Secular Songs In Churches – Churches Beware!

Abbie Stancato of Rockin' God's HouseIt’s tempting for a Praise Band to occasionally insert a great secular song into a service, such as Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” or using a Beatles classic as an instrumental. I once played “Monster Mash” for the kids during the Halloween season.

The problem isn’t the message, but the legality.

Current Copyright laws allow churches to perform songs of religious content during a service without requiring the church to pay royalties to the big publishing companies. Below is a small excerpt from the US Copyright Website in way too much legalese…

§ 110 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays…… the following are not infringements of copyright: performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious naturee, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly…

Publishing companies such as BMI, ASCAP and SECAC collect money from airplay & performances, and distribute them back to the record companies and songwriters.

Therefore, unless your church is licensed by one, or all three of these big publishers, your church is in violation of copyright law, and could incur license fees, and/or legal prosecution.

Perhaps you’re thinking, I’ll just change the lyrics to that popular tune to make it more Christian like –You better think again! The original copyright owner must provide permission in writing to allow you to change any lyrical content. To do so without permission not only violates publishing coverage, but also is an infringement of the songwriter’s copyright. I once tried making these types of changes to the Black Sabbath song “Heaven & Hell.” While I got permission from the publishing company, I was told by the attorney of Ronnie James Dio that I would face a mammoth lawsuit if ever publically performed or released as a recording my modified version of the song.

CCLI is an organization which licenses churches to prevent publishing fees and copyright violations. They have great customer service and will be happy to clarify or answer any of your questions. You can call them toll free at 1-800-234-2446, or visit their site at Rocking God’s House recently interviewed CCLI’s Marketing Manager, Mr. Paul Herman, and will be releasing several articles about all the services offered by CCLI. Stay tuned!