In common with all creative works, and in accordance with UK law, songs are protected by copyright from the moment they are written down or recorded in a tangible form. This 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. 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.
The right to perform a song in public is administered in the UK by PRS for Music. PRS for Music has 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. If a church does hold a PRS for Music licence it is deemed to cover music performance during acts of worship too.
However, permission is required to reproduce the words and/or the music to a song. For more than 250,000 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 UK, 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.
Copyright Q&A: Public Domain
What is Public Domain (PD) and when does a song enter the Public Domain?
How CCLI Works
In response to your questions, we open the doors to CCLI’s offices and tell you more about why we’re here and what we do with your licence fees.
Protecting, publishing and registering your songs
If you’re a gifted songwriter, or know someone who is, our guide contains the things you need to know.
Why do we sing in Church?
Worship leader and author Nick J Drake on why something incredible happens when we sing…
Copyright Q&A: Typography and the MRL
We explain what typography is and why the MRL covers more than just photocopying.