Open Licensed Worship Music: Solving the Copyright Issue

Mar 18, 2020 | Articles

Many churches are livestreaming their services in response to COVID-19. And many pastors are asking questions about copyright.

(jump to the list of resources or keep reading to learn why this matters. Check out this Virtual Church Training if you’re looking for hands-on help.)

Long story short, I think this quote from a CT article about what’s happening in Singapore is the right response:

Church worship and AV teams are also navigating the music licensing challenge that livestreaming presents. Many local worship groups have explicitly granted permission for churches to play their songs on livestreams without fear of copyright or licensing issues.

If you are a worship artist and would like to make your songs available for use freely (as in freedom and without fear of copyright issues), let us know and we’ll add your songs to the list below!

If you are a worship leader looking for songs you can use without fear on your livestream, check out the list below!

Also you can sign up for Project Pentecost to get updates as we try to address this issue at a systemic level. (Project Pentecost provides multilingual worship resources for the global church. Addressing copyright issues is a necessary part of the cause).

Why This Matters

Some pastors tried to livestream their worship service last Sunday via Facebook Live and were pulled off air mid-service because of copyright infringement!

To be clear, this is not Facebook’s fault. Their algorithms detect sound patterns in a livestream. When it matches a copyrighted work, they are required to take it down. Pray for them as they negotiate contracts so worship services to be livestreamed without interruption.

Copyright issues have become a major hindrance to the spread of the gospel and the wholeness of Christian witness online (i.e. every voice, not just those with the biggest platforms). It is an injustice that we’ve overlooked for sometime. Christians ought to be leading the way in freedom and sharing in order to grow a “Christian Commons“.

Did you know that Bible translations you fund through giving are not freely available (as in freedom)?

They are owned as a copyrighted work which enables the copyright holder to prevent distribution, translation (a derivative work), public performance or use without explicit permission. Usually that permission is granted in exchange for enough money. The same goes for worship music.

Now, I get it. We want to support Christian artists and a “worker deserves their wages”.

But does it have to be through the consumerist, celebrity-oriented Christian Entertainment Industrial Complex that once served its purpose, but that we now all quietly bemoan?

Could there be a new way?

The Worldwide Impact

In America we may have a seemingly affordable pricing scheme. But that doesn’t apply around the world. And it doesn’t give the freedom to translate, reproduce, remix, and innovate.

Indigitous Singapore shared their research on what it would cost to get a livestream license in this webinar. What did they find?

Compass issues licenses for streaming, called a communication rights license…which is more than just Christian songs, but includes secular songs…the standard charge is $2,500 excluding GST per platform per day…1 year coverage for livestreaming for Sunday services for $8,000 excluding GST per platform…the livestream must be geolocked to Singapore…the list of musical works used in your worship service will need to be submitted each week to pay royalties…there shall be no proration or refund of fee should the license be discontinued.
(At the time of this writing, $1 Singapore Dollar = 0.70 USD)
We also wrote to Hillsong…it is based on congregation size…they will quote you a fee…it is a three figure amount compared to Compass…it is just that the song selection will be limited in this sense.

And just to put a historical cherry on top, according to Wikipedia “The origin of copyright law in most European countries lies in efforts by the church and governments to regulate and control the output of printers.”

I don’t know about you, but to me, none of this makes sense in our day and age!

So what can your church do about copyright issues?

The obvious thing you can do is pay up. Thankfully in response to COVID-19, OneLicense.net is offering a gratis streaming license for their catalog until April 15th, 2020. But I want to suggest that this is also an opportunity for some beautiful alternatives.

Sing “Ancient” songs

Use psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It’s biblical! This Cornell resource indicates that all published works prior to 1925 are in the public domain in the US. And when copyrights expire, they are in the public domain.

Sing original songs and write your own

This is a marvelous time to activate and unleash the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to your community. Sing songs your members have written! Write new ones! Share them freely.

Take the time to teach each other how to sing them on a conference call. Tell the story behind them. And share them as a witness to the world in your livestreamed worship service. The Spirit gave members of your church these musical gifts for a reason!

Sing the songs of a generous generation of artists

There’s a startup that revolutionized copyright issues in photography called Unsplash. They created a platform where artists could upload their photos to be used freely by anyone. The artists get credit on the site and build a portfolio. The world gets a beautifully useful resource that can be freely shared, remixed and reused.

What if we could do that for Christian worship music?

What if we had a platform for all the artists in the Body to share their gifts with everyone else freely?

I don’t know what it’d look like yet, but we can start. Below is a list of links to open licensed songs (to the best of our knowledge) that you can use freely and with complete freedom whether you livestream your service or not.

If you’re an artist who would like to contribute your original works, send it to us here and we’ll add it to the list (and credit or link to you). And whatever else you choose to do pray for God’s justice to set free this aspect of our witness as the Body of Christ.

List of Open Licensed Worship Songs

Worship music in over 40 languages most in the public domain through the Worship Leader App.

We are the Body of Christ” an open licensed worship song translated into 8 languages by Project Pentecost.

400 songs in 17 languages free for non-profit use at “Songs of Praise“.

14,200 hymns in the public domain at “The Cyber Hymnal“.

Hymnary.org has a mix of public domain and copyrighted works.

5 translated songs on Diverse Worship Matters by Intervarsity.

A Liturgy During a Pandemic (permission granted) by Porter Taylor

Worship Resources for Churches Adapting to Social Isolation by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (Note: Not all resources here are public domain)

Free church graphics for COVID-19 by Lightstock

Add your songs to the list

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