I recently read a discussion on this site about Mat Redman's "Blessed Be The Name" This person was asking if anyone felt the song had embraced "bad theology" over the lyrics "...you give and take away" This fellow who started this discussion mentioned that a member of his congregation had approached him about the lyric stating that it "can't be found in the New Testament". I applaud this person from the congregation that approached the worship leader and asked for biblical backing for the song he sang. I feel that people absolutely do not do this enough. Is it a petty scenario? Probably. However, there are many things that get included into worship songs and sermons that have little to no biblical support and they are accepted as truth without any reservation by the listener. Many on the discussion forum seemed to rebuke the congregation member for approaching the worship leader saying things like "this is an example of foolish disputes", is it? Is it a foolish dispute when someone says "you said something I can't find in the bible, will you show me where you found it?" Is it a foolish dispute for someone to ask for proof that a biblical phrase is being used in context in a song or a sermon? This is why so many false doctrines and traditions of men are so prevalent in our churches today. Very few have the wherewithal to make someone stand accountable for something they said or sang. I understand why this particular song gets a bad review from some people. The song is a bit misleading in it's approach. I love Matt Redman and I understand what he was going for and I applaud it. However, we often hear the phrase "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away" recited at funerals and tragic events, when people decide to blame God for their misfortune. God gets blamed for a lot of stuff. Many use that line to blame Him. This is why I feel that many could take offense to this beautiful song. I admit when I first heard this song I fell in love with it, but when I heard that phrase "you give and take away" being sang so festively it ruined it for me! I've often wondered why he chose to place that lyric in that song. I understand now after reading Matt's explanation of why he wrote the song. Now as worship leaders it is our job to research the songs we sing for a better understanding and for biblical harmony. Any lyric that could be difficult to interpret should be explained to the congregation before it is sang. I feel we need to make certain of songs we sing to a valid reason for their existence. They should not be sang only because they have a cool groove or melody.

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I may be on thin ice, but I think that's incorrect. First, I don't think you need permission for the parody but second, I don't think there is any limit on quantity used in a parody. (True parody vs. satire.) I wasn't aware that the Acuff case had any limitations since the parody was allowed to stand in that case.

I've read over the statues pretty well and some of the cases and I can't find anything that limits quantity when used as a parody of the original work. 



If you're questioning the appropriateness of "Torah" (teaching) psalms or "teaching songs" in general, it certainly appears from Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 that one of the purposes of worship music (though not the only one) is teaching each other.


Also, re-writing lyrics of copyrighted songs is considered theft of intellectual property and is against the law.  If you don't agree with the theological perspective of a copyrighted song, the best thing to do is either use something else or write your own.

All music that we "create" is actually composed of others' ideas. This is necessary to achieve common language and style with those who hear the music. 

But while no music is truly our "own", there is an invisible borderline between using material from others and the sins of theft or of misrepresenting another person's song (which in our world is the intellectual property of another).  Some tweaking is trivial, and doesn't bother anyone. 

There's a song with lyrics that are wonderful in every way, except for a line that says "You crucified Your Son for me".  Now the author doesn't really mean that God crucified Jesus -- he means that God knew that His Son would suffer, even while He was putting the world together -- but this text presents me with the choice of presenting doctrine which could be strangely interpreted, or fixing it by saying something like, "Your Son was crucified for me" (which means what the author intended) -- or, just abandoning the song as containing confusing lyrics in a key point of doctrine. In this case, I wrote the author to question the word choice; but he did not reply.

Does this go over the line?  What do you think?

What about - "it pleased the Lord to crush Him" - Isa 53:10. It's not wrong to say it since the Bible does.

But substituting a Scripture for a bad lyric would still be changing the author's text.

Hey Alex,


Thanks for responding.

No, I hadn’t meant to question the use of the Torah or any other part of Scripture, although I can see now why you might have thought that, based upon what I said.  What I meant was simply that I (myself) don't particularly favor the idea of singing some of those verses (actually … a lot of them) although I know that they are indeed Scriptural truth.  So, I wouldn’t attempt to write a praise and worship song around the Song of Moses, for example (the one which I specified in Deut 32). 


Good insight about those Scriptures about speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Really good.  In fact, I hadn’t really understood why Paul said that – your take on it brings excellent light to it!


Now, as far as the copyright issue goes, I am in fact genuinely concerned about copyright.  (You just don’t realize how much so that is true …)   But I do confess that this one specific area of tweaking lyrics is not one which I have actually gotten "boned up" on. 


Let me make sure we’re on the same page here: are you saying that if I am merely performing a copyrighted song live in a church setting (which we know falls under the religious exemption from copyright control, as far as live performance goes) … and I’m not recording the song …. But only performing it live, as in a worship service … that I am not LEGALLY allowed to change the lyrics at all?   Suppose I’m not projecting it on the screen or passing out song books or lyric sheets, but only performing it live?


Could you clarify whether you know for certain about that?  Since you brought it up, I guess I better “check into it”, although I admit I’d been avoiding it.  


If you are sure that it is illegal .. then, perchance do you know the exact wording in the copyright law which specifies such?   Ideally, I’d like to know the exact paragraph number in the US Copyright Law, but I think that’s asking too much. I would like to check it out for myself.


Thanks again!

Kind Regards,


Playing in a church setting does not exempt anyone from copyright control, ever. I don't know where that comes from, but very few activities are exempt. Parody is one for instance, but other than that, there is NO safe ground and you need to be careful all the time. 

The terms are defined under the license of the specific publisher, CCLI in most church cases. You have to read their terms about what you can and can't do. For me, I'm the reporter in our church, so every year, I have a 6 month period where I have to report the songs we played, how often and in what format. This pays the authors. And we pay for our privilege to use the songs - an annual membership with CCLI. So if you aren't paying CCLI as a congregation but are using songs in their catalogue, you are already in violation of their terms.

