The Rev. Tom Pisano said he doesn’t necessarily like writing a check to Christian Copyright Licensing International every year. But the pastor knows his church has to. It’s the law.
The Rev. Tom Pisano said he doesn’t necessarily like writing a check to Christian Copyright Licensing International every year.
But the pastor of Christ Bible Church in Creve Coeur, Ill., knows his church has to.
It’s the law.
And it’s the right thing to do, those in the publishing business say.
"Ultimately it comes down to supporting the writers whose music you’re singing," said Scott Shorney, vice president of Hope Publishing. "If all churches decided they didn’t want to do that, there wouldn’t be new music available. You couldn’t be a Christian songwriter and make a living."
Nearly every song written is copyrighted. To make copies of lyrics for a transparency or computer-generated display during worship, a church, like any other corporate entity, is required by law to pay a fee, most of which is eventually distributed to copyright owners according to usage.
Copyright fees also are required when sheet music is copied, although no license is required for simply singing or performing a song.
Pisano said Christ Bible Church uses PowerPoint to project lyrics to its worship songs, and does so with a license from CCLI, a service that provides one-stop shopping for mostly evangelical churches that don’t have the time to get permission from the publisher of each song it uses.
"I hate it every time I write the check," he said. "I guess I’m old-fashioned, and I didn’t realize that we have to keep paying every year to be able to sing those songs."
But they do.
Until the mid- to late 1970s, CCLI founder and president Howard Rachinski said, copyright licenses weren’t a problem for most churches. When a congregation bought a set of hymnals or a musical arrangement, it had already paid for the copies.
Technology and the increasing use of nontraditional choruses that didn’t find their way into hymnals changed things, though. Churches bought photocopiers, on which they could make copies of song lyrics or sheet music as they created their own songbooks or placed lyrics into bulletins. Overhead projectors became common, with lyrics copied onto transparencies for congregational singing.
Once personal computers started showing up in church offices and sanctuaries, the ability to do all of that in a variety of media increased exponentially.
The problem was that songwriters and publishers weren’t being paid royalties when their songs were being copied.
"The safest thing to do is get a license from the author or whatever," said Mathew Perrone Jr., a copyright attorney.
But he said many churches don’t do the safest thing, instead exposing themselves to copyright infringement lawsuits.
"A lot of churches have a tendency to ignore that sort of stuff," Perrone said.
CCLI’s Rachinski faced a potentially troublesome situation as music director of Bible Temple in Portland, Ore., in the 1980s. That congregation used transparency copies of lyrics in its worship service. Then the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago lost a copyright infringement lawsuit brought on by failure to pay for copies of songs. Rachinski’s and other churches realized they needed to pay for their copies, too.
Easier said than done.
"We found out the law was fair, but not practical from a church’s standpoint," Rachinski said. "We would have to try to find who the owner (of the song) was. We would write letters or call directly. It was an administrative nightmare."
A nightmare and expense not just for churches, but also for music publishers who had to field the calls, he said.
A CCLI prototype called Star Praise Ministries was developed in 1988 by several ministries in the Portland area, Rachinski said, contacting writers and publishers of songs, getting reprint permission, charging churches an annual fee and paying writers from that according to usage.
After three years, more than 1,600 churches were using the service, paying fees according to the size of the congregation. Eventually, Star Praise became CCLI.
"Now just in the United States, we have 145,000 churches that are participating in this," Rachinski said.
CCLI also does business with other types of organizations, such as traveling ministries, schools, parachurch organizations, camps and funeral homes. Some churches are covered by discounted bloc licenses purchased by their denomination.
One-stop copyright services for other markets have sprung up as well, such as OneLicense.net and LicenSing. OneLicense.net mainly represents publishers of music used mostly by Roman Catholic churches and classic Protestant denominations, while LicenSing covers just about the entire Christian spectrum.
The basic plans give customers advance permission to make copies of songs owned by publishers and writers who have affiliated with the groups. Hundreds of thousands of songs are covered by the licenses. Churches are charged on a sliding scale according to average weekly attendance. There are also licenses for one-time usage, such as at weddings.
But if a church copies some music not covered by one of the organizations, it has to try to contact the publisher for permission.
"It does behoove the person who wants to reprint to make the yeoman’s effort to find the owner for permission," said Tim Redmon, administrator with OneLicense.net in Chicago. "Making the effort is 99 percent of the battle."
Churches that still rely on hymnals and don’t go the overhead route don’t have to worry as much. They’re still covered when they buy the books — as long as they don’t make copies.
Technology marches on, though, raising a new area of copyright concern — movies. Licenses are needed for churches to be able to show movie clips or entire films. CCLI has started a sister corporation for that — Christian Video Licensing International.
Hope Publishing’s Shorney said he doesn’t think churches that don’t buy copyright licenses are necessarily trying to get away with something.
"I think that in general churches are very law-abiding, and they try to do what’s right," said Shorney, Hope’s vice president. "If there are any mistakes happening, it’s generally because they don’t understand what they can and cannot do."
Journal Star writer Michael Miller can be reached at 686-3106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.