Publishing

Licensing for streaming worship songs in the UK

Churches everywhere have been scrambling to get their services online, leading to much confusion about licensing and some mixed advice.

I became Agency Manager for Jubilate Hymns Ltd at the beginning of the year, looking after the publishing rights for several thousand hymns and worship songs. I had to rapidly get on top of this, and I thought it would be helpful to share how things look from from a publishing perspective.

Most of this article is about performing your own versions of songs on stream, although I do mention playing artist recordings. And while the principles are the same the world over, the specifics here relate to the UK only.

Here’s my attempt to summarise the situation.

When you DON’T need a licence

There are some songs you can perform on a stream without a licence:

  • public domain hymns (which is when the authors died 70+ years ago)*
  • songs that you have written yourself
  • spontaneous songs
  • songs which the Publisher has given you permission to stream (like ours)

(*But be careful because some famous hymns like ‘How Great Thou Art’ are still in copyright. And even if the hymn is in the public domain, a particular arrangement of the music might not be.)

When you DO need licences (the short version)

If you want to include copyrighted songs on your stream, you need to get licensed. If you’re not too interested in understanding why, here’s the very short version of how that works for most churches.

To stream live worship (where your musicians are performing songs) on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram:

You just need the CCLI Streaming licence. (If you’ve heard otherwise, read on below.) But on those platforms, you run a small risk of your stream being taken down even when you’re licensed – there’s no way around that.

To stream live worship anywhere else (Zoom, Meet, Talk, etc. or your own website):

You need the CCLI Streaming licence for the video and to show lyrics, plus a PRS Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) to cover the performance.

To stream artist recordings or videos:

There’s no simple way to get a licence for this. You need to ask the copyright holder of each video or recording. Some groups like Resound Worship, who I’m part of, are actively giving permission for this during the lockdown.

When you DO need licences (the long version)

If you want to understand why you need those licences, the clearest way is to start with the basics of how copyright works for songs.

This section is only about the composition of a song, not about recordings of it (which are each copyrighted separately).

Bear with me – I promise this will help!

The basics of how copyright works for songs

Here’s your whistle-stop tour.

1. As soon as someone writes a song, they own the copyright to that song.

2. In the UK, the copyright lasts until 70 years after the writer’s death.

3. Owning the copyright to a song means that (i) people need your permission to use the song, and (ii) you can earn royalties from any use.

4. Often the copyright will be handled by a Publisher, who administers the permissions and royalties on behalf of the songwriter.

5. Different uses of a song involve different rights. (Pay close attention here – this is key!) The different types of use are as follows:

Use of the songRights involved
Performing the song to an audience Performance rights
Making copies of the lyrics and musical notation Print rights
Making copies of an audio recording of the song Mechanical rights
Using the song in a videoSync rights
Using the song in a theatrical production Grand rights

5. Some activities (like streaming) involve more than one of those uses.

6. To use a copyrighted song in any way, you need to (i) get permission and (ii) probably pay royalties for each of the applicable rights.

7. Normally, you get permission and pay royalties by purchasing appropriate licences – either from the Publisher directly, or through a licensing organisation.

If you’re with me so far, let’s look at how this applies to live worship.

Licensing for regular church services

It will help us to understand streaming if we can see how streaming is different from a regular church service.

In a regular church service (a congregation gathered in a building, singing from hymnbooks, service sheets or a screen, accompanied by musicians), two of the above rights come into play:

Performance rights because the song will be performed by the musicians and the congregation. But performing songs in an act of worship is exempt from copyright in the UK (as with most countries) and you therefore don’t need to ask permission or to pay royalties for the performance.

Print rights because the words and musical notation will be reproduced to help the singers and musicians. This use is not exempt from copyright, and churches need to have a licence and pay royalties for reproducing lyrics and notation

This is where CCLI comes in. Licensing organisations like CCLI and OneLicense exist to spare us from the situation where every church has to contact every publisher of every song that they want to use. (From a Publisher’s perspective, that’s a big relief!) Instead, Publishers register their songs with the licensing organisations, who charge churches an annual fee for permission to use all the songs in their catalogues in the ways their licenses permit.

