Home Worship Planning Music Resources How Do I Research a Music Copyright?

How Do I Research a Music Copyright?

In this time of copying machines, costly printed music, the proliferation of web publishing and self-publishing, new musical styles and resources for singing, PowerPoint projections, music licenses, and a new aggressiveness on the part of publishers to prosecute copyright violators, many church musicians need to be able to research and pin down a music copyright for a song or hymn they want to use. Copyright research can be a difficult and time-consuming activity. On the other hand, you might get lucky and find the answers you need right away. There are a number of ways to proceed with such research, some easier than others, some more deliberate, and some more dependent upon chance.

Remember that a number of elements in any given song may be copyrighted, including text, translation, melody, arrangement, descant, or whatever may be listed in the copyright citation. Thus a song may have one, two, three, or more different copyrights attached to it, sometimes owned by different copyright holders. Further, a particular song may be in the public domain (text and/or melody), but the arrangement may be copyrighted. A text may be in the public domain, but the music copyrighted — or the reverse. A song may even have a copyright in one book while not in another. You may find it helpful to read the article, "Questions and Answers about Hymns, Public Domain, and Copyright"on this site.

Remember that a copyright is different from licensing. A copyright literally means the "right to copy" a song; in other words, a copyright is the ultimate ownership of a song. That ownership and right may belong to the composer or writer, or it may have been transferred to a publisher or other company or individual. Whoever owns the copyright to a particular piece also owns the right to decide who may publish and copy that piece. A licensing company has already negotiated certain provisions with many different copyright holders so that an individual or a church can deal with one licensing company. For a membership fee, an individual or church may obtain a one-year license that includes the right to reproduce, under certain restrictions, the copyrighted song without having to contact or negotiate with the copyright holder. With licensing, the main responsibility of the user is to determine that the song is actually covered by the license.

Here are some ways to research a music copyright:

  1. Engage the services of a professional copyright researcher or firm to do the work for you. This can be both expensive and time-consuming, but if you do a lot of copyright searching or if you absolutely need the job done right, consider this method. Two firms you might contact are listed below. Others may be found in large city Yellow Pages directories.
    The Copyright Company
    P.O. Box 128139
    Nashville, TN 37212-8139
    Telephone 615-244-9848

    Copyright Management, Inc.
    102 17th Avenue, South Suite 400
    Nashville, TN 37212
    Telephone (615) 327-1517
  2. Assemble a number of hymnals, songbooks, or collections and look through the tables of contents for the title you need. If you find the title, the copyright information should be listed at the bottom of the first page of the song, or perhaps in a separate index in the back where all copyright information has been gathered together. The copyright citation may or may not include address, telephone, and e-mail information for the copyright holder. If it does not, you must look elsewhere to find that contact information.

  3. In addition to its music licensing service, Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. (CCLI) offers its members a number of tools to research copyrights, both in print and on their web site. Contact Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. at:
    17201 NE Sacramento Street
    Portland, OR 97230
    Telephone: 800-234-2446 or 503-257-2230
    Web Site:

  4. If the copyright holder is the author or composer, contact that person directly. You might be able to do a search on the World Wide Web to find that person, or you might contact the publisher of the book in which you found the song. There might be an index of copyright holders in the back of the book.

  5. The song may be covered under a license other than CCLI, such as GIA or LicenSing. Visit those web sites or call those companies to find out. But if you don't have those licenses, contacting those companies won't do you much good, other than perhaps helping you locate the composer or author.

GIA Publications, Inc.
7404 South Mason Avenue.
Chicago IL 60638
Telephone: 708-496-3800
Web Site:

Logos Productions
6160 Carmen Avenue
Inver Grove Heights, MN USA 55076
Telephone: 800-328-0200

You can directly search the files of the U.S. Copyright Office on the Internet by going to http://www.loc.gov/copyright/ and clickng on "Search Copyright Records." This site does not contain all copyrights, but it is an excellent resource; and it is not very difficult to use.

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