printed copies of words of hymns (church music)

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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printed copies of words of hymns (church music)

Post by LauraC »


Does anyone have any ideas about continuing use of printed copies of hymn words please? If the printed copies are produced during the term of a copyright licence to print them; can those copies then continue to be used after the licence has expired?

I have read (and I think understood) that the licence is required to reproduce the words, but cannot find any information on whether the same printed copies can then continue to be used.

Thank you for your help.
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Re: printed copies of words of hymns (church music)

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Laura,

Assuming that the words (lyrics?) are still protected by copyright when a licence ends, a new licence would not be required just to keep using the original printed copies, provided that the use is not for a commercial performance of the sacred music concerned. So for ordinary worship or choral practice it would be perfectly OK to carry on singing from the old hymn sheets. The licence was there to allow the copy to be made legally; subsequent use of that copy is not affected by the duration of the licence. However new copies should not be made to replace any which become too damaged to use.

If you feel you need to renew any licences, first check and make sure the copyright still applies to the particular hymns, as it would not be necessary to apply to renew the licence if the words have fallen out of copyright in the meantime. Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years from the end of the year he or she died. Thus if a hymn consists of music by one person and words by another, the two parts are likely to enter the public domain at different times.

The reason a commercial performance is treated differently is that the right to perform an song (including a hymn) is separate from the right to authorise copies to be made of the words (see section 19 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988). So, if a public performance for which an entry fee is charged is scheduled to take place after a licence has expired, a new licence would be needed for that purpose. Normal worship and choir practice etc is not considered a 'performance' under these circumstances.

Licences can either be renewed with the organisation which originally issued them, or you can use a specialist intermediary such as Christian Copyright Licensing International CCLI but if you use the latter make sure that you are on the UK version of their website as the detail of copyright law differs from country to country.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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