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7 Things Artists Wish You Knew About YouTube
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7 Things Musicians Wish You Knew About YouTube

Wildly popular kidmin artist Yancy Wideman Richmond shares her heart about how to ethically (and legally) use YouTube in your ministry.

As a musician, I find myself at the heart of conversations on using YouTube, streaming platforms, and videos in children’s ministry. While many of these begin in children’s ministry Facebook groups, the hardest conversations happen in person. On my first day at a conference, countless leaders approached me to share how much their kids loved my music and videos! That’s a wonderful win! Yay! Then they’d share that they access the videos on YouTube…and my heart would drop.

Each time it’s a gut punch. That day I confided in a friend, “Pray for me! I’m spending the next three days in conversations with people who I love and am here to celebrate, challenge, and inspire—hearing how they’re stealing from my ministry.”

Yes, those videos “borrowed” from sources like YouTube often mean leaders are taking something I’ve created. The correct protocol would involve purchasing a digital download and obtaining the rights to use the song in a public setting. I truly believe much of this “below-the-line” behavior stems from a lack of knowledge. Most people don’t know all the rules related to music or video usage. They aren’t intentionally trying to use copyrighted media in an unethical way. The majority have simply never paused long enough to think about what they’re doing, who it hurts, and why it’s wrong.


Let me pull back the curtain and explain why this matters so much to Christian artists.

Know that I’m sharing in grace and love, not in judgment. I really want to help leaders share Jesus’ love through these high-quality resources. That’s my heart. I pray that we’re all leaders who strive to be above reproach in all we do. Here are some important things you need to know and understand about using YouTube videos in your ministry.

1. A lot of time, money, and talent went into that YouTube video.

Behind every video are scores of talented people whose livelihood is tied to that project. That’s why we have copyrights: to protect the intellectual property and identify its owner. While you may also use skits, movie clips, or teaching videos, I’ll speak to music since that’s my area of expertise.

First, a songwriter creates an original song. Copyrights are important because they show who owns a piece of intellectual property. That melody and lyrics get touched by talented musicians, producers, engineers, singers, and mix and mastering engineers to make a recording master. Then comes video production, which includes a director, cameraperson, video editor, motion graphic video designer, producer, and assistants.

The finished work may be in digital format, but to me, it’s a tangible “product” a team has worked hard to create. And each team member receives payment for their valuable services. When a church assumes that resource is free, there’s no income from which I can pay the creative team. I expect ministry leaders to treat that digital download like they would treat a tangible piece of church property. (Sadly, that’s not always the case.)

2. Artists are paid “millipennies” for streaming music.

A songwriter friend shared some of the rates he’s paid by various streaming platforms. YouTube Music paid him $0.000049 per stream. Yep, that’s a lot of zeros before a number. One song that played 5,005 times on YouTube made me $0.68. So even if that same video garnered a million views, it’s possible that I would only receive $135.86. And, yes, I spend way more than $135 to record the song and produce its video!

Of course, YouTube ads generate revenue and a small portion of that gets distributed to the channel. But again, it’s a small amount. In addition, people have come up with inventive ways to pull YouTube videos directly onto their computers, thus shutting off any revenue earned for views.

I’ve read Facebook threads where kidmin leaders recommend paid services to help them extract videos from YouTube to store on their own computers. In some instances, leaders gave step by step instructions for how to rip the video off YouTube. (Again, insert shocked face.) I’m sure they don’t realize that service doesn’t share any of the payment with content providers. As uncomfortable as it sounds, you might say unknowing leaders are paying a service for technology that helps them steal. These “services” cut the lifeline for artists. Instead of earning “millipennies,” artists earn nothing.

3. Read the fine print on YouTube and other services. (You may be surprised!)

Let’s be real. How many times have you scrolled past those countless lines of fine print terms? We zip past the legalese and simply click “I Agree,” without really knowing what we just agreed to! That’s a key issue with YouTube.

I’ve read YouTube’s fine print so I can have educated conversations about what their terms of use are. That fine print clearly states that YouTube is not for “commercial use.” Yep, a church (no matter its size) is commercial use. Showing a video at church isn’t the same as a family watching that video. That would be “non-commercial use.” YouTube’s business model is based on individual or family consumption (one to a few sets of eyes seeing the video). By clicking “I Agree,” a user agrees to abide by those rules with his or her account.

Even YouTube Red, a paid service that eliminates commercials, includes terms that state it’s for non-commercial use only.

Similarly, those who upload a video to YouTube are also agreeing to terms saying they own and created the video and have the authority to share it. (Check out the upload terms here.) Unless you made the video from scratch and have full authority to distribute said video to the world, do not upload it to YouTube. If you purchased a product from a publisher, don’t upload it unless you’re doing so with express permissions and licensing granted to you. Sadly, many people either don’t understand this legality, or they choose to ignore it. YouTube is filled with videos and music, posted outside the terms of use, by people who don’t own the rights to the intellectual property. (And no, adding “no Copyright intended” to the description doesn’t make it okay.)

4. Check out your church’s CCLI agreement.

Many leaders assume that because their church has a CCLI agreement (used primarily in adult worship services), they’re free and clear to use songs as they wish. Not true. In fact, CCLI states, “As a general rule, CCLI recommends that you don’t use YouTube to show any other videos without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.” (Read further about CCLI’s insights on video usage and YouTube.) Be sure that your license covers what you’re showing and where you’re showing it.

