Copyright Matters

The following text is the version circulated, in booklet format, to each parish in the United Dioceses on 15th December 2020.

To obtain additional copy(ies) of the booklet, go to the Make a Payment page in the About Us Section.


Welcome to our copyright guidelines for parish churches. These guidelines are a good starting point for those who are becoming familiar with copyright law. We are confident that they will help parishes that wish to comply with their legal and moral obligations.

We recognise that responsibility for legal matters rests with members of Select Vestries as they are the charity trustees of each parish. In practice, the routine tasks required to comply with copyright law fall to those who prepare and lead music within churches. In this guide, we make recommendations for six people typically involved in the musical life of parishes: John (organist), Sarah (choir director), Martin (worship group leader), Rachel (Youth Leader), Cian (Parish Administrator) and Robert (Rector). We introduce each of them and share our advice to help them comply with copyright law. We recommend that the members of Select Vestries also become familiar with these recommendations so that they can provide appropriate resources and support to those who provide music in our churches.

We are musicians, not lawyers. We have focussed on the licences available for churches and the cover they provide. We do not claim to have addressed every eventuality. We recommend that you form your own opinion based on the reference material we link to. In Ireland, copyright law is contained in the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000. Some differences in copyright law will apply in other jurisdictions.

The executive committee of Church Music Dublin have produced these guidelines in response to a request from the Diocesan Communications Officer. They have been approved by the Diocesan Councils. I hope you will find these guidelines helpful and I commend them to you for use in your parish.

Jack Kinkead (The Rev’d)
Chairperson of Church Music Dublin
Rector of the parishes of Wicklow and Killiskey


Much of the music and texts used during church services is protected by copyright. For this reason, everyone involved with music in church should take time to gain a basic understanding of copyright law. With so much written about this subject, it can be difficult to know where to start. In these guidelines we describe six people representing those involved with music in church. We provide specific recommendations for each of them. If you identify with one or more, these recommendations will be a good starting point as they cover the most common aspects of these roles. You should also familiarise yourself with the other roles, as the tasks performed in one role may have an impact on the others. Select Vestry members should review all roles as this information will help you fulfil your responsibility to purchase the appropriate licences and encourage good practice.

There is a variety of licences available and the guidelines explain which licences are required for each scenario. Advice is also offered on how to avoid situations that would require the purchase of a licence. Inevitably, there is considerable emphasis on legalities and compliance. But as church musicians, our overarching concern must be to ensure that original creative work is valued, and that writers and composers receive reasonable financial reward for what they have given us to enjoy.

Basic Concepts

Before introducing our musicians, here are a few basic concepts about copyright:

Copyright is a right given to the creators of original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Copyright law protects the rights of the copyright owner. These protections restrict your ability to copy, perform, record or change a work without the permission of the copyright owner. Getting permission may involve paying a fee. For a more detailed description see About Copyright on the CCLI website.

When copyright expires, a work enters the public domain after which you may use the work without restriction. Several factors influence the timing of this. For a work to be in the public domain, at least 70 years must have elapsed since the death of the last surviving creator of the work. For the typographical arrangement (printed copy) at least 50 years must have elapsed since it was first published.

In return for a fee, licensing companies can handle the interaction with copyright owners on your behalf. The two most relevant to you are the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) and ONE LICENSE. They offer a variety of licences, each with their own terms and conditions.

Organist at a Traditional Church 

John is the organist at a traditional church. The hymns are selected from Church Hymnal, Fifth Edition (2000), and from Thanks & Praise (2015). Canticles are used on most Sundays, sung to a selection of chants that the congregation is familiar with. John plays a variety of organ voluntaries before and after services. The congregation uses hymn books and the Book of Common Prayer.

Our advice to John…

Hymn books re published for the purpose of being used in church and therefore the right to perform is included. The same can be said of books of organ voluntaries.

As both you and the congregation use hymnbooks, and services are neither broadcast nor recorded, you already fulfill your obligations under copyright law without the need to engage the services of a licensing company.

