Does My Church Need a Copyright License for Music?

Attorney, The Creekmore Law Firm PC


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In an earlier post, my colleague discussed how typical small businesses, like restaurants and dance studios, can obtain permission to play music in their establishments from major Performing Rights Organizations like ASCAP and BMI.  What about churches and other houses of worship? Do they need a music license too? The short answer is probably “yes.”

Whether a church needs a music license will depend on the activity in which the church is engaged. Title 17 of the United States Code, governing copyright, reserves several rights to the author of a creative work. They include the right to publicly perform the work, to reproduce the work, and to redistribute the work, among other rights. These rights belong with the “author” of a work, or in the case of a musical composition, the composer of the work.

To use the rights belonging to a composer, a person usually pays a fee for a license. The license may allow the person to play live music, to rebroadcast the music (such as on the radio), or to make a recording of their own performance. Organizations like ASCAP and BMI provide such licenses for reasonable fees to businesses and individuals across the United States.

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