Playing the Simony Card … Poorly

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.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to Playing the Simony Card … Poorly

  1. JC says:

    Is the Latin text of the Mass copyrighted?
    Is the Nova Vulgate copyrighted?
    I would agree there’s a hint of hypocrisy in calling it simony that people who are profiting off church music should pay royalties to ICEL or the USCCB.
    However, I agree with Tucker that it is very wrong that the USCCB and ICEL copyright Sacred Scripture and the Missal.

  2. Todd

    I’ve couldn’t understand the simony remark. I think in an ideal world, there would be no need for the (c) process; but in a capitalistic world (and the people who make the charge of simony tend to want free market capitalism) what do they expect?

    While I can’t put it to words (just yet) the argument reminds me a bit of how Protestants claim “Church leaders don’t want the common person to have the Bible.” I think it is because of the same misunderstanding behind the two: no understanding why there is a need for a central, authoritative control so there is no abuse (as you point out), but also, a central, common text which requires time and effort to produce, and, in a capitalistic society these will not be free.

  3. Casey Khan says:

    “but in a capitalistic world (and the people who make the charge of simony tend to want free market capitalism) what do they expect?”

    Henry, the point is that the monopolistic rent seeking that comes from IP licesure is anti-capitalist.

    BTW IP resuts from the Protestant thinking unleashed by the revolt of Henry VIII through the vile Statute of Anne.

  4. Casey

    How is the idea that “I can rent out my property” anti-capitalistic? So, all property laws are anti-capitalistic because they end up making the owner of a particular piece of property a monopoly over that property? Where, btw, do you find and confirm the notion that capitalism is inherently anti-monopoly? Every instance of monopoly that I know of comes from business practices following the core principles of capitalism and the state is the one who had to break it up. More importantly, the NEED for money to be involved in the process comes from the capitalistic culture at large.

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