There is a new law in our land: Public Law 94–553 to be precise, most often called Copyright Law S. 22. But S. 22 does not really apply to the church, does it? A pastor from upstate New York speaks for many when he writes:

“For as long as I can remember, churches have mimeographed song sheets for banquets, meetings, conventions, etc. I understand it is illegal to reproduce copyrighted material in any fashion. Many youth groups have gotten together a collection of contemporary hymns and choruses and have mimeographed small song books, that is reproducing only the words. I think all of us in the Christian ministry want to be law abiding citizens, but we are not sure just what the law allows and what it does not allow.”

Even under a loose interpretation of the law reproducing copyrighted material is illegal. Taking something that belongs to someone else always is, particularly now under S. 22, which grants longer protection and greater rights for the creator. Not that the idea of a copyright law is anything new. Congress in 1790 first exercised its constitutional power “to promote the progress of Science and useful Arts by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Three times since then, most recently in 1909, the copyright law has been modified. But over the last half-century, and more particularly in the last twenty years, with great technological change (photocopiers, tape recorders, cable television, and the like), the law has been revised and rewritten.

Initiated by Congress in 1955—twenty-two years ago—the new Copyright Law S. 22 was signed on October 16, 1976, by President Ford and became effective January ...

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