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This resource covers the basic legalities of using copyrighted materials (hymns, readings, etc.) during worship services. For information on reproducing Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)-copyrighted materials please see Copyright Permissions in our Publications section.
The issues surrounding copyright and worship are complex and often confusing. Congregations want to do things the right way, but often are not sure how.
Copyright raises legal and moral questions for all of us to wrestle with. The people who create the words and music we use in our worship have a right to be fairly compensated for their use. Following the copyright rules is a matter of respecting and honoring the inherent worth and dignity of the people whose creativity we benefit from, and in some cases of doing our part to ensure that they can keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. Isn’t that worth the effort?
The answers here are for informational purposes, and do not substitute for legal advice. Copyright law is quite complicated and tremendously nuanced. Change one seemingly minor element in a given scenario and the law may be applied differently.
Further, the UUA staff are not copyright experts. We encourage you to consult specific copyright holders and attorneys for information that applies to your precise situation. Those things said, we hope you find these general guidelines helpful.
When is it necessary to seek permission to reproduce copyrighted work? The basic answer is "almost always." Some cases:
Simply put, permission is almost always needed for copyrighted material. Making copies without permission of the copyright holder(s) is virtually always a violation of copyright law.
Read carefully. Copyright is usually indicated after the ©. Sometimes it is the author or the publisher who holds the copyright, sometimes it is an organization. With music, the copyright holder of the words and the copyright holder of the music are not always the same. And even if a whole hymnal is copyright UUA, the songs within it all have different copyright holders.
Some material is in the Public Domain and the copyright restriction no longer applies. Many older works by Unitarian Universalist luminaries such as Channing, Thoreau, Fuller, Ballou, Murray, Emerson and their contemporaries are in the public domain.
UUA Books: To request permission to reprint printed material for which the UUA owns the copyright, please read follow the guidelines on the UUA Publications page.
UUA Hymns: If you’re looking to reproduce a hymn from one of our hymnals please contact worshipweb @ uua.org for assistance. We will handle your request if the UUA holds the copyright. We can also provide spreadsheets of contact information for the copyright holders represented in the hymnals and blanket permissions for UUA-copyrighted music and readings, on request.
At this point, many congregations are opting to avoid the copyright issues by editing out readings, hymns, anthems, projected images, etc. from their videos and podcasts. They are choosing to reproduce only the content that is original to the worship such as sermons and meditations written by their worship leaders.
Many congregations regularly request, and receive, permission to reprint lyrics, music, and text. It can be a complicated process with some copyright holders, but many are happy to grant a congregation permission to reproduce their work free of charge or for a nominal fee.
There are several organizations that sell licenses which cover, for an annual fee, permissions to reproduce music or show movies that are from specific publishers. With a license, permission from individual copyright holders is not needed as long as they are covered by the license. Because Unitarian Universalist congregations draw on many sources for worship, the content covered by Christian-oriented licensing organizations is just a small portion of the copyrighted material that many of our congregations use on a regular basis. However, some of our congregations have found it worth their money to buy licenses like WorshipCast, OneLicense, LicenSing, or CCLI.
For more information contact worshipweb @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
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Last updated on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
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