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‘Can we show YouTube videos in our church?’ has become one of CCLI’s most often asked questions.

And no wonder. As churches move with the times and with the requisite bandwidth and projection technology ever more common, video sharing websites such as YouTube offer a treasure trove of content for almost every conceivable situation.

But, as the opportunities of the digital age proliferate, so does the moral and legal uncertainly and misinformation.

So is it okay to stream content from video sharing websites like YouTube in your church?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer. However, in this article we’ll attempt to provide some clarity so far as CCLI understands the situation. While we’ll focus mainly on YouTube, probably the most popular video-sharing website, these same principles can be applied to other websites offering free video-streaming.

Using YouTube in church

YouTube’s terms of service specify that its content is for ‘personal, non-commercial use’ (5.L.). However it goes on to make an exception where ‘prior written consent’ has been given by ‘YouTube or the respective licensors of the content’ (5.M.).

Therefore, it is clear that there are videos on YouTube that a church can legally show in a service or public meeting where certain conditions are met, but others that should not be shown.

Showing scenes from feature films

If your church holds the Church Video Licence (CVL) from CCLI, you can legally show scenes from films covered by this licence provided the scene has been uploaded to YouTube by an authorised source.

In this case the CVL is considered consent from the respective licensor (the copyright owner). However, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that the scene has been uploaded by the copyright owner or someone authorised by the owner to do so. If the scene has been uploaded by the film studio’s own YouTube channel, or that of an official partner, you can be confident you’re viewing content from an official source. Film studios may have agreements with third parties to upload their content for them. In this case, check carefully that the channel is an official one. If in doubt, we recommend looking for an alternative source.

If a film scene has been uploaded to YouTube by an individual, e.g. a fan of the film, then it should not be deemed covered by the CVL and consequently it should not be shown during church activities.

Showing ‘lyric videos’

Song videos that show the lyrics so that you can sing along to them are increasingly common on YouTube. However, CCLI recommends that you do not show them in a worship service or other public setting without the explicit consent of the publisher or copyright owner.

Often, such videos are uploaded to YouTube and then embedded on the publisher’s website, where you may find that the publisher gives permission for them to be shown publicly. However, if you can’t be sure they are authorised to be used in public you should contact the publisher or copyright owner for permission before showing them.

Other videos

As a general rule, CCLI recommends that you don’t use YouTube to show any other videos unless you have the explicit permission of the owner.

As stated in their terms, YouTube is intended for ‘personal, non-commercial use’. The sheer amount of content, and the difficulty in confirming the legitimacy of the channel uploading it, means that many videos on YouTube infringe copyright, either accidentally or deliberately.

Of course there are exceptions. For example, a charity who writes to a church asking them to show in their service a promotional video from YouTube is providing the consent required.

Otherwise, it may be possible to source the video you wish to show from another source. Again, always check the terms and conditions of any website from which you wish to stream or download content and satisfy yourself that that website is authorised by the copyright owner to make that content available.

If in doubt, it is usually possible to establish who owns the copyright. Seeking their direct permission is the safest way to ensure that you’re acting legally and doing the right thing.

As always, CCLI’s Customer Service team are here to help. Please contact us if you have any queries.