Copyright (home)Copyright basicsFAQMusicLinksSeeking permission (online form)

Do churches and other nonprofit organizations need permission to use copyrighted works?

Yes. Words, music, and other copyrighted materials are owned properties just as merchandise in a store is. Those who create the copyrighted materials labor to produce them, just as a carpenter might labor to produce a piece of furniture. It is erroneous to think that just because music, curriculum, or books are created for the glory of God, they ought to be free.

May I copy hymns or worship resources from Hymnal: A Worship Book?

No. Not without getting permission from Brethren Press or other copyright owners. Permissions for hymns and worship resources were granted for use in the hymnal only. Therefore, Brethren Press can grant permission only for those works owned by Brethren Press, the Church of the Brethren, and the Hymnal Project. We cannot give permission for you to use music or resources belonging to someone else. An index of copyright holders is provided along with contact information in the back of the hymnal on page 862. Feel free to contact Brethren Press should you have any questions.

If a hymn or worship resource is not listed in the contact information in the back of the hymnal, it means that the work is in the public domain.

May I copy hymns from the Hymnal Supplement?

No. Here again permission was granted to Brethren Press to reprint hymns in the Hymnal Supplements only. Therefore, Brethren Press can grant permission for works owned by Brethren Press and Church of the Brethren General Board. We cannot give permission for you to use hymns belonging to someone else. In the Acknowledgments section of the series, an index of copyright holders is provided.

Since we are a nonprofit, religious organization, and would not be using the material for a commercial purpose, wouldn’t it be “fair use”?

“Fair use” is a defense to a claim of copyright infringement. There are no definitive rules about what facts will make for a successful fair use defense. The commercial versus noncommercial purpose of the copying is one factor. Other factors include the amount of the whole that is taken, and whether the taking has an impact on the owner’s financial benefit from the work. Although your use is a noncommercial one, the material you take is likely suitable primarily for just such noncommercial purposes. Since the creator of that material is likely making a living by writing, composing music, or creating art, your use of the material without compensating the owner may not be considered a fair one.

I am a frequent soloist for our worship services. May I make a copy of my music for my accompanist or the group that sometimes accompanies me?

No. Not without getting permission.

How can I get the most up-to-date list of copyright holder contact information?

The copyright information in both Hymnal: A Worship Book and the Hymnal Supplement was current at the time they were published, but changes frequently. Contact Brethren Press for the most up-to-date information. Visit the copyright helpful links page for a list of commonly requested publishing companies.

We want to use a hymn that is not in our hymnal. May we make copies and insert them in our worship bulletin for just one Sunday?

Not without permission, unless you are certain that the hymn is in the public domain. If your church regularly reprints copyrighted music on a one-time basis, you may wish to subscribe to a licensing service. These are organizations that grant blanket licenses permitting congregations to reprint certain congregationally sung music. Church Music Publishers Association (CMPA) is willing to help with copyright questions and will provide you with the CMPA Copyright Holders and Publishers List. 

CMPA endorses Church Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), an organization that for an annual fee will grant blanket permission to reprint a certain number of hymns for congregational use without seeking permission each time. Not all song publishers participate in this service. Brethren Press/Church of the Brethren does not.

I know the law says we can’t photocopy someone else’s music or worship resources without permission, but is it okay to project them on a screen?

No. Not without getting permission from the copyright holder.

We will be having a church picnic in a nearby forest preserve. Is it okay to make copies of the hymns we are planning to sing so that we don’t have to pack up our hymnals and haul them to the picnic?

The copyright law says that you must request permission to make copies of copyrighted material. However, it is the policy of Brethren Press to permit you to make copies of hymns and worship resources owned (copyrighted) by Brethren Press, the General Board, or the Hymnal Project without seeking permission, if you own enough hymnals for your congregation and if you destroy the copies once the event is over. However, you must obtain permission from all other copyright holders. The fact that you own copies of the hymnal may affect how much the copyright holder charges (if anything), but you are obligated to seek permission.

Is it necessary to request permission to reproduce the Church of the Brethren logo?

The Church of the Brethren logo is available for use by congregations and districts of the Church of the Brethren. It may also be used by other agencies related to the Church of the Brethren upon clearance with the Communication Team. An important requirement is that users respect the integrity of the design by adhering to the specifications of type, layout, and color. Guidelines for logo use are available from Brethren Press.  

