The Copyright Quagmire


From the outset of my work on this project I was concerned about the copyright issues raised relating to songs and scriptures.  I wanted to make sure that everyone using this software to display songs would be aware of copyright issues and know that they need to have a license from the song publishers.  Thus my documentation and the opening splash screen have clear warnings.


I asked for advice about copyright from many technicians around the world, via the Internet.  The general conclusion was that my project would not infringe song or scripture copyrights, because the software would not itself be using any of the texts themselves.  I was providing a tool, rather like a projector, which would enable churches to get texts onto a screen.  The churches would need to be licensed to display song texts with my software, in the same way that they need to be licensed to use overhead projectors.


The general feeling regarding scriptures was to agree with my simplistic approach: if there is no need to pay for a license to read scripture in church then there is no need to pay to display the same words at the same time on a screen behind the reader.


However, in the last few months the position regarding songs has been queried by some interested parties.


Since starting to use my software at our church, I have built up a collection of over 2000 files of the words of songs and hymns, many typed in by hand by church members. When a church takes out a license for my software, I help them by sharing our efforts with them and give them a copy of these files.  I proposed to continue this as the library grew.  But it has now been suggested that these files of song words require copyright licenses in their own right, separate from a license to display, print or use them.


So I am now removing from my shared library any files of songs that are still copyright. Many older hymns are no longer affected and I shall continue to share these files.  I am talking with publishers to see if we can come to agreements about licensing distribution of files of song words in my simple format.

I hope to be able to sell licensed copies of formatted song words from each publisher in due course.


BUT FOR NOW I suggest that users either:

*   type in the words of any song they wish to use,

*   work with any files of words that they have already built up in order to print to acetates or on paper, or

*   work with any files provided by publishers (eg “Songs Of Fellowship” provide a disk of song files with their music book).


It is very simple to enter song words directly to “Sing And Read”.  It is quite simple to reformat an existing song text file into the format needed.  “Sing And Read” has a utility that will automatically convert any song file that is in the most basic file type of “.TXT”, providing that it is set out in the way described below.


To use this utility, or to enter words directly using the “Type in a song” utility, the song words must have a verse number on a separate line before every verse, and the word “chorus” on its own line before every chorus.  The chorus need only appear once.  If there is a “bridge” that links other parts of the song, then that must be preceded by an asterisk “*”.  The file must then be stored as a genuine TXT file.  This should be possible from any word processor. Please note that it is not sufficient to change the name of a file previously stored as anything other than a TXT type!


I greatly regret that we are not allowed to pass on to folk the files that we have produced in our church in the ways described above.  In my personal opinion, it does seem rather absurd for others to have to repeat the work done by us.


I shall be suggesting to publishers that their methods have been left behind by technology advances and that copyright charges should now be concentrated on use of their material rather than on storing and distributing it.  I am strongly in favour of rewarding the authors and have no wish to avoid honouring them.  However, I feel that the means of doing this could now usefully be adapted to match the new situation.


If anyone has a professional opinion regarding these copyright issues and would like to explain it to me then I should be pleased to hear from them.  I can be emailed here.


ã Peter Morgan, author of “Sing And Read” song and scripture projection software.   20 May 2000


More details may be obtained from:

Peter Morgan,             Email peter at melted dot com ,            Tel (44) 0117 9863991