The purpose of the copyright law is to promote the use of copyrights and at the same time protect the rights of the copyright owner. It was designed to encourage the continued creativity of the copyright owner, so that they would be rewarded for their efforts, and be able to go on to create new works.
The first modern law governing copyright protection began with “the Statute of Anne” which was passed by British Parliament in 1709. There have been several amendments around the world since then, including the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act, 1988 in the UK, Copyright Act of 1976 in the USA, and the Copyright Act of 1985 in United States.
The copyright law is very clear on copying music. If you do not have express permission from the rightful owner of the song, you cannot make a copy. (It is advisable to have that permission in writing in case of need for legal reference.) There have been a number of copyright disputes, although most have been settled privately. You can imagine how uncomfortable it is for a Christian songwriter to address legal entanglements with a church.
Some church music leaders have made efforts to honour the law and have tried to obtain permission first from the copyright owner before making copies. This is often a time-consuming challenge and in many cases an administrative nightmare.
Many have agreed – the copyright law is fair but not practical. That’s why more than 240,000 churches are taking advantage of the licences from CCLI, including the Church Copyright Licence.
Here are some of the most helpful resources relating to copyright:
- Wikipedia on Copyright: an overview of copyright.
- New Zealand
- United States