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Copyright of images, music and text

Copyright is an intellectual property protection which affects the use of liturgy, music, images and other resources or text in worship, online and in print. This page gives advice for working within the law. Using someone else’s intellectual property without permission can be both costly and embarrassing.

Images for use online and in print

It is important to ensure that you have permission to use images anywhere online – your website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – as well as in print. There is a common misperception that images online are in the public domain and can be reused. On the contrary, you should presume that all online content is copyright and you do not have permission to use it yourself without consent from the copyright holder. Fortunately, there are now many ways to use interesting images and to stay on the right side of the law.

Licensing images

There are many websites that will grant you a license to use an image in exchange for a fee. Getty Images is a supplier of premium images, often to media and marketing companies; many of their images will be prohibitively expensive to license. The good news is that they also offer a free programme to use a large set of their photography: Getty Images embed. This programme allows you to embed photos on your site for free.

There are also free options thanks to the idea of Creative Commons, under which copyright holders grant permission to use their work. The copyright holder may stipulate that their work can’t be used for commercial purposes, or that it may not be altered or that a short statement should appear identifying them as the creator.

Websites such as Unsplash and Freely offer beautiful free images licensed under Creative Commons Zero (CC0), or an equally useful equivalent/variation. You can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos free of charge, including for commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer.

The website A Church Near You holds a catalogue of stock images that can be downloaded from the resources section of the parish page. Simply log on to the website which will allow you to amend your parish page in the newly updated format and with new features. While you are there, you can download a profusion of stock images for your website or social media.

Sites like PhotoPin make it easy to find Creative Commons images and to comply with any terms of the license.

The popular photosharing site flickr also offers ways to search for Creative Commons images.

Common Worship

Material from Common Worship is subject to copyright too. Full information about when permission to reproduce Common Worship text is required can be found on the copyright page on the Church of England’s website. If the material is going to be used in an act of worship, no application for permission is usually required. The CofE’s A Brief Guide to Liturgical Copyright, which is available via the copyright page, sets out when explicit permission is or is not required.

Copyright of hymns

Permission to reproduce copyright hymns should be obtained from the appropriate publisher. If you copy by any means, without permission or authority from the copyright owner or by not being covered by a copyright licence, your church could risk expensive legal action being taken against it.

Christian Copyright Licensing (CCLI)

There are a number of licences available to cover different church needs. The Music Reproduction Licence combined with the Church Copyright Licence allows churches to photocopy works and music from authorised catalogues. The Church Copyright Licence on its own allows the reproduction (not photocopying) of words only. Holders of the Church Copyright Licence can also purchase the Music Reproduction Licence which enables churches to photocopy authorised music from authorised publications. Licences and further details are available from Christian Copyright Licensing.

Streaming church services

In March 2020, CCLI launched a Streaming Licence for churches in the UK. This licence provides a solution for churches wishing to stream or webcast their services, including the live worship, as video and audio. The Streaming Licence includes the right to show lyrics as part of the stream, to enable viewers to sing along.

The CCLI Streaming Licence permits you to stream or webcast on some social media platforms which are normally intended for personal, domestic use only, including YouTube or Facebook. If you are hosting the stream on your own church website, or via Zoom, you will also require a Limited Online Music Licence (LOML) from PRS for Music. See this section of the CCLI website for more information.

Copyright Law

Further information may be obtained from the following bodies:

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