You may enjoy exploring the libraries of public domain sheet music that are now available online. The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) is a good place to start. You will find it’s a useful source of organ voluntaries that may be downloaded and printed for free. One example, on the website, is The Village Organist, edited by John Stainer. You may support the work of IMSLP by subscribing to the site.

If the situation in your church changes, you may have to make one adjustment to your routine. Once your church starts using printed service sheets or streams the services online, then it needs licences to cover these activities. In this case, your choice of hymns will be restricted to copyright material covered by those licences and of course any public domain material. Each licensing company provides a convenient website that allows you to check if a hymn is covered. Your church will be able to grant you access to these websites so that you can do these checks as you pick the hymns for each service.

Dear John, if you do only one thing...
Avoid photocopiers.

Choir Director

As part of her role as organist, Sarah directs the church choir. They meet weekly for choir practice. Their repertoire includes hymns and anthems. Each choir member has an anthem book, with some additional music bought individually.

Recently, Sarah has been making recordings of the choir parts and giving them to the choir so they can practise at home. This helps with the more ambitious anthems they perform at Christmas and Easter.

Our advice to Sarah…

Everything we’ve said to John also applies to you. In addition, it is important to note that anthems typically are not covered by the CCLI or ONE LICENSE licences. You should check their websites to verify if an individual anthem is covered. In the absence of a licence granting you permission to make your own copies, the sheet music for anthems must be purchased for each member of the choir.

If, on the other hand, you wish to copy music that is neither covered by licence nor in the public domain, you should write to the copyright holder, seeking permission to photocopy a specified number of that work for use by your choir. The copyright holder may charge you a fee. Some copyright holders provide online forms for requesting permission, for example, see the John Rutter website

Recording individual parts, teaching a song by ear, or transcribing an arrangement from a recording are all forms of copying. CCLI’s Music Reproduction Licence or ONE LICENSE’s Practice Track Licence may be appropriate for you. You should check to see which publications are covered by each one.

The ChoralWiki is an online library of public domain choral works. You may find public domain copies of the sheet music you require on that website. 

Dear Sarah, if you do only one thing...
Buy a copy for each choir member.

Worship Group Leader

Martin leads the worship group at his local church. They play a mixture of traditional and contemporary music. Sourcing the music involves buying a wide variety of books and also purchasing sheet music online. Not every group member has all the books, so members are inclined to share photocopies or write out chord sequences. Some arrangements are transcribed from commercial recordings to recreate parts or chord sequences that are not included in commercially available sheet music. The singers have collected all the lyrics to songs in their repertoire into folders.

Our advice to Martin…

Your group has adopted a few bad practices when it comes to copyrighted material. This is easily put right. Of all our musicians, you will benefit most from having access to the website for the licence company used by your church. We recommend you purchase a subscription to the SongSelect website that CCLI provides. It provides many useful resources including lyric sheets, sheet music and chords that can be transposed. Subscribing to SongSelect may eliminate the need to purchase sheet music from other sources. Providing your group members with access to this site will reduce the temptation to copy music. 

Your church must already have purchased the CCLI Church Copyright Licence for you to have access to SongSelect. In practice, the contemporary nature of your music requires the church to have such a licence in order to reproduce lyrics for the congregation. The ONE LICENSE website provides similar features. Depending on your choice of music, you may need both ONE LICENSE and CCLI.

If you still wish to photocopy music from some of your books, then the licences we recommended above to Sarah may be required

Dear Martin, if you do only one thing...
Use the licensing company resources.

Weddings, Concerts and Community Events

As church musicians, John, Sarah and Martin have all played for a variety of other occasions. Weddings may involve secular music in addition to the usual church repertoire. There may be a soloist, and the wedding is almost always recorded on video. The church is used for concerts from time to time and they have also played for events away from the church. 

Our advice to John, Sarah and Martin…

If you do only one thing, work within venues that comply with copyright law.Licences purchased by your church, such as CCLI’s, are for use during acts of worship. These licences also cover weddings in the church. However, it’s likely that some music requested by the happy couple will not be covered by the licences. Use the licensing companies’ website early on to check and set expectations. If a service is recorded, responsibility for complying with copyright rests with those making the recordings.

