Why copyright matters

Is your church setting a moral and legal example in its use of copyright material? We look at the options available to help ensure you’re covered.

With churches increasingly using multimedia technology, such as computer projection in their worship, and music and video in their outreach and social activities, understanding the copyright implications can be a significant challenge.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides copyright owners with economic and moral rights in their work. These protect them against unauthorised changes, and means they are entitled to be paid when their work is used by others. There is the potential for heavy fines for copyright infringement, as a church in the UK recently discovered when they published a poem online without permission from the publisher.

Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) exists to support the Church in this area, providing licences tailored for churches on behalf of song owners and other copyright agencies. Where CCLI can’t help, they usually know who can. With their help, we’ve looked at the common areas of church life where copyright should be a consideration.

Projecting or reproducing song words

Many churches now project song words or create their own service sheets. The Church Copyright Licence (CCL) from CCLI permits you to legally reproduce/project the words and music to most hymns and worship songs. This licence also allows you to audio/video record services as a keepsake, or for those unable to attend.

A supplement to the CCL, the Music Reproduction Licence (MRL), permits churches to photocopy or scan from music publications, or distribute digital sheet music files to musicians and singers (eg. by email, using apps such as DropBox or via a network of screens).

Playing and performing music

Music played or performed within Acts of Worship (eg. regular services) or weddings/funerals does not currently require the cover of a performance licence. However, playing music for entertainment or ambiance in activities, such as youth clubs, coffee mornings, socials and outreach events, does require permission. As an agent for PRS for Music and PPL, CCLI offers two licences that permit music to be played on church premises. The PRS for Music Church Licence allows you to hold up to six live concerts/recitals per year. When playing commercial music recordings (such as CDs or MP3s), both a PRS for Music Church Licence and the PPL Church Licence are required, as each licence covers different rights within a recorded work.

If you record services during which music recordings are played (known as dubbing), or if you wish to record and distribute copies of a wedding or concert, you may require a Limited Manufacture Licence directly from PRS for Music: prsformusic.com/lm.

Showing films and TV programmes

Showing films is a great way to bring teaching to life or to engage with those outside the church in a culturally relevant way. With CCLI’s Church Video Licence (CVL), you can show films from most of the top studios/producers. You’ll also require a PRS for Music licence to cover the soundtrack for films shown outside of Acts of Worship. To show a TV broadcast, you’ll need a standard TV Licence plus both the PRS for Music and PPL licences.


The CLA Church Licence from CCLI permits you to photocopy non-music publications, such as magazines, study guides and children’s activity books. To photocopy from newspapers, you’ll require a licence directly from the Newspaper Licensing Agency: nlamediaaccess.com.

Websites and social media
Before publishing images, songs, videos and other creative works on a website or social media page, you should always obtain permission from the owners. If you stream services or create podcasts, you may require a Limited Online Music Licence directly from PRS for Music: www.prsformusic.com/loml. You should also ask the permission of all speakers and musicians, etc. before recording their ‘performance’.

Get a copyright review

You’ll find lots more information on CCLI’s website: ccli.com. However, because every church is different, we recommend contacting CCLI to check you’re correctly covered. Call 01323 436100 or email uk@ccli.com.

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