Copyright Pragmatics

Getting the internet finally rolling from the home computer has been nice. I’ve been able to catch up a bit on a few other blogs. I see a Big Copyright discussion in progress at NLM that has drawn Amy’s attention.

While I may have time to browse, I really care little for tracking 60-post motumaniac threads, but I did note some wonderment (if I read it right) about churchpeople profiting from “our” Mass texts, shrugging off small players and blog sites, and favoring Big Bad Music Publishers.

Gimme a break.

These are pretty much the same people who harp on about “heretical” texts. Don’t you think if it were easy to write songs off the NAB Lectionary texts, more people would skip half the battle of composing and get right to the music? Why do you think parish musicians wised up years ago and began paraphrasing? Just to annoy the parish tradis? Hardly.

More than fifteen years ago, I was told to avoid copyrighted material in composing new liturgical music. “Make a few alterations to the biblical texts,” the publishers advised. “Then we don’t have to share revenue with the bishops.”

That may or may not be a very communal or ecclesial or even a soundly theological stance. But it is a pragmatic one shared by publishers large and small. Copyright law is part of the landscape. It’s a given. Nobody is going to give copyrights away. Parish musicians have a poor reputation for honoring copyrights in some locales. So it’s not too hard to understand why copyright holders are vigilant when it comes to their property. They make it hard on people, and said people go elsewhere for texts.

ICEL is singled out for harping on Fr Tim Finigan for posting translation drafts last year. Why is this a surprise? The internet age has sharpened pens of many Catholics. A wider consultation is not in the best interests of the “new and improved” ICEL. They don’t want “slavish translators” and their fans looking over the shoulder every time a gibbet or ineffable dew gets rendered from Latin.

When I was a tyro composer in the 80’s, I found ICEL very easy to work with when they were offering texts still in the draft stages. I included a few experimental pieces (with experimental texts) in some self-published music, and had very generous permission given for doing so.

But times have changed on that front as well. ICEL has been rendered into a conservative body, and they still rub bishops the wrong way. Plus they seem rather ornery these days when dealing with John and Jane Q. Churchmusician.

As for the Big Bad Music Publishers getting some advantage? I’m assuming they still advise their stable of musicians to write their own texts. Or use stuff in the public domain. 100% of a cash cow beats fifty-fifty every day.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Copyright Pragmatics

  1. Tony says:

    I think an interesting experiment would be to have an “open source” community creating liturgical music. Since it would be provided free to parishes who wished to use it, there would be $0 to share with “the Bishops”.

    Now getting the USCCB’s permission for this would be interesting. I always wondered what their motivation was for not wanting the most widespread distribution of God’s word.

    I remember a gentleman who provides “todays readings” in a podcast for free was shut down by the USCCB for using the NAB without permission.

    He made not a nickel on the podcast, and paid for the the bandwidth to distribute it. He finally went to the Douay-Rheims translation (which I consider much more poetic) instead.

    I’m not hopeful that the same attitude wouldn’t apply to someone using the biblical text (which is supposed to be the word of GOD, not the word of ICEL) to creat free music.

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