How would you feel if I told you that you and your were breaking the law right now? And then how would you feel if I quoted a verse like Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Such a guilt-trip isn’t necessary. But let’s face it; a lot of churches are probably a little confused over the legal issues surrounding music and media.

Such legal issues are very complex. Sharefaith is not a group of lawyers, nor are we authorized to practice law or give legal advice. However, it might help to provide a few did-you-know-that? bits of advice in order to help you avoid breaking the law—confusing as it is. Here are three of the most common areas of offense—and how to avoid them.

Making photocopies for the choir

  • Music Pastor Moe was a great choir director. Since sheet music is so expensive, he simply bought one choral book and made copies of the song to distribute to his choir each week. Of course, the book had a copyright symbol and information, but Pastor Moe just wasn’t sure what the issue was.
  • Unfortunately, Music Pastor Moe is breaking the law. He must first request permission from the book publisher before he walks to the Xerox machine. The better option is to buy books for every member of the choir.

Projecting song lyrics on the screen

  • Faith Community Church just bought a projector for their worship services. They were now going high-tech and projecting the song lyrics onto a screen. Before the service, one of the pastors would just Google the lyrics and copy/past them into a powerpoint. Very easy. The people loved it, and it really improved their singing.
  • Whoops. If the song is copyrighted, then it cannot even be displayed on a screen without proper permission. The way to obtain permission for a wide variety of music issues is to register with Christian Copyright Licensing International, which “provide[s] churches with simple, affordable solutions to complex copyright issues.” They will issue a CCLI#, which you can place on the screen with the song title/lyrics, thus legalizing your display of copyrighted song lyrics.

Making recordings of the worship

  • First Baptist Church had a vibrant worship service. The people were so moved by the experience, that they started asking for recordings so that they could listen to the songs during the week. The media director started making recordings of the 30-minute worship time and made CDs to give to people who asked. Obviously, he wasn’t selling them for money or anything, so he assumed it was okay.
  • Well, it’s not okay. Actually, First Baptist Church was in violation of the copyright law. Again, what is necessary is to obtain a CCLI license, which allows a specific limited number of recordings of worship services. Anything beyond this needs to be approved by the copyright owner.

Copyright laws are exasperatingly complex. It can be frustrating to realize that there are copyright laws you didn’t even know about. Won’t this cramp your style? Won’t this limit spontaneity and Spirit-leading? Won’t this cost your church too much money? Realize that in this area, we are under obligation to do as Jesus did—to respect our civil authorities and obey them insofar as biblically permissible. For a church to knowingly violate the law is neither profitable for spiritual growth nor for a good testimony in the world.

Here are some additional helpful links:


FAQ from CCLI:

FAQ from the Music Publisher’s Association:

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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