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Worship Music and Copyright Law

Are song lyrics copyrighted?

Key point. Copyright infringement can occur when either the music or lyrics of a copyrighted song are copied without permission.

A federal appeals court ruled that copyright infringement had occurred even though only lyrics were copied. The court observed:

Song lyrics enjoy independent copyright protection as "literary works" … and the right to print a song's lyrics is exclusively that of the copyright holder …. A time-honored method of facilitating singing along with music has been to furnish the singer with a printed copy of the lyrics. Copyright holders have always enjoyed exclusive rights over such copies. While projecting lyrics on a screen and producing printed copies of the lyrics, of course, have their differences, there is no reason to treat them differently for purposes of the Copyright Act.

Application. Many churches make unauthorized copies of song lyrics. Sometimes ...

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  • May 1, 1997