Ask the Expert – Copyright and Licensing Songs

Sharon Tedford, a Musicademy student, asked for some advice on copyright and licensing. She says:ccli_copyman

“I’ve written some songs and have been reading up on the CCLI website about copyright and they say:
CCLI does not ‘copyright’ songs as such, nor do we provide any form of copyright ‘protection’. It is our understanding that copyright within the UK is automatic.This means that as soon as you put your work in a tangible format (e.g. written words/music or an audio recording) the copyright belongs to you. You do not have to register your songs with any kind of authority in order for them to be protected.
Is it possible that things are different in the world of UK Christian music and the world of US Christian music?  Is there something else I should be doing in addition to; mailing myself a copy by registered post and getting an MCPS/PRS license?”

Andy replies:
You are right in both the UK and US CCLI don’t offer any copyright protection – they are merely the collecting body working on your behalf as an artist. They collect purely from churches (UK and US) and schools (UK only) who reproduce your songs in a tangible form.

As far as copyright proof is concerned in the UK if you put your work in some kind of tangible format and there is a date related proof of ownership, even if that means posting yourself a score of it and not opening the date stamped envelope, you have some legal protection and proof in the event of a dispute. I’m not sure how copyright works in the US but a good source of reference is

Once your songs have been registered with CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), in theory every time your song is reproduced  and report in a church that holds a Church Copyright License, you will be due a royalty payment. The CCLI money is paid to you as an artist via your publisher (which could well be your own publishing ‘company’). The job of the publisher is not only to sort out and chase all payments made to you from every source e.g. ccli contributions, use of the song on albums, radio, cover version of it on other albums, uses of your song in TV, film, advertising, etc. In fact collecting from anywhere that it’s used at all, but a good publisher will also ‘push’ to place your song to be used in any creative way possible. That’s how they get paid, so that’s the reason publishing companies exist and why they take 50% of your royalty – in theory!

As we know not every publisher works nearly as hard as it could with every smaller artist to place those songs, so that’s why you pays your money and takes your choice. For many artists they just don’t want the admin hassle of administrating their own copyrights and would prefer just to be sent a cheque.
Some of the publishers in the Christian world may charge a bit more because they are linked to labels, festivals and events like  Soul Survivor, New Wine and Spring Harvest which is how they ‘sell’ their songs to a wider audience.

If you have been approached for a publishing deal, these are the kind of questions you can ask them.