Legally playing CDs at a church service

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This might be old news to some, but in my research I found a fair amount of anecdotal “its ok” and some mis-information about the legalities of playing CD’s at a church service.  I needed to figure it out and I wanted the hard facts – the law itself.  This is what I’ve found out:

It is indeed legal to play the music from a CD as part of your service without violating the copyright.  It doesn’t come from the fair use provision (US Copyright Law section 107 “Limitations on exclusive rights: fair use” ).  This is a common misconception.  It instead comes from section 110 “Limitations on exclusive rights: exemption of certain performances and displays” paragraph 3.

“(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;”

So, it is fine to to play the CD as part of the service.  Now, this doesn’t include projecting lyrics or printing guitar tabs or choir parts, etc.; that’s all under CCLI.  This also doesn’t cover recording the audio as part of an audio or video recording – that’s a reproduction issue and paragraph 3 provides an exception for performance, not reproduction.  Also, there probably is some question about if you want to play a CD as background at a church potluck.  I suspect that since such a performance is not during the “course of services” that it would not be legal.  But, that is outside of my initial search parameters for playing music during a church service proper.

Here are my key sources:

I hope this is helpful.

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5 Responses to “Legally playing CDs at a church service”

  1. Peter Says:

    Glad you found your answer. I knew it wasn’t under Fair Use. Just wasn’t sure exactly where it fit. Good information to have.

  2. Daniel Pedersen Says:

    yes – fair use didn’t “feel” quite right to me. Thanks for your comment and help the other day.

  3. Reflecting on six months of blogging « Web Ministry Thoughts Says:

    […] have correlated with some recent personal efforts and interests.  I am pleased that my analysis of playing CD’s at a church service seems to be helping people (though I can only derive it from the hits, not the […]

  4. Dani Bentle Says:

    Can I play a music cd as background music for my Community Bible Study that meets in a church without a license? Also can I play a song from a cd in a group of leadership at the same church but not at a church service?

  5. Dan Pedersen Says:

    Technically no. Check out http://www.behindthemixer.com/your-guide-to-churches-music-and-copyright-infringement/ and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/five-things-churches-need-to-know-about-music-performance-license

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