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Copyright in the United States of America: Recording church services for shut-ins


I received several replies to my question about licenses required for audio taping church services and several requests for a compilation. I have checked out all the resources listed, and am pretty sure that some sort of mechanical license is required. Harry Fox Agency does not offer a blanket license. CCLI and OneLicense do offer some blanket permission for taping music from their lists of publishers, but I haven't found anything that covers all the organ or choral music from publishers not on those lists. It does seem that the 'fair use' provisions of the copyright law apply only to educational institutions, not to churches. I am continuing to research the issue and will post further information as I find it.

Thanks to all who replied. Your information was very helpful.

Victoria Miner
Minister of Music
1st Presbyterian Church
Brockport, NY

The original question:

My church leaders want to make audio tapes of the weekly services to send to shut-ins, and have come to me about copyright issues. It is my understanding, from researching Choralnet and various other web sites, that a mechanical license is required to audio tape music. Someone told me that his former church had a blanket license to do taping, but he didn't know the details. I have not found a blanket license yet in my research. Do any of you church choir directors tape your services for distribution to shut-ins, and if so what licensing arrangements have you made?

Following are the replies I received:

1, At your convenience, I'd be interested in what you find out. At my
church the Sunday morning service is routinely taped. I don't know what
they do with the tapes, except that I know they are re-used at some
later date, so they aren't kept indefinitely; they may be taken, as
your people desire, to shut-ins during that week or the next.
Perhaps for such circumstances there aren't copyright issues. (But I
don't know, and have become all too accustomed (since my return to NH
after a career in Toronto) to encountering the effects of legislation
that interferes with sensible ways of doing things.)
Thanks for raising the issue!

2. You are correct in your assesment about copyright. I am the Copyright and License administrator for Choristers Guild in Dallas, Texas. We issue Mechanical licenses all the time for churches in your situation. I have not heard of a 'blanket permission' before, the closest thing I know of is the Harry Fox Agency ( or They are both "one stop shopping".

3. The Methodist Musicians list has recently had discussion about this.

Please find info from Dean McIntyre at . You may
have to click on Worship and Music

4. Check the information from the Church Music Publishers Association
( about licenses with CCLI, OneLicense, etc. and how
they might apply to shut-in tapes.

5.I would check with CCLI and also with They would
cover most music publishers. CCLI tends to cover the contemporary and
praise literature, while covers more of the traditional
anthem publishers. Then there are occasions when an anthem/song text
is not covered by a licensing company and permission must be obtained
directly from the publisher. These licenses cover printing texts in
the bulletin (when text isn't already in public domain) and should
cover recordings for shut-ins, though that might actually be a separate
agreement with these companies. Anyway, this should give you direction
to your research.

6. I'd say you're pretty safe on ethical and practical grounds. Can you
imagine a publisher suing a church for taping their services for shut-
ins? A jury would be very sympathetic. As for the ethical standpoint,
keeping church services away from shut-ins is hardly the purpose of
copyright law; it's to keep you from ripping off composers and
publishers for your own benefit, which you're not proposing.

Furthermore, the copyright laws clearly allow taping of otherwise-
legal performances for "archival" purposes, and don't say you can't
allow anyone to listen to your archival recording.

on April 9, 2006 10:00pm
Yes, licenses do specifically allow taping for shut-ins (both audio and video).
on April 9, 2006 10:00pm
my church uses It covers almost everything.