Susan Fontaine Godwin is the founder of Christian Copyright Solutions, and she recently wrote a guest post at Trinity Digital Media about using secular songs in a worship service:
The first time I remember hearing a secular song used in worship was at a rural church in northern Indiana. It was “Let My Love Open the Door,” by Pete Townshend, performed by a spunky blond woman from the praise band.
This isn’t something my church has attempted, but if it came up, my first question would be whether our license allowed it. Turns out, it’s covered under the Religious Services Exemption, which I did not know:
If you can remove the theological stumbling block for your congregation and fellow worship planners, you can rest easy knowing that the legal stumbling block has already been taken care of. As it turns out, secular music is included under the Religious Services Exemption to U.S. copyright law, stating that churches do not need a performance license to play live or pre-recorded versions of any kind of music (sacred or secular) in the context of regular worship services. The only exception in the exemption is “dramatico-musical” works (operas and plays) of a secular nature. These are not exempt and would require licensing.
This is really good information to know. Does your church ever use secular music in a worship service?