In light of Covid-19 and lots of churches moving their services online I had a chat with CCLI and PRS for music around the legalities of live streaming the sung worship in your church. What follows is my understanding of the situation… please note that I am not a copyright lawyer.
Too long… didn’t read:
- Music in the public domain is fair game. Do what you want with it.
- Your church worship leader is treated like a covers band by YouTube and Facebook. They have the license in place for you to livestream them.
- Streaming publically over other platforms is unclear, but you will probably need a Limited Online Music Licence from PRS.
- Livestreaming recordings (eg from the latest Hillsong album) is not okay.
- Displaying lyrics is not clear at the moment… however you probably need CCLI’s streaming license, unless you limit your worship to music in the public domain or those who have given permission.
The short summary of my call - If you are using streaming services like YouTube or Facebook live you’re fine because they have paid the license for user generated content. This means that your church’s band, organist, solo pianist, etc is treated like a covers band on these platforms. Playing ‘covers’ of the latest worship songs is permitted.
What you can’t do is use commercially recorded music and sing over the top of it - don’t livestream your church karaoke - that recording is copyrighted. If you want to stream recordings of songs (eg: a track from the latest Hillsong album) you’ll need to jump through some hoops with PRS (unless the artist has given permission - but even that is problematic because of automatic checking by YouTube and Facebook).
If you are using something other than Facebook or YouTube I would encourage you to double check the service provider’s policy for such things. I know of a number of churches that are using services like Skype and Zoom, I doubt that they have that kind of license in place. Read on…
If you are using something like Zoom or Skype, or if (for some reason) a technically competent member of your church built from scratch their own live streaming platform… PRS for Music has the Limited Online Music Licence, band A costs ~£150 year and should cover you, however have a chat with PRS first.
Frustrating the same does not apply to displaying song lyrics. This is a bit unclear, I think that you need to either:
- Limit yourself to songs in the public domain
- Get permission from directly from the licence holder. (See a list of groups that I know have given permission).
- Get the CCLI streaming license. It’s not actually clear what this covers, but their website does have the friendly heading ‘Relax, You’re Covered’. So that’s good right?
*Nb: Strong disclaimer here: I’m not a lawyer, I’m just someone who had a couple of phone calls over lunch. I’ll update this post if my understanding of the situation changes.
Updates and changes
- 19th March with details about displaying song lyrics.
- 20th March with details about the new CCLI streaming license.
- 21st March with TlDr section and revisions to how lyrics are handled.
- 27th July correcting a couple of broken links.