Licensing for streaming live worship

Streaming is different from a regular church service. Firstly, streamed services are not exempt from copyright, so you do need to license the Performance rights. Secondly, streaming means you’re synchronising the song with video, which brings in Sync rights. And if you’re including lyrics on the stream, you need a Print licence as well.

Let me restate, because grasping this untangles of a lot of misunderstanding:

To stream legally, you need licences that cover Performance rights, Sync rights and (if you’re displaying lyrics) Print rights. If you’re not covering all the rights you need, you’re not fully licensed.

So, how do you get those licences?

Performance – in the UK, PRS for Music handle performance rights. Normally, churches will need a PRS Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) to cover their stream.

There are different types of LOML. If you’re streaming live, you’ll most likely want the Category A ‘Webcasting’ LOML. If you’re prerecording, you’ll most likely want the Category A ‘Interactive Webcasting’ LOML. But do have a look at this PRS guide to know for sure.

The common exception is if you’re streaming via YouTube or Facebook (or Instagram, which is owned by Facebook). YouTube and Facebook have their own agreements for Performance rights with PRS for the content they host. If you’re only streaming on those platforms, you don’t need your own PRS licence.

That’s a plus, but it’s also worth mentioning the downside to streaming via YouTube or Facebook, which is that you have to accept whatever restrictions the rights holders apply on those platforms – ranging from running adverts on your video through to blocking it altogether. YouTube is particularly unforgiving, and you may find your stream is shut down or the archived video is blocked even when you do have the correct licences.

Sync – this used to be tricky, but now CCLI and OneLicense cover Sync with their streaming licences. If you have a regular CCLI license, you need to add the new Streaming Licence as well.

Others are advising that YouTube’s Content ID system and the Facebook equivalent cover Sync rights on those platforms. (That’s what I was advising initially as well.) But I think it’s truer to say that those systems are a way to give rights holders control over unlicensed videos, which is not quite the same thing as being licensed.

It might be surprising to hear that YouTube doesn’t have an agreement for Sync, given that it does for Performance. That’s because there’s no central organisation for them to license Sync rights from the way PRS license Performance rights. Licensing Sync basically involves contacting the publisher of each song individually.

Churches are actually in a better position than most of the music world here, because CCLI and OneLicense offer Sync licensing for their whole catalogues, so you don’t have to ask all the individual publishers. Those licences cover you regardless of whether you’re streaming live or prerecording.

To do things properly you need a Sync licence. CCLI and OneLicense are where to get them.

Print – much more straightforwardly, if you want to include lyrics on your stream, the CCLI and OneLicense streaming licences cover you for that as well.

That’s it. You made it!

Hopefully you now have a good grasp of what’s in play.

As I summarised above, if you’re using copyrighted songs, you definitely need the CCLI or OneLicense streaming licence. Whether you need a PRS LOML depends on whether you’re only streaming on YouTube/Facebook (in which case, no) or elsewhere (in which case, yes).

Streaming artist recordings and videos

So what about using commercial recordings or videos from artists and record labels?

The bottom line is that there’s currently no simple way to get a licence for this. You need to contact whoever owns the rights to the videos and recordings to get permission.

(PPL do offer web licensing for recordings, but that wouldn’t cover videos. VPL offer licensing for videos but it doesn’t look like they have a large catalogue.)

Resound Worship (whom I represent and write for) are giving churches permission to stream videos during the Covid-19 lockdown. If you need to use videos on a stream, you should look at those. Other groups like Getty Music, Sovereign Grace Music and Worship Backing Band are doing similar.

Failing that, you don’t need a licence to put together a YouTube or Spotify playlist, so you could make a playlist and send a link to your congregation, but that’s obviously not the same experience as watching a stream together.

Final thoughts

If you’re still not sure what you should do, please reach out to official organisations like CCLI and PRS or to publishers directly, and don’t just go on the say-so of an article on a blog. (Yes, this one included!) We will all be very glad to help you get licensed.

Quite apart from the letter of the law, getting the licences you need is an investment in the future of church music. Licences ultimately pay royalties to songwriters. Royalties enable songwriters to continue composing the music that means so much to our communities.

Links and resources

Resources from CCLI:

Resources from OneLicense:

Resources from PRS:

These articles are clear and accurate:

You have permission to stream these songs during the lockdown:


This article is now published over at Resound Worship as well.

Photo: Imansyah Muhamad Putera

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