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:
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