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The CCLI License: What Is Legal and What is Not?

The CCLI License: What Is Legal and What is Not?

I am constantly asked questions about what is legal and what is not legal when it comes to making copies of music or lyrics in the church. My hope is that this post will make things clearer for everyone. Anytime you copy music or lyrics or distribute recordings of music that is copyrighted, you MUST get permission from the copyright owners. Christian Copyright Licensing International provides affordable solutions for churches in dealing with copyright issues. Much of the following information comes from Paul Herman, Marketing Manager for Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), based in Portland, Oregon and from the CCLI website.

The CCLI License: What It Does and Does Not Cover

Even CCLI license holders are sometimes confused about what the Church Copyright License does and does not cover. The following information should clear up some misunderstandings:

What’s Covered

Here’s the most important thing to remember about the CCLI Church Copyright License: it is primarily designed to assist with congregational singing. To that end, here is a quick summary of what the license covers:

What You Can Do

  1. Print songs, hymns and lyrics in bulletins, programs, liturgies and song sheets for use in congregational singing.
  2. Create your own customized songbooks or hymnals for use in congregational singing.
  3. Create overhead transparencies, slides, computer graphics, or any other format whereby song lyrics are visually projected for use in congregational singing.
  4. Arrange, print and copy your own arrangements (vocal and instrumental) of songs used for congregational singing, where no published version is available.
  5. Record your worship services (audio or video) provided you only record live music. Accompaniment tracks cannot be reproduced. You may charge up to $4 each for audiocassette tapes and CDs ($5 in Canada), and $12 each for videotapes and DVDs ($15 in Canada).

Point #5 is the only slight variation from the “congregational singing” rule. All live music recorded within the worship service (not just the congregational singing) is covered under the Church Copyright License, provided the songs are from the catalog of a publisher/song owner that CCLI represents. There is also a limit on how many recorded copies can be made per service, which is 15% of a church’s license size. Basically, the recording provision of the Church Copyright License is designed for the typical church recording/tape ministry, and is not suited for commercial purposes.

What’s Not Covered

Any song copying activity pertaining to solo/group/choir performance is not covered by the Church Copyright License. Neither is web streaming or rehearsal recordings. Separate permission must be obtained for any of these copying and performance/distribution activities. And here are some of the specific limitations to keep in mind:

What You Cannot Do

Photocopy or duplicate octavos, cantatas, musicals, handbell music, keyboard arrangements, vocal scores, orchestrations, or other instrumental works.
  2. Translate songs into another language. This can only be done with the approval of the respective publisher.
  3. Rent, sell or lend copies made under the license to groups outside the church or to other churches. (It is OK to distribute recordings of the worship service to shut-ins, missionaries or others outside the church.)
  4. Assign or transfer the license to another church or group without CCLI’s approval.

I hope this clarifies what the CCLI license does and does not cover. If you have further questions, you may want to check out CCLI’s support page at Their FAQ/Knowledge Base section covers a wide range of common questions and copyright issues. Their SongSearch tool helps you determine if a certain song or copyright owner is covered under the license. Their Help Clip videos offer brief tutorials on various topics. You can also call us at 1-800-234-2446 and press ‘4’ for Customer Service. I have found the customer service representatives to be very helpful.

Further Clarification

The CCLI license permits the church to copy the lyrics, as well as the music, provided the following three points apply:

  1. The song is copyrighted by a publisher contracted with CCLI. To verify the song’s coverage, you may use “Song Search” located at:
  2. The purpose of making the copy is to assist the congregation in singing or to teach the congregation a new worship song. The license would include the worship leading of any ministry solely sponsored by this church. The license would not cover the permission to make copies for the choir, or any performing individual or group, to use while they are performing a special number.
  3. The lyrics and guitar chords may be copied from any source; however, the music may only be photocopied, or scanned, from congregational songbooks, such as Hymnals or Praise & Worship congregational books. It is not necessary to own these songbooks. Music from any type of an arrangement book (choral, solo, instrumental, Worship Leader/Team edition, Piano edition, etc) may not be duplicated.”

What It Costs

The annual fee varies for the Church Copyright License, depending on your church size. Church size is based on your regular attendance for your main service(s). If you have multiple services, use your combined attendance. Here is the chart of fees.

