“Thou shalt not steal” the songs you sing on Sunday

Many respectable Christians snitch songs from the Internet or a song-book, project them on the screen, and lead the congregation in Worship the God who gave this command. The band plays along using photo-copies of the music, well rehearsed during the preceding week.

Legally, if the writer of the song has died within the past 50 years, they have broken the Copyright Law. They ought to have written a letter to the Copyright holder and obtained permission before they chose that song for singing. All songs have a credit line that gives the name of the Copyright holder.

What a schlep! “Please plan your Song-List 3 months in advance!” Who would go to all that bother? For all practical purposes, the Copyright Law forces churches to sing only the older songs, and denies contemporary song-writers the opportunity for their creativity to enrich the multitude of today’s worshipers.

Thank God for CCLI!
Thank God for CCLI! (Christian Copyright Licencing International). Most Copyright Holders, as “Owners”, register their songs with CCLI. Most Congregations pay an annual Membership Fee to CCLI so that they can use these songs. Now the Worship Leader can choose a song 3 minutes before it is sung, instead of waiting 3 months for permission. Thank God for CCLI! (Do I hear an ‘Amen’?)

Each congregation/entity usually requires two CCLI Licences, and pays a subscription for each: 1) A Licence to copy and/or project the WORDS. 2) A Licence to copy the MUSIC.

So what does CCLI do with the money you pay into their bank account? CCLI has worked out with song copyright owners in each Territory the royalty split, the amount of the Licence Fee to go to the song owner and the amount to be kept by CCLI for the administration of the Church Copyright Licence. On or before February 15 and August 15 every year, CCLI distributes the royalties collected to the copyright owners.

In South Africa, every church must report all songs reproduced for the one-year term of the Church Copyright Licence.

For the Church Copyright Licence, reporting of songs reproduced is entered online, in the Online Copy Report.

The data in the Online Copy Report goes into a computer system in-house, which is continually being refined for the process. The song data entry is checked in a number of different ways, and at many stages throughout the process, by several levels of management within CCLI, to ensure the complete accuracy of the data.

CCLI calls some churches to confirm that the songs reproduced were the ones they thought the church meant, and to clarify the songs reproduced.

Each song reproduction reported results in credits for the song, with the number of credits dependent on the number and type of reproductions made, and the size of the church.

The credits from all the song reproductions reported are totaled. This total number of credits is used to determine what proportion of the funds collected should be paid for each song to the copyright owner. Then at the semi-annual royalty payout, the copyright owner is provided, along with the funds, a report of the number of credits and type of reproduction for each song reproduction reported, and details of the total number of credits reported by all churches and total funds to be distributed in that territory.

Accountability is important to CCLI: An annual Owner’s Meeting receives a full financial report. An Advisory Council of Copyright Owners monitors the process. The amount received by each Owner is confidential, but each Owner can request to inspect CCLI’s records relevant to him. For CCLI’s History see http://ccli.co.za/about-us/cclis-history/

In South Africa, every church must report all songs reproduced during the previous one-year term of the Licence. The easy way to remember is to submit your Report (using the Online Copy Report) when you make your renewal payment.

Did YOUR church report the songs sung during the past year? YES / NO

If you did – congratulations! Many churches simply forgot. They paid their fee, but CCLI is unable to pay out the Royalties to the Owners. IF YOUR CHURCH DOES NOT REPORT THE SONGS SUNG, THEN YOU HAVE STOLEN FROM THE COPYRIGHT OWNERS. It is my educated guess that half the churches which pay their fees to CCLI do NOT report their songs sung to CCLI.

If a church does not report a song reproduction, CCLI cannot pay the correct copyright owner, and if a church does not provide all the information CCLI needs to determine which song it is they have reproduced, again CCLI cannot pay the correct copyright owner.

A note to the Projectionists and Copiers: You are required by law to give the church’s CCLI Licence Number, and the Credit Line for each song copied or projected. Please ensure this is done.

CCLI asked me to thank all the churches around the world who participate in the Licence programme, by contributing the Licence Fee and providing an accurate record of songs reproduced. Thank you for honouring the songwriters who bless your church and school with their songs.


  1. Oops, I forgot to give CCLI’s contact: AFRICA: info@ccli.co.za
    Telephone: 021 9148908. EUROPE: info@ccli.co.uk Telephone: 0944 1323 417711. ASIA-PACIFIC: info@ccli.com.au Telephone: 09612 9894 5386.m NORTH AMERICA: info@ccli.com Telephone: 091 503 2572230.

  2. Interesting…
    I am not presently affiliated to any particular church. However, I wonder what happened to to “using one’s talents for the edification of the brethren” rather than for one’s pocket, A sign I guess of the increasing commercialisation of the church…

  3. This is really useful information. Attending Sunday meetings, participating in the worship, listening to the music and seeing the words on-screen, one doesn’t realise everything that goes on behind the scenes.