Random Thoughts on MP3 Downloads and Copies

I recently finished The Future of
by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard. It was a fascinating read. The
authors discuss how the face of music distribution has changed
significantly in recent years and insist that many changes are still needed. Bottom line, they think that increased access to music and freedom to distribute it legally will benefit consumers, companies, and artists alike. From the intro:

Imagine a world where music flows all around us, like water, or like electricity, and where access to music becomes a kind of “utility.” Not for free, per se, but certainly for what feels like free…A brave new world is waiting for those who can handle it – a world that very likely holds fantastic business opportunities for creative thinkers.

They then go on to list their “top-10 truths” of the music business, among which are:

  1. Music matters more than ever: the music market is alive and vibrant.
  2. The record business is not the same as the music business.
  3. The current pricing model goes out the window.
  4. Music is mobile, and the new models will embrace a more liquid view of music.

The next chapter lists what they believe are five music myths:

  1. Music is a product.
  2. File-sharing is killing the music industry.
  3. Copyright is linear and ideas can be owned.
  4. Musicians make music to make a lot of money.
  5. It takes millions of dollars to successfully launch an artist’s career.

Kusek and Leonhard aren’t alone in thinking things should change. Steve Jobs of Apple encouraged the abandonment of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology recently in his Thoughts on Music. A friend sent me a video by Weird Al Yankovic, where he offers his own take on the matter. He thinks that the penalties for illegal downloading might be a little severe…

As I’ve been pondering the current situation, a few thoughts stand out to me.

It’s a new world. Music making, distribution, and listening has changed radically in the past twenty years and will continue to evolve. Twenty years ago, who would have imagined carrying around ten thousand songs in a device that fits in the palm of your hand, being able to share music across the world with people you’ve never met, and producing high quality music at home in your bedroom? The digital revolution is far from over and we’ll have to find ways to adjust.

Copyright laws still exist. Basically, the Copyright Office says :

Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights.

I think that’s what inspired Al Yankovic’s piece. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) site makes exceptions for personal copies:

Owning a CD means you own one copy of the music, and the U.S. record industry believes you should be able to make whatever personal use you choose. For example, you may make a compilation recording (on tape or on a CD) to use in the car or while exercising. But it’s a very different matter – and clearly neither legal nor fair – to make a copy of that CD or even one song available on the Internet for others to take.

Although Weird Al may have a point that criminal prosecution is not the best answer to illegal downloads, flagrant disregard for the law isn’t a better idea. But a 2004 Barna report revealed that only about 1 in 10 Christian teenagers thinks that music piracy is morally wrong. Hopefully the results for worship leaders would be more encouraging… I haven’t yet figured out how to get recordings of songs around to the members of a team legally other than directing them to Itunes or listening to it together at a rehearsal. Another option, and one that team members will surely appreciate, is to buy members of the team CD’s that you’ll be learnings songs from. Of course, if your musicians are reading from notated music, this isn’t even an issue.

Christians have a higher standard than “everyone’s doing it.” Romans 13:1, Deut. 5:19, and Eph. 4:28 come to mind. While file sharing, copying CD’s for friends, and downloading music illegally is easy and attractive, it’s still wrong, despite our rationalizations – “Music companies make too much money anyway. No one will notice. I’m poor. The bands I listen to are rich. I’m helping my friends out. It’s not really wrong, etc.” The fact is, there are an increasing number of options exist for downloading music legally and cheaply, including I-tunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, Yahoo, and other sites. But even if free music downloads weren’t available, we’re still called to support the laws that exist until they change. Which is probably only a matter of time…

In the meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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31 Responses to Random Thoughts on MP3 Downloads and Copies

  1. Jonathan February 28, 2007 at 3:38 AM #

    I personally don’t believe in committing music piracy, but unfortunately it’s not as simple curtailing your downloading habits: what happens if one of your peers asks to borrow your music?

    You have no control over their moral convictions, and ultimately it’s their choice to respect your wishes if you ask them not to rip a CD you let them borrow. And believe me, if you ask most people not rip your music for themselves, they’ll usually:

    1. Look at you strangely because they’re offended you’d even think they’d be capable of it.
    2. Look at you strangely and laugh because what you’ve asked of them is ridiculous in their mind.

