What Is CCLI And The Basic Church Copyright License…

Abbie Stancato of Rockin' God's HouseThis is the first of a five-part series on CCLI to be followed by articles about the licensing agency CCS. As a House of Worship, you must understand which licenses your church has or needs. Otherwise, your ignorance could lead to violations of copyright law that could embarrass and/or cost your church in bad publicity and fines.

CCLI is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with approximately ninety employees, and has offices in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, and Australia.

CCLI helps churches avoid copyright infringement, while appropriately paying the publishers royalties from the various licenses they provide to churches. CCLI offers several different licenses depending upon the needs of churches or houses of worship. The Church Copyright License, CCLI’s foundational license, covers the copying activities that assist with congregational singing, including:

-Song lyrics entered and stored in a computer for projection/display
-Song sheets and bulletin inserts
-Custom songbooks
-Song arrangements where no published version is available
-Audio/video recordings of the song service

Although they are not the only company to provide this kind of license, they are by far the largest. I contacted Mr. Paul Herman, Marketing Manager of CCLI.

So how do you know if a license agency is legitimate?

Paul stated, “CCLI is able to offer churches a very comprehensive license because we represent over 3,000 publishers. (It’s the publishers who own the musical libraries of many artists and songwriters.) But you should always check with the company representing you to be certain your licensing is covering the songwriters, publishers and music you’re playing and displaying in your worship services.”

Since CCLI does not have agreements with every songwriter, is a church completely covered with a CCLI License?

“CCLI covers the vast majority of the songs sung in churches today, but it’s always a good idea to make sure the particular songs you copy are covered. CCLI has a database located on its website so you can verify that a song you want to use is listed with CCLI. The most accurate way is to search by publisher, song owner or catalog, rather than by the song title. If the song is new and not yet listed in our database, it’s still covered if the song’s publisher is one we represent.”

The lack of adherence to copyright law throughout the US and abroad has become a serious problem over the years; I call it “The YouTube Syndrome.” I derive this phrase from the fact that a great majority of YouTube users seriously violate International Copyright law. Paul, what do you see from the church music side?

“YouTube provides an interesting mix of videos. Some are posted legitimately by the rightful song owner and video owner. But many are clearly a bootleg of a live performance or a person’s home movies or photo slide show with a recognized, copyrighted song as the soundtrack, and it’s very unlikely that everyone who has created this kind of video secured the proper permission to use the song. It now seems to be a cultural norm, starting with Napster and now exploding with YouTube. It’s just as big an issue for Christian music as it is for secular music.”

So what about secular music? Suppose a worship band wants to perform “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi?

“Let me draw a couple distinctions. First, if the church wanted to project or print out the lyrics to ‘Living On A Prayer,’ that would not be covered by CCLI, because we don’t represent the publisher of that song. Second, if the band just wanted to perform the song, that would also be outside the scope of CCLI, since we don’t deal with performance rights per se.

“But irrespective of CCLI, what are the copyright issues involved? According to copyright law performance is an exclusive right of the copyright owner. And the performance rights societies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.) provide performance licenses. But there is also a Religious Services Exemption written into the U.S. Copyright Law, which allows performances of songs ‘of a religious nature…in the course of services at a place of worship.’

“The question would be…is ‘Living on a Prayer’ a ‘song of a religious nature’? How about any number of songs from U2? It’s an interesting debate, but the safe route for a church would be… If they want to perform what most people would consider secular songs, an ASCAP/BMI/SESCAC license would be a very good idea.”

I am familiar with BMI and ASCAP showing up at commercial facilities like restaurants and bars, threatening fines, and usually settling for a license purchase. According to copyright law, failure to comply can result in fines up to $150,000 per incident. However, I’ve never heard of any cases where churches or houses of worship have been fined. Have you heard of actual cases of fines imposed?

“Interestingly enough, that is exactly how CCLI got started. Back in the mid-80s, the Archdiocese of Chicago was sued by a church music publisher for copyright infringement for photocopying choral music, and it made national news. Our Founder/CEO at CCLI, Howard Rachinski, was the worship leader at a prominent church in Portland at the time. That incident became the catalyst for Howard’s ‘Blanket License Coverage’ concept. In recent years, I think CCLI has been able to mitigate against potential lawsuits because of the success of our licensing, and because most churches just want to do the right thing.”

Does CCLI police churches for license compliance?

“No, absolutely not,” stated Paul. “CCLI is here to serve the church and be a friend to the church. Rather than being the copyright police, we want to help the churches understand that there are real copyright issues that pertain to their congregational worship, but there is also a common sense, cost-effective solution.”

Here is Your Link To Part II of this Series… Are You Practicing Legally…The Church CCLI Rehearsal License? Part II