My friend Jeffrey Tucker must be having a slow year. He’s done good work agitating for a loosened up copyright policy from ICEL. I appreciate the effort to upgrade the Church’s approach in the information age. He rehashes his favorite arguments and takes a strident tone on InsideCatholic. dotCommonweal links him, too, and their commentariat picks up on the frustration.
I’ve been involved in church music for three decades, and I’ve never had a problem approaching owners of texts so I could use them. The key is that I explained what I was doing (setting an experimental ICEL text, or adapting an existing composition for my choir or instruments). Example: when I posted the series on Fulfilled In Your Hearing, I dialed up the USCCB, spoke to their permissions contact, and told them what I wanted to do and why. I received permission. I ask permission to use something I don’t own. That’s basic good manners. Like my parents taught me. You say “please” or something to that effect, and it’s not unheard of to receive what you’re asking for.
If ICEL or the USCCB are reluctant to loosen up their policy, let me offer some possible reasons why:
Jeffrey writes of “web site builders and bloggers to quote (texts) freely in any form.” He alludes to the practice we’ve seen in the blogosphere of writers posting significant sections of the Roman Missal. First, bloggers are not the best in respecting the writings of others. The NLM web page he associates with often will post huge chunks of text from other sources. They do link, too. But there’s no class in cutting-and-pasting to keep the reader on one’s own site. And many conservative bloggers are out to embarass and criticize the institution. It’s their schtick.
There’s the issue of “composers (using ICEL text) for setting music.” I don’t get this. Published composers must get their texts disseminated from somewhere. The reality is that many music directors use ICEL and biblical texts for our choirs and in our schools and parishes. Generally, we don’t charge for these compositions. That’s the rub, it seems.
Here’s the ICEL quote channeled by Jeffrey: “Any publication produced for sale which contains ICEL translations is subject to a royalty or flat fee. … Other publications containing ICEL texts but not for use during liturgical celebrations, such as textbooks, commentaries, religious education books and materials, private prayerbooks, recordings, etc. may be assessed a royalty or flat fee.”
Let’s get this straight:
- If you’re going to make money off your music, you owe a slice to ICEL. Doesn’t seem like simony to me. In fact, when I self-published a music collection before the internet age I used an ICEL text, asked permission, and they waived their fee. Maybe I was more charming than the reform2 crew.
- If you’re using their stuff outside of liturgy, you ask permission and you might get charged a fee. Or you might not.
- Permission for liturgy–that includes stuff you copy for your choir to sing, or words you put in a program–is generally free.
As for other possible reasons why ICEL and others might not be willing to offer free permission so internet publishers can make some money, I can think of one: quality control. Given Catholic parishes’ general reputation for being cheap on music and the arts, and past infringements on copyright, I can understand publishers’ reluctance to help other people make money without getting their fair share.
Simony? Name-calling like that isn’t going to win friends and influence people. Maybe there’s a reason why some traditionalists feel like they’re on the outside looking in.