Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fair Use of Intellectual Property in Faith Communities

The first encounter that I had with creative licenses was back in College when I was on Chapel Staff.  We would plan worship and use the Chapel's CCLI  (Christian Copyright Licensing International) account to select songs.  Many faith communities prefer to do this because it takes away the administrative nightmare of obtaining usage rights.  I did a little research on this, and the licensing fee is $261 for a basic license for a congregation between 200-500 people.  It goes up quickly from there.  This must be renewed on an annual basis.  In congregations with tight budgets, this is an expense that probably is considered frivolous.

In traditional Lutheran Congregations, we do not spend much time thinking about creative use because we have hymnals in which all the legal legwork has already been done for us.  But faith communities that want to reframe how worship is done together need to be aware of the potential ethical and legal implications.  Artists/Composers deserve to be fairly compensated for their creative contributions.  It is their life's work and livelihood and I don't think anyone would argue that point.

There are a variety of copyright issues at play, no doubt compounded by our culture's litigious attitude.  Americans (or westerners in general) believe they have a God-given right to financial compensation if they suffer any losses or potential losses.  Fair use refers to the use of copyrighted material without permission under some circumstances, especially when the social benefits of the specific use are predominant.  It is debatable as to whether or not worship resources fall under fair use.  In the digital context, the potential for improper dissemination of intellectual property is far greater than a music director copying hymn sheets in the church office.  We literally cannot afford to be sloppy in citing where we obtain our music/photographs/ etc.  So we need to do everything in our power to properly obtain usage rights and sometimes that means purchasing a CCLI (or similar) license.  

But better yet, why don't congregations encourage their members to make their own creative contributions?  My home congregation in Denver has several professional photographers who use their gifts for publicity, graphic designers who made the church logo and publications, and other artists who contribute their gifts as a tithe to the church or for a very nominal fee.  My teaching congregation here in St Paul has set aside a line item in the budget to support artists in residence who sign up to coordinate worship music for an entire liturgical season and are compensated for original songs that they compose for the worshipping community.  The Church of the Beloved in Edmunds, WA has produced their own  musical album with worship resources, which is fantastic and nurtures the gifts of their own members.


Mary Hess said...

Yes! And check out this huge songbook of original liturgical songs that Nate Houge generously put up at

AMY HANSON said...

And starting today, Humble Walk is launching a kickstarter campaign,,

to make a recording of all our original songs from the past year with the intent of distributing this resource at no cost to our mission partners and the larger church.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful idea to bring the congregation into the creative process. This might not be quite as feasible in a small congregation. I thought that as long as a song was in the hymnal, you could reproduce it in your bulletin… I found out I was totally wrong about that. Some of the hymns in the ELW are covered by a different license, so you are not allowed to make copies. Sometimes, we just put the lyrics in the bulletin without the music, and I'm not sure that was "by the book" legal. So - using the hymnal seems the easiest way to go. I've performed several songs in worship with my son, and I now wonder if we had the permissions or credited the creators as we should have. I remember someone putting together a promotional video clip for an upcoming event, and used the Star Wars theme music (and the scrolling print stye) and showed it at synod assembly. A person sitting next to me said … "Hmm, wonder if he got the rights to use that music?" Never occurred to me that it could be a copyright violation…

I'm counting on someone in my congregation to be the copyright and publication "expert" - or on the other hand, we could all learn about it together, and underscore the doctrine of vocation at the same time.