Copyright: A Guide for Liturgical Musicians

This is a guide to issues relating to copyright written for the benefit of liturgical musicians in the Archdiocese of Perth. It is only a summary of complex legal issues and should not be regarded as a definitive statement of the legal position.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It is the legal right of the creators of literary works, musical works and works of art to control the way in which their creations are used and to derive benefits, financial and other, from their work.

Works that are protected by copyright are the property of their owners and must be treated in the same way as any other property. Misappropriation of copyright works is both illegal and immoral, like any other form of theft.

What can be protected by copyright?

The law in Australia provides copyright protection for a number of different types of works: literary works such as books, magazines, scripts of plays and movies; musical works; recordings; computer programmes; and material that is published on the Internet. Other sorts of intellectual property are protected by patents, trademarks and registered designs. Music and dramatic works are also subject to laws governing performing rights.

 How does a work gain copyright protection?

In Australia, a work is automatically protected by copyright from the time of its creation. It does not need to be registered in any way.

 Does copyright protection last forever?

No, the law grants copyright protection for a fixed period. After this period expires, the protection is withdrawn. Works whose copyright has expired are in the Public Domain and may be copied and used freely.

How long does copyright last?

In Australia, the copyright in a book, a piece of music or a sound recording lasts for seventy years after the death of the author or composer. The publisher of a book or piece of music also has copyright protection for the printed pages that lasts for twenty-five years from the date of publication.

What does copyright prohibit?

A copyright work cannot be copied, reproduced in any way, or performed without the permission of the copyright owner. It is also not permissible to translate, edit or change the words of a song or literary work, or to make new arrangements of musical works.

How can permission to use a copyright work be obtained?

A direct request can be made to the copyright owner, who is usually the composer of a piece of music or the writer of a book. As an alternative, there are licensing schemes that allow performances or copying of works for a fee. These schemes are usually operated by agencies on behalf of the copyright owners.

Is a license needed if hymnbooks are used?

Hymnbooks published by and purchased from a commercial publisher may be used without a license. A license is needed if a hymnbook is compiled by copying words and/or music that is copyright.

 Is a license needed to perform music in church?

The licensing agencies have agreed to grant a blanket license for the performance of music within an act of worship. No additional licensing arrangement is necessary for this purpose.

Is a license needed when booklets are printed for weddings or funerals?

If the wedding or funeral takes place in a church which has a Word of Life Annual Restricted Copy Licence, it is covered by the parish licence. The pieces used should be recorded by the parish and included in their annual Statistical Survey form.  Alternatively, the people organizing the wedding or funeral may take out a separate licence for the occasion.

Is a license needed to copy recorded music from CDs?

Yes. Any copying of recorded music requires a license, regardless of the purpose of the recording. This includes copying of tracks from a CD onto a computer or MP3 player.  Licences may be needed from both AMCOS and ARIA.

Does a license taken out by a parish cover the parish schools?

No, there are separate licensing arrangements that relate to the use of copyright materials in schools and other educational institutions. However, the Word of Life Annual Restricted Copy Licence may be extended to cover all parish property (not just the church), in which case a school located on parish property and owned by the parish could be covered by that licence.

Are the prayers and readings used at Mass covered by copyright?

The copyright in the prayers used at Mass is held by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The copyright in the readings in the Lectionary, the Gospel Acclamations and responses to the Responsorial Psalms are also held by the ICEL.  The copyright in the verses of the Responsorial Psalms is held by the Grail.  The ICEL texts can be reproduced for use in worship, provided that due acknowledgment is given.  Details are available from the ICEL web site (

What can parishes do to meet their obligations regarding copyright?

The first decision with regard to music is whether to use hymnbooks or reproduce words and/or music for the musicians and/or the congregation. The latter choice will require the appropriate licensing arrangements be entered into.

If licensing is required, finding somebody to act as Copyright Coordinator for the parish can be a very effective starting point. The Copyright Coordinator would have to be familiar with the copyright requirements, both as a general issue and with respect to the particular licensing scheme that covers the parish.

Once the license is taken out, it is necessary to keep records of copying and use of copies in order to satisfy the requirements of the licensing scheme. This is an important part of the role of the Copyright Coordinator. Having a form that is filled out for each liturgical celebration can help with the record keeping and can also have other benefits.

The parish should ensure that people who are organizing weddings and funerals in the parish are made aware of their obligations with regard to copyright. Information about appropriate licensing schemes should be made available to them.

Where can I get more information?

The Centre for Liturgy has an information package that is available on request. Specific queries may also be directed to the Centre.

The licensing agencies listed above have various publications regarding copyright. APRA/AMCOS has produced a brochure called Music Copyright Guide for Churches which covers everything churches need to know about copyright as it applies to music in an authoritative way. Copies of the brochure can be downloaded from the APRA/AMCOS web site (

What copyright agencies operate in Australia?

Australasian Performing Right Association Limited (APRA)
Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS)
National and NSW/ACT Office
Telephone: (02) 9935 7900
Address:16 Mountain Street, Ultimo NSW 2007
Postal Address: Locked Bag 5000, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012 State Offices WA
Telephone: (08) 9382 8299
Address: Suite 1, 12-20 Railway Road, Subiaco WA 6008

Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA)
PO Box Q20
Queen Victoria Building NSW 1230
Phone: (02) 8569 1144
Fax: (02) 8569 1181

Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA)
Postal Address: PO Box Q20, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney NSW 1230
Tel: (02) 8569 1100

Australian Copyright Council
Address: 3/245 Chalmers Street, Redfern NSW 2016
Tel: (02) 8815 9777

Copyright Agency Limited (CAL)
Address: Level 15, 233 Castlereagh Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9394 7600

LicenSing (MediaCom Associates Inc)
Postal Address: P O Box 610, Unley SA 5061
Tel: (08) 8371 1399
Fax: (08) 8297 8719

One License, LLC
Postal Address: 7343 S. Mason Ave, Chicago, IL 60638 USA
Tel: (0011) 1-800-ONE-1501 Tel: (0011) 708-458-5900
Fax: (0011) 708-458-4940

More Information

For more information regarding Copyright

Contact the Music Field Office Alessio Loiacono