Copyright in the church

Technology Tidbit: What churches need to know about copyright law

With the advent of technology, it is easy to share music and videos.  Being a Non-profit/education based organization, churches are not exempt from copyright. In most cases, if you are not charging people to come hear the performance of music then it falls under the fair use doctrine. 

Fair use doctrine promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. In determining fair use, consider these factors:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

In the cases of churches, we collect an offering and one can argue that we are “charging” people.  That is where the CCLI license comes in.  It protects both you as the church as well as insures the appropriate copyright holder gets the royalties if any.

With the advent of technology, the CCLI license insures song writers still get paid for their work. Permission is required to reproduce lyrics of copyrighted hymns or songs. Owning a set of Hymn books doesn’t provide permission (unless otherwise stated). The electronic storage on a computer of hymns/songs counts as reproduction including projecting the words using PowerPoint slides. With a CCLI License, the church has permission to write, type, or copy song words and music.  Remember to report usage to CCLI.

The license doesn’t cover photocopies of lyrics or music directly from hymn book. Books have a typography right which is 25 years from first date of print. A Music Reproduction License covers the right to photocopy from a book. 

Only the copyright owner has the right to change or amend their work.  Finding difficulty in how a song has been written, or concern with its theology doesn’t give you the right to change the work without permission form copyright holder

Under CCLI reproduction songs/hymns require you to show:

  • the copyright symbol
  • the writer
  • copyright holder
  • copyright year
  • license number

Example: Fred Smiley © 2000 Happy Music Ltd, CCLI Licence No: 12345

When projecting the lyrics using PowerPoint slides, remember to display this information on the bottom of every slide of each song.

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