Permission To Perform

First lets define what is a performance. For the purposes of this conversation, a performance is an instance of music being performed "in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." That is the legal definition and most church performances fit that criteria.

US and Canadian copyright law provide a religious services exemption that allows churches to perform music in religious services without paying royalties. This exemption applies to both live performances and performances of recorded music. Secular music is covered by the exemption, as is religious music.

There are some important restrictions on the religious service exemption. First of all, while the exemption applies to dramatico-religious works of a religious nature, it does not apply to other dramatico-musical works. The exemption also does not apply to re-transmission of religious service, such as over radio, TV or the Internet.

The religious service exemption applies only to actual religious services, all other performances require a performance license. Beyond religious services, churches have the same copyright responsibilities as a restaurant or stadium Now this raises the obvious question of what is a religious service. Sometimes it is quite obvious, such as the Sunday service, but sometimes it is a bit of a grey area. For example, is a wedding or a funeral a religious service?

The exemption language does not provide a clear definition and we certainly don't want to be the ones telling you a funeral is a religious service or not. But there are some ways that you might be using music that might be more obvious. For example:

    • On-hold music
    • Music played at youth events
    • Dances, recitals or other concerts
    • Music in the pre-school
    • Aerobics classes
    • Music played in the lobby before and after services

These are all good examples of public performances that require additional licensing. Christian Copyright Solutions offers a performance license for churches called PERFORMmusic that covers these and many other public performances. You can learn more about the PERFORMmusic license here.