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The Legal Position for Embedding Sound Recordings in Church Music Slide Presentations

Introduction

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:

  1. Choose the titles you wish to use.
  2. Determine ownership of both the Master Recording (usually a record label or composer) and the owner of the Composition (usually a composer or publisher).
  3. Write to each owner of these Rights to seek permission to use the hymn/song in the presentation software.
  4. Pay the Synchronisation fee. (It is not uncommon for fees of this nature to be significant.)

 

Conclusion

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.

 

18 thoughts on “The Legal Position for Embedding Sound Recordings in Church Music Slide Presentations

  1. Colin says:

    Thanks for this, which I currently accept as being correct. So if a church has a license allowing them to reproduce lyrics, those lyrics can be incorporated in a PowerPoint presentation and used in conjunction with ‘live’ instrumental music. And the recorded music can be played so long as it is not embedded with the lyrics. But we can’t embed a recording and lyrics together. I hope composers and publishers understand that – unless this changes – those selecting music (where ‘live’ accompaniment is not possible ) may well steer away from introducing new music from contemporary composers. A case of ‘be careful not to bite the hand that feeds you’ I think.

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Yes, that is the current position Colin. We are hopeful that further discussions will result in a more positive outcome. It would appear that the Copyright Act in relation to church music has not kept up with technological advances.

  2. Anne says:

    Hi,
    Do I need a syncronisation license to embed organ music that I have recorded myself (as oposed to a purchased sound recording) on a powerpoint at Mass for congregational singing?
    With kind regards,
    Anne

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Hello Anne, it is our understanding that no recordings are permitted to be embedded without a Syncronisation License. I have initiated discussions with a variety of official copyright bodies to explore a modification of the Copyright Act but that may be a long time coming. At least the conversation has begun. We will keep you posted.

  3. Paula says:

    Thank you for your efforts in this matter! My question is: can permission to embed songs in software be obtained and the synchronisation fee paid at the level of a “cluster” of parishes that is administered centrally, thereby licensing each church community within that cluster? Or does each church community need to go through the process independently?

  4. Alan Pollard says:

    Hi, thank you for the article. With regard to Anne’s use of organ music which she has recorded, surely then Anne owns the performance rights of the recording so long.as she is using a licensed version of the written music. Ipso facto, she then owns the right to embed her version. This is very confusing.

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Hello Alan, you are correct that Anne would own the recording but Anne does not own the right to use the work in this way. The various church licenses only cover print music or practice track licenses, but these are not for Syncronisation. Any person who ‘covers’ a composers work requires a Mechanical License from AMCOS or from the publisher.

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Thanks Maria. It IS a mindfield and clarity is urgently needed. Hopefully I will have better news in the not too distant future.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Hi, if we have purchased the cd’s,(actually have the hard copy of the cd) can we convert them to MP4 and embed in the power point?

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      No, this is not legally permitted at this stage. It is not the format that is the issue, it is the fact that different Rights are associate with embedding sound recordings. You can play the CD and view thw slides but cannot embed the sound recordings into the slides – yet!

  6. Eric says:

    Hi, I’m wondering if the restriction to embed includes hymns/songs in the public domain. Would permission from the sound recording owner be all that is required to use them in presentation software?

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Great question, Eric. If the song is in the Public Domain and you are the creator of the sound recording (i.e., you have created a recording) you do not need a Sync License, however, if the sound recording is owned by an artist, composer and/or publisher you will need to obtain permission from the owner to use their recording.

  7. John Moug says:

    Hello Monica, A challenging position for many congregations no doubt. I apologise if this has already been asked but can one play a CD of a selected hymn ( under the current copyright exemption for religious service) while the lyrics (for which a license is held) are displayed? Thank you.

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Yes, John, playing the music track and projecting the slides is permitted. This is why the copyright law is inconsistent and needs a review.

    • Monica O'Brien says:

      Hello Suzanne, thank you for your question, Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a license will ever be available due to the various Rights associated with embedding the sound recordings but meetings and discussions are booked so hopefully a resolution one way or the other will be reached soon. The results will be communicated via our eWorship Newsletter and via our Willow Publishing Facebook Page.

  8. Megan Mitchem says:

    Hello Monica,
    Of course all this is a problem now when we have funerals and families show photos of their deceased loved one which used to have embedded music. We’ve advised our various funeral companies of the current problem and that live music is the only option. I do hope common sense prevails eventually.

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