Most of the old hymns are in the public domain and can be used, produced, performed, recorded, distributed or even sold without recourse.
But most of the current “worship music” that is used in churches is COPYRIGHTED. When a song is copyrighted, you are NOT allowed to perform it or even play in in a public arena without a license to do so.
Some of the old “camp meeting” songs were also copyrighted but in years past, we acquired a license to use the song in public worship when we purchased the song book that included the song. The publisher of the song book had arranged for the license prior to publication.
Today, most churches are using overhead projection of some sort to display the words of the songs they sing. Since there were no song books purchased, there was no automatic license granted. This places a church in jeopardy of being sued for misuse of copyrighted material. Fines can very VERY severe!
The most common solution to this problem is to purchase a license from Christian Copyright License International (CCLI). The cost of the license is based upon the size of the congregation and for small churches is around $100 per year. Here is s short quote from their website:
The copyright law is very clear on copying music. If you do not have express permission from the rightful owner of the song, you cannot make a copy. Many church music leaders who have made efforts to honor the law and have tried to obtain permission first from the copyright owner before making copies have found this to be a time-consuming challenge and in many cases, an administrative nightmare.
Many have agreed…the copyright law is fair but not practical. That’s why more than 150,000 churches across North America are taking advantage of the Church Copyright License from CCLI.
The Church Copyright License is a contractual agreement with songwriters and publishers from around the world. For an annual license fee, a church receives legal authorization to copy from over 200,000 songs for congregational use.