Copyright for Church Music: Play Fair and Stay Legal

Copyright is a complicated issue. It is easily overlooked when putting a hymn book on the photocopier. Yet, in the back of our minds, most of us know it is illegal to do so. In this increasingly digital world, we have more access to information than ever before. However, the laws governing the use of information have not changed. Information owned by others is known as “intellectual property” and is protected under a special set of laws. [1]

copyright for church music stay legal play fair

What is Copyright?

In the U.K., artistic written work is protected under copyright until 70 years after the author’s death. Sound and musical recordings (such as backing tracks) are protected for 70 years after publishing. In law, these works are someone’s property. The right to “copy” them requires the copyright owner’s permission to do so. The U.S., Australia, and most other countries have similar laws. [1]

The copyright owner may be the author or a publisher who has been granted rights to the works. After the copyright has expired, the work falls into the Public Domain. At that point, it is no longer protected. However, if an artist modifies and/or records a work in the Public Domain (such as when an artist records a hymn), their version of that song is copyrighted. [2]

Copyright reserves certain rights to the owners of the work. These rights are to reproduce, publish, communicate, perform, adapt and receive credit. [2]

Many parishes and schools are not compliant in their use of music and lyrics. Using backing tracks, projecting song lyrics and printing songbooks are copyright breaches if the school or parish has not obtained permission to use the songs. [3]

Copyright infringement is difficult to navigate and parishes need a simple solution to be compliant. To simplify compliance, there are licensing schemes. A school or parishes can pay a yearly fee to use body of artistic works covered by that scheme. The schemes also use surveys so artists are compensated for the use of their works. [3]

There are two main licensing schemes in the U.K. that grant permissions for music covered under their scheme. [2] [3]

  1. Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI): This covers Capitol CMGOxford University Press, Thank you music and many of the contemporary Christian songwriters and publishers whose songs are more commonly used in Anglican, Free or Evangelical Churches. These songs are typically found in collections like Mission Praise, Songs of Fellowship or the Spring Harvest Song Book. CCLI has more than 300,000 songs in its growing database. They also offer a Music Reproduction Licence, which covers photocopying of certain songs from certain books. Find out more at: [4]
  2. OneLicense:  OneLicense expanded in 2017 to include Europe, Australia, the United States and many other countries. They also took over the Calamus Licence by Decani Music in 2019. Their licensing scheme currently covers over 200 “member publishers” including  including GIA, OCP, and WLP.  Their focus is on primarily liturgical music that can be sung by a congregation. With their license, you can “reprint or project music for the congregation, to podcast or stream services containing this music, or to copy practice-tracks for rehearsal purposes.” Find out more at: [6]

Both of these licences are international, covers many languages and are available worldwide in most countries.

Publishers who are members of CCLI or OneLicense may pay an annual fee to reproduce the work of other members of the scheme. While these two schemes cover most of the music used in liturgy, they do not cover everything. If you want to use music in your liturgy not covered by one of these two licensing schemes, you will need to contact the copyright holder directly. [3]

These licensing schemes have pricing tiers based on how many copies of the works you will reproduce during the year and how many people attend your parish. [5] For more information about CCLI and OneLicense, you can contact them directly to get information about the cost to your particular parish or school.

What about performing liturgy and music?

Licensing is not required for publicly performing these works in ordinary services, weddings, funerals, etc. However, performing these works in a commercial event (such as a concert) requires additional licensing. [2] [3] It is also important to keep in mind that copying the lyrics and/or displaying them for the congregation to read during the song often requires a license regardless of the event. Streaming over the internet also requires a license.

If recording an event (such as a wedding or graduation) where music is performed, you may need permission from the licensing scheme or owner. However, to publicly screen or distribute a video, you must obtain permission. [3]

Music is not the only part of liturgy which is subject to copyright.

Most of the texts used in our liturgy, (including hymnals and missals) are owned by The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). Liturgical works owned by ICEL may be used without permission or payment under certain circumstances within the parish. Translations of scripture commonly used in liturgy (such as the Grail) are subject to copyright as well.[5]

Song lyrics being displayed for a congregation to follow along and practice tracks the music ministry may circulate among themselves may also be subject to copyright.

A parish or school must get permission to use works that will be in any product for sale. [5]

What if our parish does not comply?

In all things, we are to comply with the laws of the land. First and foremost, parishes who do not comply with the law may be subject to fines and more severe legal penalties.

Additionally, composers and other individuals who make their living based on the sale of their work will not be compensated for their work. These laws are in place for a reason and carry legal penalties for lack of compliance. [3]

How may I obtain permission to use the work of CJM MUSIC?

The music of Boyce & Stanley and other works published by CJM MUSIC are covered by BOTH of the major licensing schemes. The CCLI and OneLicense licensing scheme cover works published by CJM MUSIC. Please remember to include the titles or numbers of our songs in your annual returns and song surveys.

Additionally, we offer a range of CJM Licences. This is particularly useful for those schools and parishes who have select repertoire including a large portion of works published by CJM MUSIC, but have neither a OneLicense nor CCLI Licence.

At present, there are 4 CJM licences. As with other schemes, the licence needs to be renewed annually. 

  1. CJM Words Only Licence – Covers you to reproduce the words of songs owned by CJM MUSIC (£25.00)

  2. CJM Words & Music Licence – Covers you to reproduce the words and music of songs owned by CJM MUSIC (£50.00)
  3. Born for This Non-Commercial Licence – Covers you to perform all or part Born for This: The Way of the Cross without sale of tickets (£25.00)

  4. Born for This Commercial Licence – Covers you to perform all or part Born for This: The Way of the Cross with sale of tickets (£100.00)

This article is by no means an exhaustive study of copyright law. Parishes and schools are responsible for doing their own research to determine how they can remain compliant. Compliance depends on the particular use of liturgy within masses and normal operations. Hopefully, this broad guide with give you a starting point in understanding copyright.

For more perspective from Jo Boyce regarding liturgy in the modern age, click here.


[1] How copyright protects your work – GOV.UK

[2] Copyright for Parish and School Liturgy – Diocese of London

[3] Guidelines: Copyright in Parish and School Liturgy Catholic Diocese of Wollongong

[4] Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI): Copyright Licenses – Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI)

[5] Guidelines for the Production of Orders of Service for Single OccasionsBishops’ Conference of England & Wales

[6] OneLicense: How it Works OneLicense

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