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Copyright Q&A for August 2012

Copyright Q&A for August 2012

By Christian Copyright Solutions on August 27, 2012

Here is  a question we received for our monthly Copyright Q&A feature. Answers are provided by the CopyrightSolver.com Team. Feel free to email us your questions to copyright[at]allaboutworship.com or tweet them to @allaboutworship w/ hashtag #copyright. We answer as many as we can here on our site once a month.


Our church has a song posted on our website but we don’t have any kind of licensing for it. Leaders at our church have told me that the song is so old that it is no longer copyrighted and, since no one is making money from it anymore, we don’t have to do anything. Is that right?


If the sound recording was made by your church’s musicians, and as long as both the song and the arrangement of the song are in the public domain, you do not need licensing. However, it is important to be absolutely certain of a song’s public domain status before proceeding with online copyright usage. Let’s look at each of the components:

First, you cannot assume that because a song is old, it is within the public domain. Many seemingly older songs, such as “How Great Thou Art,” are not in the public domain. Copyrighted songs go into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author, 95 years after the initial publication, or 120 years after the date of creation, whichever expires first. You should also check the song’s copyright registration status with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Once you determine that a song is, in fact, in the public domain, the next factor is to consider your source material and whether the arrangement of the song you are using is within the public domain. Although a song (words and melody) may be PD, composers and/or publishers can copyright their own arrangements of a work. If you are singing from a songbook or anthem, you will likely need to license the copyright use. Again, you should confirm the copyright status with the U.S. Copyright Office.

The third factor to consider the sound recording you are using. If the song was performed by musicians/singers from your church, no licensing is required to stream it online. However, if you are using the song as recorded by a third party artist or record label, you will need to obtain permission from the master recording owner.

The CopyrightSolver WORSHIPcast License allows your church to legally stream over 16 million copyrighted songs in the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC catalogs for one year. If you need to secure permissions for use of a master recording, CopyrightSolver can simplify the process for you through the PERMISSIONSplus Service.

The CopyrightSolver answers provided are information, not legal advice. For more information and resources, including fact sheets, videos and idea kits, visit www.copyrightsolver.com. Use promo code “ABOUTWORSHIP” to receive 10% off the PERFORMmusic and WORSHIPcast licenses and the PERMISSIONSplus service.

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