Copyright, the internet, and the Church

There is an excellent post on NLM today by Michael Lawrence entitled The Complete Works of Bach--for free.As it is quite short, I will post it in full:

Not far from my computer desk is a boring little book on copyright law as it applies to musicians. I've never read it, and I don't intend to read this heap of positivism. My hope is that within my lifetime most of it will become irrelevant, as intellectual property laws often hurt creators rather than help them.

We are making progress. One need look no further than the Choral Public Domain Library. But there is more. Many artists themselves are catching on to the reality that if they offer something for free, the sales of that item and the general benefit to them increases sharply, most famously the band Radio Head, which released its most recent album online in a pay-what-you-wish format.

Following in Radio Head's footsteps is Dr. James Kibbie of the University of Michigan, who is in the midst of recording the complete organ works of J.S. Bach and posting them online for free.

Bravo to the professor for taking this step. I hope many more follow after him.
Now, as you can see, Michael Lawrence is not going to pay solicitors to send me a silly letter demanding that I remove this on the grounds of copyright infringement. In fact, because of my posting it here, a number of people will see the text who might not have read NLM. Some of those will click on the links I have given and so NLM will get a little more traffic.

Contrast this with those publishers who ask you to register at their site and perhaps pay a fee in order to view their words of wisdom. The savage copyright notice at the bottom of the page will inhibit many people from giving the material free publicity.

Another spurious concern is that material may be altered. The Church has for many years had the device of issuing a concordat cum originali ("it agrees with the original") for liturgical texts. Presumably someone has to read slavishly through the text and compare it with a reliable source to certify this. With electronic texts, this process can be automated. In addition, anyone attempting to post a faulty text on the internet will be picked up very quickly by interested parties from anywhere on the globe.

My copy of this week's Catholic Herald is waiting to be read. But already this evening, I have seen two enthusiastic notices about James MacMillan's article, one of which quotes the piece in full. Technically this is a copyright violation, I suppose. But in fact, it is likely to drive sales of the paper. If I were not already a reader, I might be inclined to buy a copy next time a see it. If the paper were available free online (only some of it is at the moment), I would be inclined to bookmark the website or collect the RSS feed, thereby perhaps also contributing to revenue from advertising.

In the Faith Movement, I tend to have a reputation for pushing the use of ICT - I devised the first Faith website and can proudly boast writing a notice announcing the launch of the Vatican website. I have always pushed hard for the policy of making all our material available free online and I am happy to say that people generally agree with this.

There is the question of an author being identified as the author of his own work. Again, I think that the internet will generally take care of this. As far as legal niceties go, I like the idea of the Creative Commons idea. One day I will get around to reading up on it and posting an appropriate licence on this blog.

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