Worship in the 80s — Part 1

80sIt obviously took him a long time to type it all out.

He was once about as rude and judgmental toward me personally as anyone ever has been.  But I completely believe his heart was right on this — and that he was genuinely spiritually enthused about this particular project.  And not only the project, but the potential for people to use his work.

What was the project?  It was a compilation of song lyrics, titled Let the People Sing! and dated 1982.  The title page carried the title, the date, and the name of the compiler.  And the remainder of it was about 50 pages of song lyrics for use in church gatherings.

There were dozens . . . scores . . . probably hundreds of churches that did similar things.  As contemporary Christian music was working its way into big business status,¹ in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, lots of folks wanted to encourage their congregations to sing new songs.

This was before CCLI was born or well known, so there was no “clearinghouse” for securing permission to use the songs.  Permissible compilations would have involved hours of research, more hours of letter-writing, lots of stamps, and lots of waiting to find out that “the copyright to many of the songs was now owned by X Conglomerate, so you’ll have to write to them now.”

Creating songbook supplements (whether lyrics-only or with music notation)² without permission was illegal, and no one should have done it.

For the uninitiated:  songs are considered intellectual property, not unlike patented inventions or trademarks.  Authors, composers, and copyright administrators typically retain the rights to the songs.

In my personal files, I have a bunch of paper copies of songs from the 80s and 90s.  (I quit collecting in the early 00s, I think.)  People would hear a new song and make a copy for me, thinking I might like it, and/or maybe our church might eventually sing it.

Some of these songs were printed in church bulletins.  One set of lyrics was Dennis Jernigan’s.  The words had been printed in an Abilene bulletin without the publisher’s name and maybe without the composer’s name, either.  My musical setting of the “Rushing Wind” poem was arguably better than Jernigan’s.  It was more meditative and was not congregational.  His was obviously more popular.  And mine was (unwittingly) illegal and so has never been distributed.  (It’s stored as a DOS-based Songwright notation file and also as audio on a cassette tape.  Bob and Stephen and other friends:  I can still use DOS and Windows 3.1 and tape decks and other good stuff!)

Another set of lyrics was passed on to me in a greeting card, completely unattributed. (After all, they were Christian lyrics, so it was different.  I mean, if you were using the words and/or music for good, Christian purposes, it had to be all right, right?)  The person who gave the words to me was about 20 years old and wouldn’t have thought there was anything untoward.)  I set the words to music myself and later discovered they were from a song written by Keith Green.  Mine was a pretty good song, but more hymn-like than the original, and not nearly as likely to be sung passionately as Green’s original music to “Thank You, Oh, My Father.”  Green’s widow Melody and those who handle his estate would not give permission for me to distribute my song.  This firm decision may be because the words were Melody’s, or it may be simply because too many people have done illegal things, and they’re tired of the requests.

Some of my paper copies of songs were merely duplicates of hymnal songs (owned by the church or me), so it was OK, in those cases, to use copies.  I used various sets in devotional/special gatherings for singing, and much of that material was in public domain.  At least, I originally had legal rights to make the copies, but I should have destroyed the temporary copies after the fact.  (It’s hard for me to trash things I might legally use again at the next church.)

We all — me included — ought to think about such things.


¹ Now here’s a completely tangential footnote.  “Status” and “data,” contrary to most popular usage, may correctly be pronounced with long “a” sounds.  “Stātus,” in other words, rhyming with “state,” not with “at.”  The long-a way is still one of the correct pronunciations in dictionaries, and sometimes, it’s listed first.

² (This one is less tangential.)  It’s a common belief that if you only reproduce the words without permission, it’s not a violation of copyright law.  The distinction between lyrics-only and with-music is fallacious.  (Randall, you once said you read my footnotes.  Still?  🙂  )

5 thoughts on “Worship in the 80s — Part 1

  1. Marshall 11/25/2014 / 2:23 pm

    merely creating songbooks for small faith or educational groups was/is not illegal… US Title 17 permits doing so. As for CCLI, there remains no foundation in law for what they do. They exist on the legal fringes, and have faced threat of legal action for their presumption to represent the interests of songwriters everywhere.


    • Brian Casey 11/25/2014 / 5:09 pm

      Marshall, I’d be curious to know the source(s) of your impressions of what the laws permit. While there is gray area, and while small infractions typically don’t get the attention of the law or the copyright holders/administrators, the law I have read is quite clear that *permission must be secured for reprinting/reproducing songs in any form,, when those songs are protected by copyright.*

      Educational “fair use” has limits, and certain church uses *might *qualify as “educational.” Although there may be instructional elements, it might be difficult to prove to non-faith legal eagles that reprinting a song for use during a worship assembly or small group gathering constitutes educational “fair use.” In addition, there is a 10%-of-the-whole clause that would come into play, I believe — copying a single 12-page chapter out of a 200-page book for a course is OK, I think, but using an entire song without permission is not OK.

