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 Book of Worship owned by The United Methodist Publishing House are approved for livestreaming for a limited time (until August 30, 2020) by The United Methodist Publishing House

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.  However, now through April 15 OneLicense offers its basic reproduction with streaming package FREE to new subscribers.

Christian Copyright Solutions sells a streaming license as a separate item (it does not offer reproduction licenses), but the prices are comparable to 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.

CCLI covers ONLY songs for congregational singing in its catalog. It does NOT cover anthems or other songs not for congregational singing. (See permitted and non-permitted activities.)

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. It DOES, however, cover 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. Livestreams cannot be made available for download nor can copies be made for distribution by any other means. This means you can’t provide a DVD or a flash drive version for homebound members, for example. Only viewing it online from a streaming platform is covered.

None of these licenses permit you to stream pre-recorded copyrighted music or music videos. Any copyrighted music you want to include in your livestream must be performed live 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.  

None of these licenses cover copyrighted ritual. The ritual of The United Methodist Church is copyrighted, but The United Methodist Publishing House has released the basic services of the church for livestreaming for a limited time. This applies only to materials under the copyrights of The United Methodist Publishing House, the Methodist Publishing House, or Abingdon Press. For all other copyrighted ritual materials, you must contact and obtain written permission from the copyright holder(s).

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.

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 1925 is now in the public domain (as of January 1, 2020). 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, between now and May 31, includes the livestreaming rights to all Sundays and Seasons resources under Augsburg Fortress copyright and all ritual in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (their hymnal).

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) 

Have questions? Ask The UMC or talk with a pastor near you. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.