    Unfortunately, it’s usually the latter, not the former…

  2. Ray February 28, 2007 at 8:14 AM #

    As a pastor and a musician, this is a tough one, I feel pretty strongly about pirating. What I have done in the past is make a CD of a song or two that I legally downloaded from iTunes, and let the worship leader listen to it. If it is something that we think we might do I have then purchased the CD for the worship leader.

    Other times I let them listen to a compilation of songs to expose them to a type of worship music — i.e. Sovereign Grace, or Indelible Grace — if something clicks, then I point them to a website to pick up the music.

    My folks know how I feel about pirating and are good about returning music, or buying the CD’s.

    With that being said — it is a challenge, no doubt about it.

  3. James Wilson February 28, 2007 at 9:08 AM #

    Great subject. I’ve been struggling with the same thing as a worship leader, how do I get songs to the team members without breaking copyright rules? I used to have a password protected page on my site with the mp3 files they could download but thought that crossed the line, so I asked our church to pay for a subscription to Rhapsody (a service where you can stream CD quality music and have millions of songs to choose from).

    This has worked out really well. Even though we have just one subscription (I think it is $9.99 a month), everyone can use it because it only allows one login at a time. We haven’t run into any issues with people getting kicked off too often yet (we have ~30 people on our team rotating weekly), but if we do I’d just get another subscription and split it between the ‘band’ and the vocalists.

    Actually, you know what would be great? If CCLI had some way of streaming the songs in ‘song select’. I’d pay extra for that and it could provide more revenue to the Christian artists out there as well!

    On another note, I’ve pretty much decided to just purchase CDs from now on until the DRM (Digital Rights Management) ‘issues’ get worked out. I love iTunes for its ease of use and convenience, but I’m not allowed to do much with the song after I’ve downloaded it (i.e. use it as a ‘soundtrack’ for a personal home video). With a CD, I can rip it into whatever format I want (even future, better quality formats) and do pretty much whatever I want with it (in line with copyright laws of course)!

  4. Paul Schafer February 28, 2007 at 10:46 AM #


    Where does copying church sermon mp3s on a disc fit in this topic?

  5. Ryan February 28, 2007 at 11:01 AM #

    Thanks so much for this post, Bob. I think, besides your last post, this is probably the other high-priority issue that worship leaders face. I know I’ve been guilty of distributing songs on CD for the worship team, and always wondered if that was legal or not. Obviously not, so I will definitely not do that anymore.

    James thanks so much for your info about Rhapsody. That sounds like a really great way to do it! And it would be wise for CCLI to do something similar.

    Also, there are a few places like Hymncharts that you pay a subscription for and he gives you the rights to distribute mp3’s and copy as much sheet music as you want.

  6. Ryan February 28, 2007 at 11:09 AM #

    Forgot to mention that Anthony Coppedge and Greg Atkinson have started a podcast called Creative Synergy, dealing with music, media and leadership in the church. Their upcoming episode is all about copyright issues and will include copyright lawyers who really know their stuff.

  7. Jeff February 28, 2007 at 11:22 AM #

    James is on to something. Yes, we should honor our duty to obey the law, but more than that — we should realize that this digital era presents an opportunity to shape an environment that nutures and encourages Christian music (and all music formats, for that matter). Once we as a community can get that path mapped out, then I think people would get invested in that goal, and piracy among Christians would drop off.

  8. Ramon February 28, 2007 at 11:40 AM #

    Piracy is a no no for me. One way to get the music out to your team though is to have them purchase (or purchase for them) a cheap MP3 player (not talking IPOD here…just something inexpensive)
    You would then purchase and download individual songs to their MP3 player as needed. This way you are only buying a song at a time vs a CD at a time.

    Paul Schafer – as for sermons. Sermons are copyright protected and your pastor holds that copyright. If your pastor doesnt mind his sermons being duplicated then its not a problem. If they say duplication is not allowed (other that what the church sells) then its illegal as well. It’s up to the individual.