      The existence of legal threats notwithstanding (in our litigious society, threats are not uncommon!), CCLI represents songwriters and copyright administrators by contract (one of which I hold), not by presumption. I think the presumption more likely comes in when a careless staff “worship leader” assumes CCLI is master of all, when it doesn’t happen to represent a relatively obscure composer of a worship song or two. I believe there are a couple of residual publishers of “old time” songs from the early and mid 20th century, too, that have not elected to be represented by CCLI. One only needs to check to make sure the publisher or songwriter is on CCLI’s list, and it’s all quite legal and beneficial to most creators and faith groups. Perhaps you’ve gotten a negative impression for some reason?

      On Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 2:23 PM, NT Christianity wrote:



    • Marshall 11/26/2014 / 7:53 am

      thank you for your reply, Brian.
      loose-bound or unbound/soft-projected liturgy, song, psalm have been (and should be) understood as ephemeral (short-lived) copies… so they continue to be within religious-educational functions. The US code has supported such “fair use” primarily in that it was brought forward to law with churches & schools in mind. And, this has held with little question… but for a few larger churches who began asking a price for copies. With the church house as a “den of theives” marketplace, “fair use” cannot apply, and as a “tax exempt” status ought also fall to doubt where retail sales are blooming.
      I’ve seen a few of the threatening letters sent to churches by the CCLI. These guys are lawyers; not nice people, and not above lies or intimidation. Hearing pastors refer to them such as “corporate mobsters”, along with a growing group of business-minded leechs that would goad churches & parachurches into some type of recurrant membership or obligation.
      Having spent a number of years working with artists, writers, churches and parachurch orgs, often seeing how local support of inspirational songwriters and hymnwriters remains ideal — much preferred to forcing a contract or obligation via someone’s unrelated third-party. I continue to be hearing from artists who are contacted by CCLI de facto post-collection of license fees for their materials. {gasp!} (Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if CCLI denies it.) Nevertheless, this type of no-option contracting is not appropriate for churches or other groups, or even as a sound business practice. US case law continues to support having nothing to do with rumors about churches no longer eligible for “fair use”.


    • Brian Casey 11/26/2014 / 8:20 am

      Marshall, you bring up a far more broad philosophical and practical topical area here. If memory serves (and here, as your references and implications strike me), you are the Marshall who believes and acts on ideals not associated with large, corporate church “stuff.” I am in complete sympathy with you on this! It is not as though I want to be part and parcel of an institutional system, nor do I believe that the heirs of copyright holders should continue getting rich passively. As a sometime-song writer whose songs are sometimes worthwhile, I do have a persistent yearning to be paid a little for things that could serve Christian communities. As it stands, I’ve made a grand total of around $250 in royalties for my songs used in church gatherings in the 15 years I’ve been a CCLI copyright administrator.

      I believe you’re right when you suggest “ephemeral” represents a principle. Another principle, of course, is defrauding the owner of profit. I’d suggest that the size of the “den of thieves” doesn’t matter much; it’s the activity that matters. So, if a church that meets in my house pays $120 a year or whatever for a CCLI license, we can legally make the allowed uses of any songs that are covered. But, if I were to decide to start a little fundraiser to help the poor in our community — printing up, publishing, and selling a collection of those songs, that would be illegal. It’s just as illegal if we have 14 meeting in our house and I sell 23 copies and make a profit of $43 as bigger numbers are for a large church, but obviously, it’s not worthwhile for lawyers to pursue a little house church.

      I take you at your word when you say you’ve seen letters sent to churches by CCLI, but that sounds exceedingly strange to me. CCLI itself has no authority to make anyone buy a license or to comply with their terms. They are merely a “middleman.” Maybe the letters were pressuring churches who hadn’t paid their license fees but were still using materials? I would be most interested to see one of these letters — mainly to inform myself further, but if you were able to get a scanned copy sent to me by e-mail, I might ask permission to write about it here — not using any names, of course.

      Incidentally, when a staff “pastor” (of a sizable church with a sizable budget) refers to someone at CCLI as a corporate mobster, that carries a lot less weight than if a simple-church leader with essentially no budget were to be threatened. The former situation could be the pot calling the kettle black, if you know what I mean. I’m primarily an introvert, interested in small-scale, local things, too. Although I’d love to be making a few thousand $ a year for 4-5 of my good songs to be used broadly, it would be so I could devote more time to study and projects to serve where I live, not so I could be rich.

      I’m by no means a cheerleader for CCLI (they help the rich get richer and refused to accept notated copies of relatively unknown songs from unknowns like me, because my songs weren’t above some usage threshold, so it wouldn’t be worth their e-storage space). So far, though, from what I know personally, CCLI serves a reasonable function at a reasonable price. Your insights are new to me, and I’m sincerely interested in receiving further info, if you or someone you know are willing to share — however confidentially you wish.

      On Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 7:53 AM, NT Christianity wrote:



    • Brian Casey 11/26/2014 / 8:57 am

      I had this one further thought as I heated up my coffee . . . how is “ephemeral” conceived of by legal authorities? I have a looseleaf binder I (dutifully under CCLI’s auspices), containing songs the youth group sung, prepared for another church 15 years ago, and it’s still in great shape. I doubt the other copies still exist there, but I used my copy last night. And some of the paper copies I recently disposed of were 30 years old. In the grand scheme of eternity, that’s pretty ephemeral, but I’m not sure how copyright administrators might think. Just a thought….

      On Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 7:53 AM, NT Christianity wrote:



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