Monday, August 04, 2008

ICEL vs. the Book of Common Prayer

In a comment thread on a previous post, someone mentioned that the Book of Common Prayer, even the most recent edition, is in public domain to encourage the widest possible use, at no charge. That makes sense. We are, after all, talking about a religious text the words of which are the common property of the whole world. If someone wants to claim ownership over a particular edition with new material, that's another matter, of course.

Living in the Catholic world in which tribute, a liturgy tax, must be paid to International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) for printing the text of the Mass, even for simple musical settings for distribution outside a single event (and I'm going to stop laying out all the technicalities here, else I would have to reprint ICEL's own textual minefield in full), this news about the BCP is rather interesting.

Sure enough, the commentator is right: here, here, here, here, and probably a thousand other places. Many people are able to sell it in different formats, and even profitably. No disaster has befallen the liturgy as a result. Compare those links to this one.

In the same way, of course, the text of the 1962 Missal is free for all, as are most supporting materials.

That leaves the ordinary form of the Roman Rite as the exception, and it is a very serious one, given that new texts are are going to be issued that will require musical settings. Catholics will not be free to compose music and post it for free download or for sale without first and last paying ICEL. That gives a huge market boost to the established music publishers that are currently the big players in the market. What we have here is a monopolistic barrier to entry to the market that affects every parish and every Catholic.

Why the ICEL tax? They say they need the money, more than the rest of us I suppose. But if a Church can't pay for the production of its own liturgical texts, I'm not sure what there is to say about that.

Something needs to change, dramatically and quickly, about ICEL's copyright and royalty policies.

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