How do I copyright my songs and how does CCLI know what we’ve sung?

The second in our series of guest posts from CCLI.

If you’re a fledgling songwriter, at some point you may have an opportunity to play your songs in public. If you’re writing worship songs, this will more than likely be in the context of a church service.

But what do you need to know before letting others hear your songs? In this post we’ll answer the common questions songwriters ask.

How do I copyright and protect my songs?

Copyright in your own song, or any other creative work, belongs to you automatically. As soon as it’s put into a tangible form (e.g. written words/music, or an audio recording), it is protected by copyright law. You do not have to register the song with any kind of authority in order for it to be protected.

The U.K. Intellectual Property Office currently provides the following advice:

“To help protect your copyright work, it is advisable to mark it with the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year in which the work was created…It will also indicate who the owner was at that time in case it is then necessary to approach them should you need to ask permission to use the work.”

If you don’t have an agreement with a song publisher, you may wish to take some steps to prove that you were in possession of the work at a certain date. A simple way of doing this is to send yourself a copy by special delivery post (which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope), leaving the envelope unopened on its return.

Once your songs are being used regularly by other churches, CCLI recommends that you consider signing with a song publisher. The song publisher will then register your songs with CCLI so that if churches throughout the world reproduce the words or music you would begin to receive royalties, subject to the terms of your contract with the publisher. Whenever a church reproduces a song, under the terms of the Church Copyright Licence, they are required to show the copyright line or ‘non-Proprietary data’ which shows who owns the copyright of that work.

If your songs are becoming popular, you might also consider signing with PRS for Music in the U.K. or with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the U.S. These organisations represent the public performance right in a song. Although churches may not necessarily require a licence for songs performed during acts of worship/Sunday services, in the U.K. PRS for Music will collect licence fees on your behalf if your songs are performed or broadcast at other times.  For further information visit the PRS for Music website.

How does CCLI know what we’ve sung and who to pay royalties to?

When churches purchased enough hymnbooks for each member of the congregation, the book publisher was responsible for paying a royalty to the song owners featured within the book.

However, as projectors and photocopiers replaced books, a new method was required for ensuring song owners are fairly remunerated for the reproduction of their works and thus CCLI was established.

CCLI now represent more than 3,000 publishers and more than 300,000 songs worldwide, while more than 250,000 churches, schools and Christian organisations reproduce songs under CCLI licences.

In order to fairly apportion royalties, these licence holders are required to report to CCLI the songs they reproduce. This reporting process is done online, with many churches logging in weekly to report the song words and music they have reproduced for use during their services and meetings.

CCLI then uses this data to distribute royalties from the licence fees paid by churches.  Royalties are paid to publishers and song owners twice each year – quite a task given the number of songs and publishers covered!

At the end of this process, CCLI then publishes a list of the top 100 reported songs for the previous six month period.

What about if I am outside the UK

Copyright law does vary from country to country so be sure to check local arrangements with your local CCLI office.


Other articles you might find helpful

Why do we have to pay to play songs in worship?

How to I protect and register a song (and earn revenue from it’s use in church)?