Copyright and Church Music

Author: Fr. Robert Skeris

SACRED MUSIC Volume 117, Number 3, Fall 1990

COPYRIGHT, A MORAL PROBLEM Monsignor Richard J. Schuler

The United States government in the copyright law of 1976 has established protection for composers and publishers in the face of the great growth of copying machines which constitute an ever-present temptation to duplicate copies of printed, published music. The laws protecting the rights of composers and publishers are enforced by grave penalties and heavy fines leveled against those who violate the statutes knowingly or even unintentionally.

But there is more involved here than mere penal laws. It is not simply a matter of not being caught. For a person with a rightly formed conscience, there is the basic question of justice, the giving to each person his due. This binds in conscience, and violations of the law are offenses against one's neighbor and therefore against God. Injustice is involved, and restitution is demanded for the loss suffered and the rights infringed upon. As Christians and church musicians, dedicated to the service of God in His worship, we must not be involved in actions that are contrary to God and His justice, the very God whom we profess to adore.

Recently the Music Publishers' Association of the United States (130 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019) issued some concise summaries of the copyright laws. These are available from that organization. One has an obligation to inform himself in these matters. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for violation of it. Our American bishops have repeatedly reminded us of the duty of obedience in copyright matters. Court cases directed against the Church because of copyright infringements have been costly.

Briefly, according to the MPA summaries, when can one photocopy?

1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any reason are not available for an imminent performance, provided it is replaced with a purchased copy.

2. For academic purposes other than performance, multiple copies of excerpts of works may be made, provided that the excerpts do not comprise a part of the whole which would constitute a performable unit such as a section, movement or aria, but in no case more than 10% of the whole work. The number of copies shall not exceed one copy per pupil.

3. Printed copies which have been purchased may be edited or simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics, if any, altered or lyrics added if none exist.

4. A single copy or recording of performance by students may be made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher.

5. A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc or cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and may be retained by the educational institution or individual teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound recording.)

When may I not photocopy?

1. Copying to avoid purchase.

2. Copying music for any kind of performance, with the following emergency exception: making a copy of a lost part in an emergency, if it is replaced with a purchased part in due course.

3. Copying without including copyright notice.

4. Copying to create anthologies or compilations.

5. Reproducing material designed to be consumable, such as workbooks, standarized tests and answer sheets.

6. Charging customers beyond the actual cost involved in making copies as permitted.

In the ultimate analysis, copyright means that no one but the copyright owner has the right to copy without permission. We must obey the law which binds not only under pain of the penalty incurred, but under pain of the injustice performed and the restitution demanded. The obligation lies in the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not steal!