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    A View from the Pew

    Singing Justly, Living Justly: Copyright Law

    We live in a peculiar age where litigation looms like a creeping mist that surrounds even those with the best of intentions. Pastoral musicians and ecclesial ministers always want to do the right thing. Sometimes doing the right thing means taking the time to read the fine print in the contracts we sign so that we can stay within legal boundaries and continue our pastoral work on behalf of God’s people justly, with honesty and integrity.  

    Within the past two weeks, three different questions regarding copyright law and music usages occurred. I always find practical knowledge helpful, so this week, I will address copyright law with regard to annual musical worship aids and worship aids published by a parish or diocese.

    Do I have to replace my annual music worship aids every year? Yes. When you pay for a subscription, the terms of use require that you disposal of the annual (key word) hymnals and renew with new ones each year. The subscription contributes to just royalty payments for composers and copyright holders for that one year of use only. Recycle the old; buy new.

    My books are in great shape. Can I get a license to use them for another year? No. Licenses may not be obtained to continue the use of outdated materials.

    Suppose my parish cannot afford new hymnals each year? Consider no worship aid in the pews. Would your community notice the absence of their annual worship aids on Sunday morning or for major celebrations? Might they consider donating anything they could offer, great or small, to restore the worship aids into the pews?

    Can I print just the lyrics in a program? No. You must provide the entire piece of music, which includes the composer, copyright holder and title of the song. On line programs such as Print and Praise (OCP), Hymnprint (GIA) and Click and Print (WLP) all provide online and downloadable resources in Tif, Gif and PDF formats. You may subscribe yearly for access to any of these resources or purchase single editions for one time usage.  

    Do I need to buy a license to print these songs in a worship aid in addition to the purchase of the piece? Yes. Copyright law requires a license to gain permission to publish your own worship aid. Licensing, OneLicense, World Library Reprint License (see websites below) all offer license assistance.

    Do I report usage for the hymns I use in a worship aid? Yes. Under the terms of all licenses, Reporting hymn usage informs the companies so that composers and authors are compensated fairly. How can we sing justice if we do not live justly?

    How can I find out more about copyright issues? For more information regarding copyright law and annual or self published worship aids, go to,, and These websites offer valuable, practical information regarding copyright law, usage, permissions and pricing.

    For inspiration, you might want to read my article If You Want to Sing Justice, Live Justly from National Association of Pastoral Musician’s Pastoral Music Magazine, August-September 2003, Volume 27: 6. © 2003. Reprinted with Permission.