Not under Grace But under Law


Copyright in the United Kingdom
The question of copyright used not to be a problem for the assembly; but it is now. Assemblies have a responsibility to make every endeavour to operate within the law of the land and this article seeks to clarify some aspects of copyright law in the United Kingdom.

Copyright law in the United Kingdom came into force in 1911 by the passing of The Copyright Act. The current Act is ‘The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988’ and this was amended in 2003. This Act protects literary works (books, magazines, hymnbooks, newsletters and articles); music (recordings and scores); sound recordings and films. ‘The Copyright Computer Programs Regulations 1992’ extends the law covering the above to include computer programs. Similar copyright laws are in force in most countries.

When is something Copyright and how long does it last?
A copyright situation occurs when an individual, a group of individuals, or a publishing business, creates a work which is original and exhibits a degree of labour or skill. The copyright belongs to the individual who created the work or if he is employed by a company to do such work then the copyright belongs to the company. In freelance work, like the articles in this magazine, the copyright belongs to the individual writer unless there is a contrary agreement with the publisher, Precious Seed.

The duration of copyright is defined in the Act as 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author of the work dies. For example, in this issue of the magazine I have written an article on Jonah, in July 2007. The copyright is mine. If I were to die in September 2027 (!) the article would still be protected by copyright until 31st December 2097. From 1st January 2098 the article would be in the Public Domain and could then be copied and reproduced freely. The idea to write such an article (hymn or poem) is not copyright but once it is published it is. This is: i) to stop others from publishing the same article under their name either exactly as it is or by making alterations to it; ii) to recognize the original author by mention of his name where parts of his work are mentioned by others; or iii) in some instances to reward the author financially by paying a royalty.

When does Copyright affect the local assembly?
In hymnbooks and chorus books each of the hymns is covered by its own separate copyright. The copyright owner is probably the author, if the hymn is not already in the Public Domain, (i.e., not protected by copyright), or if he is dead then his descendants or his Trust. Discovering this information can be something of a nightmare but the publisher of the hymnbook may be able to help, or he may not. The order of the hymns in the hymnbook is the copyright of the publisher who selected and printed them. The owning of hymnbooks by the assembly involves no copyright problems. However, should you wish to choose some hymns from your books, or other source, for a wedding order of service, or funeral hymnsheet, or to project the words or the music onto a screen, then you must have copyright permission from the owner of the copyright to do so, unless he or she has been dead for over 70 years. Not to do so is to break the law which is hardly a good way to start married life or to bury a saint! The same rules apply to copying hymns from various sources to compile your own assembly hymnbook, or parts of scripture for Bible study. The fact that the work may not have a copyright symbol is irrelevant.

Can we dodge the Copyright laws?
You might think, ‘Well, we are a small assembly and nobody will be any the wiser’. But beware; the Copyright Licensing Authority (CLA) has a compliance arm, called ‘Copywatch’, which seeks out and investigates copyright infringements and, where considers appropriate, takes legal action. Also, there is the Judgement Seat of Christ to remember!

Again, the playing of music at a wedding or funeral or making a video or recording of the event also brings the music under the protection of copyright law.

Are there are easier ways of keeping the laws than dodging them?
You can see that this whole thing is a minefield. How do you know if the author of the hymn or the music is alive or dead? Has he or she been dead for more than 70 years? Is the work in the Public Domain, or is it not? How do you get permission in time for that funeral in three days’ time? Even then, the words may be in the Public Domain but the music may still be protected by copyright. To do it yourself is virtually impossible. But do not despair, professional help is available, at a cost. In the secular field for example there is in the UK the CLA (Copyright Licensing Authority) providing a service and a licence covering a long list of authors and publishers. In the spiritual field there is CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) which is able to help. CCLI exists to support churches (and schools) through this copyright maze as a ‘one-stop’ copyright resource. As well as administering the Church Copyright License (reproduction of words) and the Music Reproduction Licence (music photocopying) it also administers a range of ‘secular’ licences for music performance, recordings, film shows, and more … but how, and for how much?

How do we count the cost and work with CCLI?
CCLI will not cover all publishers and authors but they claim to cover most (around 1200 catalogues of music including approximately 250,000 hymns and worship songs). They offer various approved licences to cover different situations. Each year CCLI issues over 86,000 licences to churches, schools and organisations. As an example if you want to reproduce or project words only onto a screen at your Sunday School or service you should have the basic CCL Licence. If your normal congregation is 1-14 people it will cost you £32 per year; or for up to 50 people it will cost £52 per year including VAT and a small service fee. For photocopying music from authorised music publications you will need the MRL licence. This is packaged with the CCL license and the combined licence will cost £51 (for 1-14 people) or £74 (for 15-49 people). For up to 250 persons the combined annual licence will cost £231. The fees collected by CCLI for the licenses is then, after deductions for expenses and profit, distributed to the copyright holders as agreed by them.

Should you wish to play music from a sound system CCLI administer the Performing Rights Society (PRS) Church Licence. For the playing of film clips or videos for entertainment or teaching purposes a church would require a Church Video Licence (CVL). The photocopying of non-music publications for teaching or research requires the cover of a Copyright Licencing Agency (CLA) Church licence. Lastly, the recording of music from services for sale to the general public requires the cover of a Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) licence. All of these licences are administered by CCLI as they act under their banner of the ‘one-stop-shop’ copyright resource to churches.

Copyright and the Bible text
On a different matter concerning copyright, the Bible itself is protected by copyright. While you may reproduce the text of the Authorised Version of the Bible in notes or on screen without restriction, as the rights are invested in the Crown Copyright Service, there are restrictions about doing so with all other versions. Often a specific form of words needs to be attached to your reproduction. You should consult the publisher (or his website) of the particular Bible version before reproducing anything so as to check out the copyright permission requirements. Many versions allow a certain number of verses to be reproduced before copyright permission becomes necessary. But remember that even with all versions, including the AV, you may copy out the words but if you want to reproduce a page of the text as published the layout and design of the page are protected by the publisher’s copyright!

Of course, in an article such as this it is possible only to provide outline guidance and you should get in touch with CCLI for further information as to the licences you need and the cost. You may ask them to do a (free) copyright health check for you to help you get the right licences. You will find the following contact details useful: CCLI, Chantry House, 22 Upperton Road, Eastbourne BN21 1BF. Telephone 01323 436103, or visit the website

Note For overseas readers:
CCLI have offices in USA, Canada, Africa, throughout Europe and in the Far East and Australia. You can fiind details of your nearest office at


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