Streaming church services: an (updated) guide to copyright and religion


Back in 2013, we posted a piece on copyright which was triggered by a news story about a congregation that had published a poem on its website and had then received a demand from the publisher for £7,000 in compensation for breach of copyright: it finally settled the claim for £1,500. Since then, life has moved on as the use of social media has become ever more widespread and activities such as live-streaming, in its infancy seven years ago, have become commonplace. The coronavirus pandemic has brought a new focus to copyright issues, as churches and other organizations seek to expand the streaming of services.

The Church of England’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for churches has updated its Online Resources section with a blog on live streaming, which gives links to five churches which are streaming their services. In addition, it has posted A beginner’s guide to going live with your service or event for free which gives an overview of copyright and GDPR issues.

Our post covers:

Copyright – the basic principles

We start from the basic principle that one should always assume that material is copyright unless there is clear evidence that it is not: almost everything published since 1900 may possibly be copyright – and the newer the publication, the greater the likelihood that it is copyright material.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the intellectual property right belonging to the creators of original musical, literary and dramatic works. The basic legislation is still the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as subsequently amended. The Act gives copyright owners economic and moral rights in their work – which means that they can charge anyone who wishes to copy, perform or record their work for any commercial or non-commercial use.

Under s.12 of the Act, the basic rule for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works is that copyright persists for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies. The UK Copyright Service has a useful fact-sheet, last amended in 2017, which sets out the precise terms for each type of publication or work under the 1988 Act.

Breach of copyright is illegal. It may result in:

  • an injunction/interdict to prevent a repetition of the breach;
  • an order for payment of damages for past breaches; and
  • an order to pay the costs of the legal proceedings.

In general, it is no defence for those who are sued to argue that their copying or public performance was for church, charitable or other public purposes.

Copyright/intellectual property organisations

Copyright is managed on behalf of the copyright-owners by a vast array of collection societies, each with different functions. The most important for churches and charities are these

  • PRS for Music licenses organisations to play, perform or make available copyright music on behalf of its members;
  • PPL licenses recorded music that is broadcast or played in public;
  • the Copyright Licensing Agency licenses organisations on behalf of the copyright owner to copy and reuse extracts from copyright print and digital books, magazines and journals – the most obvious church use is photocopying copyright material.

It is likely, therefore, that a church or faith group will require a number of different licences to cover the range of activities normally undertaken that are subject to copyright, and it may be convenient to use the services of an organization such as Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) which can provide most of them. However, it is important to note the exact scope of each licence and the items that are not covered.

Is a particular work copyright or not?

Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750 and all his music as he wrote it is long out of copyright. But if someone discovers a lost Bach motet, prepares a performing edition and publishes it, the resulting printed edition will be copyright. Similarly, a modern arrangement of a work by Bach will be copyright even though the original work is not. So you need to be very careful indeed before assuming that a particular piece is out of copyright.

Moreover, in (eg) a sound recording there may be several elements of copyright:

  • a copyright in that particular performance;
  • a separate copyright in the underlying musical composition;
  • a further separate copyright in the words; and, possibly
  • a further separate copyright in the musical arrangement.

 Activities that may involve copyright issues

  • reproducing the words of hymns (eg in service sheets, or projected on a screen) to store them electronically and to print out the documents;
  • photocopying music or words from hymnbooks;
  • use of audio/visual recordings of music (eg at weddings);
  • performing live music or playing music from a sound recording;
  • photocopying from non-music publications and magazines for use in church activities;
  • reproduction and electronic storage of copyrighted material such as photographs, songs, music, poems, literature and maps downloaded from the Internet; and
  • live streaming.

Live music

Live music performed during “divine service” or at weddings or funerals is exemptOne of the organisations involved in the provision of licences to churches, and others, Christian Copyright Licensing International, states that “music played during regular worship services (known as Acts of Worship) does not currently require licensing” – but that exception does not cover music played at church social events.

