Copyright and Church music

Recent articles in the Church Music Quarterly and elsewhere have thrown light on the difficult subject of copyright law. However, churchgoers in the Isle of Man should be wary of taking at face value any statement on the subject. Manx copyright law, which is contained in the Copyright Act 1991 (of Tynwald), is slightly different from United Kingdom law.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the right of an author, composer or artist to control the use made of a literary, musical or artistic work he has created. In the case of words or music, copyright enables the copying, arrangement, alteration, broadcasting, communication to the public and public performance of the work to be controlled. Singing a hymn or anthem as part of a church service does not count as a public performance. The control may be exercised by the author or composer, by his estate if he is dead, by a publisher to whom he has assigned his rights, or by a licensing body (such as the Performing Right Society) on his behalf.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author or composer, and for 70 years after his death. As from 1st April 2013 the term of copyright has been increased from 50 years to 70 years after the author's death. However, works which were out of copyright on that date were not brought back into copyright in the Isle of Man.

Also, for 25 years from the first publication a publisher has the right to control photocopying of a printed page.

What can happen if there is a breach of copyright?

Breach of copyright, except for making or dealing with unauthorised copies commercially, or publishing a work on the internet, is not a criminal offence. But unauthorised copying, performance etc. entitles the copyright owner to bring a civil action for damages or an injunction, and the person in breach would have to pay the legal costs of the action.

K F W Gumbley
January 2013


This is a revised version of an article which appeared in the April 1997 issue of the Isle of Man Church Leader.