So being one of the people who sorts out music at my church, I've become aware of the CCLI licensing group. Up until now my father (who also sorts out music and who is the treasurer of the church) has absolutely refused to get a CCLI license ever since he looked into it a few years ago and I've always thought this was typical of my father who just has to find a problem with everything. :)
Recently I voiced the opinion to him that we should get a license for the music we use. We have two hymn books for which the copyright is already sorted, but we've never added all that many new songs into the mix. Now, however, the number of new songs is growing and I was a bit concerned that we weren't being ethical.
He proceeded to tell me all the problems he has with the CCLI system.
Firstly, it only covers you using the words of a song on an overhead projector or powerpoint. You have to buy a second license if you want to photocopy any of the music for other musicians.
Secondly, you don't actually get any music out of it. You still have to buy sheet music, or write it down yourself (which I have been doing for the last few years given that the Christian music industry seems to have decided that it's perfectly reasonable to sell people "sheet music" that consists only of guitar chords).
Thirdly, you have to tell them every week exactly what songs you have sung. This is an incredibly stupid system for churches like ours; we have something called "Open Worship" in which anyone can stand up and ask for a song. We don't know what we're going to be playing until seconds before we play it. It's a time-consuming thing to make a church do, especially a church like ours with already stretched resources.
Fourthly and fifthly and sixthly, there were a whole lot of other points he made which I can't remember, but actually sounded quite reasonable.
It made me start wondering what in fact is the best thing to do. Not getting a license leaves us open to lawsuits etc, but getting a license is just a pain in the neck and doesn't actually solve any of our problems.
I also started wondering... CCLI licenses are talked up as the "ethical" option but really how ethical is it to demand that small churches without resources jump through hoop after hoop? Whenever I find a new song for the church I have to buy either a CD of it or an MP3 file, and, if it's available, I have to buy piano music as well. My money is going to the musicians who write it and I find it a little offensive that it's implied that if you don't buy a license you are somehow robbing the musicians and leaving them destitute.
I also think Christian copyrighting can be extremely suspect. I've bought books of sheet music sometimes that have included songs like Amazing Grace, which have a big © 2002 at the bottom, as if they belong to whoever printed out the music. Under that reasoning, the fact that I write my own piano arrangements of some of the more modern music means I could start selling it as my own.
Anyway (and this is the biggest issue for me), whether it's ethical or not, how Christian is it to hold the threat of lawsuit over other Christians' heads? As if there's nothing problematic about walking into a church that is praising God in song and treating them like criminals?
I know that it's not for me to order Christian musicians to provide free service for other Christians. It should be a personal decision, not forced. However, all of us Christians are living in the world but we are not of the world. Why, exactly, have some people decided that copyright law is a crucial part of Christian ethics? What happened to the principle of doing the right thing and serving God's people without expectation of reward? I think a strong case could be made that Christians who serve in music ministry are a bit like missionaries who don't demand money from the church but depend on God's provision. God's provision is not in forced payments from reluctant Christians, but in gifts offered freely and generously in recognition of missionaries' needs.
When thinking about this issue, I can't help but think about Keith Green, who refused to ask for money for his recordings and concerts. And yet God provided.