If I write, and publish sheet music for, a hymn under CC BY-SA, and it is sung in a church, and the church records their services, does the recording have to be CC BY-SA? If so, can I avoid this while still keeping modified versions of the sheet music under BY-SA?

  • @apsillers yes. "Is it true that a recording of a church service in which a CC BY-SA licensed song is sung by the congregation must by CC BY-SA?" "If it is true, can I, as the author/composer of the song, make it not true?"
    – Someone
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:34
  • Okay, aha, understanding that you're the author clarifies this for me perfectly. I assumed you were asking about your responsibility as someone making use of an upstream SA grant; I now understand that you're the only licensor in this scenario.
    – apsillers
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:35
  • I want churches to be able to use the song without having to make their recordings CC BY-SA.
    – Someone
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:35
  • As an aside, beware of definition of "church" worldwide. Do you intend to grant all of them such rights? Church of Scientology? Church of Satan? Commercial entities that have registered (or pretend to) as a church (and tons of other things in the same time, as it is common in some countries as it does not cost extra) in order so they can exploit such leeway? You might be fine with that (in which case you can consider CC0 instead for your works?) or you might have reservations (in which case you should decide what you want in advance; as once the cat is out of the bag it won't go back in). Mar 22, 2023 at 13:16
  • @MatijaNalis while I would rather those churches not use the hymn, I doubt they would want to, and any CC license would let them do it, they would just have to release the recordings under CC BY SA.
    – Someone
    Mar 22, 2023 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


Whilst I greatly respect my colleague Philip Kendall, in this case I disagree with him.

There are several sets of rights to be considered, here. There is the copyright in the original composition, there is a performance right, and there are recording rights (and those recording rights, as Philip rightly points out, vest in the producer of the work in the absence of any agreement to the contrary). These rights are not mutually-exclusive. That is to say, when it comes to distributing a recording of a performance of a copyrighted musical work, the interests of all rightsholders must be taken into account.

In the UK, PRS for music comprises the Performing Rights Society, who deal with the original author's interest in performances, and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, who deal with the original author's interest in recordings. Both these schemes are voluntary; that is, they collect payments on behalf of original rightsholders who have joined them, and distribute them thereto. If you haven't joined them, your rights cannot be licensed by a PRS payment.

So it seems clear to me that the rightsholder in an original composition does, in the UK system, have an interest in a recorded performance of a work. I am aware of no analysis of whether those rights can be licensed copyleft-style, but I can also not see any obvious block to them doing so.

However, your case is interesting because you don't want to enforce those rights. In that case, I'd add an exception to my CC BY-SA licensing statement along the lines of the kernel linking exception:

NOTE! This copyright does not cover performances and recordings of the work. I, Pat Someone, disclaim any copyright interest in such performances and recordings.

Note that someone with musical training could transcribe your work from such a recording, and since that would be a derivative of a work in which you had disclaimed your interest, you would have no control over that transcription. Hopefully, this is not a risk you're worried about.

  • I ended up giving an exemption only to the Share alike clause and only for church service recordings. If someone transcribes it from a church service, it will at least be (effectively) CC BY, and I believe my copyright on the lyrics would be preserved, thus keeping the lyrics under BY SA.
    – Someone
    Mar 22, 2023 at 14:11
  • @Someone good idea (and thanks for dealing with the other matter).
    – MadHatter
    Mar 22, 2023 at 20:31


A separate copyright subsists in the recording than the sheet music. The Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the main piece of primary legislation around copyright in the UK, contains specific rules around who is the author of a creative work (Section 9):

(1) In this Part “author”, in relation to a work, means the person who creates it.
(2) That person shall be taken to be—
(aa) in the case of a sound recording, the producer;

"Producer" itself is defined in Section 178:

“producer”, in relation to a sound recording or a film, means the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the making of the sound recording or film are undertaken;

As the author of the work, the producer can license the recording under any terms they wish; they are not bound by your copyright on the sheet music.

  • What about the lyrics?
    – Someone
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:41
  • Another separate copyright exists there. Although for a lot of hymns, any copyright on the lyrics will be long expired. The multiple separate copyrights are why licensing music can be a tricky process. Mar 21, 2023 at 22:46
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    I wrote both the lyrics and the music, with some reuse of public domain works but mostly original content, so I own any copyright in either. I want to make sure that translations and other modified versions of the hymn are CC BY-SA, but churches that use it in their services don't need to license recordings of their services under CC BY-SA.
    – Someone
    Mar 21, 2023 at 22:49
  • 1
    As the sole copyright holder in the works, you can always create a separate license grant saying "recordings of this work are not subject to CC BY-SA". While that would have no effect in the UK (because recordings are not subject to CC BY-SA, whatever you say), that would fulfil your goal in a hypothetical A.N.Other Country where copyright in the sheet music/lyrics does transfer to recordings. Mar 21, 2023 at 23:11
  • 1
    Isn't the recording a derivative work of the sheet music? If not, this seems like a huge hole in the copyright system.
    – Barmar
    Mar 22, 2023 at 14:11

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