CCLI for the little guy

CCLI for the little guy

We ran an article recently about CCLI (The CCLI license – what is legal and what is not?) which resulted in some email correspondence between one of our customers, Ralph Brock (from Westport WA, USA), and CCLI. Ralph is involved in ministry outside the church and wanted to know the legalities of using worship music in those settings. I encouraged him to write up his thoughts for us here:

Are individuals subject to the same copyright laws, as are formal organizations, particularly if those individual(s) make no money from their ministries?

Is the advancement of the Kingdom of God being held hostage by the copyright laws?

All of us involved in Christian music have at one time or another crossed paths with CCLI, the keeper of the keys to Christian worship music. They provide an indespensible service by functioning as a central point of contact, relative to the legalities of using and reproducing copyrighted material. Without CCLI, anyone who wanted to make copies of a song, would have to find their own way through a maze of distributors, publishers, studios, agents and lawyers, just to request permission to make use of a song; a daunting task, to be sure.

CCLI does their best to insulate us from the underlying legalese, and to make it easy for churches and ministries to use published material (i.e. song charts, overheads, etc.), without violating the copyright laws. CCLI provides licenses, at reasonable rates, which enables song writers to get paid for their work, while enabling churches to use songs legally.

That’s pretty straight forward. Churches and other organizations, (who generate an income flow from the use of published music), should have to follow the rules, and CCLI facilitates that. But what about individuals? There is a whole world of ordinary people out there, who are involved in personal ministry, where singing worship music is an integral part of what they do. Picture someone who, on their own, goes to a nursing home to brighten the day of elderly patients with music and The Word, or, a small home fellowship group, that wants to sing some praise songs before they study a lesson. Perhaps some friends just want to get together to play and sing the music that moves their souls. Unfortunately, it is possible, if not probable, that many of these folks are unwittingly breaking the copyright laws, by using unlicensed copies. Those folks may even be us.

The question then becomes, “Are individuals subject to the same copyright laws, as are formal organizations, particularly if those individual(s) make no money from their ministries?” Put another way, “Is the advancement of the Kingdom of God being held hostage by the copyright laws?” “Can only those who can afford a (CCLI) license, share in today’s worship music, outside of their home churches?

Here is a recent response from CCLI on the matter:

“We do need to be clear right from the beginning – CCLI owns no hymns or worship songs….they only act as agent to the people who do. A global system is in place to ensure songwriters’ material is protected, called copyright, and CCLI, around 20 years ago now, developed the Church Copyright Licence (CCL) to both serve the church and ensure the songwriters are honoured for the use of their material….. Only they [the song writers], or their administrator, if they have one, have the right to give free permission, and nobody has the right to take this material without, at the very least, asking. The alternative would be for [an individual] to either apply for a licence in [their] own name, use books, write [their] own material, or use public domain (free) hymns and worship songs in future.”

This comment is pretty clear-cut. To use a song without a license or explicit permission, would be (in effect) stealing from the person who worked hard to create it. This is something no Christian should knowingly do. There is more than one Biblical principle at work here: Do not steal (Exodus 20:15); Obey the law (1 Pet 2:13-14); The worker deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). As hard, or as inconvenient, as it may be at times, we must be faithful in the small things, to be trusted with the big things in God’s kingdom (Luke 16:10). All of us who worship God through music must, therefore, be aware of the legal requirements and do our best to adhere to them.

Ralph Brock, Westport WA, USA

We asked CCLI for a response to the above and Chris Williams has suggested that in many cases, existing church liscences may cover this “extra curricular” ministry:

Churches that send out teams to lead worship as part of their ministry are allowed to cover special one-off services at a nursing homes or prisons so long as the church licence is large enough to cover the attendance at these meetings. The alternative would be for the individual who leads the worship on these premises to apply for an ‘itinerant’ CCL in their own name with licence fees based on the largest gathering where the licence is to be used. Obviously the alternatively would be to use books, write their own songs and hymns or use public domain (free) hymns and worship songs. We do not believe that the kingdom of God has, or ever will be, held to ransom by copyright laws. People will gladly pay their car tax and TV licence as it is a common requirement under law and most churches now understand that their licence fees are a standard requirement under law but also that their licence payments support creativity and the ongoing development of new songs and hymns.

Thanks to Ralph and CCLI for clarifying these things. We’d love to hear your thoughts too. What has your experience of licensing been? Is this something your church diligently complies with or do you have objections? If so why?