Church Music and Copyright
This page has basic information about copyright as it relates to Latter-day Saint music. Here are the main points covered:
- Not everything published by the Church or by church members is free. When it comes to “commercial use” of a copyrighted work (which includes posting on the internet), you always need to obtain permission from the copyright holder.
- Latter-day Saints are expected to honor, sustain, and obey the law where they live, and to be good examples for others. Sharing or distributing copyrighted materials without permission is against the law.
- Printed works published before 1927 are in public domain in the United States. That means that you can scan, copy, distribute, arrange, adapt, or perform printed music from before 1927 without worrying about whether or not it is copyrighted.
- Fair use allows you to use parts of copyrighted works for common-sense purposes like education and commentary.
1. Not everything published by the Church or by church members is free.
The Church copyrights music and other materials to legally protect itself from those who would degrade the Church, and to compensate those who produced the music. While the Church encourages people to serve and give freely, it also stands by the scriptural principle that the laborer is worthy of his hire. Producing music takes time and effort and is a way for those involved to provide for themselves and their families.
Most music produced by the Church is accompanied by a license statement allowing personal, noncommercial church or home use. When it comes to “commercial use” of a copyrighted work (which includes posting on the internet), you always need to obtain permission from the copyright holder. If you want to distribute or make an arrangement of a song owned by the Church, contact the Intellectual Property Office.
Not everything published by the Church is owned by the Church. For example, some of the hymns in the hymnbook are owned by companies or individuals who have given the Church a license to publish it. Unless specifically stated, this license does not extend to church members.
The Church is very careful to follow copyright laws and to respect the rights of copyright holders. There are some hymns in the hymnbook that the Church has permission to publish in print, but not to distribute digitally (like "How Great Thou Art," or "Because I Have Been Given Much"). Similarly, sometimes the Church uses third-party background music or images in videos they produce, and the license they are given allows them to stream the video, but not to provide it for download.
Here are some examples of license statements you might see for music published by the Church:
“Hymns having the notice © (year) IRI, hymns showing no copyright notice, and general materials in this collection may be copied for noncommercial church or home use. If a notice appears with a hymn, it must be included on each copy made. Hymns with copyright notices other than © (year) IRI, unless otherwise noted, must not be copied without written permission of the copyright owners” (Hymns, copyright page).
“© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. This song may be copied for incidental, noncommercial church or home use. This notice must be included on each copy made” (from a song recently published in the Liahona magazine).
“© 1975 Broadman Press. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission. Making copies without written permission of the copyright owner is prohibited” (Hymns, 219).
Music produced independently by church members is not under the Church's license. You should not copy, download, or distribute music that is published or produced by Church members, or by anyone else – not even for Church use – unless permission is specifically granted by the copyright holder. Latter-day Saint musicians, like other professionals, put time, effort, and monetary resources into their music. Making arrangements or recording covers of copyrighted songs without permission can also be a violation of copyright.
Permission to download music isn't always in a written license statement. If a composer or artist provides a download link for a song on their official website, that means they are allowing you to download and use it. But permission to download does not automatically include permission to distribute or share with others – if you want to share a song, you should direct others to the source.
If a download link is not provided, usually it means that the copyright holder is not giving permission for the music to be downloaded. You shouldn't use third-party programs to download music or videos that are only available for streaming, or take screenshots of sheet music that doesn't have a download link.
2. Latter-day Saints are expected to honor, sustain, and obey the law.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe in honoring, sustaining, and obeying the law. Honoring means that not only do we obey, but we do our best to be conscientious about our actions and make it a point to understand and live within the boundaries of the law, even if consequences may be seen as minimal. Sustaining the law means that we support it by informing and helping others to honor and obey the law as well.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to become comfortable with pirated music, books, movies, and games, disregarding the rights of others in the process. Too often we ignore or minimize traffic and pedestrian laws. These are not unjust laws – we have an obligation to obey them.
Heavenly Father has high expectations for us and can help us to do better every day through the atonement of Jesus Christ. It's up to us to recognize what we need to improve, and to ask for his help.
3. Printed works published before 1927 are in public domain.
Printed works published before 1927 are in the public domain in the United States. This means that they have fallen out of copyright, and can be freely copied and distributed. Some works published after 1927 are also in the public domain, but the laws for works copyrighted after 1927 have changed over time and navigating them will require some research.
If you want to use something that's in the public domain, you need to make sure you're starting with the original source. Translations, arrangements, and additional verses written after 1927 are not automatically in the public domain. Sometimes a hymn is in the public domain, but the page layout of the book it appears in is not – so, you can't photocopy the full page. If you start with the original source you can do whatever you want with it.
Here are a few resources for understanding public domain:
- Stanford.edu: Welcome to the Public Domain
- Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
- Nolo.com: Using Works in the Public Domain
- Wikipedia: Public Domain
- SingPraises.net: Hymns and Children’s Songs in the Public Domain
4. Fair use allows you to use parts of copyrighted works.
The purpose of copyright law is not to restrict access to information or to make things difficult for people to use and appreciate. Rather, it is to protect creators from harm, provide compensation and motivation for future work, and give credit where credit is due. “Fair use” allows for common-sense application of copyright laws for education or commentary.
Fair use is not a ticket to use copyrighted works for any purpose. Quoting a few lines from a copyrighted book to provide support for an article you're writing, and citing the source, would be protected by fair use. However, scanning a full chapter of a book and attaching it to your article would not be.
While some cases are black and white, fair use leaves a good amount of space for interpretation. It can be helpful to look at precedents from legal cases that have gone to court. There are the four general principles governing fair use:
- Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
- Nature of the copyrighted work.
- Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
- Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
For more information about fair use laws in the United States, these links may be helpful: