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Is a CCLI License All My Church Needs to Be Copyright Compliant?

Is a CCLI License All My Church Needs to Be Copyright Compliant?

Today, I pose a question that is commonly asked concerning copyright compliance and licensing to our partners at CopyrightSolver:


My church has the CCLI license and I thought that, with that, we were copyright compliant. Now I’m hearing about other licenses. Why can’t we just get one to cover everything, and how do we know what we need?

Unfortunately, there is not a single license that covers all of a church’s copyright compliance needs. The good news is that there are several blanket licenses that simplify the process of obtaining copyright coverage, so that a church does not have to go to each individual copyright owner for permission.

A blanket license allows licensees to use a catalog of copyrighted works for specified activities for one annual fee. Several blanket licenses have been created to meet the need of churches and ministries. The best known of these are:

  • CCLI church copyright license
  • CCLI church streaming and podcast license
  • CCLI rehearsal copy license
  • CopyrightSolver’s PERFORMmusic
  • CopyrightSolver’s WORSHIPcast
  • CVLI
  • LicenseSing
  • LifeWay Worship Track Streaming License
  • OneLicense

These licenses provide a mosaic of licensing, with very little overlap between their coverage. The first step in determining which of these licenses to purchase is understanding what they cover and what they do not cover.

Each blanket license provides coverage for specific types of copyrights (music, video, etc.) and specific rights (performance, reproduction, adaptation) for a specific catalog of works and period of time. So you need to look at four elements of your license(s):

  1. Type of copyright; is it music, sound recording or audiovisual (films)?
  2. The catalog of copyrights; e.g. is it a specific group of song publishers or film producers?
  3. The types of rights covered; e.g., is it performance, reproduction, derivative?
  4. The specific activities authorized; e.g.,  is it for congregational singing use only, on-site performances or internet streaming?

Churches should analyze how they’re using copyrighted material and put together the mosaic of available licenses that provides the most comprehensive coverage. Otherwise, they may find that they are compliant in one area, but leaving themselves wide open to a lawsuit in other areas.

There are eight works of authorship that can be copyrighted:

  1. music
  2. sound recordings
  3. literary works
  4. audiovisual
  5. visual images
  6. dance
  7. dramas
  8. architecture.

US Copyright law gives copyright owners six exclusive rights. These include the rights to:

  • Reproduce
  • Make Derivative Works
  • Distribute
  • Perform
  • Publicly Display
  • Perform Digital Sound Recordings

If you use copyrighted materials in any of these ways, in most cases, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The CCLI license only addresses the rights to reproduce and distribute, in most cases print reproduction music for congregational singing and, to a very limited extent, some rights to audio reproduction and making derivative works under very special circumstances (to see more on what is covered by the CCLI license, click here) . It covers 200,000 Christian songs.

The CCLI License is a wonderful license for most churches to have because it does allow you to make copies of music and lyrics for congregational singing with some limited CD and DVD recording rights. However, the CCLI License does NOT authorize you to:

  • Make photocopies of non-congregational music or other disallowed music by the CCLI license
  • Perform or play songs outside of a worship service
  • Post any songs to the internet
  • Use any type of copyright besides music
  • Use songs that are not in the CCLI song catalog
  • Do anything else that’s not explicitly covered in their terms of service.

The licenses offered by CopyrightSolver were developed to cover activities where churches still need additional coverage.

One important use of copyrights that is NOT covered by CCLI’s license is performance rights. Almost every church needs performance licensing. If your church performs music at all outside of worship services—any activities ranging from youth events singing before a potluck to your phone system’s music on-hold. To be legally compliant, your church should have performance licensing. CopyrightSolver’s PERFORMmusic License covers over 16 million songs in the ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC catalogs for one year and requires no reporting.

If your church streams your worship services online, you’ll need a streaming license to cover any copyrighted songs that are included in the stream. CopyrightSolver’s WORSHIPcast License covers over 16 million songs in the ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC catalogs for one year and requires no reporting for churches with less than 5,000 members.

There are some other licenses available with coverage that is limited to specific, catalogs such as LicenSing and One License. You can find an extensive fact sheet about blanket licenses for churches at CopyrightSolver’s Learning Center.

For any other licensing needs you may have that are not covered by a blanket license (such as a CD or DVD project) CopyrightSolver can assist you with our PERMISSIONSplus Service. Through this service you can work with one of our Copyright Solvers to secure the permissions you need to make your project run smoothly.

