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Amen Corner: When Being Legalistic is a Good Thing
Posted Mar 16, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

No, this month's column is not about legalism, the oft-debated concept in Christian houses of worship that pits grace against works; instead, we're discussing how to remain within legal boundaries when using pre-recorded music or video in a worship service or on a video or DVD that a house of worship might distribute.

This look at the basics of pre-recorded video and audio licensing was prompted by emails from readers asking for sources of music that could be used in their jobs as event videographers as well as their volunteer work at their local house of worship.

As an easy way to catalog the different types of licensing that may be needed, we're going to break things down into three areas: content created prior to an event or service, content performed during a service, and content recorded during a service and used after the fact. I'll also add the caveat that I'm not a lawyer and, as such, the advice is a best-effort approach that needs to be clarified with licensing bodies and/or your lawyer of choice.

Content created prior to an event or service. This category covers videos that are created prior to a worship service, or—in the case of event videography for a wedding or other social event—content created prior to the event. This might include a church-produced video that includes interviews with congregants and a music bed from a popular Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) group. It could also be a video created to support a youth group mission and uses audio or video clips from popular movies to drive a point home, or it could be a video shown at a wedding dinner at the house of worship. Regardless of the content, the intent of the pre-produced video is to broadcast it to an audience outside of a home setting, which puts it in the realm of requiring a license to display.

Content performed during a service. This category covers videos or audio pieces of pre-recorded content (professional content) such as soundtracks, movie clips, and interlude content. If this content is copyrighted, then a license is needed—more on that toward the end of the column. In some instances, soundtracks can be purchased for use in a public performance, as long as the original artist's voice is not heard. These are often used for special music by a church singing group and are similar to the way that "elevator music" or "easy listening" used to be played—an instrument takes the place of the singer and mimics the vocals. Please note, the Digital Copyright Millenium Act (DCMA) has changed the issues surrounding projection of or playback of copyrighted material enough that most houses of worship no longer have a "fair use" leg to stand on. Bottom line: if you're going to play pre-recorded content during a worship service, get a license, and if you're going to videotape and/or distribute it, look into mechanical licenses as well.

Content recorded during a service or event for future use. This category covers recording of content within a worship service for resale or broadcast at a later date. You've probably noticed that some houses of worship now only have the sermon portion of their service on the radio or television. While part of this is an attempt by broadcasters to broadcast content from multiple houses of worship on any given Sunday, another part of this trend is due to the fact that contemporary services use music or video content that is not in the public domain (unlike selections from a hymnal). As a result, broadcasters are often hesitant to air the content without indemnification against suits from copyright holders. Licensing content for this purpose is possible, but it may result in a higher licensing fee as the potential audience is bigger. The same holds true if the house of worship expects to sell copies of its revival services, homecomings, or other key events.

Is the process for licensing painful? The answer really depends on which category you're trying to license content for. In the case of music performed during a worship service (or printed in a bulletin or order of worship) there's a licensing group that covers most non-public domain CCM music called CCLI, or the Christian Copyright Licensing International, Inc. This group, which can be found at www.ccli.com, covers printed materials, has a section on its website known as SongSelect which provides an easy way to choose the music style you need—including lyrics, lead sheets, and chord sheets. Recognizing the need for video clip licensing, CCLI has also teamed with Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) to form Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI). CLVI offers several packages that allow houses of worship to show videos and DVDs in a public setting. According to the website, the packages are split into two basic categories, with one focused on videos and movies on religious and family-based themes, while the other "big-name studios like Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers, Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Paramount, and Fox."

Another good area to check is the realm of royalty-free music. It's come a long way since the reel-to-reel tapes from the DeWolf music library that I used during my film school days. There are several sites, such as musicbakery.com, that cater to houses of worship; some of these sites or music library companies even advertise in this magazine. Also, don't forget the fact that Adobe, Apple, and other software companies have created tools that rapidly create compelling, custom music that can be used as a music bed for an event or worship video.

In the end, the content you create is a new work, which means you retain ownership, but if the sum of the contents include content you didn't create, don't forget to get a license. Being legalistic in this regard is good for your reputation and for the reputation of the house of worship you represent.

Tim Siglin, co-founder of Transitions, Inc., is a contributing editor to Streaming Media. He has 18 years of film and video experience and heads a digital media business consultancy in Kingsport, Tennessee.

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