Understanding free-to-use and public-domain hymns

What are free-to-use hymns?

They are hymns and religious songs where:
  • The author / composer has been dead for a certain length of time, so their works have entered the public domain.  
    (The length of time varies between countries, the longest period in English-speaking countries is currently 90 years.  Some countries also do not use the "years since death" approach, and in the USA the rules are more complex still.)
  • The author / composer has given permission for others to perform and/or make copies of their work.  Sometimes this permission is a blanket "anywhere, any-time", but more commonly it has conditions.   Often schemes like Creative Commons are used to formalise the permission. 
  • Despite extensive efforts, it has not been possible to determine the original author or composer, so most people treat the hymn as public domain, even though it probably doesn't meet the other criteria.   

What are these hymns useful for?

These hymns may be useful for churches that do not have a current copyright licensing agreement, or to supplement the materials available to churches that manage copyright using hymnals.

They may also be useful if you need a hymn to sing in a place where the usual performance-rights / copyright exemption for worship services held in a church building does not apply.


Every effort has been made to ensure that the hymn lists provided on LiturgyTools.net are made up of free-to-use hymns, But it is not possible to check every possible legal and administrative status, and errors may be made:  you should always check the permissions required for using particular song and hymns.

Also, the list of hymns is based on those in common use in English speaking countries.  There is no way to guarantee that they are culturally or social appropriate in specific situations.  And the theological "fit" may be a matter of interpretation.  Local theological, musical and pastoral judgement must be applied to all suggestions.

Opinions vary about whether it's possible to run an entire music programme using only free-use materials.   In generally, it's good to balance them with work by more recent composers.

Share this Post


HTML link code:

BB (forum) link code:

Subscribe to LiturgyTools.net

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting. All comments on this website are moderated, so there will be a delay until yours is shown. Deo gratias.