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In one moment, the global pandemic dragged a Ukrainian Catholic parish into the 21st century and pushed it back in time, all because of its decision to broadcast Sunday worship.

Since March, Sunday services at Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Parish have been livestreamed, but parishioners have been singing old and sometimes unfamiliar hymns and songs to avoid copyright violations, explains Rev. Michael Kwiatkowski.

"That’s turned out to be a blessing because a lot of (these) songs people haven’t heard for years," he says of the Ukrainian hymns in the public domain, many more than a century old.

In Canada, copyrighted material goes into public domain 50 years after the creator’s death.

Religious groups are only allowed to have virtual services under the current code red restrictions that came into effect on Nov. 12. But taking a worship service beyond the walls of a church, mosque, temple or synagogue also means understanding the legal implications of livestreaming, says John Bedell, a volunteer church technician who recently started the Facebook group Canadian Churches That Livestream.

Since its launch in mid-November, more than 300 people from various Christian denominations have joined the group to ask questions about equipment and copyright issues.

"Essentially what it comes down to is you need to be paying attention," says Bedell, who livestreams the Sunday services at St. John’s Stevensville United Church near Niagara Falls, Ont.

Broadcasting through social media involves much more than just connecting a camera and microphone to the internet and pressing record, says Darryl Neustaedter Barg, communication director at Mennonite Church Manitoba.

Groups need to ensure they have permission to broadcast the music they’re accustomed to singing every week, he says. Even if the congregation has purchased hymnals, they need to purchase a licence to project it or copy it in another way, explains Barg, as well as an additional one for livestreaming.

"Instead of being frustrated about these streaming licences, we should be overjoyed that someone is trying to make them work and compensating artists," says Barg, also a member of committee overseeing a new Mennonite hymnal, which launches online Sunday, Dec. 13.

Christian churches can purchase licences from Christian Copyright Licensing International or One License. Annual fees for reproducing and livestreaming music cost about $500 annually for a congregation of 100 people through One License and users must file regular reports.

But those licences don’t cover music not in the hymnal, whether anthems, organ music, classical pieces or covers of popular music, explains Kevin Parks, university musician at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax.

That music falls under the Canadian Copyright Act, and that’s also where it all gets more confusing, he says, adding the act allows for the performance of music within a church service, but doesn’t speak directly to livestreaming.

"I think what is probably the truth here is there is no exemption in the act for livestreaming," says Parks, who contributed to an article about the topic on, run by the United Church of Canada Association of Musicians.

"It’s safest for us to assume there is no exemption for churches to livestream, so that means you need to do the right thing for content creators by purchasing a licence."

He says SOCAN, the organization that administers performing rights in Canada, does not require religious groups to purchase licences for materials streamed on YouTube or Facebook, but does offer annual licences for $15 to broadcast church music on Zoom and other video conference platforms.

It’s also important to check in with what others are doing in the same situation, suggests Bedell, who started the Facebook group because he wanted to share his knowledge more broadly after months of answering emails and telephone calls from church leaders and technicians scrambling to purchase and set up equipment to accommodate livestreaming.

"Now I’m trying to do it in one forum where people can reach out and other people can jump in to answer questions," says the retired structural steel detailer.

"Part of what I’m hoping to reach out to are some remote areas where they really need this now."

Kwiatkowski says his Elmwood area parish has discussed livestreaming services for several years and finally made the leap online in March when the global pandemic hit Winnipeg and put the province in lockdown.

He has discovered the side benefit of respecting copyrights has led the parish down a musical memory lane as they unearth songs from their heritage.

"They’re rich in theology or maybe they have a different take on theology, and they’re inspirational and educational," he says about the older music.

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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