If a book is out of print, does that mean I may make a copy of it?

No. Just because a book is out of print does not mean it is in the public domain, unless it was published before 1923. You still need to get permission from the copyright owner. There are also a couple of other options. Occasionally the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) receives extra copies when a Brethren Press book goes out of print; these copies may be available for sale, though no official list of books exists. You may contact BHLA (Phone: 800-323-8039, x368) and the staff will try to locate the book.

We originally bought enough copies of the student piece for our Sunday school class, but we now have three new students. May we make copies of the individual lessons for these new students?

No. When publishing houses such as Brethren Press produce curriculum, we pay writers and artists and musicians to create the material. We calculate the total cost of development and printing, estimate the number of congregations that will buy it, and set a fair price that is based on actual costs and number of copies printed. When congregations buy only part of the materials and then make photocopies, Brethren Press loses money on the product. This means we have fewer resources for publishing new products and curriculum that help us better understand who we are in the Church of the Brethren.

There’s also a practical side to the issue. Photocopying can cost as much or more than simply buying the product outright. While there’s no coin slot on the church copy machine, every copy costs the church money—in toner, paper, and maintenance. For example, a photocopy of a Covenant Bible Study book costs almost exactly the same as the purchase price, $7.95 (but won’t look nearly as good on a library bookshelf).

I found a great image on the Internet that would be perfect in our newsletter. I didn’t see a copyright notice. Does that mean I may use it?

Unless the image is accompanied by a statement explicitly permitting users to copy and use it, you may not do so. It is not safe to assume that you may copy or use something just because it appears on the Internet. Material published on the Internet or in any electronic form is covered by the same copyright regulations as printed material. Unless a work published in digital form is old enough to be beyond the copyright term of protection, it may not be used or adapted without the express permission of the copyright owner.

May I tape a worship service or conference?

No. It is not permissible to tape a worship service or conference that includes copyrighted music or worship resources without receiving permission from creators of works used in the service. By purchasing music or scripts for each participant, performance in worship is permissible, but recording of that performance is not.

For a number of years we have been making two or three tapes of our worship services and taking them to our homebound members. Have we been breaking the law?

You may not make a video or audio recording of worship services that include copyrighted music and resources without first acquiring permission to do so. The safest course of action would be to only record the portions of the service that are not protected by copyright, or to obtain a license or permission for this type of use from the owner of the rights.

We want to make up a little booklet of our favorite hymns that we used to sing from The Brethren Hymnal and The Brethren Songbook. We just want to make enough copies for our worship and small group meetings. What do we need to do?

Many old favorites are old enough to be in the public domain. They must have been published before 1923 for you to be sure they are not protected by copyright. If you are certain that a hymn is in the public domain, you may include it in your hymnal without further ado. For any other hymns, you must determine their copyright status and seek permission.

We want to reprint an article from Messenger magazine in our monthly newsletter. Do we need to get permission?

Yes. You may do so by contacting the Messenger office (Phone: 800-323-8039, x327).

Can we show videotapes at our youth group lock-ins and church retreats?

This particular use is defined as a “public performance” and is prohibited by law. Videos commonly available in rental stores are specifically for “home use” only. But if you are using the video as a teaching tool in a face-to-face teaching activity, then it is permissible.

Individual churches may purchase a video license similar to the CCLI license for music from Church Video License (CVLI).

A bride gave us a photograph from her wedding at our church to use on our website. Since we have us her permission, it is okay to use it, right?

Having the permission of the couple is not sufficient; you also need to either confirm that the bride was granted the right to reproduce the photograph digitally worldwide by the photographer, or seek the photographer’s permission directly. Otherwise, posting the photograph would infringe the photographer’s copyright. 

What if I don’t know how to contact a copyright holder?

First try to contact the company that published the piece. Be sure to have the creator’s name and the date of publication in hand when you call. If the publisher does not administer the copyright, they may be able to direct you to the creator or administrator of the rights. If you are stumped, you may contact Brethren Press. If we do not have the necessary information, the staff at your public library, bookstore, or music store may be able to help you. See the helpful links page for additional information.  

If you cannot locate the owner of the rights, do not use the work.

If a copyright holder does not respond to my permission request, can I assume that he or she doesn’t care if I use their work?

No. You can try another avenue to reach them, but if you still don’t succeed, you have to give up on the idea.