Let's say I purchased a piece of sheet music in PDF form from the author's website. I can't find anything on their website about licensing restrictions for downloads. Let's say I want to share the sheet music with other musicians at my church so that we can play it during the church service. [Edit: I do have permission to perform the song via CCLI.]

Am I allowed to share the electronic PDF with the musicians? Or the printed music? Or both/neither? Or is this a gray area?

  • It's not a gray area at all. You do not have permission to use it for anything you have not been given permission for. Sharing it for public performance purposes is almost certainly outside any license you'd have gained. – Nij Nov 26 '16 at 7:26
  • I do have permission to perform the song via CCLI licensing. The question is whether I can share the music. At a minimum, I assume it would be legal for me to print one copy and let others look at it. But do I need to order 3 PDFs if I want to print 3 copies or share with 3 people? – Aaron Campbell Nov 26 '16 at 7:53
  • You have permission. Your group does not, unless they separately obtain it. – Nij Nov 26 '16 at 8:31
  • When I was in a small group ensemble (over 20 years ago), we would sometimes go to conferences. Organizers would state that each member of a group must have original sheet music, not photocopies. – mkennedy Nov 26 '16 at 20:11

Assuming the copyright on the music has not expired (e.g. it's Lennon/McCarthy rather than Chopin) then you have whatever permission you bought plus fair use. Since there is no licence grant you just have fair use. Making an electronic backup is OK, so is printing it for personal use. Under first sale doctrine you could sell or give away your copy provided you delete/destroy all the copies you have.


As far as the CCLI license is concerned, it depends on the source. You can see the requirements in this link. The main points that you might not meet is that the sheet music must be used to assist congregational singing and must be from a source designated as such.

If your sheet music meets those requirements, then the CCLI does allow you to:

Create digital song files to share with your worship team.

However, if it doesn't meet the requirements, then Dale M's answer provides a good overview as to your options.

  • 1
    Good info. I accepted Dale's answer since it applies more generically to my question, which doesn't mention CCLI in the title or tags; but this is exactly what I needed to know. (Wish I had enough rep to upvote.) – Aaron Campbell Nov 27 '16 at 6:37

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