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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Vatican abandons OA for papal documents

Richard Owen, Vatican 'cashes in' by putting price on the Pope's copyright, London Times, January 23, 2006. Excerpt:
The Vatican has been accused of trying to cash in on the Pope’s words after it decided to impose strict copyright on all papal pronouncements. For the first time all papal documents, including encyclicals, will be governed by copyright invested in the official Vatican publishing house, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The edict covers Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, which is to be issued this week amid huge international interest. The edict is retroactive, covering not only the writings of the present pontiff — as Pope and as cardinal — but also those of his predecessors over the past 50 years. It therefore includes anything written by John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI and John XXIII. The decision was denounced yesterday for treating the Pope’s words as “saleable merchandise” and endangering the Church’s mission to “spread the Christian message”. A Milanese publishing house that had issued an anthology containing 30 lines from Pope Benedict’s speech to the conclave that elected him and an extract from his enthronement speech is reported to have been sent a bill for €15,000 (£10,000). This was made up of 15 per cent of the cover price of each copy sold plus “legal expenses” of €3,500. Vittorio Messori, who has co-authored works with Pope Benedict and John Paul II, said that he was “perplexed and alarmed . . . This is wholly negative and absolutely disastrous for the Vatican’s image.” A pope’s words should be available to all free of charge.”...The Union of Italian Catholic Publishers and Booksellers said that it had not been consulted, and that the edict “flies in the face of what we do — spreading the Pope’s message to the world”....Officials said that newspapers would be free to publish extracts from papal documents without charge once they were officially released, but only by “prior agreement”.

Comment. Not only is the Vatican abandoning free access and distribution for papal documents. It's abandoning any equivalent of "fair use" and it's doing all this retroactively as well as prospectively. It's hard to believe that the Vatican will gain more than it loses from this. I predict not only ridicule and dissent, which have already started, but litigation and a huge increase in pirated editions --roughly in the way that a prohibition on flag burning would stimulate flag burning. And does the Vatican really need money more than impact?