Why do we have to pay to play songs in worship? Guest post from CCLI

We always find that articles we publish on licensing generate lots of interest so we have asked CCLI to write a series of guest posts for us on commonly asked questions about licensing. Here is question number 1.

One of the questions CCLI is asked most often is:

“Why should churches pay to use songs and hymns in their times of worship?”

In common with all creative works, songs are protected by copyright from the moment they are written down or recorded in a tangible form.  Copyright is owned by the writer of the song and has two elements; a moral right that prevents others from making changes to the song against the copyright owner’s wishes, and an economic right permits the copyright owner to charge anyone who wishes to reproduce, perform or record their work.

This means that permission is required if a church wishes to use a song in their times of worship unless that song is ‘Copyright Free’ or in the Public Domain (PD).  If your church is blessed with a worship leader who writes the songs you sing, obtaining permission could be as simple as asking them. But for most worship songs, obtaining permission is more complicated.

However, churches in both the U.K. and US currently receive an exemption from the performance right. In the U.S. the copyright law gives churches a special exemption for songs “…of a religious nature…in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.” While in the U.K. the right to perform a song in public is administered by PRS for Music who provided a concession so that a PRS licence is not required by a church if the only time music is performed on their premises is during acts of worship.

However, permission is required to reproduce the words and/or the music to a song. For more than 200,000 churches worldwide this permission is obtained through licences from CCLI.  The Church Copyright Licence (CCL) covers the reproduction of song words for the congregation, for example in a service sheet or via computer projection.  In the U.K., the supplementary Music Reproduction Licence (MRL) covers the reproduction of typeset pages, permitting photocopying or scanning from music publications such as song books, or the duplication/sharing of downloaded sheet music files such as PDFs.

If your church has purchased song books for every member of the congregation and you don’t reproduce words or music by any other means, the copyright fee (song royalty) will likely have been included within the purchase price of those books. In this case a royalty payment will have been made by the book publisher back to the featured songwriters on an ad-hoc basis. However, now that many churches create their own weekly service sheets or store song words on a computer for projection, the means by which most songwriters receive payment for the reproduction of their work is through CCLI.

Many songwriters rely on royalties to supplement their income, which in turn enables them to devote more time to their songwriting.

For further information visit CCLI’s website.

An article, In The World But Not Of It on CCLI’s WorshipFuel blog makes interesting reading from a U.S. perspective.

For further information visit CCLI’s website. An article, In The World But Not Of It on CCLI’s WorshipFuel blog makes interesting reading from a North American perspective.


Other articles about copyright

Is it OK to record sung vocals for practice purposes under the CCLI Copyright license?

How to properly display copyright notices

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

Is it legal for me to transpose songs to other keys?

How does licensing work when musicians use tablets for chord charts rather than paper versions?

The copyright implications of streaming services online