A couple of weeks ago, a memorial Mass for Michael was held here in Birmingham at the Cathedral. The bishop presided and offered a very nice, even charming homily in which he first focused on the Scripture readings of the day, and then turned to Michael, whom he remembered, among other things, as one who […]
Copyright is an issue that interests me a great deal, not because of my own writing, but because of my work as the editor of Loyola Classics. One of the most important parts of that job was to track down copyright claims, a perversely fascinating, convoluted task, especially once you get European heirs and publishing houses involved. Believe me, it’s not as simple as “look it up on the government site.”
Anyway, another area of interesting copyright discussions involves liturgical and Scriptural texts. Jeffrey Tucker has been leading a good, thorough discussion of the matter over at NLM, in two posts. First this one and then this one.
The requirements to cite, for example, from the New American Bible, the official USCCB English translation, are fairly strict. I don’t remember what they are, but all you really need to know is that most Catholic publishers don’t even bother to use the NAB. They tell their authors to use the RSV or NRSV, not just because of the quality of translation but also because of the degree of hassle and expense involved in getting permission from the respective copyright holders.
Which probably, in the end, and act of God and all for the good, considering how dreadful the NAB is.
Jeffrey’s posts and the comments on them concern primarily the liturgical texts published by the ICEL. That is, the English words used at Mass and so on. Even if you are quoting, say, the words of the Creed that we say at Mass in a book, you must get permission from ICEL. You don’t have to pay a fee at that point, but you do have to get permission and you must observe the exact line breaks that the ICEL translations use.
But the great concern over at NLM is usage of these texts for musicians. There are a tone of issues: does the current system used by the ICEL privilege large established music publishing companies? Does it stifle creativity? Is there a way to preserve the integrity of the use of the texts and at the same time allow musicians who do not have the great financial resources backing them up to compose using the texts and see their compositions used in Mass beyond their own parish? And how should this all happen given the realities of the world (it costs money to publish things) and the mandate to spread the Gospel?
A very interesting discussion – do read the comments – and the comparisons with the Book of Common Prayer are instructive.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Tucker has a new post over at NLM with further reflections prompted by Cardinal Arinze’s letter that accompanied the approval of a portion of the English translation of the Missal:
So we see here that Cardinal Arinze’s two principles are at odds with each other: it is not possible to facilitate widespread and faithful musical settings of these texts under ICEL’s current copyright/”royality” rules. There is a simple workaround: make these texts open source. They can use Creative Commons or even conventional copyright while eliminating the tax on publishing with broad permissions granted de facto. This is how the ordo of service for every other denomination handles matters, so far as I know. Changes are essential if the monopolistic forces currently impeding progress are not addressed. The status quo is not suitable.
Right now, ICEL’s rules say nothing about digital publication or online distribution, almost as if they are made to apply to a world that disappeared ten years ago. There is an opportunity right now for ICEL to issue a clarification. If that clarification does not assist in permitting widespread creation and distribution of new musical settings, there is a case for some sort of intervention.
The topics of royalties, textual integrity, and Creative Commons were brought up in the comment box, and so this post will examine Creative Commons (from this layman’s point of view) and which licenses lCEL may employ to 1) ensure the integrity of the translation and 2) minimize the legal and economic (and perhaps psychological) barriers to entry faced by composers and minor publishing houses outside of the good graces of the Liturgical Industrial Complex.
Creative Commons (CC), as an NLM commenter rightly noted, does not seek to eliminate copyright, but is based on copyright. (CC FAQ 1.3) If ICEL were to place their new English translation of the Mass under some flavor of Creative Commons license, they do not revoke their copyright; they retain it. However, it would make clearer to composers exactly what their rights and responsibilities are in terms of setting the texts to music.