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Can I marry new lyrics to a copyrighted song?

A customer wrote in to say that a solo was sung in a church that was from a well known musical. She wanted to know if we were familiar with this and did we have it for sale in digital solos?

We wrote back to say the following:

The version you heard is the music of a song from a well-known musical married to some lyrics that a practitioner re-wrote many years ago using the original song lyrics as a model. She did this for two songs from the show and the two songs were slowly passed around from hand to hand and church to church over time.

What no one took into consideration back in the day — and even now, today — is that it is completely illegal to do what was described above. One cannot marry a copyrighted melody and its arrangement to another revised or completely different set of lyrics without express permission from the copyright holders. To be clear, the copyright holders would never agree to this new arrangement and marriage of words and music. And if they did, the song would have had to have been published with explicit text on the music stating the express permission of those copyright holders.

If someone generated a score using computer software, that in and of itself does not constitute publishing with permission. Also, if those new arrangements were sold in any way, the royalties are not being paid out to the copyright holders.

Furthermore, one cannot legally share copies of music that were not properly purchased. Whether they are digital or actual paper copies (file-shared or xeroxed) being shared around, that constitutes stealing from the copyright owners.

Now, it is understood that this was all done in good faith to bring a beautiful melody together with a more spiritual message for a church service. But unless the music is in the Public Domain, it is indeed illegal without permission. The music from this show is definitely not in the Public Domain.

Here are a couple of references for further research: and

There are of course instances, for example, in the Christian Science Hymnal where existing melodies are married to new lyrics. However, those melodies are either in the Public Domain, or the CSPS gained copyright permission to use those melodies in that particular way for that particular use through contracts, licensing and agreements. Permissions are listed in the footer of each hymn.

In conclusion, the soloist who sang one of these two songs should find out where they got the music, contact whomever gave it to them and let them know of its illegality. Also, the music should be destroyed and not used again.

If you want to dig deeper into this in terms of how a large CS community of musicians is thinking this issue through together, please join Solo Thoughts Community on Facebook (

Then, check out this thread:

There is an article posted at the link and many comments follow below the article that may be helpful in sorting this out for you and your church. The discussion is lively and provocative from many different voices.


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