5. Stop using budget limitations as an excuse for stealing off YouTube.

I remember a Facebook thread that got a bit heated as leaders justified their actions because of limited (or no) budget. I understand the issue. We all operate within budget restrictions. Yet, it’s time to look at tight finances as an opportunity for God to provide—not an opportunity to operate unethically.

On this particular day, I became angry. Yes, angry! These individuals weren’t operating honorably to fill the gap. Copying my media didn’t just feel like stealing my work. I felt I’d been robbed of the opportunity to hear the Holy Spirit invite me into the process of sowing into someone’s ministry. Perhaps reaching out to tell their story and sharing their need would allow God to provide—and give him the glory! Many times, I’ve heard of a need and donated resources. I’m sure the same is true of my artist peers.

The Lord is faithful. He can be trusted. Send an email and share your story. Ask for a discount or even free resources. Invite God into the process of meeting your need rather than acting unethically. Many amazing churches can give away resources for ministry. (Check out Life Church Open, New Spring, or Kids on the Move.)

6. Hold yourself to the same ethics you’d expect of kids.

I feel like this is a mic drop moment. Long ago God addressed this when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:15 says, “You shall not steal.” It’s likely most children’s leaders have taught a Sunday school lesson about that commandment! But in efforts to create incredible experiences and programming, some may be sidestepping that commandment.

“It’s for the Lord, so it’s fine.”

“We’re all in ministry together, aren’t we?”

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission.”

“God will just be glad we were singing about his name.”

Would we encourage kids to turn a blind eye to God’s commands? None of us would ever think about robbing a bank or dropping a few extra tomatoes in our grocery cart. We willingly pay for craft supplies, goldfish crackers, paper cups, Ziploc bags, and Bible memory prizes. Paying for a resource isn’t just ethical. It honors, supports, and encourages those who’ve created the resource. Thank you for being a light and doing what’s right. As we challenge kids to become more like Jesus, let’s encourage each other to live in a way that honors him in every facet of life.

7. Embrace all the ways you can legally use YouTube.

YouTube is a great place to research ideas and content. It’s also an excellent tool for finding new songs or videos. Teachers can find inspiration for object lessons, fresh ways they can present material, stories about kids in other communities, and surprising science facts that show God’s awesome power. However, YouTube isn’t a treasure trove of endless, free media options for church leaders to utilize at will. Leaders need to look at YouTube as an idea bank or inspiration station, a way to window shop, or a “try before you buy” sample stop.

Here are ways you can ethically make amazing YouTube videos a great resource for your ministry. (You’ll also be supporting creatives in their ministries!)

Share YouTube links with families.

Feel free to share a link to a video from YouTube on your ministry Facebook page. You can put the link in emails or other ways you connect with parents. Remember, YouTube is made for personal consumption. So that parent clicking the link and showing their child is exactly what YouTube was made for! Just be sure the link you share is from an official channel—one with the rights to have the resource up there in the first place!

Research and reach out to YouTube channels.

Every YouTube channel has an “About” section that should tell you the channel’s specific rules. There are likely links to their website or other sites where you can access their videos. Every video also has a description. For example, if you click “Show More” on one of my videos on my YouTube channel, you’ll see that it says, “In using this video for your church, camp or school, please note that YouTube rules do NOT allow usage beyond single family use. Please get this video with a group showing license at worshiphousekids.com.” If you’re unsure, ask the owner of the channel. Reach out with questions via a comment, message, website, or Facebook page.

Thankfully, there are endless sources for videos you can legally use in your ministry! Individual artists and ministries, worshiphousekids.com, kidzmatter.com, and group.com all include ways for you to purchase videos for your group use.

Check out resources for online church.

2020 saw huge growth in the number of churches providing at-home, online options. CCLI offered a new tier with their CCLI+ license, which allows for streaming audio recording masters. I developed an Annual Streaming License to allow churches the ability to use my audio and video masters in an online service. Many of my peers created similar low-cost solutions based on church size. These licenses then allow church leaders to distribute the masters via livestream and online services on YouTube or social media. So be sure to check directly with the song provider or artist for more information or options.

Say “thank you.”

While this isn’t directly related to YouTube, it’s a powerful way to encourage and support artists and resource providers. Jesus taught us a valuable lesson in the story of the ten lepers being healed. Only one came back to say “thank you.” Always be the one.

Did your VBS go great this summer? Write the publisher of the curriculum you used and tell them the God story. Do your kids love a particular song? Send a message to let that artist know they’re making a difference in your community. That card in the mail or email you send will brighten their day and encourage them in this holy work that we do to labor for the harvest.

We’re all in this together, guiding kids to worship, learn, explore, and grow in faith. As Christian artists support churches and families, it’s only right that the encouragement is reciprocated. Let’s work together to give kids the best, show them what it means to live honorably, and serve each other in love.

Check out Yancy’s interview with Jeff McCullough of JumpStart 3 to understand more about this topic. Yancy also dives deep into the subject in her book “Sweet Sound: The Power of Discipling Kids in Worship” releasing November 2021.

Read more about copyright infringement here.

About Yancy

Yancy is a worship leader and songwriter for kids, and she travels the globe doing family concerts and training worship leaders. Every week her songs are used in thousands of churches around the world. Her beloved “Little Praise Party” series for young kids is Dove Award nominated. Yancy has a passion to serve the church, which is why she created “Heartbeat,” a curriculum to teach kids the heart of worship. Her book “Sweet Sound: The Power of Discipling Kids in Worship” releases in November. She lives with her husband and sons in Nashville, TN. YancyMinistries.com


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