How To Protect Your Church Music Ministry From Copyright Infringement (part 2 of 6): Using Secular Music

“Today Susan Fontaine , Founder and President Christian Copyright Solutions  is back for her second installment in the 6-part series on protecting your church music department against copyright infringement. Susan covers the use of secular music in your worship service. I realize many churches are against this. For those that do, Susan has some great advice to share today regarding what you need to know to keep it all legal. It’s all yours Susan!
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The first time I remember hearing a secular song used in worship was at a rural church in northern Indiana. It was “Let My Love Open the Door,” by Pete Townsend, performed by a spunky blond woman from the praise band. It was a catchy and energetic way to kick off a service closing out their “Doors” series, which would invite people to walk through a large door on stage to symbolize their acceptance of Christ.

I became an instant fan of using secular music in worship, if it supported the message. I anticipated opposition to the idea from our church’s leadership, partially from a legal perspective (was a church even allowed to do that without special permission?) but mainly from a theological perspective. It can be controversial, as a lot of people feel secular music has no place in sacred worship. Granger pastor Tim Stevens makes the case for using secular music in his book, Pop Goes the Church, saying there is biblical precedent and gospel imperative for churches to leverage pop culture to reach secular people.

If you can remove the theological stumbling block for your congregation and fellow worship planners, you can rest easy knowing that the legal stumbling block has already been taken care of. As it turns out, secular music is included under the Religious Services Exemption to U.S. copyright law, stating that churches do not need a performance license to play live or pre-recorded versions of any kind of music (sacred or secular) in the context of regular worship services. The only exception in the exemption is “dramatico-musical” works (operas and plays) of a secular nature. These are not exempt and would require licensing.

It’s important to note that this exemption only applies to playing or performing music, and does not extend to reproducing music in any form, such as making an audio or video recording of music in your service, or making copies of song lyrics.

The morning after that service at Granger, I heard Pete Townshend’s song again on a pop radio station, and I was immediately reminded of the service’s message. To this day, I remember that Christian message whenever I hear the song. That’s the power of using pop songs in worship, and there’s no law to keep you from embracing it.

Want to know more about copyright myths that put your church at risk? Watch this helpful video from Christian Copyright Solutions and download their free downloadable resource to worship ministers – 6 Myths About Copyrights That Put Your Church at Risk.

CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.” CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners.

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3 Responses to How To Protect Your Church Music Ministry From Copyright Infringement (part 2 of 6): Using Secular Music

  1. steven harris says:

    If I play and perform music I wrote and the church records it, music i created off property-is there a form i can have the church sign or an agreement i can present to the church?

    • Ron Cross says:

      Hey Seven, I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d reach out to the author of this series with your question. Their company specializes in all aspects of copyright compliance for churches so they’re sure to be able to guide you in the right direction. In fact they may have the solution for you.

  2. Alyce Harris says:

    Whew! That is good news! I provide recorded music for a worship service, with music from my collection. First song I ever heard that was secular and used for a service was “I Want to Know What Love Is” (by Foreigner) preformed by Mississippi Mass. It let me know to really listen to lyrics. Good info!

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