    I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

    “Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it.” – Alex Kozinski

  9. Mark Tubbs February 28, 2007 at 1:34 PM #

    Call me old-fashioned, but could introducing music at music team rehearsals be an answer to some of the piracy concerns? Our pastor, who leads worship, devotes the last half-hour of the monthly worship team meeting to learning a new song or two. Then it’s polished on a Sunday morning rehearsal. I know we’re all very busy, but…

    As long as we are bound by the law, the onus is on us as musicians to abide by both the spirit and the letter, not to operate under a wink-wink nudge-nudge they’ll-never-know mentality.

    Thankfully Bob posted this entry at a time where I was considering pirating a worship album for the first time. Praise God for a timely escape (I Cor. 13:10).

  10. Andrew Bonner February 28, 2007 at 4:11 PM #

    It still isn’t very widely known, but earlier this year Napster underwent yet another identity shift. Besides being a subscription-based service like Rhapsody, they also let anyone stream any song up to five times (I think) for free (though some are only 30-second samples). Granted, many worship songs might not be in their catalog, but it’s worth checking.

  11. Paul Schafer February 28, 2007 at 4:54 PM #

    Thank you for your reply.
    I am still a little confused. Are you saying sermons on a disc that you pay at the church’s bookstore or sermons online. Example. If pastors of SG churches publishes their sermons on their website, isn’t this basically given us the liberty and ability to download and burn those sermons on our disc or ipod without the consequences of piracy?

    Here’s list of Sovereign Grace Churches that have mp3s available.

  12. Bob Kauflin February 28, 2007 at 5:02 PM #


    I never replied to your first comment, but I can respond to this one. If a website offers sermons for free downloads, then copy away! If a website offers sermon downloads for a fee and doesn’t say you can copy them, then I’d contact them before copying it for someone else. In almost every case, I’m sure they’re going to give you permission.

  13. Dion Lowe February 28, 2007 at 6:33 PM #

    to James Wilson and all: SongTouch is affiliated with CCLI. I haven’t investigated it too thoroughly as I found out that they haven’t worked out the royalties etc. for distribution in Canada so I can’t sign up… they say it’s in the works for us northerners.

    They did seem to have just about everything in a Christian music/ P&W vein at the time.

  14. Matt March 1, 2007 at 1:18 PM #

    What about songs that are impossible to legally buy? I have seen a lot of bands that have songs they only play live or songs that they don’t sell anywhere – do you think its wrong to find and download MP3s of those songs if you can’t legally buy them anywhere?

  15. Kyle March 1, 2007 at 4:19 PM #

    To Matt:

    If a band has a song that they only play live, and you have an MP3, then chances are, that MP3 is bootlegged, and still illegal…

    Same thing if there is a band with a song (or disc) that you can’t legally buy anywhere. I would submit that it is “wrong” to find and download MP3’s of songs that you can’t legally buy. There’s probably a reason that you can’t legally buy them.

    It’s a pride issue, really. I think that we’re all too prone to let our sinful selfish natures dictate what is right and wrong, rather than letting God’s word tell us what is right and wrong. For example, it’s easy to say “the evil record companies are charging way too much, so therefore, it’s right for me to do …” or “it’s for ministry, so it’s OK.”

    But God instructs us not to covet (thy neighbor’s bootlegged MP3) and not to steal (thy neighbor’s legally purchased CD).

    It’s easy to say that “because this band doesn’t sell it, and I’m a fan of this band, that I have the right to get their music.”

    Who is prone to pride himself…

  16. West Breedlove March 1, 2007 at 6:12 PM #

    Has anyone investigated Mercora.com as a viable venue for sharing music with bandmates? Mercora claims to “Uphold the letter and spirit of the copyright law by building compliance and reporting into our products and services and paying performance royalties to organizations that represent songwriters and music record labels.”

    A Sovereign Grace Music search under the Biography tab shows 5 or 6 SGM albums.

    Here’s the legal mumbo-jumbo:

    The way I see it, it is a legal way to basically create a radio station of only the songs you plan to do. One thing though, I learned from Pandora.com that there are legal restraints on playing the same song so many times on a station. So just posting one song (i.e., the song you want people to learn before rehearsal) on a Mercora channel would not get much air time.

