Liturgy and Copyrights

I have requested permission from our friends at Augsburg Fortress Publishers to post some liturgical material from Evangelical Lutheran Worship on my Daily Prayer Delivered blog.  Specifically, I have requested to publish an amended version of Responsive Prayer (pg. 328-331 ELW pew edition) along with Propers from the Church Year (including Lesser Festivals and Commemorations – pg. 14-61) and citations from the Daily Lectionary (pg. 1121-1153).  That is, I’m requesting permission to post what I’ve already been posting for several months.  Shame on me for not doing this sooner.  It’s a lot of material that many people worked hard to create, edit, and publish.

This morning I received an email saying that my request was being reviewed.  I am a bit nervous about this, and I anxiously await their response.

Copyright law is serious business, and too many of our churches violate copyright every week.  From photocopying sheet music rather than purchase enough copies for each choir member, or reprinting hymns in bulletins without proper licenses, we violate the Seventh Commandment all the time.

The Seventh Commandment
You are not to steal.
What is this? Answer:
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.
[From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kolb & Wengert translation, (c) 2000, pg. 353.]

When we copy or distribute copyrighted material without proper licenses – licenses that provide payment to the creators of the material – we are stealing.  Click here for Augsburg Fortress’ Copyrights and Permissions page.

That being said, I agree with Father Chris who writes that liturgical material should be protected under a less restrictive system than our current copyright laws allow.  Liturgical material is for the whole church – congregations, church institutions, and the people themselves who constitute the Body of Christ – and as such I would hope that liturgical material could be shared and distributed in generously permissive manner.  If liturgical material is being created to facilitate the prayer and devotion of the People of God, we should seek out ways to distribute this material in as many and useful ways as possible.  This blog is one such way.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t fault Augsburg Fortress for requiring me to purchase a license to publish the material on my Daily Prayer Delivered blog.  It’s their material and they need to charge a fee for their work – I know!  I used to work in sales for Augsburg Fortress!  But I also wouldn’t be upset if they granted me permission to publish without any fee, with certain conditions or citations.

We’ll see.  I’ll let you know when I hear from the folks in Minneapolis.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “Liturgy and Copyrights

  1. This is one of my pet peeves. It’s a perfect example of us as the Church feeling like it’s our institutions that need to be preserved. I mean, I can see that Augsburg Fortress needs to bring in money in order to survive, and I would be very sorry to see them, as a publisher of high quality Christian books, go. At the same time, we are in a position now where we, as the Church, could create a much less money intensive way of distributing our liturgical resources (as your web site demonstrates). So do we, as the Church, really need for Augsburg Fortress to survive?
    I have the same qualms about worship music. I suppose the argument is that unless a person can make a living producing worship music, no one will do it. If that’s so, we’ve got big problems. But as a comparison, look at the software world. Software engineers have discovered that they can give away their wares and still stay gainfully employed. I spent two and a half years being paid to work on a project that was intended to be given away freely (open source). My company paid me for it because they wanted people to have the software I was working on. They wanted it to become ubitquitous. Isn’t the same at least equally true for churches?
    I suggest that the time is long since past for the Church to move to a model of “open source” liturgy (something we had for most of our history). Liturgists and musicians can be in the employ of individual congregations who can afford to support their work, and then this work can be given away freely to the benefit of all the congregations and ministries who need the money for other things.
    It may be that I’m being naive about this, but I don’t think so.
    I look forward to hearing what Augsburg Fortress tells you. I am very hopeful they will gladly offer their materials to you. I got permission a few years ago to distribute some pages from Luther’s Works for a class I was teaching. They’re good people, I think.

  2. I understand why the songs contain copyrights that require royalties. I fail to understand why the liturgy contains a restrictive copyright. Didn’t the ELCA get to develop the liturgy? There are dozens of “self-publishing” options available if it is not economically feasible for Augsburg to publish a Lutheran book of worship without exclusive rights.
    Speaking of copyright, and not entirely on topic, there was a very good article on copyright issues in the LA Times last week:,0,1675278.story

  3. I struggle with this as well…liturgy being made available to churches in a less restictive manner. But on the other side of the coin, writers need to make a living as well. Where is the line drawn? Is there even a line?

  4. Liturgy is a grey area, granted: is it poetry, the artistic work of a few individuals, or is it, as the title suggests, the “work of the people” and therefore open-source stuff for which we require no attribution? For me, I’d choose the former just because it seems the more gracious response, and I’d bet that Augsburg would agree, so long as your postings are attributed properly.

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