Next week, we will look at how you must notate the copyright and license information. This is an area that is very much out of compliance in the majority of churches I have visited.

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.


  1. Karleen

    For clarity, is it correct to say CCLl only covers worship/religious services, and not ministries (i.e. Bible Study, youth groups, men’s group, women’s group, adult groups, etc.) that meet weekly or regularly) at a church’s facility or satellite campus?

    • Kenny Lamm

      Any group that is having a time of worship at your church site falls under the CCLI license. Things such as music for exercise class, music on hold, music in the hallway, etc. would need a license from CCS.

  2. Laura

    In videoing our services, we are not using any slides of the words, just singing the song and the recording is on the altar area. Do we need to put a slide in showing the song and credits when there is no reference to song words? Our bulletin has both our license listed at the back of the bulletin. Each song printed in the bulletin coming from CCLI Song Select already conveniently has the license listed.

    • Kenny Lamm

      You do not need to create a slide with credits for the video in these circumstances.

  3. Laura

    Our Church is videoing our services and uploading to You Tube. If the organist plays a prelude/postlude are these pieces also needing of copyright permission and acknowledgment on our video?

  4. Suellen Barnes

    Our dance ministry is concerned about the copyright laws in regards to using worship music during our performances. Is the CCLI what we need or a different license?

    • Kenny Lamm

      If you are only using the dance ministry in worship services at your church, the CCLI license should cover your use of the songs from the publishers they cover. HOWEVER, the CCLI license only covers your worship services. If you are performing at other times or other venues, you will need a CCS PerformMusic license that can travel with you and is not limited to worship services. Click here for more information.

  5. Leah

    Hey Kenny! Do you know if it’s legal to create custom chord charts and vocal charts if you have a CCLI License? It seems as if it’s not legal by your explanation of what’s covered in the first section. Also, can you modify existing CCLI chord charts and vocal charts if you want to replace/add/take away the chords or parts written?

    • Kenny Lamm

      Hey Leah,
      Here is what CCLI says about altering the song:

      Song Editing
      The following activities are prohibited under the terms of the license agreement: altering or changing the lyrics, melody or fundamental character of any song covered under the Copyright License.

      With this in mind, I would think as long as you do not alter the lyrics, melody, or fundamental character of the song, you are covered. Generally, altering chords, would not seem to violate this.

  6. Ted Leber

    If I want to print 100 song books with 100 songs in each of them for 100 people to use, do I need a license for 100 or 10,000?

    • Kenny Lamm

      Your license is based solely on your average Sunday morning attendance. You will need to purchase a license in the tier that covers that number of people. Pricing information is shown here. Once you obtain the license, you can print the song books in a quantity not to exceed the size of the tier for which you are licensed.

  7. Jason Chollar

    There is a web streaming licence available too now!

    • Kenny Lamm

      Jason, Pretty exciting new license. I have featured that for several weeks in our weekly newsletter, Worship Notes for NC Baptists. I will probably be doing a post on it in the next few weeks. Thanks for sharing! It is certainly a great answer to a problem that has been plaguing worship ministries for some time.

  8. Chris L

    If you need licensing for secular songs or any songs not covered by the CCLI license, you can get that licensing at

    • Kenny Lamm

      Thanks for the information, Chris!

  9. Paul Marth

    Thanks Kenny. I would add two additional points. I understand it is legal to copy music if you have sufficient originals that were purchased. For example, lets say that I am doing a Christmas program and I am pulling music from a variety of cantatas done in the past for which I purchased enough copies for each choir member. I can legally copy an individual piece to avoid the choir holding several cantatas and destroy those after the presentation.
    Secondly, there is now a CCLI license which allows rehearsal demos for the choir or praise team. Cost is based on the estimated number of copies to be made over a 12 month period.

    • Kenny Lamm

      Paul, I am still researching your first point for a definitive legal answer. For sure copying music if you have sufficient originals satisfies the heart of the law in not avoiding the purchase of the music, but I cannot yet find it clearly shown in the letter of the law. One publisher I spoke with indicated they have no problem with that, but when asked if that is an industry-wide stance, things got muddier. I have calls in with several experts to see if I can get a clear answer on this. Thanks for asking a great question. Stay tuned…

      Also, I will be doing a post soon on the new rehearsal license from CCLI. A great product that has long been awaited.


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