The Liturgy Office frequently receives questions concerning permissions to reproduce liturgical music for use in worship aids and liturgical programs. The following information outlines several principles and procedures having to do with music reproduction by parishes. Pastors and music directors are encouraged to contact the Liturgy Office with additional questions.
What is meant by copyright? “Copyright” is the legal protection of a creative work. Using a work without permission that is under copyright is against the law, and penalties can be financially severe. There is no exemption from copyright law for churches. Creative works are protected for 95 years (if published before 1978), or for the life of the creator of the work plus 70 years if published after January 1, 1978.
Why should a parish be concerned about reprinting copyrighted materials? Composers and arrangers rely on royalties for their income and publishers rely on sales. They cannot produce future resources without the money generated by the sale of their resources. “Churches and other institutions have a legal and moral obligation to seek proper permissions and to pay for reprinting of published works when required” (USCCB, Sing to the Lord, 105).
Is it always necessary to seek permission to use a copyrighted music and text? Whenever a copyrighted work is reproduced in any form, permission must be obtained. This applies to worship aids, bulletins, song books, handouts, and programs for special services, such as musicals, Christmas programs, and Lenten prayer services.
Where is copyright information indicated? Copyright information is frequently given at the bottom of the first page or in an index in the front or back of a hymn or song collection. If no copyright indication is present, the work may be in the public domain, but this should be confirmed with the publisher. Often, works in the public domain are indicated by the designation “P.D.”
What music licensing companies are available to churches? Permission to reproduce most liturgical music may be obtained through the following companies, each of which offers several options for the purchase of licenses (e.g., annual, event, single occasion):
In order to determine if a license will cover the use of a particular song, an online search should be performed on the respective company’s website. Note that, in individual instances, copyright permission may need to be obtained by contacting the individual who holds the copyright to an individual song, arrangement, or text. This contact information is usually found in the copyright holder’s index of a hymnal or online. Sample permission requests may be obtained from the Liturgy Office.
What is “Creative Commons”? This license allows material to be copied or reprinted as needed for worship without obtaining permission or using a copyright license. The only use for which permission is required is if the material is to be used commercially (i.e., sold). Attribution to authors and composers should still be given in worship aids and programs.
Is a license needed to reproduce only the words of a hymn? Hymn and song texts, as well as music, are protected under copyright laws. Additionally, copyrighted words cannot be modified without permission.
How should a worship aid or program be formatted to indicate that a license has been obtained? The specific formatting of worship aids and programs are directed by the company which grants the license. This formatting indicates that the music is being copied with permission.
How long should a parish keep a copy of a worship aid for which copyright permission has been obtained? A copy of a worship aid or program should be kept on file for at least three years.
May a parish use a music book specific to a year (e.g., Breaking Bread 2005) after the year indicated? In these cases, parishes pay a copyright fee to use those music books only for the intended year. After the indicated year has passed, the books must be discarded, and new music books should be purchased. Parishes who wish to use the same music book yearly should consider purchasing a hymnal and not an annual music book.
Where can a parish find out more information on copyright licensing? Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Liturgy Office.