CCLI a scam?

Hello, all. I was doing some research on the CCLI, and I stumbled into an article claiming that it’s basically a scam. Here’s your link:

The TLDR is that the author claims that churches are exempt from copyright law for musical performance per a 1982 amendment to the Code, and he asserts fair use for the written lyrics to go with this.

I was wondering if anyone here could confirm or deny this. I do know that there’s an IP lawyer who has frequented this site from time to time (you know who you are :wink: ), but if any of you know enough to speak to this, I’d appreciate it.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf


I have always thought that CCLI was a wicked shakedown, but presumed it legally correct. I finally got around to reading this. Fascinating. The site design doesn’t inspire confidence, but this guy clearly has some idea what he’s talking about.

Here’s what he links to first. Performances in worship services are indeed exempted by copyright law. (see 1.110.3) I had no idea. Here’s what it says:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106 [the copyright holder’s rights], the following are not infringements of copyright: […]
performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;

Later he addresses producing copies of lyrics in songbooks or on screens. His claim is that it is protected under fair use. I have the most concern here. I’d love for an IP lawyer to weigh in on this part.

I don’t know that fair use would cover everything he thinks it does (and it’s worth noting that he doesn’t think fair use is universal).

Anyway, it seems to me that putting lyrics on a screen or in a bulletin would fall under the “display of a work, in the course of services” exemption above.

He also addresses the absurdity of CCLI and modern artists conspiring to collect money for old hymns that are out of copyright entirely, ie in the public domain. I fully approve of his pointing this out and condemning it.

Anyway, any lawyers want to chime in on the fair use question? I’d love to have somebody do an analysis of what you do and don’t actually need CCLI for.

I was floored to find out that we don’t need to pay CCLI the protection money for their racket just to sing songs that are under copyright. I think the most amazing thing CCLI has accomplished through their fear-mongering is preventing Christians from finding out about this important little exception that was added to copyright law in the USA. It might be the most damning thing, too.