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Song words

Posted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:11 am
by Izzyd
I am a member of a group which is about to set up a community choir. What are the rules about photocopying song words, not music, for choir members?

Posted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 2:22 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Izzyd,

You don't mention if this is a secular choir, or what sort of music you intend to perform, or indeed the status of the choir itself, although I assume this is not intended to be a for-profit venture.

The first thing to say is that if the songs you want to perform are relatively modern (say twentieth or twentyfirst century) they will almost certainly be in copyright, meaning that you need a licence to perform the work in public. Beware that many websites which offer 'free' lyrics are actually infringing copyright and probably only get away with it because they are hosted in some hard to access jurisdiction, making it difficult to sue them.
Even if you have bought the lyrics in sheet form from the music publisher, it is unlikely that this will include the right to perform the song in publc unless this was specified at the time of purchase. And photocopying a legally purchased lyric sheet to distribute the songs to choir members would infringe copyright if done without permission, so you definitely need to get a licence to do that. But before doing so, it is worth checking to see if any of your songs may possibly be in the public domain. As an example, one such song, although I don't suppose you will be wanting to sing it, is The Wheels on The Bus, which is actually recognised as being in the public domain because its author is unknown and no-one has ever sought to claim any copyright.

If the music you intend to perform is largely religious then check out the CCLI website for details of how to licence such works. They also produce an excellent guide to a whole range of things to do with music and copyright (here in pdf format). Their SongSearch tool is also very useful.

For virtually any other songs, the first port of call should be PRSforMusic. In particular, check their list of activities which may not need payment in order to obtain a licence. And if a paid-for licence is required, see if you qualify for charity or community status, as this will reduce the cost compared to the more commercial use of music.