The music industry has many legal issues that plagues it daily. Gospel music is no exception. In this post, I will discuss three separate issues that can be directly associated with the Gospel music industry.
First, Tyler Perrybecame famous from producing stage plays that often had heavy religious themes and music laced throughout his shows. He translated this success into films and television programs that have also been known to have religious themes and undertones. Despite his vast success, he is not without controversy and legal issues in his work. According to the, Johnny Stringfield, who claimed that his Gospel song was unlawfully “revamped” on the TBS sitcom Meet the Browns, sued Perry in 2010. The case was covered by various media outlets, including TMZ, who even went as far as to give audiences a side-by-side comparison of the two songs in question. It is noted that Stringfield sued for $100,000.
The most famous line from the song in question was “The devil thought he had me … but I got away.” Any person familiar with the character of “Brown,” from Meet the Browns has heard this line and perhaps has found it to be one of the funniest and most memorable from the character. So, it is logical that Springfield would seek compensation for his work. Even without the huge success of the adaptation of the song, proper permission is required when using anyone else’s work. And, if you look at the track record of lawsuits against Tyler Perry, this is not the first incident of a seemingly unknown artist suing the mogul for using material without permission (or making slight changes to their original work in order to use it for himself).
Second, many urban contemporary Gospel artists are following in the footsteps of secular artists and releasing mixtapes as a way to promote themselves and their music. A mixtape is a free product (CD or album) that samples previously released songs. The artist usually remakes the songs in some type of way to give it an original twist. But, some artists are known to simply recreate the entire song word-for-word and note-for-note. The loophole that usually gets artists off the hook for having to pay for these samples is by not selling their mixtape. By giving it away as a free product, legal action is often eluded because no monetary gain is achieved.
Jane McGrath of the How Stuff Works blog gave a great example of how the mixtape tactic still allows non-approved sampled material to be released. In 2004, Danger Mousecreated “The Grey Album,” which was a mixture of music from The Beatle’s “The White Album” and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album.” EMI Records sued Mouse to prevent the album from being released commercially, but this did not stop the album from being given away for free online, which helped to advance Mouse’s career as a producer.
Finally, this last example is something that churches around the world face every Sunday morning. Not many even bother to ask how copyright issues may affect Sunday morning worship services, but in some instances, it could. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations wrote a compelling article that explains when certain material can be used without fear of copyright infringement. Now, usually, this would not even be a thought. In church settings, it is often believed that the same rules don’t apply when considering copyright law. This is true in many cases. For instance, you can sing or recite any song, poem, article, etc. without permission from the person who creates (or owns) the material as long as it is done in the setting of a worship service. However, you cannot show any video footage without permission, even if done in a church service. This is also true for reproducing said materials in any way (be it making copies of song lyrics for the congregation to sing along, or copying sheet music for the church’s music staff). I have been to countless church services where song lyrics where placed inside church programs for the congregation’s convenience. It never crossed my mind that this was in fact copyright infringement. It is a fine, but important line. A song can be sung in church without permission, but the lyrics to that song cannot be copied without obtaining proper permission.
This is all something to think about. While some of these cases may seem trivial, at the end of the day, we all want to be respected as artists and have our work appreciated. So, please take the time to respect not only your artistry but other’s as well … Doing so is just another aspect of the power of gospel music.

Leave a comment