Church Music Copyright Laws

By Jacob Hyman

The same laws that apply to most intellectual property also apply to the music that is used in church services, bulletins and other media. According to the Music Publisher's Association, "when you use someone else's property, you must have the property owner's consent," so asking for permission is the key.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

A copyright determines a person's work belongs to that person, if only for a specific period of time. In 1977, copyright length was determined to be the length of the creator's life plus 70 years. If anyone other than the copyright owner wants to use or reproduce that work, permission must be granted by the copyright owner. Copyrighted music is also known as "intellectual property."

Permission to use Copyrighted Work

Those wanting to photocopy, reproduce, teach, sing, record, or make any copy or duplication of copyrighted material must obtain consent. To get permission, one must contact the individual or organization that owns the copyright. The notice usually consists of a symbol that denotes a copyright, or the word itself, in addition to the year of publication and the name of the owner. Owners should be contacted before the work is used, and it is important to note a fee is often associated with obtaining consent to use copyrighted material. After a copyright expires, anyone is free to use the works. In these cases, the works enter the "public domain" and will generally be free of any copyright notice.

Religious Services Exemption

There is a "religious services exemption" in copyright law that allows for the use of copyrighted works of a religious nature during worship or at religious services. If the copyrighted work is going to be used for any church-related purpose other than during worship, consent must be obtained from the copyright owner.

Congregational Compositions

Consent can be obtained to use many works that are used in congregational singing from Christian Copyright Licensing Inc. (CCLI). The license granted by the CCLI only applies to congregational music and does not apply to any works to be sung by a choir, soloist, or other individual or group of musicians.

Reproduced and Original Recordings

Recordings of instrumental tracks or accompaniment tracks that are copyrighted cannot be duplicated without permission from the copyright owner. Original recordings of copyrighted works can be made, but a "mechanical license" must be obtained. Church services cannot be recorded for church members without permission, but the CCLI license allows for a specific and limited number of recordings and copies to be made. Similarly, video recordings of copyrighted works cannot be made without permission from the copyright owner.

About the Author

Jacob Hyman is a blogger, freelance writer, and musician in New York. He has been writing for five years and has written for the G.W. Hatchet, Starved Magazine, HotIndieNews and eHow, among many others. Hyman attended The George Washington University in our nation's capital, where he majored in psychology and music.