Some dos and don’ts

  • Do check that you have the correct, current licences for what you want to do.
  • Don’t merely assume that any picture on the Internet is fair game: it isn’t. If you need a photograph, either take it yourself or use something from the huge range available at Wikimedia Commons – which is what we always do on this blog. 
  • Do be careful with quotations: brief quotes are acceptable but long ones may involve a breach of copyright. The UK Copyright Service states that “there is no magic figure or percentage that can be applied as each case must be viewed on its own merit”.
  • Don’t just assume that no-one will notice if you ignore the rules: pictures on the Internet are often watermarked electronically and organisations such as Getty Images operate web-crawlers to look for unauthorised use.

In short, don’t simply assume that just because something is old it must be out of copyright – and do be careful.

Live streaming

Live streaming is NOT exempt. PRS for Music states that small digital services that offer on-demand streaming, permanent downloads, podcasts, webcasting and general entertainment content to a UK audience require an annual Limited Online Music Licence (LOML). Services are categorised as “small” if their annual gross revenue is less than £12,500. The licence covers the communication to the public and associated mechanical rights (excluding synchronisation) of PRS for Music’s members’ repertoire through digital services. The licence does not cover content on third-party websites and social media platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, nor does it not grant synchronisation rights: for further information on synchronisation rights, consult the PRS for Music web-page.

Update: The Royal School of Church Music has produced the following excellent review of live streaming, which is reproduced below, with permission. 


Live Streaming of Church Services…

In these extraordinary times, many churches are looking at streaming services to their congregations.
If music is involved, unless all the music is in the public domain written (both words and music) by composers and authors who died over 70 years ago – up to 31st December 1949, a licence is required.

At present, there are a number of options:

  1. OneLicence.Net are offering a gratis licence up till April 15 2020. A ONE LICENSE licence grants churches, schools, religious communities, retreat centres, and other worshipping bodies permission to reprint or project music for their congregations from any of their Member Publishers. A ONE LICENSE Podcast / Streaming License grants permission to podcast or stream religious services that contain music from their Member Publishers. For new customers or for existing customers who do not already have a Podcast / Streaming License, ONE LICENSE is able to offer a one-month gratis license, valid through April 15, 2020. This would negate the need for a PRS licence during this period.

Click here for details of OneLicense.Net gratis licence.

2. Those wishing to live-stream via platforms such as Facebook, Spotify or YouTube should be covered by the existing licensing agreements in place with those platforms. Please ensure you follow the terms of use and copyright requirements of each respective platform.

3. If a church wishes to host a live-stream on their own website then they can apply for a limited online music licence (LOML) from the PRS.

4. If a Church is utilising Zoom or Skype for live streaming their services, they should enquire directly with those platforms in order to determine the terms of use and relative copyright requirements (as these platforms would not be covered under the PRS LOML agreement).

It should be noted that whilst OneLicense covers many publishers, including OCP, Oxford University Press, Stainer & Bell and Taizé, it doesn’t cover ThankYou Music or Integrity Music.

CCLI now offers a streaming licence. Their new Church Streaming Licence, combined with the Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) from PRS for Music, permits you to legally webcast your services, including the worship music.

Together, the CCLI Streaming Licence and the PRS for Music LOML allow you to stream or webcast both the video and audio of worship services from your usual meeting place.

The CCLI Streaming Licence provides coverage for every one of the songs covered under the CCLI Copyright Licence.

Coverage is immediate, so you can begin uploading services to your church website or other streaming platforms straightaway.

Order here


This post was updated on 23 March 2020 at 13:25, following the update to the RSCM guidance announced here.

On 30 April, the Church of England issued a new FAQ What is the guidance on live streaming and copyright? [scroll down].


[With our thanks to Matthew Chinery for unearthing the information on live streaming and to the RSCM for permission to reproduce its advice.]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington, “Streaming church services: an (updated) guide to copyright and religion” in Law & Religion UK, 17 March 2020, updated 18 March 2020.


22 thoughts on “Streaming church services: an (updated) guide to copyright and religion

    • We don’t know: it was quite a long time ago and there were no details apart from the fact that it was a ‘feel-good’ poem. Remember Patience Strong?

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  2. Do you know if there is a web resource listing churches that are going to live stream (across a variety of traditions) that we can be shared with smaller congregations who are not going to be able to live stream a service?

  3. Sorry if this is obvious, but what’s the status of livestreaming material taken directly from Common Worship (or a recently-published copy of BCP) – is that subject to copyright?

