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 http://www.ccli.com/Support/. 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: http://www.ccli.com/usa/LicenseHolder/Search/
  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.