Home Worship Planning Planning Resources Online Worship & Music Resources for Livestreaming

Online Worship & Music Resources for Livestreaming

By Diana Sanchez-Bushong

Updated August 18, 2020

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Questions and Answers about Online Worship and Copyrights

As worship planners and leaders, we realize we are now in a different place than we were in March 2020 when we were all scrambling to figure out online worship. Even for those leaders who were already providing some streaming of their services, the fact that all worship was now going to be online was daunting. Worship leaders had many questions about copyrights and the use of hymns, anthems, and videos livestreaming on various social media formats in online worship.

Now, five months later, we are all a little wiser and a little more adept with technology, but we are realizing that doing worship this way will not be over anytime soon. Even when the greatest danger of the pandemic has passed, we cannot go back to church as usual. New protocols have come into play, along with new expectations and new patterns of meeting and worshiping. This time of worship during the quarantine is not a quick fix for the meantime, even though many leaders originally thought that way. The reality is that what we have been doing these past few months is actually the start of a new beginning for what lies ahead. Churches are making systemic changes; alongside these changes is a new mindset around discipleship. Many would agree that when we go back to in-person worship, we should consider the church to be a new church start instead of viewing it as what it was. Furthermore, this is a time of great innovation, as we consider the practices we are doing now, whether by choice or circumstance, that must be sustainable for the foreseeable future. So, as we prepare for worshiping in person and online as a new normal going forth, we thought it would be good to revisit the questions around copyright and livestreaming along with some best practices.

The Church and Copyright Law

The Copyright Act of 1976 prohibits the unauthorized reproduction, performance, distribution, or rebroadcast of copyrighted materials by any means. Churches are not exempt from this law under any circumstances. Fair use provisions that apply to educational institutions do not apply to churches or other religious organizations. Before you can reproduce, and in some cases perform or display, any copyrighted music, movie, or video, in any form, you must first obtain legal permission to do so. A number of companies allow local congregations to reproduce copyrighted materials through a growing number of subscription-based services. These services have negotiated with publishers to ensure that the people who created the material and the companies that distribute and manage their copyrights receive proper compensation.

  • Different companies offer a different selection of services and licenses:
  • Reproduction Licenses (the “basic” CCLI license, for example) permit your congregation to make copies of congregational songs (but not choir music!) for use during worship. These also allow displaying the text on a screen.
  • Performance Licenses may be required for a congregation to perform some copyrighted works, such as secular musicals.
  • Mechanical Licenses allow a congregation to make a recording of copyrighted materials on fixed media (such as DVD, CD, or tape) and share it with others in the congregation.
  • Rehearsal Licenses allow a congregation to reproduce covered, professionally produced, copyrighted recordings (audio or video) to enable their musicians or singers to rehearse their parts for worship.
  • Synchronization Licenses allow congregations to broadcast their services via internet streaming or upload them to internet sites for viewing later.
  • Podcasting Licenses allow congregations to make these services available for download.
  • Video or Movie Licenses allow your congregation to display videos or movies covered under the license agreement.

Each of these different licenses applies only to its particular kind of use and the catalog of the service provider who makes it available.

For more information, see “Copyright for the Church Musician.”

Licensing Companies: What They Offer and What You Need

There are two main companies that offer music copyright and streaming licenses: CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.) and OneLicense.net. Although similar, there are some fundamental differences in the companies. CCLI has the most comprehensive praise and worship music collection. If your church provides worship centered on contemporary and modern music, then CCLI may be the best company for your purposes. CCLI also offers a variety of other services and products such as SongSelect and video streaming licenses. Note the links below:

OneLicense.net leans more heavily on songs and hymns for congregational singing centered on the latest hymnals that include much of the world music. If your church uses more standardized hymns and songs along with international songs from various collections such as Iona, Taizé, Latin America and Africa, this company may be better suited for your church’s needs. See the links below:

Top Questions for United Methodist Churches

If I’m using the United Methodist Hymnal and supplements and Book of Worship for my online worship, what licenses do I need?

We recommend the OneLicense.net music and livestreaming licenses. You can also use public domain hymns found in the hymnal with no licenses and you can use hymns that bear a United Methodist Publishing House or Abingdon copyright. The United Methodist Publishing House grants you gratis permission to use the CD recordings of hymns copyrighted by them (UMPH, Abingdon Press, Cokesbury copyrights; check the language at the bottom of each hymn page) and the Public Domain hymns on your church’s website, but asks that you remove these copyrighted recordings after use.

Is it OK to use PowerPoint with hymn texts and Bible readings in my online worship service?

Yes, if you have the music and livestreaming licenses. Concerning Bible readings and copyrights, see https://nrsvbibles.org/index.php/licensing. You need to give credit to the version you are using. Like the NRSV, the CEB Bible allows up to 500 words with no special permissions.

What’s the difference between CCLI and OneLicense.net? Do I need both?

You may need both if you offer a contemporary praise service and a traditional service with words projected on a screen or online. You must check to see if the music you will be using in the service is covered by the licensing company.

What is public domain and how do I know if I am using a public domain hymn?

This is a complicated question. Anything written before 1921 is now in the public domain. You must check hymnary.org or investigate further with a copyright holder to see if a hymn is now in public domain. Furthermore, a hymn generally has three parts to it—text, tune, harmonization—and any part can be copyrighted.

There are lots of videos online with choirs and individuals singing some great songs. Can I copy and use them in my worship service?

No, not without permission from the copyright holders. These are copyrighted songs, and the performance is also copyrighted. Permission must be granted for you to copy the videos into your worship service. See https://us.ccli.com/ccli-news/showing-youtube-videos-in-church.

May I use the liturgy in The United Methodist Hymnal and United Methodist Book of Worship for my online worship without getting special permission?

Yes, during this time you may copy and use the liturgies in these resources as needed for your worship. See https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/worship-matters-episode-13-copyright-questions-from-the-field.

Best Practices

Online worship is not in-person worship livestreamed. By now, we are realizing that intentional planning of an online worship service is quite different from simply livestreaming an in-person worship service. The major difference is spectator versus participant. Planning for a congregation that is scattered takes more preparation and more guidance for the congregant. Finding ways to engage the congregation may be challenging, but it creates new opportunities for people to engage with the scriptures, and ritual and with community building. Creating a worship guide that includes sermon notes and follow-up activities will help people stay engaged. Creating a worship space in the home with a candle, a Bible, and prayer list helps to create a sense of community and familiarity.

Online worship needs to be visually pleasing and convey energy to keep people engaged. Take advantage of the opportunity to film videos in a variety of locations. Although it can be daunting to preach to a camera, do your best to envision all your church members in the room and preach with energy and vitality.

Online worship needs to encourage ritual actions on the part of individuals to make worship more meaningful and personal. Preparing a worship space, lighting a candle, encouraging body prayer or positions other than sitting are helpful ways to make worship more meaningful.

How do we take attendance in online worship? See https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/online-attendance-tips for ideas.

What are some questions to consider as we begin reopening our churches? See https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/questions-for-preparations-for-gathering.

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