    Incidentally, it seems like this might be a great time to promote using *very* old hymnbooks…

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  5. For clarity, should a LOML be purchased where we are broadcasting a service with played music using a YouTube channel, and then later placing the YouTube link on our website?

  6. Hi, we’ve been reading children’s story books on YouTube videos for our young children as part of our youth ministry, Is this considered a breach of copyright? The pictures are visible in the video and the story being read is that which is printed in the book?

    • Hi Simon, in our T&C, we indicate that at L&RUK we do not give advice or opinion on specific issues, although we might point readers in the direction of official advice. With regard to the example you quote the are YouTube pages on What is copyright? and some Q&A which may be of assistance.

      On the issue “Can YouTube determine copyright ownership?” the advice states:

      “YouTube isn’t able to mediate rights ownership disputes. When we receive a complete and valid takedown notice, we remove the content as the law requires. When we receive a valid counter notification, we forward it to the person who requested the removal. After this, it’s up to the parties involved to resolve the issue in court.”

      A further point to bear in mind is that copyright is country-specific, as noted in YouTube’s “Fair Use” advice.

      And echoing Frank’s Comment, it is not something I would do myself either.

    • You’ll have to ask an expert in intellectual property law. But for what it’s worth, that is not something I would do myself.

      • Many thanks for the info. Having reviewed the legislation we’re decided to change how we do it going forward and have removed the 3 videos that were online! Our team are just going to have to get more creative 🙂 Many thanks.

  7. A recent edition example. Handel’s organ Fugues were published in a new scholarly (Urtext) edition by Barenreiter in 2016. There are other non copyright editions available, but the above edition is copyright. You have to be very careful with music copyright – especially the 70 year rule.

    • Indeed you do. I’ve just been doing a cut-down arrangement for 2fl/ob/cl/hn/bsn of the Strauss Op. 7 wind serenade. The original is out of copyright – but I must be the owner of the copyright in my arrangement. Not that it matters – I did it for fun, to provide music for an unusual combination with just about zero original repertoire – but it would be very different if I were a freelance professional musician, dependent on stuff like that for my living.

  8. Thank you for this summary. It seems that there is still some contradiction in the various advice, however, over streaming to Facebook Live and YouTube. This is significant as these are the most popular platforms and currently much used by churches.

    The RSCM advice clearly says ‘Those wishing to live-stream via platforms such as Facebook, Spotify or YouTube should be covered by the existing licensing agreements in place with those platforms.’ (Not sure how you can live stream on Spotify but never mind).

    This is roughly what the C of E advice used to say. However, the latest C of E advice you refer to now says: ‘For churches who are streaming their services via YouTube or Facebook, the CCLI Streaming Licence will cover them for live worship music performed as part of that stream.’ In other words, you now need a licence as the platforms’ in-house coverage is not sufficient.

    This is backed up by the CCLI website: ‘The CCLI® Streaming Licence provides a solution for churches wishing to stream or webcast their services, including the live worship, via websites such as YouTube and Facebook Live that are otherwise only intended for personal use.’ The implication—though it doesn’t precisely say it—is that the Facebook and YouTube arrangements are only for personal use and don’t cover churches, who need the licence they are selling. (They would say that, of course!)

    As a parish church we are inclined to follow the official C of E advice and get the CCLI license, but the confusion leaves a nagging feeling that we might be being bounced into something unnecessary.

    Now the really tricky question is, do we need a second licence if we want to share a post of a live stream on the page of another church in the benefice …

    • What do you mean by “a closed church group”? If it’s a group of people gathering in someone’s living-room to listen to music, surely it’s just a group of people listening to music. But if you’re streaming video or audio, even to a selected group of people, streaming might well apply. If I were you, I’d read the licence very carefully.

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  11. All the advice refers to live-streaming and on demand distribution.
    In what sense is a live, interactive, unrecorded Zoom service *not* an Act of Worship and therefore exempt from Performing Rights (though obviously not exempt from any copying laws)?

  12. That’s a matter for your judgment. For my part, I wouldn’t recite a poem in those circumstances unless it was out of copyright.

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