Copyright and the Liturgy

Jeff Miller (the Curt Jester) has a post about copyright and various examples of the USCCB enforcing their copyright of the New American Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I remember when the Catechism was published in England that a Catholic software provider got exclusive permission to provide it electronically and another guy who sold it on a CD for not much more than the price of the CD got hunted and closed down. Then, of course, the Vatican spoiled the game by publising the text on its website and in a Word document on the website for the Congregation for the Clergy. (You can still get it there - see this catechism page to download it.

This is a problem that the Congregation for Divine Worship might want to consider. It used to be that publisher of a liturgical or other ecclesiastical text could always get permission to use the text provided that it was true to the original. Liturgical texts had to get a Concordat cum originali declaration. The result was that beautiful missals were produced by many different publishers.

With the ICEL translation, not only did we have to put up with the bad text; the books that carried it were of very poor quality. It seems that this is set to continue as I understand that the copyright for the new ICEL will be given to the national episcopal conferences.

Would it not be a much better idea for the text to be posted on the Vatican website? Publishers could be free to produce fine quality missals. It is a good sign that Pope Benedict has insisted that the Compendium be decorated with fine illustrations. Sadly, our Missals have not been well served in this respect, not to mention the quality of the paper and the binding.

A further consideration is the development represented by the personal computer, the internet and printers. With a little care, it is possible to produce good quality cards with liturgical texts on. I use my own for the crematorium and cemetery instead of thumbing through the useless and user-hostile "Order of Christian Funerals" book. If the texts of the Missal, the Ritual and the Lectionary were publicly available on the internet, it would also be much easier for people to provide good quality booklets for special occasions.

The need for a standard missal at the time of Pius V was made urgent by the advent of the printing press and the possiblity of errors being widely reproduced. Placing a text on the Vatican website provides a new way of ensuring accuracy. There may be some mistakes in teh original but these can be easily corrected if there is the opportunity for feedback. And an electronic copy will at least not introduce new errors.

Oh, and while I'm presuming to give advice to the CDW, and while universal permission is the flavour of the month, why not give permission for any priest in an English-speaking territory to use the RSV Lectionary as recently produced by Ignatius Press but only licit for use in the Antilles?

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