Is YouTube video footage of the act of singing church songs copyrighted?

I run my church’s youtube video channel, where we upload sermons, choir singing, special events, seminars, and full length footage of every sunday’s worship. 80% of the worship footage triggers copyright claims, and it’s invariably either the opening band portion involving singing, acoustic guitar, bass, violin and synthesizer, or the two gospel songs from the hymnal that the entire congregation sings. Strangely, the Church Choir performances never get flagged.

I just let them sit there because there were real copyright infringements that this youtube channel had made before, such as including four 3-minute clips from an actual movie (“La Vita e Bella”, “Jesus Hospital”) into the sermon video, because that sermon was a sermon themed on a movie and how a theme is shown through a movie. Those infringements have brought down our channel before – it didn’t delete the account, but prohibited 15min+ videos from being uploaded. Our christmass special performances include recorded music, and they also trigger these warnings.

The copyright claim notices (the ones mentioned in the first paragraph, not second) do make me nervous. Why are they there and if we accumulate enough of these, would they trigger account suspension or something significant of that order?

One day, I saw Mozart’s Sonata in D Major (we have had musical festivals organized by our church before) was flagged as copyright infringement on YouTube. And I was like.. hey man, I know you like to file copyright complaints, but this is Mozart. And he’s DEAD. Not Disney-dead, but Mozart-dead. That shit’s in the public domain. The claim was filed by “One or more music publishing rights collecting societies”. Whatever. So I filed a dispute stating “Mozart died in 1791, which has been over 300 years ago, and copyright only holds for 70 years after the creator’s death” and some more, and I won. The claim disappeared.

I was encouraged by this, and filed disputes for all of the full length footages. I won all the disputes.

I was like, wow you have been filing these claims just to make money? Seriously? On church channels? (Yes I understand the process is automated via Content ID.. I hope)

Until one day, one of my disputes was denied.

I don’t know if there are negative consequences to losing a dispute, so I stopped filing them. It’s still unclear to me whether uploading footage of the congregation singing a gospel from the hymnal is a copyright infringement.

So I googled this today, and found stuff like this. “Church” and “copyright” evoke topics such as Can music leads make copies of a scoresheet? Can they perform? Can a movie be viewed during an event? Who owns the copyright over the bible? Etc. I haven’t seen the “If I uploaded a video footage of the church worship including hymnal gospel singing, is that a copyright infringement?” question addressed. The credibility of these sites also strikes me as an issue. These are not the kinds of sites I have seen in the past. Do they contain real information? I understand churches in general are a niche topic in the world of internet.

So I’m still sitting with the questions “Is singing an hymnal gospel at church an infringement?” “Is uploading a video footage of this act an infringement?” “Who are these pesky copyright claimants and why are they even claiming Mozart?”

The latest episode of Hello Internet: Hawk & Mouse brings up the fact that there are individuals out there who just go around making copyright claims on any video that is going viral so that if the video maker doesn’t respond in time, the claimant will take the ad profit of the video claimed until a dispute is settled.. or forever if the video maker forgets or doesn’t realize that there was a claim. And since there is zero negative impact on claimants who lose a dispute, they just go making claims and stealing the ad revenue from others.. just by filing copyright claims *that they do not have at all*. All. The. Time. The Mozart claimant may belong to the aforementioned variety.






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