Irish Council of Churches. Irish Inter-Church Meeting

Copyright in the Church

Chris Williams






Chris Williams of Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) provides some guidelines on areas where churches need to consider copyright. 

For a good number of churches the church building can be used for many mid–week social activities in addition to the normal Sunday worship. All we ask is that you consider some of the areas where music, film, photographs and other material, not written or owned by your church, are used in your activities.

We appreciate that understanding copyright in an age of the internet can be a challenge. Added to that, the legal differences of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland mean different licences may be required. We do hope that this article will provide some guidance leaving you with clearer and simpler access to the material you hope to use.

Reproducing Hymn and Worship Songs

The Church Copyright Licence (CCL) was created as churches moved away from using hymnbooks to producing their own service sheets or projecting song words onto a screen from a computer or Overhead Projector. If your church uses song sheets every Sunday or if you only copy material on an ad hoc basis alongside the hymnbook a licence is required.

The CCL is an annual licence covering more than 175,000 songs, with licence fees based on the attendance of the church. The CCL also provides the right to make music arrangements of copyright works where no published version is available in digital or published format.

Churches in NI have the added benefit of being able to record any meetings onto audio or video for non–commercial distribution in the church. Churches in the ROI wishing to record music would need to contact the Irish Music Rights Organisation ( for a one–off music recording licence.

Photocopying from Publications

As well as projecting hymns and worship songs onto screens you may also wish to photocopy or scan from a music publication for distribution to a choir or music team or for using via a tablet computer. Purchasing sheet music of popular hymns and worship songs via the internet and emailing copies to others will also act as a reproduction and thus require the cover of the Music Reproduction Licence (MRL). This licence is available as a supplement to churches holding a current CCL.   

Churches in NI wishing to photocopy from non–music publications such as books, magazines and journals can also apply for a Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Church Licence. 

Showing Films or Film Clips

Churches wishing to show films for entertainment or short clips as a sermon illustration will require the cover of the Church Video Licence (CVL). Covering most mainstream films, the CVL provides the right to show either full motion pictures, for example for church/community film nights, or short film scenes, for example in youth/children’s clubs. 

Any film shown for entertainment will also require the cover of a licence to cover music on the soundtrack. In NI the PRS for Music Church Licence covers this. Churches in ROI should contact IMRO. (See music performance below). TV Broadcasts on church premises will require the appropriate TV Licence.

Performing or Playing Music
Permission is not required for music performed within any act of worship such as the Sunday meeting. However, if you wish to hold concerts or recitals or play music from a music recording (CD, MP3 etc.) you may require a music performance licence. Churches in NI should contact CCLI for a PRS for Music Church Licence for this purpose. Churches in the ROI should contact IMRO for a music performance licence. 

When playing music recordings from CDs, cassettes, MP3 etc, churches in NI will require the additional cover of a PPL Church Licence from CCLI. Please consider all of your social and community activities such as youth/children’s work, dance classes, mother and toddler groups etc. Again, this licence is not required for any music played within an Act of Worship (e.g. a regular Sunday worship service).

Compliance with current licensing regulations means that your church can enjoy the wealth of music, film and multimedia that’s available, without having to worry about infringing copyright law. For more details of the copyright law of the licences available through CCLI visit their website or contact them on the details below.

To find out more visit our websites: 

Alternatively you can contact the CCLI Customer Service team on +44 (0)1323 436100 or email