In the digital age, churches are increasingly utilising technology to enhance worship experiences, with many incorporating sound recordings into PowerPoint or Keynote presentations for congregational singing. While this practice is widespread, it is crucial for church musicians to understand the legal implications surrounding the embedding of sound recordings to ensure that they are operating within the bounds of the law and maintaining the integrity of their ministry.
Encouraging Congregational Song
The desire to foster congregational singing is at the heart of church music ministry.
The use of visual aids, such as PowerPoint or Keynote slides, can greatly enhance the worship experience and engage the congregation in the act of communal prayer and praise. However, it is important to recognise that legal considerations must be taken into account to ensure that these practices align with both pastoral and legal standards.
The Legal Landscape
Embedding sound recordings into slide presentations without seeking and obtaining permission from the owners of the lyrics AND the sound recordings is an illegal practice.
In addition to securing permission for the sound recording, it is essential to hold a church copyright license for the reproduction of lyrics. Churches, schools, and organisations must be diligent in obtaining the necessary permissions to avoid legal complications. ONE LICENSE and CCLI offer church music licenses that cover the reproduction of lyrics however, these organisations do not offer what is known as a Synchronisation License. A synchronisation (sync) license is necessary when you want to synchronise music with visual media.
Complexities of Copyright
Understanding the complexities of copyright in the realm of music reproduction is vital for church musicians. Different rights are exercised when embedding a work or recording in a presentation compared to playing music, each requiring distinct permissions. The act of embedding involves the reproduction right, while playing music involves the public performance right.
No Existing License for Embedding Sound Recordings
Currently there is no comprehensive license available for religious organisations that specifically covers the legal embedding of sound recordings in presentations. While there are licenses for performing music in a worship service, the reproduction right associated with embedding is a separate consideration. Therefore, churches must carefully navigate this legal landscape to ensure compliance.
Exemption for Public Performance in Worship Services
It’s helpful to note that churches are exempt from the public performance right when playing recorded music in a worship service. This exemption allows churches to play legally obtained sound recordings during services without infringing on the public performance rights associated with those recordings. However, if a religious organisation has not obtained permission to embed sound recordings in presentation software they are not legally compliant and are breaking the law.
How to Obtain Permission
If you want to embed legally obtained sound recordings into presentation software such as PowerPoint or Keynote it is recommended you adopt the following:
- Choose the titles you wish to use.
- Determine ownership of both the Master Recording (usually a record label or composer) and the owner of the Composition (usually a composer or publisher).
- Write to each owner of these Rights to seek permission to use the hymn/song in the presentation software.
- Pay the Synchronisation fee. (It is not uncommon for fees of this nature to be significant.)
As church musicians, it is our responsibility to balance the desire to enhance congregational song with a commitment to legal and ethical practices. While embedding sound recordings can be a powerful tool for worship, obtaining the necessary permissions and understanding copyright complexities are crucial steps in ensuring that our efforts align with both the law and our pastoral mission.
By navigating the legal landscape with diligence and respect for intellectual property rights, we can continue to lead our congregations in meaningful and legally sound worship experiences.
NOTE: APRA/AMCOS, ONE LICENSE, CCLI and the Australian Music Industry Network were consulted to verify information shared in this article.