"In Christ Alone": Does Your Church Change Song Lyrics?

August 14, 2013by Susan Fontaine Godwin

Does your church sing the popular modern hymn, “In Christ Alone,” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty? If so, have you made any changes to the lyrics or thought about modifying the text? A heated debate continues about the songwriters’ recent denial of the Presbyterian Church USA hymnal Committee’s request to adapt a phrase in the song.

The original lyrics say that "on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." The Presbyterian Committee wanted to substitute the words, "the love of God was magnified" in their hymnal, as we reported in a recent Doing Music Right blog article. Response to the article reflected tremendous interest and generated many comments about the doctrinal questions that were raised, as well as the issue of potential copyright infringement.  

Modifying a copyrighted song's lyrics, is the exclusive derivative right of the song owner, but many church worship leaders do not realize it may be copyright infringement if they change, modify or add lyrics to a copyrighted tune. There could be some possible Fair Use applications to lyric changes, but in most cases modifications would require permission from the copyright owner.

Here's one perspective on the controversy:

David Bruce Murray posted on CCS’s Facebook page. The focus of the controversy should be on the 2010 Celebrating Grace Hymnal published by an organization that didn't seek permission before changing the words to "In Christ Alone." THAT should be the story.  Whether someone agrees with the Presbyterian doctrine or not, they did the right thing by asking permission. It appears they wouldn't have considered the song in the first place if they didn't think an altered lyric had already been approved. And to any church music directors/pastors/leaders reading this, the solution is very simple when you read a line in a song that you feel contradicts your own doctrine. Don't try to "fix" it." Just don't sing it. There are millions of songs. It takes no more time to find a substitute than it would to write a different lyric. 

Copyright issues can be confusing, complex and overwhelming, and church leaders often overlook obtaining proper clearances just because they “don’t know what they don’t know.” CCS has created a FREE online interactive tool called the Copyright Compliance Report Card. We thought it would be fun to create a game you can play on your own without fear of judgment or recrimination (or monitoring). It takes about 5-10 minutes to answer 12 questions and evaluate how your church is doing, and how you can improve. 

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS's quest is to help churches and Christian ministries "do music right."  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.




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The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.