Jac asks:

The guidelines state that weddings are usually considered ‘private in nature’ and so playing music, reading poems etc is fine. The examples the guidelines list are all indoors. What if the ceremony is in a public space?

Do you have to get insurance for this through an association or does it fall under Public Liability, Personal Accident, Professional Indemnity etc if you went for insurance privately.

Would appreciate pros/cons etc of the going with an association if protection is required.

I’m going to look at all three questions here; whether or not we need copyright or other licences or insurances for weddings, and what kinds of insurance may be useful, and whether you should get your insurance through an association or privately!

Playing music at ceremonies

Let’s look at playing music first. I’ve gone straight to the source rather than just reviewing the information in the Guidelines on the Marriage Act for this answer, and I’m afraid it’s not much more useful than the Guidelines! The Australian Copyright Council, in their information sheet Music – Playing Music: APRA & PPCA, says exactly what the Guidelines say:

Performances of music at events such as weddings or twenty-first birthday celebrations will not generally be “in public” even if they occur in a hotel, wedding hall or restaurant, as these events are considered private in nature.

My understanding has always been that regardless of where they are held, weddings are considered private events and therefore don’t require us to have an APRA licence to play music. I wrote to the Australian Copyright Council for further clarity, and to be honest, I didn’t get a lot. Here’s what they told me:

As set out in our information sheet, performances of music at events such as weddings will generally not be considered to be “in public” even if they occur in a hotel or restaurant. However, where a wedding takes place in the open air (i.e., in a venue that cannot be clearly and obviously closed off as a private event), there is a risk that music played at the wedding could be considered to be a performance “in public” (and thus, requiring a licence), because of the likelihood that members of the public, who are not invited to the wedding, could listen in.

Beyond noting that a risk exists, we cannot clearly say that all outdoor weddings are clearly performances to the public, or all outdoor weddings are clearly not. In this regard, we would observe that this is a risk management issue to be taken on a case by case basis, for which you would consider matters such as:

  • the volume at which the music is played (eg., is it at such a level that the average passer-by walking on the nearby paths/roads could overhear the music?)
  • the range/boundaries of the outdoor space where the wedding is taking place; or
  • the level of control you/the wedding organiser has over people moving in and out of the event space.

Generally, the more control you/the wedding organisers have to prevent members of the public from attending the wedding or listening to music performed at an outdoor wedding, the more likely any performance of music at the wedding would be considered private. The more likely members of the public can ‘drop in’ to the wedding or overhear music played at the event, the more likely any performance of music will be considered a public performance for which a licence will be needed.

We’re not suggesting you do or don’t make any changes to your current practices (especially taking into consideration the fact that most PA systems don’t have enough power to reach much further than the event guests), but that’s the (rather ambiguous) advice from the people in charge 🙂

Readings and poems at ceremonies

Now about the use of written material in a ceremony (poems, readings, etc). Reading or reciting a reasonable portion of a published work (reasonable is usually regarded as less than 10%) is exempt from copyright and no permission is needed, as long as you acknowledge the copyright owner. “X will now share a reading with us. It’s called XYZ and it was written by ABC.”

This exception from copyright is listed in the Australian Copyright Council‘s information sheet Exceptions to Copyright, as per s45 of the Copyright Act:

The reading or recitation in public … of an extract of reasonable length from a published literary or dramatic work … does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the work if a sufficient acknowledgement of the work is made.

Reproducing written copies of readings and poems

However if you want to publish readings on your website, or in a draft ceremony that you send to a client, or in an order of service, or anywhere else, you may need to ask permission from the owner of the copyright. Much easier than asking permission from the owner of every single item of written material you want to use in your ceremonies is simply to own a CAL (Copyright Agency Limited) Copyright Licence. CAL is a not-for-profit agency that distributes takings to copyright owners so they get paid for the use of their work. You’ll find the best information on this licence on the Coalition of Celebrant Associations page. Basically this licence allows you to:

  • Print copyrighted material in a copy of the ceremony to give to the couple or anyone else
  • Print copyrighted material as a handout for a reader to use
  • Type copyrighted material for storage in your own computer
  • Email copyrighted material to a couple or anyone else
  • Share copyrighted material in a celebrant Facebook group (considered public space)
  • Share copyrighted material in a celebrant web-based forum, unless all members of the forum group are CAL Licence holders.

If you did any of these things without holding a CAL Licence, you could be breaking copyright and could potentially be sued by the owner of the copyright.

Most celebrant associations provide access to the celebrant group CAL licence as part of their membership benefits, or will sell you one for an additional fee. If you’re not a member of a celebrant association, I strongly recommend you purchase access to the licence through the Civil Celebrant Network; you don’t need to be a member to purchase this licence, it’s far cheaper and covers you further than a Sole Trader Copyright Licence, and it’s just great for peace of mind.

Copyright insurance

The CAL Licence is different from copyright insurance. The CAL Licence allows you to use material without asking every copyright owner for permission. Copyright insurance protects you and your business if you infringe copyright and get sued by a copyright owner. There’s a super handy comparison chart between insurance and a CAL licence here on the CCN website. In a nutshell, you wouldn’t need copyright insurance if you invested the $55 a year in a CAL licence!