Canadian Copyright Act and Broadcasting

Copyright law is complicated, and it’s important that your congregation understand what it requires. We offer some information and guidelines here, but please note that nothing here should be taken as legal advice. Also, of course, the situation is different in the United States; although the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has useful information on many topics, use it for informational purposes only and seek legal advice if necessary.

The Canada Copyright Act allows religious organizations and institutions to perform music in public and to play sound recordings or broadcasts of music in public as part of furthering a religious, educational, or charitable goal without compensating the copyright owner. This religious exemption is stated in paragraph 32.2(3) of the Act. So your congregation can include music in worship services without having to worry about obtaining or paying for rights to it.

Some congregations want to make their services available online, by streaming them, posting them to a website, making them available as podcasts, or some other means. Fortunately, the religious exemption to the Act allows, among other things, “the performance in public of a communication signal” carrying a live public performance or sound recording of music. So no permission or payment is needed to post online music that is legitimately included in the service. However, some streaming platforms have their own guidelines. For example, YouTube is strict about what is posted on their channel – YouTube library provides music you can use.

It is important, however, to understand where the limitations of this religious exemption lie.

  • It does not cover anything except music. If you want to read a copyrighted story or poem, or show a clip from a copyrighted film, you must obtain the permission of the copyright holder. (There may be more than one! Copyrights on different elements of a single work can be held by different owners.)
  • It does not allow copying. You can sing a copyrighted song in your service, but if you want to make copies of the music or lyrics—including printing them in the order of service or giving copies to chorus members to rehearse or perform with—you must obtain the permission of the copyright holder. You are also not allowed to post videos online of the music being performed unless you have obtained copyright permission. This means that if there are videos of your Sunday services that you post online, the music needs to be edited out.
  • It does not cover any purposes except religious, educational, and charitable ones. If you want to use copyrighted music in, for example, a fundraising concert, a coffee house, or an open mic evening, you must obtain the permission of the copyright holder.

Many of the hymns in the Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey are copyrighted by the UUA or are in the public domain. The UUA is very generous in granting permission to use UUA-copyrighted hymns, including permission to make nondurable copies for use in worship (such as by projecting lyrics). However, the songs we love to sing come from many sources. The UUA does not hold copyright for all the songs in our hymnals, and copyright to the music, lyrics, arrangement, and harmony of a single song can all be held by different owners. Be mindful of who owns the songs you wish to share, and be aware of the boundaries of the religious exemption. Check here for a list of UUA-copyrighted hymns.