Monday, December 22, 2008

The legal issue that the USCCB needs to face

I won't go over the problems again with regard to the "intellectual monopoly" on the Revised Grail Psalter, one which originates in the Grail UK and is continued by Conception Abbey in the U.S.. If Rome approves this new translation for the English Psalter for Mass, the rights will be administered by HarperRow in the UK and the GIA in the US, two profit-making companies that have every corporate incentive to charge high prices for the use of the Psalms and to use coercion to prevent their publication and posting by other individuals and companies.

This type of institutional arrangement has led to stagnation and legal battles in the private sector, but matters are even more weighty when such tethered texts are mandated for liturgical use. The faith is supposed to be evangelistic and outward looking, not bound up with the Elizabethan invention of intellectual property law. If this translation is approved and mandated, many composers and bloggers will find themselves on the hotseat, treated as pirates and thieves who are stealing text, when in fact they are only seeking to use their talents to serve God and the Church.

The problem is becoming a serious matter in the private sector, and major rethinking is taking place. For anyone curious about the subject, I strongly recommend the book Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, published just this year. The book should be required reading for all Bishops involved with approving liturgical texts.

Sadly, as this 1994 transcript of the USCCB meeting on the Grail Psalms demonstrates, the issue isn't even on the radar screen. There is no evidence anywhere in this 31-page document that issues of IP are even known to those in the position to make decisions. There is much on the plate these days, and the issues regarding liturgical reform and language are never ending. But in the long run, having the liturgy tied up in these kinds of legal thickets will be devastating for the reform movement in a digital age. Let the education begin.

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