© Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
All content of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Web site is copyrighted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This includes all text, images, artwork, illustrations, photos, logos and multimedia presentations, except where otherwise noted.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides artwork, symbols, seals, logos and photos to PC(USA) governing bodies and local congregations to support their mission and ministries. PC(USA) governing bodies and local congregations are welcome to use these materials without further permission or license.
All others may use any material for personal use. Any other use of content requires prior permission of the author or owner. Email or call the appropriate organization or person to request permission. All pages have contact information.
Read more about copyright
Copyright and Trademark
A copyright is a property right under federal law protecting original works of authorship fixed in tangible medium of expression sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated. Works of authorship include: literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. Computer programs, lyrics, music, and videos are also included.
Federal copyright law does not protect an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated or embodied in such work.
The owner of a copyright is the author unless the work is prepared by an employee or by an independent contractor as a work made for hire. Where a work is created by an employee, the employer is the copyright owner. Where the work is created by an independent contractor as a work made for hire, the person or company that hired the independent contractor is typically the copyright owner.
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to do the following:
- reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
- prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work (a derivative work is one based upon one or more pre-existing works; for example, the update to an existing book would be a derivative work);
- distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease or lending;
- in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, motion picture, and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
- in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pantomime, pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works (including images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work), to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
- in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
For churches, the majority of questions involve copying music from hymnals or sheet music and taping services for shut-ins. The Religious Services Exemption contained in the U.S. copyright law exempts from copyright infringement performance of nondramatic literary or musical works or of dramatico-musical works of a religious nature, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly. This exemption does not extend to copying the music or to audio or video taping of the performance.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976 the copyright owner has the exclusive right to copy or reproduce a musical work. If a church purchases sheet music or hymnals, that purchase alone does not authorize the church to make copies or transparencies of the sheet music or songs from the hymnals. This applies to the lyrics as well as the music. The only exceptions are (1) music that is in public domain (no longer copyrighted) may be copied; and (2) music may be copied in an emergency situation to replace purchased copies that are not available for an imminent performance provided the church replaces the copies with purchased copies, see The Church Guide to Copyright Law. This excellent resource is available for $14.95 from Christian Ministry Resources (800)222-1840. Public domain music is that which has either lost its copyright protection or was never protected by copyright. It is important to note that the absence of a copyright notice © does not mean a work is in the public domain.
In the Presbyterian Hymnal, copyright ownership can be determined by looking at the bottom of the first page of each hymn. If the bottom of the page contains no copyright/ownership information, one can assume this version of the hymn is in the public domain and can be freely used. If copyright ownership does appear at the bottom of the page, the work is not in the public domain and permission to copy or tape is necessary. For further information about the copyright ownership of various hymns in the Presbyterian Hymnal, please contact the Rights & Permissions Manager for the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation at (800)728-7228 ext. 5034.
A word on music on the Internet — uploading or downloading music from the Internet without authorization from the copyright owner or authorized distributor is a violation of copyright because it results in an unauthorized copy. Consider posting notices to this effect near computers and include it in the Internet policy section of the employee handbook.
As noted above, under federal copyright law, a copyright owner has the exclusive right to: reproduce, prepare derivative works (make changes), distribute copies, publicly perform, and publicly display the copyrighted work.
The religious services exemption in the copyright law permits the performance by the congregation and choir of these hymns in the course of the worship services, but the exemption does not extend to taping the performance. Taping or transmitting a live performance without permission or license is copyright infringement because it constitutes making a copy and distributing it without the owner's prior consent.
If the church wants to tape copyright music for shut-ins, the options set out in Richard Hammar's The Church Guide to Copyright Law are: obtain permission from copyright owners; avoid the use of copyrighted music; turn off the recording device when copyrighted music is being performed; "splice in" prerecorded public domain musical works that were previously sung by the church choir; obtain a compulsory license; or enter into a "blanket license agreement."
The compulsory license process is cumbersome and not recommended. For information about blanket licenses, contact Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. of Portland, Oregon (503)257-2230, and EMI Christian Music Publishing (formerly Sparrow Corporation) of Brentwood, Tennessee (615)371-6800; these companies can provide information about blanket licenses, fees and the list of songs in their repertories. Make clear that your church wants the right to tape and make copies of these tapes to be distributed to shut-ins. Please make certain you carefully consider all the uses of the music you want to make and communicate that to the licensing corporation so the license will cover all your intended uses.
If these licenses prove too expensive for the church, the only options, as noted above, are not to tape the copyrighted music performed, use only public domain music in the service to be taped, or stop the recorder during the performance of copyrighted music and splice in public domain music. Again, the church does not have to obtain permission to tape or copy public domain music.
Also, for hymns projected or broadcast onto screens in the course of a service, the right to make copies for the purpose of preparing overhead transparencies is not given to the church when it buys hymnals. The copyright owner retains the right to make these types of copies. If the church wants to make these kind of copies, it must obtain written permission from the copyright owner or obtain a license that permits such use.
Copyright infringement is serious. It can result in significant civil damages, injunction, and/or criminal penalties. As an example, willful infringement can result in statutory damages of up to $100,000. The infringer may also be liable for attorneys' fees and costs. There are companies that act as agents for the copyright owners. These companies have employees that spend their time traveling the country to discover unauthorized use and collect license fees, so proceeding without permission or license is both unwise and illegal.
Renting a video tape for in-home viewing (the typical video store tape) is not a license for public viewing such as viewing in Sunday worship services, youth group or small church group meetings or retreats. Certain distributors of religious videos may include a license for public viewing. If the video is labeled "For In-Home Viewing," public viewing is not permitted.
- Church Music Publishers Association (answers to common copyright questions)
- United States Copyright Office
- Augsburg Fortress Copyrights & Permissions (Guide to copyright law by the the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
- The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (information about the use of videos. See, in particular, the very helpful questions and answers in the FAQ section.)