Thursday, January 07, 2010

Must the Sisters Pay To Sing?

My inbox often receives notes from parishes and other Catholic institutions asking questions about ICEL's permissions policies. For review, this is the International Commission on English in the Liturgy that doesn't actually publish the liturgical texts but still claims to own them and therefore imagines that it has the right to charge you and me for the right to pray the words that they authorize and mandate for the whole English-speaking Catholic world.

Why people write me, I don't know. I guess my email address is a bit less intimidating to click than ICEL's.

In any case, this time a religious sister writes to say that her convent has recorded Latin chants, and also some English ones using ICEL texts. The convent would like to distribute these recordings as a fund raiser. They know that the Latin chant is part of the commons of the faith - there is not problem in doing this - but they worry about the English. Will they have to pay royalties to ICEL?

My reading of this is yes.

Any publication produced for sale which contains ICEL translations is subject to a royalty or flat fee. Publications for sale containing ICEL texts which are or may be used for liturgical celebrations such as liturgical books for celebrants or popular participation aids will be assessed 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 prayer books, recordings, etc. may be assessed a royalty or flat fee....

The royalty rate for ICEL texts on recordings is set at the statutory rate set by the U.S. Government currently $ .066 or $ .0125 per minute or fraction of playing time, whichever is larger, for each text embodied in the recording. When this rate is adjusted by the U.S. Government, usually every two years, the ICEL rate will be adjusted accordingly.

However, there might be a workaround if the sisters are not so much selling the recording but giving it away with a contribution.

No royalty is charged for reprinting ICEL translations in a publication for use at a specific Mass or celebration of an individual congregation or institution, for example: convention program booklets, jubilee Masses, ordinations, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, funerals, weddings, etc., provided that (a) the publication is produced by the particular congregation or institution rather than by a publishing firm and (b) the publication is not sold. ICEL hereby grants permission to those institutions or congregations reprinting its texts or music in publications for one-time use.

So it might come down to the wording that the sisters use. I really don't know. In the end, it will be up to ICEL. They might give them a free pass. They might not.

In either case, it strikes me as a tragedy that anyone should create all this bureaucracy when a clean and clear, once-and-for permission for everyone, would suffice. It works for the Latin chant. It works for the Book of Common Prayer. It could work for Catholic English too. What keeps this obvious solution at bay?

All this pay-to-pray finagling is very embarrassing, especially for Catholics, especially with our folk history in this regard.

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