Many Unitarian Meeting Houses and Churches are closed or closing for the next few weeks at least.  Rather than allow this to stop or prevent worship and community, many are starting instead to explore online worship.  Whether streamed live, or recorded for later use, the issue of copyright is a bit of a headache.  We all know why copyright exists, and we support the need to ensure writers, composers and artists are approrpiately rewarded and recognised for their work.  However, the complex legal environment requires us to take care. 

I am not a lawyer and I claim no expertise in this.  However, in this exceptional time, I have taken steps to gather as much information as I can, to support you in your work.  This relates to written material, and music. I have also gained specific agreement to works published by the UK's Lindsey Press and the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is also detailed below.  Finally, and I must stress this, these are only pointers and, of course, final responsibility for this lies with you.

Throughout this piece, there are links to other sites and pages.  On a PC, laptop or iPad, those links are immediately after the (click the banner) comment.  On a phone they appear at the bottom of the page.


The latest view on copyright associated with streaming is explained and discussed by the Law and Religion website.  This is a link to the updated page (click the banner):


In addition, Catherine Robinson (a member of the Lindsey Press Panel, and with long-standing experience in the publishing industry) has produced an informal guide to the the key issues to be aware of.  This is available here (click the banner):


There is a lot of Unitarian worship material contained in Lindsey Press, Skinner House, GA and UUA publishing.  Copyright and usage guidance is set out in paras below.  If a piece falls outside the generous permissions given, and you are able to identify the author, it's often worth contacting them and asking permission.  I've found it is usually given.  In addition the following Unitarian Ministers and Lay Leaders have given explicit agreement already for their material to be used for these services: Elizabeth Birtles, Kate Brady McKenna, Jeffery Bowes, Celia Cartwright, Jim Corrigall, Daniel Costley, Cody Coyne, Danny Crosby, Bill Darlison, Kate Dean, Andrew Hill, Elizabeth Harley (Elizabeth Hornby), John Harley, Ant Howe, Bob Janis-Dillon, Anna Jarvis, Nicky Jenkins, Eric Jones, Margaret Kirk, Kathleen McTigue, Helen Mills, June Pettitt, Andy Phillips, Lynne Readett, Maud Robinson, Matthew Smith, Sarah Tinker, Martin Whitell, Rob Whiteman, Kate Whyman, and Sue Woolley.  This list will be updated as often as possible. 


The Lindsey Press is the publishing arm of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (the GA)  They publish many books of prayers, readings and other words. Copyright of the material in these books is generally held by the GA (check inside the book - some authors retain their own copyright).  Liz Slade, Chief Executive of the GA has issued the following advice and authorisation regarding use of material from Lindsey Press publications during this time of building closure:

"I think it’s essential that we do what we can for worship to proliferate right now.  I am happy for the GA to grant permission for Lindsey Press copyrighted materials to be used in recorded and live-streamed services, and for other purposes in service of communities (Unitarian or otherwise).


The American UUA also publishes a large amount of material online and in other publications (and through the Skinner House imprint).  The UUA guidance and authorisation on using such material in worship is on this webpage (click the banner):


You will note this authorisation refers to: "The content is intended for temporary use, such as in a livestreamed worship service or in an order of service for a worship service on a specific date."  I have checked with Mary Benard, Editorial Director at the UUA, who confirms this generous authorisation applies "to all broadcast services, including livestreaming, podcasts, zoom calls, etc. And certainly we’re happy for this to extend to our UU family overseas as well."  In this instance, recordings of services are considered in the same light as a podcast. 


Copyright around music appears enven more complex.  I think it's fair to say that, generally, avoiding pre-recorded music in streamed or recorded Services is advisable.  However, David Dawson of the Unitarian Music Society (UMS) has advised the following regarding the UMS hymns and CDs:

"There is a religious service exemption which allows churches to perform live or recorded music at a service and at a place of worship.  The exemption doesn't apply to the re-transmission of the service.

I would suggest that you are careful what you use.  Clearly anything in the public domain is OK and I hope we can assume that authors and composers within the Unitarian tradition will be understanding of our situation.

There will be more hymns in the Green book that pass this test eg No 37 - public domain tune and words (John Andrew Storey) by a Unitarian minister.   No 191 - words in public domain - my arrangement of trad melody - happy for that to be used.

Purple Book is more difficult. I would start with the words - most if not all are in copyright but you would be safe using words by Cliff Reed, Andrew Hill, Peter Sampson, Lyanne Mitchell, David Usher and others - but not all - be wary about using American non-Unitarian words and music

David Dawson has also generously confirmed that (with due regard to his comments about the words), the tunes he has provided for the Green and Purple books may be used freely for these services.

For hymn where copyright is held by the Oxford University Press (OUP), Cody Coyne has been in touch with em and provides the following helpful information:

Regarding hymns, the OUP has clarified that copywritten material on social media sites (such as YouTube/Instagram) is covered by blanket licenses. If a chapel hosts the material directly (i.e. on their own servers), they will need a Limited Online Music License, from PRS/MCPS. More information can be found here:

There are about 55 hymns in the green and purple books that are owned by the OUP. Their guidance suggests other major publishers would have similar licenses/agreements, though I cannot guarantee it at this point."


Additionally, Elizabeth Hornby (known to many of you now as Elizabeth Harley) is happy to allow her music to be used freely in these Services (can be found online).


The complex laws around copyright require each of us to consider very carefully whether a piece of text can be used in a streamed or recorded service.  Catherine Robinson's helpful advice sheet does open up a wide range of older texts, and the agremeent of the GA and UUA to the use of their publications, including Lindsey Press and Skinner House material is immensely helpful.  Music needs to be considered very carefully, but David Dawson's advice on hymns (especially the use of his own tunes) does open this more widely.  I wish you well.


Rev. Daniel Costley

19 March 2020