Rorate Caeli

So what about the Copyright dispute? Who is right?

Were the English-language reports on the Vatican's strict new guidelines on the copyright of pontifical texts (of the pope himself and of his Curia) "accurate"? CWN would seem to say that they were not:

Some English-language reports on the dispute in Italy have suggested-- inaccurately-- that the Vatican would forbid quotations from the encyclical, or charge fees to journals that reproduced passages from the work.

Vatican officials explain that their goal is not to limit access to the Pope's words, but to prevent "premature" publication of leaked documents, and to guard against exploitation of the Pope's name.

Actually, all English-language reports I have read, including this very blog's report and translations on the matter are absolutely and completely accurate. Maybe the Italian newspapers themselves were inaccurate, but why would they misrepresent the percentage fees, for instance? Why would Vittorio Messori, not exactly an enemy of Popes John Paul and Benedict, confirm the fact and criticize the absurd 15% profit-rate for some of the texts?

The fact is: the Italian media has NOT misrepresented the facts. Marco Tosatti, La Stampa's Vaticanist, quoted extensively from some copyright guidelines which have not (apparently) been made publicly available; and in today's edition of Il Giornale, Andrea Tornielli, the great Vaticanist, explains the problem and, in a very rare sight, tells a personal story on this:

"The copyright of the Vatican Publishing House on the production of Popes has, in reality, always existed and has been renewed at every new pontificate. In the past, though, the Holy See did not demand the payment of the rights, considering a good thing that the public words of the Pontiffs were published, quoted, studied, and diffused on books and newspapers with the widest possible circulation. ...

"Lately, though, the care for authors' rights in the Holy Palaces has become an absolute priority and every publication is carefully examined for this purpose, with a precise count of [the number of] pages eventually transcribed. ...


"In July 2005, I [Andrea Tornielli] published a book titled 'The miracles of Pope Wojtyla', [released]by Piemme Editions, dedicated to the [...] graces received by those who came into contact with John Paul II. In an appendix, I published the will of Karol Wojtyla, which covers 9 of the 136 pages of the book. ...in the meantime, with the decree of His Emminence Cardinal Sodano, the copyright 'ax' came into place... It so happened, thus, that, through lawyers, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (which is an agency of the Holy See) summoned my editors to pay an immediate and extremely high fee of 5 thousand Euros, completely beyond market prices, for the rights on those nine pages already published in an unabridged version by newspapers. ... A book which -- as those who know me may well imagine -- certainly did not contain defamation or calumny in its depiction of John Paul II, but rather described the gratitude of so many simple people for him. I believe this is an episode which speaks for itself."



The reporters and bloggers who have accurately reported on this are not to blame for the greed that the whole episode makes apparent. The very fact that this has shocked so many shows that it is not a light matter. As in all copyrighted texts, only a very limited "fair use" is exempted. So, in a large Encyclical, a few paragraphs may be considered "fair use". But how much? 5% of the text? 10% of the text? 20% of the text? I have surely quoted more than half of the Pope's epoch-making speech to the Roman Curia on December 22, in the many posts I did on the document -- is that fair use?

And what about smaller texts? I personally consider that the two most important documents of the Wojtyla pontificate are two of it smallest texts: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and Dominus Iesus. In the case of former, a few paragraphs are the whole text: why should the media, printed or otherwise, be worried about how much is fair use for a text which proclaims Magisterial Truth? Integrity was never a good reason for copyright of Vatican documents, precisely because the official recent texts are available in the Vatican website itself (well, almost always*) and may be easily compared with what is eventually published by a newspaper or a blog.

And what if newspapers wish to publish whole pontifical documents? As Vittorio Messori pointed out in the previous post on this issue, shouldn't it be a reason of pride for Catholics? The major encyclicals of the past few popes have always been published in supplements in many different newspapers and were thus made widely known. Would the most influential encyclicals of the past, such as Rerum Novarum and Quas Primas, have been anywhere as influential if they had been subjected to copyright laws?

I stand by what I reported and translated on this issue. If the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV) and Catholic World News wish to clarify things, may they make available the LEV's guidelines on the percentages, fees, and other details of the copyright of pontifical texts, excerpts of which were made available by La Stampa and reported here earlier. The very fact that there are such guidelines is sickening and "reeks of simony" (words widely used in the past few days by the Italian media).

Il Foglio, a secular conservative Italian newspaper which frequently publishes whole pontifical documents or large excerpts for the general public, published yesterday a cartoon with the words: "In the beginning, it was the Word; then, it was copyright". This would have been considered a terrible joke in the past, now it is a sad truth. While most governments of the world make their texts available for free (no copyright), the government of the Church limits its publication or use. What sad days are these in which we see a "Magisterium Cartel".

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*This copyright-mania is already threatening souls: the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church should already have been made widely available in all languages under no copyright, and on the Vatican website for comparison. But the official translations have taken so long that the text will not have the intended impact -- and even where the Compendium has been made available, there have been disputes, as in France. The "Catholic" publishing houses (you know, those which publish heresy and immorality, but suddenly become the favorite daughters of the Church when they publish official documents -- in the case of France, that means especially Bayard, but also Cerf) fought for the right of exclusive publication of the Compendium in the French Republic -- against some African Episcopal Conferences which were publishing the exact same French text. Because of this "Magisterium Cartel", the French "Catholic" publishing houses have been able to sell the Compendium for 18 Euros (11 Euros more than the Benin Episcopal Conference Edition in French, and 9 Euros more than the Italian edition). More details in Dieu n'est pas a vendre (God is not for sale).

Can one see this happening with the small Catechism of Saint Pius X, the most influential small Catholic catechism in history?


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