Copyright 101: Changing Text for Inclusive Language (USA Only)
Question: May we change male-dominant language in copyrighted hymns to make the hymns more inclusive?
Answer: If you are singing or speaking public domain texts and want to make written changes, such as the traditional version of The Lord's Prayer, then you can legally change the language to anything you prefer. If you want to make written changes for singing public domain words within a copyrighted musical setting, such as the familiar Malotte setting of "The Lord's Prayer," then you may change the words as you wish.
If, however, you want to make written changes for singing or speaking copyrighted words, the law does not permit you to make any changes to the text, even if you have purchased a music license (CCLI, LicenSing, OneLicense.net). You must reproduce the copyrighted text without alteration, or seek permission from the copyright holder to make changes.
However, if you are singing a copyrighted text from the hymnal, such as "He touched me" and you want to change it to "She touched me," while the law prohibits you from changing the text in your hymnals or reproducing the revised text in your bulletin or projection screen, it does not prohibit you from giving the verbal direction to your congregation to "Please sing 'She touched me' " and then allowing them to sing whatever they prefer. The law does not control the verbal use of the text, only the written and reproduced use of it. In your hymnals or choir music, while you may not actually make changes within the printed hymn and text itself, it is legal for you to notate such changes in the margins or at the bottom of the page if you wish. As with all copyright matters, you may always request permission of the holder to make the changes. If they refuse, you're no worse off than before you asked.