ICEL Copyright: A Practical Example

I’ve been thinking about making some of my liturgical compositions available online. My software of choice permits me to publish online, and even reap an income from music sales. But much of what I set to music has texts from ICEL or other copyright holders. Given the online discussion about the Big Bad Liturgical Publishers, I thought I’d ask permission of ICEL, one of the bigger bugaboos of traditionalist church musicians. Tuesday afternoon I sent this request:

Greetings, friends,


I’m writing to ask permission to post a setting of a Lenten Gospel Acclamation on my web site ( and distribute it electronically to the singers in my parish choirs. What do you require?




Todd Flowerday

Worship & Spiritual Growth

St Thomas Aquinas Church

& Catholic Student Center


This morning I received a friendly reply which stated these conditions:

1. The following copyright notice will be included:


The English translation of the Lenten Gospel Acclamation from The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.


2. This item will be distributed only to singers in your parish choirs at St Thomas Aquinas Church.


3. This item is not for sale.

Fair enough, I thought. ICEL may not be aware my modest readership is mostly non-parishioners, so to honor their request, I will refrain from posting a copy here. I can e-mail it to the singers and instrumentalists and make sure everybody has a copy.

My observations:

1. The copyright notice is one key. Earlier this week I was scrounging in some old homily files and I found a modest stack of worship programs from 1972 and 1973. In no case–none whatsoever–were authors, composers, or copyrights included with hymn texts. Whether it be ignorance or laziness, church musicians of the past half century do not have a stellar track record with telling people where they get their songs. If publishers seem a little ornery to young guns of the reform2 movement, there’s a history worth exploring there.

2. ICEL recognizes that most liturgical composers work in the parish medium. The permission to reproduce for one’s own faith community is a given. Sensibly, lots of biblical and ritual material will get set to music, sometimes even on minutes’ notice. It makes sense that nobody is “out to get” the average parish composer.

3. Don’t sell something that’s not yours. Makes sense to me.

I have one early misadventure to share. When I was in grad school, I asked a local hymnwriter if I could use a few of his texts for “experimentation.” I didn’t make clear that the experiment included using my music and his texts in a public worship setting. He understood I had meant a private theoretical exercise. He objected when he saw one of his texts set to my music for an upcoming liturgy at the seminary, and I withdrew it from the planned worship experience. He carefully explained his reasons, mainly that he worked exclusively with another musician, and his texts were guided in part by her musical direction. My lesson was a deeper respect for the artistic output of others, and for the future, a more careful negotiation about my intentions and the other person’s boundaries.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ICEL Copyright: A Practical Example

  1. Liam says:




    I think one should acknowledge that those complaining about ICEL are making a strong overarching argument about the distorting effect of modern IP protections on liturgical music, especially Catholic, since other churches have taken more care to keep their liturgical texts more open-access, as it were. The critique of the relative blindness and impassivity of Church bureaucracies on this score is way in accord with progressive goals for the reformed liturgy. Item 2 in that ICEL list is a problem for the long-term. Eventually, I suspect it will be forced to abandon that approach, and I think we should encourage that abandonment.

  2. Todd says:

    Liam, I pretty much agree with you. I have followed up with ICEL on a few points and I await another reply.

    There is a misperception that ICEL and the liturgical publishers are big corporate entities. The reality is that all of these organizations, while they adopt some qualities of the non-religious market, are largely mom-and-pop operations. More or less, they function as family businesses with a fairly tight community, and a degree of cross-fertilization between members.

    I’ve never felt particularly part of the in-crowd, as it were, but on the other hand, I’ve always found publishers to be fairly open in my dealings with them.

    For some to take the problems of bureaucracy to the Court of Internet Opinion would be a move against prudence, it would seem. Especially where church bureaucracy is concerned, part of the culture is the harboring of resentments.

    I admit I was a little disappointed on #2. I would like to offer a quantity of liturgical music online for free liturgical use as a means of helping me fine-tune pieces in other people’s parishes.

    I’d agree that the internet age brings a new sensibility to composition for worship, and everyone–composers, authors, owners, and publishers–are going to have to adapt.

  3. Pingback: ICEL Copyright: A Practical Update « Catholic Sensibility

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s