The U.S. Copyright Act Specifically Allows Religious Use Of Copyrighted Works
He who considers merely the letter of an instrument goes but skin-deep into its meaning.-Ancient Maxim of Law
We, as scripture-songwriters and script-writers, have every incentive to receive payments from churches.
However, there is a bigger religious freedom issue here:
The purpose of the United States Copyright act is:
'promotion of science and the useful arts'
through the encouragement of musical and artistic creation.
In addition to completely excepting religious free-exercise activity from it's penal scope, the United States government specifically disallows copyright owners from interfering with the rights of religious workers to perform and display copyrighted music:
USC17 §110. Limitations on exclusive rights:
Exemption of certain performances AND displays:
...the following are not infringements of copyright:
(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature,
or display of a work,
in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly
Notice also that the U.S. Government has NO definition of religion or worship.
This blows away ALL blather about 'this exception only applies to the main sanctuary but not the foyer', etc.
Worship is where and what the WORSHIPPER says it is.
Notice that USC17 110 describes a couple of things that are NOT infringements.
It does NOT say that all other things a church might do ARE infringements.
This is called a clause of inclusion, not limitation.
Notice that BOTH the performance (singing) and the display (projecting or printing the lyrics) are exempt from copyright regulation, in any religious assembly, from a 2-person bible study, to a choir rehearsal, to an evangelistic extravaganza in a Coliseum.
Whether the work is dramatic, literary, or musical, or all 3 is irrelevant, as long as it has a religious component.
The SIZE and place of the worship gathering are totally irrelevant.
You can display and perform copyrighted musical and literary works in a home-fellowship in your living room with 2 people, or in a church classroom, in the Superdome, in a million-man worship march, or any worship gathering you can imagine.
The METHOD of display is totally irrelevant.
You can print the lyrics on paper, show them on a projector, paint them on your chest, fly them across the sky in a blimp, whatever you can devise.
Yet, companies who make money by pointing imaginary government "guns" into churches still spout frivolous nonsense like the below:
We seem to have a difference of opinion over reprography.-Chief Intellectual Property Officer, CCLi, 2015
CCLI interprets the "right to copy" under copyright law as being undeniably afforded, and reserved to, the songwriter or their designee, and that Fair Use neither trumps, nor voids, this right.
If a church wants to copy lyrics onto an acetate for projection, it needs the permission of the rights holder for the copy activity that is protected, not for the display, which is permitted under Fair Use.
... the reproduction (copying) of a protected work in the creation of an acetate or other tangible form for the purpose of display without express permission from the song owner, is not [free of copyright control]!
Acetate |ˈasiˌtāt|a transparency made of cellulose acetate film.-New Oxford American Dictionary
To which we save the collection squad a call to their lawyers by drawing the laser-sharp sword of the U.S. Code to cut through the above legal cheese:
USC 1701 1. Definitions: To ‘‘display’’ a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process...
Obviously, in order to show the copy, you first have to make the copy.
If that copying is done, "in the course of services" (see below U.S. Code note,) then the copying is considered part of the worship display.
course |kôrs|- New Oxford American Dictionary
1 [ in sing. ] the route or direction followed by a ship, aircraft, road, or river
• the way in which something progresses or develops
• a procedure adopted to deal with a situation.
Printing a lyric file on a transparent plastic sheet, or making a digital slide, is beyond any reasonable question,
- part of the "a procedure adopted to deal with the situation" of performing a worship service.
- AND the "way a worship service progresses and develops,"
- and "the route or direction followed by" worship leaders everywhere.
The Copyright committee agrees:
A single copy reproduction of an excerpt from a copyrighted work by a calligrapher for a single client does not represent an infringement of copyright.- USC17 §107 notes
Likewise, a single reproduction of excerpts from a copyrighted work by a student calligrapher or teacher in a learning situation would be a fair use of the copyrighted work.
USC 1701 1. Definitions: (cont.) ‘‘Literary works’’ are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied.
To ‘‘perform’’ a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process... A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.
A performance may be accomplished ‘‘either directly or by means of any device or process,’’ including all kinds of equipment for reproducing or amplifying sounds or visual images, any sort of transmitting apparatus, any type of electronic retrieval system, and any other techniques and systems not yet in use or even invented.USC17 §106 notes
USC17 §110 Section 2 declares the same sort of exemption for classroom use.
And sections 4 and 5 of the same title allow for small-scale non-profit reproduction of the service, including the music, for things like giving a sermon CD to shut-in elderly people who couldn't make it to the service.
The following are notes copied directly from the U.S. Code:
The exemption in clause (3) of section 110 covers performances of a nondramatic literary or musical work, and also performances ‘‘of dramatico-musical works of a religious nature’’;
in addition, it extends to displays of works of all kinds.
The exemption applies where the performance or display is ‘‘in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly.’’
The scope of the clause does not cover the sequential showing of motion pictures and other audiovisual works. [Note: this does not mean that worship use of copyrighted motion pictures and audiovisual works is banned, just that this particular clause does not discuss it.]
The exemption, which to some extent has its counterpart in sections 1 and 104 of the present law [sections 1 and 104 of former title 17], applies to dramatico-musical works ‘‘of a religious nature.’’
The purpose here is to exempt certain performances of sacred music that might be regarded as ‘‘dramatic’’ in nature, such as oratorios, cantatas, musical settings of the mass, choral services, and the like.
To be exempted under section 110(3) a performance or display must be ‘‘in the course of services,’’ thus excluding activities at a place of worship that are for social, educational, fund raising, or entertainment purposes.
Some performances of these kinds could be covered by the exemption in section 110(4), discussed next. Since the performance or display must also occur ‘‘at a place of worship or other religious assembly,’’ the exemption would not extend to religious broadcasts or other transmissions to the public at large, even where the transmissions were sent from the place of worship.
On the other hand, as long as services are being conducted before a religious gathering, the exemption would apply if they were conducted in places such as auditoriums, outdoor theaters, and the like.
Copyright holders, take note: The exemptions spelled out in USC17 110 are not an exhaustive list, barring any other religious use of copyrighted material.
There is such a corresponding negative list that sketches out what may constitute unauthorized copying in secular schools, but not such a list for churches.
Thus, USC17 110 presents an example of the sorts of Creator-endowed inalienable worship rights recognized by the more expansive free exercise and anti-establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment.
Circumstances (including time and financial constraints) commonly and routinely put the worshipper in a position where he must copy a copyrighted work (without permission) in the course of his worship duties, or diminish the quality of his service.
To weaken worship solely on the supposed jurisdiction of USC17 would be to make Caesar God, in blatant disrespect to the blood-bought convictions of the nation's founders who never even lived to see the advent of music copyright.
In summary, United States law wisely honors a broad and deep zone of freedom from copyright restrictions which provides for functionally unlimited use of music and lyrics in the course of preparation and execution of every conceivable species of bona-fide, nonprofit religious worship services.
This freedom is founded upon the most durable of American Legal bases: the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and is even more deeply based on the relevant Biblical laws.
No matter how radical it may seem to copyright holders who grew up saluting flags in, and getting married by the authority of the state in "Christian" churches, this structuralist interpretation of the 1st Amendment is the de-facto policy of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is stated within the copyright act itself.
One assails this zone of sanctity only by arguments as fallacious and frivolous as those who advocated licenses to preach in Elizabethan England.