Activities in other venues are not covered by these licences. Neither are concerts, conferences and other events within the church. Do not rely on these licences when performing outside your normal church services. The usual practice in Ireland is for the venue to purchase the appropriate licence from IMRO. If your church positions itself as a venue for events and conferences, then it will need a licence. Activities outside of church services are beyond the scope of these guidelines.

Dear John, Sarah and Martin, if you do only one thing...
Work within venues that comply with copyright law.

Youth Leader

Rachel is a youth leader in the parish. As part of this work, she encourages the children to sing choruses. Rachel prefers to work with recorded music, the children react well to it and it creates a good atmosphere. She used to work with CDs, but now all the music is on her phone. Rachel would like to use YouTube videos with lyrics for family services in the church but realises that this is not permitted.

Our advice to Rachel…

You can use recorded music without infringing copyright, as part of private activities where no one profits financially. These restrictions should ensure that your church activities qualify under Section 98 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000. It states that ‘it is not an infringement of the copyright in a sound recording to play it as part of the private activities of or for the benefit of a club, society or other organisation’. A similar provision applies in UK law; CCLI UK tells us that music played during acts of worship in the UK does not require a licence, and this includes Sunday School run during the service.

Using music from a streaming provider is problematic. While the above statement in relation to copyright still stands, you may be in violation of the provider’s licence, which typically states that its scope covers personal and private activities only. Online services such as YouTube provide video as well as sound, and therefore Section 98 does not apply.  CCLI’s licence does not permit the showing of  YouTube ‘lyric videos’ in public and it recommends against doing so.

Do not use recorded music in church services that are streamed online or recorded. A service can hardly qualify as a ‘private activity’ (as mentioned in Section 98) if it is broadcast over the internet. Also, the CCLI streaming licence prohibits the use of artist or record label recordings of songs.

It is very easy to stray outside the terms of Section 98 and there are many church activities in which the use of recorded music will require a licence. CCLI describes some of these situations and states that it does not provide licences for commercially recorded music. Where such licences are required, your church may need to seek permission directly from IMRO and PPI.

In summary, the use of commercially recorded music is allowed in limited circumstances. However, your opportunities to use recorded music will become increasingly limited as more services are recorded or streamed online. The move online introduces a need for IMRO and PPI licences that churches do not typically purchase. We are left with the conclusion that your best strategy is to provide live music performed by your local musicians.

Dear Rachel, if you do only one thing...
Restrict your use of recorded music to private activities.

Parish Administrator  

As the parish administrator Cian is responsible for creating the printed service sheets. The order of service and the lyrics to all hymns and songs are included on the service sheets.

Cian is also responsible for keeping a record of music used by the parish. He reports the hymns used in worship by all members (even the Youth group) on the CCLI website. He reports hymns that have copyright with ONE LICENSE on a different system.

Our advice to Cian…

Copyright law and the licences your church has purchased place certain responsibilities on the church. Several of the day-to-day tasks required to meet these responsibilities fall to you. The creation of service sheets and reporting the usage of music are quite distinct roles and we’ll address them separately.

Service sheets: All hymns and songs should be acknowledged on the service sheets, including the song title, authors and copyright notice. CCLI provides the following example, One License has a similar requirement. Note that your licence number must appear on the service sheet. 

“Hallelujah” words and music by John Doe
© 2018 Good Music Co.
Used by Permission. CCLI Licence #12345

You are required to validate each song before making a copy on the service sheet. This is simply a matter of searching for the song on the licensing company’s website. The result will provide the text you need for the acknowledgement.

Your service sheets will also include extracts from the Book of Common Prayer and from the Bible. These extracts must also be acknowledged on each service sheet as shown below. See the Guidelines on Copyright on the Church of Ireland website for the full list of conditions.