It is very important to remember that one license does not meet all needs; most churches need several blanket licenses to be fully copyright compliant.

Thanks to NC Baptist’s partnership with Christian Copyright Solutions, these licenses are made available to you at discounted prices.

CopyrightSolver offers special discounts and custom services to conference churches to help you become copyright compliant.

  • Promo code for a 10% discount towards your first year’s
    licensing fees on LifeWay Worship Track Streaming License
  • Promo code for a 15% discount towards your first year’s
    licensing fees on PERFORMmusic and WORSHIPcast Licenses
    and PERMISSIONSplus Service
  • Copyright Hotline to answer FAQ and provide solutions
  • Free training videos and webinars

Visit the NC Baptist Copyright Solver page here.

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. John R Holden

    The Lord Jesus Christ never, ever charged money for his ministry. He never had a sales and marketing team. He never had a band, an orchestra, or an entertaining show. He never hired an amphitheatre of a Coloseum. Yet people came to Him in their thousands. He fed them for free.

    He never sued anyone for infringing any rights. He overturned the tables of the moneuy-changers and dove-sellers at the Temp0le, who were making mony out of the people who cam eot worship. Neither our Lord, nor Paul nor Peter nor any other apostle, ever sued any Chritsian for distributing their teaching letters (those in the BIble); for siing Psalms; or for any other aspect of ministry.

    What on earth are Christians doing, charging money for the songs that we sing to the Lord? Suing churches for copying and prinintg the songs that a sincere song-writer has written to bild our faith and to teach us God’s ways? Stealing the songs that someone has sincerely wrtitten to bless the churd, and selling tme for profit?

    The whole ‘worsjip ministry’ is a disgusting, money-grabbing, profit-seeking , self-glorifying industry. It is just like the money-changers and dove-sellers in the Temple.

    There are Christians who distrubute their music for free – like Jesus and Peter and Paul would have done.

    Apart from such exemplary ministris, I pray that God will give us our own songs to sing, so that we don’t have to feed this abomination of selling other peoples’ compositions for profit.

    J. R. H.
    Newcastle, Australia.

    • Julius Rivas

      Yeah, and how do you suggest those musicians who are distributing their music for free get paid? Afford food? Feed their children? These licenses are put in place to protect the people who have devoted their lives to writing music for you to sing, show them a little respect.

  2. Tim

    If you have all of the Licensing packages from CCLI and it allows you to livestream your whole service, does it also allow you ro rebroadcast that on your website?

    • Kenny Lamm

      If you have the streaming license, it also allows you to “Retransmit Songs performed in your church services in audio and/or video form.” Therefore the answer is yes.

  3. Diane Sims

    I was doing research to present to my church board to convince them of the need for CCLI licencing when I came across this information:
    The performance of works in copyright (for example, playing music) as part of an act of worship is specifically exempted from copyright laws. So now I am totally confused.

    • Kenny Lamm

      Hi Diane,

      Yes, the performance of music in the church’s worship service is allowable without copyright permission. So if you do not have lyrics displayed on screen, in the bulletin, on a song sheet, etc., and do not record your service, you do not need a license. Here is what you can do with a license that would otherwise be illegal:

      • Print songs, hymns and lyrics in bulletins, programs, liturgies and song sheets for use in congregational singing.
      • Create your own customized songbooks or hymnals for use in congregational singing.
      • Create overhead transparencies, slides, computer graphics, or any other format whereby song lyrics are visually projected for use in congregational singing.
      • Arrange, print and copy your own arrangements (vocal and instrumental) of songs used for congregational singing, where no published version is available.
      • Record your worship services (audio or video) provided you only record live music. Accompaniment tracks cannot be reproduced.

      More information is at this post:

  4. Gray Rinehart

    Thanks! One of these days I’ll understand how all this works.


  5. Gray Rinehart

    Pardon my ignorance, but how can a “CCLI License … allow you to make copies of music and lyrics for congregational singing” but at the same time “NOT authorize you to … Make photocopies.” That makes no sense to me.

    What are we supposed to do, set up a scriptorium and transcribe the music and lyrics?


    • Kenny Lamm

      Good point. I missed that when I read over this submission. You can photocopy congregational music as allowed by the CCLI license (see the post on what is allowed and what is not). I think this writer was probably referring to photocopying arrangements, choir anthems, etc. It was definitely not clear. Thanks for the comment!


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