Here are a few tips to help you when working with copyrighted music.

Who owns the right to copy music?

The publishing company owns the copyright to their music. By purchasing music, customers purchase a copy of the music, not the copyright itself. Each time a person purchases music, sales go to both the writer of the music and the publisher; this is how they earn their living. Copying music without permission (even if you vow to destroy evidence) is stealing someone else’s property.

Just ask for permission.

You must get permission to:

• Make copies of copyrighted music for incidental use in Church or at home.
• Print songbooks or song sheets containing copyrighted music or lyrics and use them for Young Women groups or for camp.
• Make a transparency or slide of a copyrighted work for use on a projector.
• Make a photocopy of a copyrighted work for the accompanist in order to sing a solo.
• Make videos of worship services or special musical presentations, such as youth, children’s, or holiday presentations.

Permission must be secured prior to any such uses or duplications.

Get rid of photocopies that are already in use.

Destroy any unauthorized photocopies and replace them with legal editions. Possession of illegal copies puts you in position of harboring stolen goods.

Find the owner of a copyrighted song.

Not knowing the owner of the copyright does not give you right to copy the music anyway. Check the copyright notice on the work and/or check with the publisher of the collection. (The Internet is a great resource.)

Contact the copyright owner about music that is "out of print".

Do not rely on information from anyone other than the copyright holder (including music dealers) as to whether the piece is actually out of print. The publisher (or copyright holder) is the only one who can declare the music “out of print.” You must receive permission from the publisher to duplicate the music. We are happy to issue you a license to copy, the small fee to pay the original writers of the music, and authorized stickers to put on each copy you print.

No time to place an order?

Always contact the publisher for any special situations. Some publishers routinely grant permissions over the phone. Think of copyrighted music as a piece of property, and you’ll be on the right track.

Performing copyrighted music at church functions.

It is perfectly fine to perform copyrighted music, as long as you have paid for all the copies you have used for both practice and performance.

Making recordings of copyrighted songs.

For recordings, the publisher (or copyright owner) may grant you permission and issue you a Mechanical License. This includes a written permission and a fee applied per song per CD or digital download (DPD). Mechanical Licenses are required for all recordings, including for church services, concerts, musicals, and practice CDs.

The Harry Fox Agency, Inc. defines mechanical licenses this way:

What is a mechanical license?"A mechanical license grants the rights to reproduce and distribute copyrighted musical compositions to the public for private use. These rights allow the use of musical compositions on CDs, records, tapes, and certain digital configurations.
Why do I need one?
Mechanical licenses are required under U.S. Copyright Law if you want to duplicate and distribute a recording of a song that is owned by someone else. Reputable replicators and online music sites require copies of licenses before duplicating recordings or offering them online.
In order for the publisher, and ultimately, the songwriter, to be compensated, proper licensing is a must. However, you do not need a mechanical license if you are recording and distributing a song you wrote yourself or if the song is in the public domain. To find out if a song is in the public domain, you can contact to U.S. Copyright Office. A list of songs in the public domain can also be found at"


Music in the "public domain".

If a song is older than one hundred years, and the copyright protection has expired, then it becomes “public domain.” It is free to sing or copy without any permission required. (Remember to check the copyright associated with the public domain piece. Sometimes a particular arrangement with an older melody is still protected by copyright.)

Applying the term "Fair Use".

“Fair Use” is established by statute and interpreted by the court, permitting portions of copyrighted works to be legally reproduced for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, classroom teaching, scholarship, and research. “Fair use” is not generally available to churches, and in no instance applies to performance.

Penalties associated with Copyright Law violation.

The law provides for the copyright owner to recover damages for unauthorized use, including the profits of the infringer and statutory damages ranging from $250 to $100,000 per infringement. In addition, prison terms are provided for willful and commercial infringement.

Remember that churches, schools, and non-profit organizations can be infringers too! In fact, some stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been found guilty of copyright abuse and have been subject to much embarrassment and penalty.

Photocopiers who don't get caught.

Illegal copying does not just affect the offender. Composers, arrangers, publishers, and dealers are losing a large percentage of their income because of illegal photocopying. This loss of revenue ultimately means that less and less printed music is available for sale; short print runs means higher prices for what is available; and dealers are no longer able to afford to carry large stocks of sheet music.

Thank you for being honest!

We know that the vast majority of people are striving to live honest lives. Consider yourself informed and know that we so appreciate your honesty and integrity.

Learn more about copyright law at