted music performed entirely by you apart from an actual service of worship. CCS does explicitly permit this. Contact OneLicense for an interpretation of their rules if you intend to use pre-recorded copyrighted music you have performed in your livestreams or premieres. 

Any copyrighted music you want to include in your livestream must be performed by you unless the creator of the copyrighted music performance has stated it has released it for livestreaming. That a video or audio performance appears on YouTube or on another streaming platform does not mean you can use it in livestreamed worship. Without additional permissions, you cannot do so under any of these licenses.  

None of these licenses cover copyrighted ritual. The ritual of The United Methodist Church is copyrighted, but The United Methodist Publishing House has released items in The United Methodist Book of Worship(1992) for United Methodist congregations to use in livestreaming during the COVID-19 crisis. Follow the instructions about copyright citations in the article when you use these materials online or in other forms. 

None of these cover copyrighted Bible translations. That's right. All Bible translations 1925 and later are copyrighted. The Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version are now released for livestreaming during the national emergency in the US without needing further permissions. The Common English Bible has also updated its copyright permissions statement to include livestreaming. We recommend you use one of these for your livestreaming unless other publishers release their translations for livestreaming as well.

Other options

The only way to avoid needing a streaming license for your worship service is if all material in the service is in the public domain or is created solely by you (not adapted from some other copyrighted source).

This is why many congregations who livestream choose to stream ONLY the sermon. Assuming the pastor has not used copyrighted materials from others in the sermon, the congregation owns the rights to the sermon and therefore may stream it.

Have questions?  We have answers!

Ask your questions and check out more FAQS.


Public Domain Options

1. The Piano Accompaniments of Public Domain Hymns from Discipleship Ministries are released for livestreaming during the national emergency. 

2. ALL hymns, anthems, other musical works (texts and tunes) and all ritual published PRIOR TO 1928 is now in the public domain (as of January 1, 2023). You can use or adapt any of these (texts or tunes) and then stream them. Learn more about how to identify public domain hymns.

3. The entirety of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church is in the public domain. You can use or adapt any part of it at any time. 

Full Communion Partner Resources

The Evangelical Lutheran Church and Augsburg Fortress Press have a subscription service called Sundays and Seasons that includes the livestreaming rights to all Sundays and Seasons resources under Augsburg Fortress copyright. This includes the ritual material in the current ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. You still need a separate license for any musical resources.  

Where can I find what I need?

Licenses (alphabetical order)
CCLI+ Streaming
Christian Copyright Solutions (WORSHIPcast)

Public Domain and other Basic Resources:
The Book of Common Prayer (1979)
Ask The UMC: How can I identify public domain hymns?
Piano Accompaniments of Public Domain Hymns
Other Public Domain Texts and Tunes
Comprehensive Hymn Information (including copyright date) 

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