How Does CCLI Work?

If you are a worship leader today, you’ve most likely heard someone mention CCLI.  What is CCLI and what do they do?


CCLI is actually an abbreviation for Christian Copyright Licensing International.  They are a licensing organization that seeks to “provide churches with simple, affordable solutions to complex copyright issues”.  Churches around the world use thousands of songs each year and they need permission from the copyright owners of those songs to do most of the things they wish to do with the songs, such as record them, make arrangements, duplicate copies, project lyrics on screen, etc.  Through CCLI, today a church can obtain a single annual license that covers almost any song for just about any type of use they can imagine.

Before CCLI came on the scene in 1988 however, churches struggled with gaining copyright permission for the use of songs.  The churches that tried to be legal, discovered they almost needed a full-time person to make long-distance phone calls and send letters to dozens of  music publishers every week, to obtain the proper permission and licenses.  There were fees in most of those cases, meaning using music was an expensive proposition for churches.  It was also time consuming and an outright hassle.  There was frustration on the part of church administrators, because many of the copyright owners were almost impossible to locate and contact.  Many churches simply chose to move ahead without legal permission.  They did not have the time or money to deal with the complications.

Similarly, copyright owners were frustrated because they were receiving hundreds of calls each month from churches and spending their own administrative time and money to issue thousands of licenses and permissions for $5 here, $10 there and many for free.  They also spent countless hours on the phone answering the same questions over and over, trying to educate churches on copyright law issues and licensing procedure.  Most of all, copyright owners were upset that so many churches had abandoned the entire process, moving ahead illegally and denying songwriters and publishers the income that was due them for the use of their assets.  No one was happy.  That’s when CCLI stepped in.

CCLI provided a solid solution to everyone’s problem.  Twenty-five years later, they are still a life-saver for churches (providing a very simple and cost effective solution), and a significant source of revenue for songwriters and publishers (the copyright owners).  Everyone is happy.


With the purchase of an annual Church Copyright License from CCLI, churches can use any song in the CCLI catalog.  There are over 200,000 songs available for use under the CCLI license because all of the major publishers of Christian music now offer their songs through CCLI.  The CCLI Church Copyright License fee is based on the size of the licensee’s church, making it easy for a church of any size to legally use copyrighted material at an affordable price.  License fees are collected by CCLI each year and, after CCLI takes an administration fee, the remainder of those fees are paid out as royalties to the copyright owners, according to song usage.ccl

The Church Copyright License grants a church the right to do a number of things such as record songs in audio and/or video format, create and duplicate arrangements or chord charts, create digital lyric files and display them in the worship service, etc.  CCLI calls these types of uses “copy activity”.  Each type of copy activity has an associated credit weighting.  Churches that hold a CCLI license, report back to CCLI on a semi-annual basis noting which songs they’ve used during the period and the specific type(s) of copy activity for each song.  CCLI calculates the credit weightings for those uses each period, multiplies the credit weighting by a factor that is determined by the size of the church, and then pays out royalties to the copyright owners, based on the credits for each song.  CCLI publishes a chart each semi-annual period that shows the top 2000 songs in each country, according to credit weighting (or usage).

In addition to the Church Copyright License, CCLI now offers additional “add-on” licenses that cover other types of uses.  For example, if a church worship leader wants to duplicate copies of his favorite worship CD to give to his musicians for rehearsal purposes, this would not be covered under the Church Copyright License.  However, there is now a CCLI Church Rehearsal License that covers this very thing.  Churches that show clips from commercial movies, need the Church Video License.  Also, the new CCLI Streaming / Podcasting License allows churches to offer music for online streaming and podcasting.  These types of uses were not covered under the original Church Copyright License.cvl

CCLI also offers a service called SONG SELECT.  For a small annual fee, churches can join this program which gives them access to thousands of songs in printed form.  These songs can be downloaded right from the CCLI site – chord charts, lead sheets, etc.

CCLI has certainly become an invaluable service for the contemporary Church as well as for the song copyright owner.  However, the existence and growth of CCLI has led some songwriters, music publishers and worship leaders to become overly aware and even focused on the money that can be earned from church use of songs.  This is a tragedy.

CCLI now licenses over 150,000 churches in America alone (and more around the world).  They collect tens of millions of dollars every year, most of which is distributed in royalties to copyright owners.  One song in the CCLI top 25 can, by itself, easily provide a nice annual salary for a songwriter.  Multiple songs in the CCLI top 25, or even top 100, can make a songwriter wealthy.  This is strong motivation for a writer to want his songs sung by as many churches as possible.  This is why churches are overwhelmed today with songs being pitched to them, and given free to them, from every possible direction.  Today, some songwriters write their worship songs with potential CCLI chart position in the forefront of their minds.

CCLI is a blessing that can help songwriters make a living when using their God-given talent to write songs for the church.  However, we must never allow CCLI revenue to become the motivating force behind what we do.  


For more about CCLI, check out their website at

For related Songsphere articles see: AUTHENTIC and AUTHORITY AND ANOINTING 


7 comments on “How Does CCLI Work?

    • Thanks for the link and for the honesty in your blog post, Junko! Great post and I encourage my readers to check out your link!

  1. Thank you so much for your article on us!!! When we started CCLI, I was a music minister at our church in Portland OR. I faced the primary frustrations of copyright compliance, along with the many thousands of other music ministers. Now, as we provide our license and resource services to churches in 28 countries, we have been blessed with seeing the positive growth in worship. Hopefully some of the “positive” growth has been facilitated by CCLI’s heart of service. And, at the same time as the positive aspects, our heart also resounds with your last few words – “We must never allow CCLI revenue to become the motivating force behind what we do.” Thank you for this very important reminder. Our delight is to be a blessing, our demise is to corrupt a blessing. We, at CCLI, will continue to be sensitive to this very critical demarkation… Blessings,

  2. Pingback: Blog Roundup with CD Giveaway | Nate Fancher

  3. Pingback: Blog Roundup with CD Giveaway | Nate Fancher | Intentional Musicianship

  4. Unfortunately not everyone is happy! There are thousand of churches outside of the 27 countries which are covered through CCLI. We are not getting anything from this great service. So should we get frustrated due to the administration for getting all licences or should go on and use illegally all the songs and words and translations as it is today?

  5. Andras –
    I suppose that’s a question that would be best posed to CCLI at their website. CCLI has been expanding over the last couple of decades to cover as many countries as possible, but to serve them all is, of course, difficult and expensive. The process for all countries was frustrating prior to the appearance of CCLI to assist churches with the licensing process. Although it is unfortunate that the process is difficult in some places, the copyright law exists to help songwriters sustain a living and therefore be able to spend more time writing songs. Most music publishers do try to make the licensing process as simple as possible. With the internet and email, it is much easier to license songs for church use today than ever before, whether CCLI is available or not.

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