    Y’all’s thoughts?

  17. penny March 2, 2007 at 5:32 AM #

    Hi! This is certainly a sore issue especially for us here in developing countries. I’m from the Philippines where the minimum monthly income is Php 5,000.00-6,000.00. The typical CD here costs an average of Php 400.00 and that is a big drain on our budgets. It pains me to know that the artists and the recording companies get to lose everytime a copy of a CD is made. But it pains me even more when I hear churches especially those in the grassroots level,in the provinces and even the small-medium sized ones in the cities “botch” the songs-the lyrics and the melodies because they can’t afford to get a copy of the original. I believe in giving the Lord excellent worship. Help us to enable our brothers and sisters do that by making music more accessible here in the developing countries.

  18. Carly Staley March 2, 2007 at 4:38 PM #

    Thanks for this! This issue has been on my mind for awhile now. I also was wondering about sheet music and copyright laws on them, but no one I’ve asked seems to know.

  19. Jim March 2, 2007 at 6:38 PM #

    Question: I buy the music, there are 5 iPods in my family, how many iPods can I upload it to?

  20. Bob Kauflin March 3, 2007 at 6:12 PM #


    You asked how many iPods you can upload your music on to. Here is what the I-tunes terms of service agreement (http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/service.html) says:

    1. You shall be authorized to use the Products only for personal, noncommercial use.

    2. You shall be authorized to use the Products on five Apple-authorized devices at any time.

    3. You shall be entitled to export, burn (if applicable) or copy Products solely for personal, noncommercial use. You shall not be entitled to burn Video Products.

    4. You shall be authorized to burn an audio playlist up to seven times.

    5. You shall be able to store Products from up to five different Accounts on certain devices, such as an iPod, at a time.

    So, it looks like you can upload your music to all 5 of your iPods.

    My only question is, how do you use 5 iPods?

  21. jordan fowler March 4, 2007 at 5:19 PM #

    “Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it.” – Alex Kozinski

    Much of this comes down to the economic function of copying the songs. Copyright laws are designed as an economic protective boundary. As a CCLI songwriter, I do not mind if a worship leader posts an mp3 of our recording on their private password protected rehearsal worship page for streaming (even downloading for me, but some of my friends disagree here). Why don’t I mind? It is economically beneficial for the me, the songwriter, to waive my copyright protection in most cases.

    1. CD/MP3 sales result. I cannot tell you how many times we have done a new song at NorthWood only to have people say, “Where can I get that new song?” We are even going to start posting links to itunes, etc. for each month’s songs soon. To allow a church to post the song and do it in a service generates more economic benefit for me than if they choose not to do it.

    2. CCLI royalties outweigh potential individual mp3 sales revenue. Rather than standing guard over the paltry amount of money downloads a “non-top 100 but solid worship song” generates, releasing them for rehearsal usage gets the song into corporate worship where CCLI royalties kick-in.

    It is NOT all about the money; please don’t hear that. But if it weren’t for money, there wouldn’t be any copyright laws after all.

    This is not a license to make assumptions on behalf of other songwriters saying, “Oh I am helping them out and they really won’t care if I post it without permission.” It would just behoove most indie releases to allow the private posting of songs on rehearsal pages. Corporately labeled guys cannot do this, of course. If you cannot get permission, grab your acoustic and make a scratch track with your teaching pastor playing the congas in the background…hahaha.

  22. phil johns March 7, 2007 at 10:29 AM #

    Isn’t it ironic that a post on copyright law has a “probably pirated” You Tube video right in the middle of it? Not judgmental. Just goes to show you how much the digital world has changed the way we think/don’t think about copyright.

    I am sure Weird Al would grant you permission anyway.

  23. Bob Kauflin March 7, 2007 at 11:03 AM #


    You wrote:

    Isn’t it ironic that a post on copyright law has a “probably pirated” You Tube video right in the middle of it?

    Thanks for wanting to keep me honest. The original was posted by Al Yankovic on YouTube with an embed URL. I assume that means he wants others to post it on their sites. I could be wrong…I’m checking with Al, though!

