Tyranny, Copy”right”, and Catholic Bishops

Over at the New Liturgical Movement, Jeffrey Tucker and I have been beating the drums against ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which is the body in charge of liturgical texts in the English speaking world of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is episodes such as the one we’re dealing with now that will disabuse any right-thinking person of the notion that ecclesiastical tyranny has come to a halt.  Graciously, churchmen have stopped burning people at the stake, but other kinds of ludicrousies persist.

This copyright business is one of them.  What the bishops are saying–with apparent support from the Congregation of Divine Worship in Rome–is that the texts of the liturgy cannot be used without permission, and, often, without paying a royalty or flat fee.  The question has been raised about what fees, if any, would apply to a composer desiring to post his work online for free download, a question to which ICEL has not yet given a useful answer.  This has the effect of creating a liturgical-industrial complex, where the publishers, being the only ones with the financial wherewithal to deal with all this red tape, exercise a disproportionate amount of control over whose works see the light of day and whose do not.  It goes without saying, of course, that, generally speaking, the big publishers don’t exactly print high art.  (I know of more than one genius composer who can only get their lesser works published; the great stuff collects dust on their shelves.)

All of this is in contrast to the Church of England, which declares its liturgical texts to be in the public domain.  This is not the only reason that Anglican churches tend to fare better in the music-making department, however, as they have steadfastly held onto the under-estimated virtue of good taste, for which there can be no substitute.

Someone should grab the pope’s ear about all this.  The Joseph Ratzinger I’ve read doesn’t seem like the kind of man who would want artistic (real art) creativity being thwarted by dumb rules.

More about this can be read at the links below:

http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/2008/08/icel-copyright-and-creative-commons.html

http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/2008/08/icel-vs-book-of-common-prayer.html

http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/2008/08/icel-copyright-and-core-of-problem.html

http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/2008/08/misuse-of-power-and-copyright.html

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4 Responses

  1. Actually, the Church of England has NOT placed its worship texts in the public domain, and, in fact, is in some ways even more draconian than ICEL (although not in other ways). The 1662 (!) Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible of 1611 (!) are copyrighted within the United Kingdom and cannot be printed there without permission from the British Crown. One way in which they are better than ICEL is that do not require royalties (to my knowledge) from composers composing for specific texts from the BCP. Here is more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Common_Prayer#Copyright_status

    It is the Episcopal Church in the United States that has always placed its Book of Common Prayer in the public domain. My understanding is that a particular modern version of the Reproaches for Good Friday was originally slated to be included in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, but had to be dropped because of copyright issues. One wishes all other churches would share its generosity of spirit, and I am very grateful to you and the others on NLM for shining a spotlight on the moneychangers in the temple who make up ICEL.

  2. Tim,

    Most interesting. Thanks for passing along this info.

  3. We’ve run into the same sorts of issues in the ELCA with the copyright of liturgical texts. In fact, a fellow Lutheran blogger who had adapted the orders for Morning and Evening Prayer was asked to remove them from his blog. Of course, with the drivel contained in the new ELW, they have little worry that many people will want to make illegal copies.

  4. lutherpunk,

    Somehow this is not surprising. Actually, one of my church jobs is in a Lutheran church. We have no intention of getting the new materials; we’re sticking with the green book. (But we pine for the days of yore and the 1962 Service Book and Hymnal!)

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