Copyrights here, copyrights there

"... I have come to notice that the way copyright law is written, it is messed up with respect to religious music.

One of the basic problems, here, of course, was the long-time ignorance of churches on copyright law and publishers' beginning to address and enforce the first item: the making of copies.

However, this is only one of several actions which comes under the scope of copyright law.

Moreover, reading through the copyright law, one quickly sees a ridiculous law which has been poorly patched up to deal with the religious nature of certain music, as though it was a last-minute thought. (Strange for a country whose FIRST ammendment protects religious expression!)

I am not a lawyer, but literally reading the copyright law, it actually prohibits copying, distributing, publicly displaying, performing, adapting or creating derivative works, improperly attributing authorship, and destroying of property, except as expressly allowed by the copyright owner.

Of course, the point to the law was to protect and encourage authorship (not enrich publishing companies, though profit-making publishers are probably essential to making the whole system work). Under performing rights, the law expressly permits performing as part of a religious service. Unfortunately, it neglects to address other critical issues that affect freedom of worship.

First, the prohibition of adaptation essentially makes it literally illegal to change a single note or word (whether intentionally or by accident). It also makes it illegal to adapt parts. Suppose your bass section doesn't show up - it's literally illegal to "perform" that copyrighted song written in four-part SATB harmony. Or suppose you want to add a trumpet player or a clarinet player at Christmas or something like that. The law says I have to get written permission for that. Likewise with a soloist who wants to sing with inspiration, and not necessarily exactly how a copyrighted song is written - take something like "How Great Thou Art" or "Let There Be Peace on Earth".

Of course, some of this is silly, some is really overlooking. Copyright law can only be properly understood as an outgrowth of intellectual property rights which were legally protectible according to common sense but were not written down. But they've been poorly written down, and it seems like religious music publishers don't notice.

Religious publishers require you to sign off the copyright ownership to them (giving them all the rights listed above), yet the composer (rightfully) still includes performance notes, which involve various adaptations of the piece and are sometimes open-ended. Once when I went to a workshop, a composer encouraged playing his published piece inspirationally, but the publisher could have turned and claimed I was violating his 'right' as copyright owner.

Where do we start to deal with this? When are religious music publishers going to get an ear on capitol hill, or decide to forget them and rewrite a sensible copyright law themselves? ..."

--- Charles Pouliot from an Integrity Music discussion board.