Saturday, July 06, 2013

Evangelization vs. Copyright

Brandon Vogt really liked the new papal encyclical but noted that the Vatican only made it available in HTML. So he worked to convert it to PDF, epub, Mobi, and more, and then he gave away these formats on his website.

Perhaps he was inspired by the message: "The transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another. Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age."

Whoops. Both the Vatican and the USCCB wrote to demand a takedown. Clearly, Vogt was "stealing from the Pope" (really? I don't think making other formats available causes the text to be mystically removed from the Vatican website). Also, he was accused of "violating the civil law." Perhaps, but the Church does not need to take recourse to civil law -- a law that restricts information flow by assigning legal right of ownership to the expression of ideas. The Church can easily publish into the commons, as millions of others do today as a way of avoiding restrictive state laws.

Multinational copyright enforcement is a legal invention of the late 19th century. It serves to block the light of truth. This is a great example of that. Thousands, maybe millions, who would be able to obtain the encyclical on their ereaders will now not be able to -- at least not until it is published by the state-protected monopoly agent. That's just a very strange way to go about distributing light and truth.

When faced with the question of whether to impose and enforce copyright over core Catholic texts, one might ask the question that was popular among the teen set a few years ago: What Would Jesus Do?

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