Hey Steve,


Thanks for the reply.


I, too, am a CCLI subscriber.  I’ve been such for almost 20 years and am also the one who does the reporting to them.


I don’t mean to ignite a war here … but I promise you – absolutely, 100% -- that churches really, truly do have a degree of freedom that non-churches do not have.  CCLI is totally aware of this.


They do not have complete freedom – but an added degree.  If they had total freedom, there would be no legal ground for CCLI.  But there is legal ground for CCLI.


So then, where is that freedom I’m claiming?  It’s this in specific:  when you perform copyrighted songs in a religious assembly – by US Copyright Law – you are not subject to paying performance royalties on those songs.  This is really the law.


There are some exclusions to this:


1.)    If you perform those songs in a non-religious assembly, you *are* subject to performance royalties.  Only religious assemblies are exempt.  I am not sure what the exact definition of religious assembly is.


2.)    Even if you are in a religious assembly, if you are *recording* the music through any mechanism, that recording is *not exempt* from recording royalties.  In other words: you still must pay royalties to the Publisher of the song(s)  AND  get their “license” so that you can do it.


So, then, what I was asking for in my previous post to Alex was specifically related to this “religious assembly” clause for “live performance”.  To rephrase: since it is legal to perform songs live in a religious assembly, if you do not record them (and actually you can not project the lyrics either under this “exemption”) I am asking, “are you sure that I do not have legal permission to change some of the lyrics?


I hope that clarifies that.


FYI: no I do not have the exact US Copyright Law paragraph number that specifies this exclusion that I’m talking about.  I have read it in the actual law, myself, and it is well-documented (and I’ve read that documentation as well).  So I don’t have it to send to you, sorry.    But you’re still going to need CCLI so as to project lyrics and make copies of sheet music for the band members.


Kind Regards,


Worship of Heaven Song-Sharing Ministry



Intellectual property is intellectual property regardless of where a song is played or for how much.  This issue has nothing to do with royalties or recording licenses.  There are no exclusions or exemptions unless the author specifically grants you permission to change the lyric (as J.M. McMillan allowed David Crowder to "tweak" part of the lyric of "How He Loves").

I know it is tempting to "tweak" lyrics in the name of orthodoxy and pat ourselves on the back for avoiding theological error; unfortunately, it happens to be against the law if the lyric in question is under copyright.

If a lyric is in the public domain (which many hymn lyrics are), then anyone is free to modify the lyric without breaking the law; but, again, if a lyric is so desperately in need of modification I'm tempted to wonder if it's better to just write a different song.

Yes - it's best just write or sing a different song, and tell your pastor or the guy who really really wants you to do that song, "NO.  These words are not becoming to the Body; they are confusing at best and easy to interpret in some heretical way."  

I am a pianist.  I intensely dislike the term "tickle the ivories."  I have never spoken those words in public or in private.  But pastors and evangelists and even good friends, with a big smile, exclaim how I can tickle those ivories. 

They present a warped perception of who I am.  Becoming an ivory-tickler makes me into a trivial pop-muzik Floyd Cramer sort of thing (in my mind). That's something akin to how a songwriter feels when his intellectual property has been violated.  I can't do anything about my friends except smile weakly.  The songwriter, with his copyright, may wish to do more.

Thank you for all those responses ....


Alex: Thanks for the detailed reply; I appreciate it.


Greg: Thanks for the suggestion about what to say to others.  Actually, the real "problem" here is that is is *me* who wants to do a certain song; it's just that there's a couple words (or a phrase, perhaps) that I don't want to say!    

So sorry to hear that you've been slighted by these others.  For what it's worth, though, it sounds to me like they really do like your skill and creativity.  I really doubt if they understood how their "compliments" were offensive to you.  If it be possible - "on behalf of them" -- so sorry!!  :)


Steve: thank you so much for pulling out all that detail.  I want to save your post.

Now, to answer your question to me ... I didn't realize that I was extrapolating anything.   But if that's what I have been doing, OK.  The "reason", then, for my doing so isn't really important - but it's based upon my ignorance, I suppose.  I have gone to great lenghts to obey the Copyright Laws (really have) but when it comes to the laws preventing me from SAYING WHAT I WANT TO SAY on a live, non-recorded, non-broadcast, non-written basis ... I've been living with the thought process that goes like this:


"For crying out loud!  Enough is enough!  I'm going so far out of my way to obey these lousey laws right to the letter ... and now you're telling me that I can't even SAY what I want to say while I'm playing your song in my church service?  No!  That's too far!"


OK ... so ... that's probably about what I've been thinking.  I realize it won't hold up in a court of law if in fact the religious exclusion doesn't cover this issue, as you've all assured me that it doesn't.  But that's WHY I asked for more insight on this issue from ya'll.


By the way, as you know, we are way off this thread's topic.  Maybe someone can scoop up these "copyright" posts and move them to another thread?  Is that possible?


Thank you to each of you who responded.  (I guess it's almost time for another coffee, to try to console myself.)

Kind Regards,

David Straley

Worshp of Heaven Song-Sharing Ministry

@ David - it was me, just a few months ago, who was protesting this seemingly pedantic rule. It's just not fair - heck I'm willing to pay for the priviledge, but I wanna change some words. It's not really all that bad. If you just want to make a small change, authors are known to agree. I've never written for permission because I feel like I'm busting on someone else's work - "I don't really think your song is right, can I change it?" It's never seemed quite right to ask.

The fact is, you will probably never get dinged for changing lyrics in your church. It comes down to perception and personal respect at that point. 


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