When Can We Copy Music?

Q. Our church bought enough copies of Singing the Living Tradition so each person attending a service can use the hymnal. Since we have made that purchase, do we have automatic permission to excerpt readings, hymns, etc. to print as inspirational messages in our newsletter that circulates to more than three hundred  people?

A. Unfortunately, purchase of the hymnal does not in and of itself confer permission to reprint texts, says Mary Benard, editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Skinner House Books. Anyone who wishes to reprint a reading or hymn should send a request in writing to Benard's assistant, Betsy Martin, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108; or email Skinner House Books: skinnerhouse [at] uua [dot] org.

Contact her at least a week before the permission is needed because, in some cases, the request must be redirected to the copyright holder, says Benard. The UUA does not hold copyright to everything in the hymnal. Where possible, Martin will provide contact information for the copyright holder. The request should specify the hymn or reading in question and whether permission is being sought for words or music or both (in the case of hymns), as the copyright may be different for each. The request should also indicate whether the reprinted text will be distributed at no charge or for a fee. Generally, if the UUA owns the copyright and the person or group seeking permission is distributing the text at no fee, permission will be granted for no fee.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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