Material in this service from
The Book of Common Prayer copyright © RCB 2004
Bible portions in this leaflet are from…

Report usage: Copyright law aims to ensure that those who create original work receive payment. This can happen only if you report those songs used in church. The licences your church has purchased place an obligation on the church to report the songs they use. The licensing companies’ websites provide convenient ways to do this. Once you get into the routine  of using these websites to get the lyrics and copyright statement for each hymn, you’ll find it convenient to report usage at the same time.

Parish website and emails: The Church Copyright Licence from CCLI grants you a licence to use the lyrics of certain songs on printed service sheets and projectors within the church. It does not permit you to distribute these service sheets electronically via email or on the website. Do not email service sheets if your church uses CCLI’s Church Copyright Licence only. A separate CCLI licence called the Music Reproduction Licence covers electronic copies, but seems targeted at musicians rather than the congregation. The Podcast Streaming Licence Bundle from ONE LICENSE covers the distribution of worship aids containing copyrighted music to remote congregants. If you use ONE LICENSE, then ensure you have the Podcast Streaming Licence Bundle. Do not put service sheets that include copyright material on your website, as neither ONE LICENSE nor CCLI offer a licence that permits this.

Dear Cian, if you do only one thing...
Fully acknowledge all copyrighted material.

The Rector

Robert is the rector in the parish. He has a keen interest in music and he works with his musicians to ensure that music is an integral part of church services. The closure of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to move services online. Robert tried a few online options: Zoom, Facebook streaming and even Vimeo. He encouraged his musicians to contribute music for these services. Some were pre-recorded: others performed live. In each case, the service remained available online for some time. These recent events prompted him to consider if these activities complied with copyright.

Our advice to Robert…

Robert, if you do only one thing, encourage all to comply with legal and moral obligations.As  you are responsible for what takes place during church services, you will want to ensure that all who lead worship comply with legal and moral obligations. To achieve this you will need a good understanding of copyright licences.

Prices vary depending on the size of your church and the duration of the licence. Even so, the cost can add up when purchasing several licences. Consider which licences are appropriate for your church and encourage everyone to live within the limits of those licences. Inevitably, this will lead to situations where you will decide not to use a certain song, hymn or piece of music at a church event. You will need to be sensitive when explaining the reasons for this to musicians. Both CCLI and ONE LICENSE provide separate lists of songs that are covered by their streaming licences. These may differ from the songs you are licensed to print on service sheets. 

Dear Robert, if you do only one thing...
Encourage all to comply with legal and moral obligations.


The introduction of service sheets heightened the need for copyright licensing in churches. Live streaming has further complicated the issue. Failure to include the appropriate copyright acknowledgements online and within service sheets can be a very prominent indication that a church does not comply with the law.

Do not be discouraged, complying with copyright law is relatively straightforward. It does require a little investment of time to become familiar with your obligations and the completion of some tasks on an ongoing basis. These tasks can easily become a routine part of your role within church life. It just takes a little willingness. As you plan your next steps, please consider these three things:

Some of these obligations may be difficult to fulfil or may conflict with each other. For example, the CCLI Streaming Licence permits you to make recordings of your services available on video sharing websites, but only on condition that the copyright owners have the right to monetise (i.e. earn revenue from) and place ads on videos containing their owned copyrights. However, the Church of Ireland strongly recommends that you use only advertisement–free hosting site. Alternatively, you could purchase the Podcast / Streaming Licence Bundle from ONE LICENSE which does not introduce a requirement to allow advertising. However, ONE LICENSE requires you to include your licence number in the credits at the end of the video. If you wish to avoid advertisers and you have difficulty adding credits to videos, then you should avoid leaving recordings of services online.

CCLI provides a helpful web page to get you started. Fill out the questionnaire in their Church Health Check and it will recommend the set of licenses needed for your church.

The health check is available here:

Credits and Links

The views expressed within the article were formed based on a review of material available on the following websites:

Licenses provided by these organisations are mentioned, but are beyond the scope of these guidelines:

The following websites are linked to as useful resources for church musicians:

The pictures used in this article were obtained from the following online photo libraries: