The “Why?” Behind Church Music Licensing – Q&A With CCS Founder

This week we begin a blog series that focuses on answering questions we have received through our Facebook and Twitter channels. Many of the questions are about the “why?” behind Christian copyrights. This topic can be confusing, and lately, we learned, controversial. With that in mind, we went through hundreds of comments to compile the most common questions. Today we will tackle a couple of the more complicated ones:

Q: How about the BIBLE copyrights— did you ever think about that? (Submitted by Vern Goosen)

A: Yes, actually you raise an interesting question. The King James version is in the public domain and not owned by anyone. Therefore, permission is not required to reproduce the KJV. New translations, however, are copyrighted by the publishers of the translated Scriptures. For example, the NIV (New International Version) was published in 1975 after 10 years of comprehensive, extensive research and work by more than 100 scholars. It represented an endeavor that required tens of thousands of work hours and costs. It is currently owned and published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Most Bible translation publishers are very generous with the amount of their works that can be used without permission on a non-commercial basis, but licensing is required for most uses of substantial quantity or commercial use. Most Bible translation publishers publish their copyright permissions policies in the front of the Bibles or online.

Here’s more history on the process for the NIV translation. In 1965, members of the Christian Reformed Church and a broad spectrum of evangelical churches, denominations, and organizations came together to discuss the creation of a new contemporary translation of the Bible. A year later, the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) was founded. The CBT chose more than 100 scholars from a broad variety of backgrounds, with sponsorship from the New York Bible Society, and in 1971 selected Zondervan as the sole American licensee.

Zondervan worked with the International Bible Society and Global Bible scholars in the production of the New International Version (NIV), with the New Testament released in 1973 and the full NIV Bible in 1978. Zondervan’s bold marketing of the NIV Study Bible (1985) has helped the NIV become the top-selling Bible in history.

In 1975, Thomas Nelson separately commissioned 130 scholars, pastors, and lay Christians to create the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, aiming to “retain the purity and stylistic beauty of the original King James produced in 1611.” After publishing the New Testament in 1979, followed by the Psalms in 1980, Thomas Nelson released the full NKJV Bible in 1982. The NKJV went on to become one of the top three bestselling Bibles, alongside the NIV and the KJV.

Both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson were later acquired by HarperCollins, and both the NIV and NKJV are still published today as part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Another good one…

Q: I question the practice of Copyrighting something that is inspired by the Holy Spirit for his church? A laborer is worthy of their hire, but I doubt it is God’s intention to make the music houses rich off the Spirit’s Inspiration, though Pentecostals are notorious for this. (Submitted by Michael Drukenmiller, Sr.)

A: Hopefully the Holy Spirit inspires a wide spectrum of creative works, gifts, and talents in members of the Body of Christ. Most pastors pray that their sermons or messages are Spirit inspired. An executive pastor invites the Spirit’s direction when overseeing a new church building project. Most church staff members are paid a salary to share their gifts and talents with the church community. The only way songwriters are usually compensated for their gifts and abilities is through royalties paid for licensing of their songs.

I believe there are many reasons for church leaders to honor the owners of copyrighted music. I believe the higher vision and greater purpose for HONORING COPYRIGHTS is the calling the Church has to support songwriters and authors of creative works. There are heated debates in today’s culture about whether or not the Copyright Law strangles creativity or rewards originality…enriches a few people or provides the backbone of our knowledge economy. No matter which side you’re on, one thing is clear, songwriters must have a regular income in order to devote themselves wholehearted to their vocation…making music.

Throughout centuries prior to the Copyright Law, musicians and artists have traveled a bumpy road striving to find means to support their vocations. Few have flourished and many have garnered very little income for their work, some dying in poverty.

There was a tremendous creative outpouring unleashed in certain European cities and countries during the Renaissance period (1400-1600) in a cultural economic environment that was void of Copyright Law but promoted by patrons, like the Church and Pope and prominent families, like the Medicis.

Today’s cultural economic environment is quite different, but musicians continue to develop and derive their income from multiple sources. There is a unique relationship and opportunity, however, between today’s Christian community and songwriters. There is a direct pipeline or conduit of steady revenue that is flowing from the Church to songwriters because of music companies and innovative annual blanket licenses that have been developed by businesses with a heart for worship and music ministries.

One of CCS’ goals remains to educate and inform the Christian community on copyrights, and we hope this Q&A series will help achieve this goal. In addition, we have a library of educational material located in our learning center and our team of copyright experts available to chat or offer a consult. We will be back tomorrow tackling some more concrete examples of copyright usage.

Susan Fontaine Godwin is CCS’s Founder/CVO, an educator and long-time member of the Christian arts community with 32 years of experience in the Christian media industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. Susan is an author and speaker and frequently writes for several Christian magazines and online publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Mobile.

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

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