  24. Don Chapman March 26, 2007 at 3:17 AM #

    I read “The Future of Music” and loved it! Now is the best time ever for independent artists like me. I think one reason worship leaders have enjoyed my HymnCharts website so much is that it’s simply one less headache for them – I let my subscribers make all the CD and sheet music copies they want – similar to the music “utility” idea of the book.

    As a worship leader, wouldn’t you rather make copies instead of running to the local Christian bookstore to buy another book/CD for the new band member? It’s about convenience. When record companies start worrying about their customers instead of worrying about protecting copyrights, maybe the music industry will stop tanking.

  25. Alex March 30, 2007 at 8:45 PM #

    Hey, have you posted anything on christians being involved in the secular music market? It’s a life I’m contemplating. Curious on any advice.

  26. Lyndon May 4, 2007 at 4:20 AM #

    The local church is a promoter of a song of a certain artist. The tendency the congregation will like that song and will wonder where the song came from. Says only a single track is very good or likes in a CD, he might not buy the whole CD. Unfortunately, itunes and other mp3 online stores don’t allow the Philippines to download. Well I hope a Christian online store will make themselves available to more countries. I have purchased before thru Amazon, e-reader.com, etc. and it works. But why music is prohibited. If they make it available for a local church to resell the original track at a reasonable price then the artist will earn more. They can control this thru some software protection and control on a certain church’s PC controlled by CCLI or other affiliate organization for Christian artist and worship leaders. This will prevent privacy, honor copyrights and make it more available more Christians.

    Songs like from Tree63, Brenton Brown, Aaron Shust, Kendrick Graham but their newer songs or not-so popular song is not reproduced by an authorized music CD company, then people will turn to file-sharing softwares or don’t get their songs anyhow. Because the songs there are available easily, which thru legal website is not avaiiable. There are albums not is worth buying all the songs, only maybe 3 to 4 songs worth purchasing online (if available for developing countries).

    Like albums of Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman needed 4 to 5 months before they are released locally. I have to asked my relatives from USA, Australia to buy their CDs for me, which is more costly and takes time. Like the Worship Albums of Michael W. Smith were bought by my cousin for me because they were only a year out in the stores locally.

    I hope this will open up some minds of people in the music industry.

  27. Marvin Hadenfeldt December 6, 2007 at 12:13 PM #

    I direct my people on our worship team to your music site to download lead and chord sheets which you so graciously give free, and listen to the samples. This is the only way we can practice songs before Sundays due to schedules and all that.

    Once in a while someone will forget their sheet so I’m wondering if it’s OK to copy the lead sheets at church since they are free? And what about making a simple practice midi of a song to send to the team? Is that OK, too? (I download the piano sheet and make the midi from that)

    Thank you for your work for the Kingdom.

    Marvin Hadenfeldt

  28. Bob Kauflin December 6, 2007 at 2:43 PM #


    If we give it away on the Sovereign Grace site or my blog, feel free to copy it for your team members. MIDI files are okay, too. Thanks for asking.

  29. Josh October 29, 2008 at 10:47 PM #

    Hey guys, Thanks for all the great posts, this has been really informative. I do have a question, however. I lead worship for a medium sized church (300-400 weekly), we subscribe to CCLI and will soon be subscribing to planningcenteronline.com for Worship related organizational tools. Often, when I’m e-mailing a set to the worship team, I’ll include a link of a youtube video of a song in the style that I’d like us to do it. Are there any legal implications with utilizing a link that is available to anyone online (such as youtube)?

  30. Bob Kauflin October 30, 2008 at 7:36 AM #


    There may be legal implications for the person who posted copyrighted material (see YouTube’s comments here), but as far as I know, there aren’t any if you simply view what’s posted on YouTube. There are probably tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of copyright violations right now on YouTube. In many cases I imagine the copyright owners aren’t saying anything because of the free publicity. I’m not sure. I think the laws are in the process of changing, but they haven’t changed yet.

  31. Geoff Talbot January 3, 2012 at 11:51 PM #

    It’s all about creative synergy, when we share then everyone wins!

    thanks for this great article… effective relationships will always bypass any legal implications.

    Be polite… ask before taking. Be generous, give before asking

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