After the publication of this summer’s Sampler, many questions have been raised about copyright laws and usage. This is intended to answer some basic questions. More information can be found on the Church Music Publishers Association website.
A “copyright” is intended to protect the creative works of a person’s mind and spirit. The United States Copyright Law grants copyright owners exclusive rights for a specific period of time or term.
- For works published pre-1978, the creator maintains the copyright for 95 years post-publication.
- For works published after 1977, copyright is given to the creator for their lifetime + 70 years.
US law grants the copyright owner exclusive rights to their work; they are the only one with the right to reproduce their work. Anyone else must obtain permission to reproduce the work from the copyright owner. Musical compositions and lyrics are often referred to as “intellectual property;” thus, we treat the owner’s property respectfully, just as we do our neighbor’s house.
Anytime we use another person’s property (or music), we must get permission to:
- Make photocopies of music
- Print bulletins, songbooks or songsheets containing for worship, Bible studies, or home prayer groups even if we are not selling the copies
- Make a transparency, a slide or an electronic file for projection
- Make a photocopy for accompanists or soloists
- Make audio recordings of worship services
- Make videos of worship services or special musical presentations (youth, children’s, holiday performances, etc.)
It’s always better to ask permission beforehand if there is a question. Do not wait to ask forgiveness if “caught” afterwards. Many publishers will grant permission after a quick phone call or email. Visit MPA Directory of Music Publishers for contact information of most copyright holders.
The purchase of a copyright license such as OneLicense or CCLI affords usage of thousands of pieces of music. This saves time from contacting many individual rights holders; however, not every piece of music is covered under these licenses. Confirm that the specific piece is covered by your license. If your request is not covered be sure to contact the separate rights holder.
Some pieces of music are “public domain”. These music and lyrics may be freely copied without anyone’s permission; their time of copyright protection has expired. Out-of-print items may not be public domain, however. Permission must be granted from the copyright owner prior to any duplication.
Adhering to copyright law is more than just good manners; penalties for infringement range between $500 to $100,000.
Don't let this scare you from singing your favorite pieces that aren't in the hymnal (or Sampler)! Receiving copyright permission is quick and painless. It is good stewardship and pratices a basic commandment, "Do not steal."
Thank you for being good neighbors to composers and lyricists!