Copyright Part 1


It is becoming increasingly common for parishes to project the words of hymns onto overhead screens or print them on bulletins in preference to using hymnbooks at Mass.
There are several reasons for this. It is cheaper than purchasing hymnbooks and paying for their repair and replacement. It also offers greater flexibility in the selection of liturgical music.
When a parish purchases a set of hymnbooks for the assembly to use at worship, the publisher receives payment for the expense involved in producing the book and in turn makes payment to those composers who have given permission for their works to be published in it.
How are those who write and publish music compensated for their efforts if parishes switch to buying just one copy of hymn collection and reproducing hymn words on parish newsletters or on overheads or on PowerPoint?
The answer is that they aren't, unless parishes pay them for the right to use their music as hymnbook publishers do and as they are fully entitled to expect.
I have heard people claim that we shouldn't have to pay composers of liturgical music because it is used for the glory of God and should be a free service. Try telling that to Energex when you don't pay the next parish electricity bill, or the plumber who expects to be paid for fixing the leaking baptismal font, or the tiler who repaired the church roof! Why are music writers any less entitled to be paid for their time and efforts? Where will the good composers of church music come from if we expect them to do it as a labour of love?
Composers and text writers have ownership of what they have written and we can no more take their work and use it without giving something in return than we can with the local plumber or tiler. If we use what is theirs by right, we must ask permission and pay a fee.
This is the issue of 'copyright'. It simply means if we provide the words for liturgical celebration by any method other than giving out hymnbooks, we must get permission to do so, acknowledge the source, and compensate the rightful owner of the work in some way.
It should never happen that music is handed around at choir practice, or hymn words printed in booklets or projected on a screen unless each piece is clearly labelled with the name of the composer and date of composition, the publisher, and a statement of permission to use.
It is not necessary to get copyright permission if the composer/ arranger/ text writer/ translator, that is, everyone involved in writing the piece, have been dead for more than 50 years, or if the published edition you are using is more than 25 years old. Such work is classified as being 'in the public domain' and may be copied freely. Much of the music we use in liturgy, however, does not belong in this category.
Doing the right thing with copyright is a matter of social justice and is relatively simple matter. More on that next week.

Elizabeth Harrington