This is an update to an earlier post concerning copyrights and Vatican documents and how it concerns me along with a decision I have made.
First off there has continued to be discussion regarding this on Catholic blogs.
I found a paragraph on Jeff Geerling’s blog that puts succinctly one aspect of my own thoughts.
To be clear, I have no issue with the Vatican’s and USCCB’s rights to the texts of the faith (encyclicals, scripture, catechisms, teachings). I have issue with the fact that, any time someone demonstrates evangelical initiative, the first (and usually only) official Church response is: “stop that, you’re stealing a copyrighted work.” It should be more along the lines of: “you’re trying to do something awesome—we’d like to help you, here’s how you can do it without violating our copyright.”
Simcha Fisher also offers her own take starting in a humorous way:
This is how the conversation should have gone:
Brandon Vogt: Hi, this is Brandon Vogt. I am super excited about the new encyclical, so I’d like to make it even easier for lots of people to read it. Okay if I convert the Vatican’s PDF to a bunch of different formats?
Vatican: Of course! Good job, Brandon. What’s your address? I’ll send you a basket of oranges from the Pope’s garden.
This is how the conversation actually went:
Brandon Vogt: Hi, this is Brandon Vogt. I’m super excited about the new encyclical, so I’ve made it even easier for lots of people to read it. I’ve converted the Vatican’s PDF to a bunch of different downloadable formats so everybody can read what the Pope has to say!
The Vatican: What? How dare you? Stop stealing from the Pope! Take it down right now! Shame on you.
Vogt: What? What? Okay. I didn’t ask first, and it’s your call, so I’m taking it down. But … what is the matter with you people?
The Vatican:; What? I can’t hear you. Our fax machine is making too much noise.
In counterpoint Dawn Eden offers several legitimate reasons for restricting access to such encyclicals to outlets that are officially licensed to share them.
I can see the validity in much that she says, but in part they do not answer the main criticism. The USCCB and the Vatican certainly have a right to their copyright and to defend it. Now I have no legal knowledge of copyright law, but I am a blogger and so am use to talking about what I don’t know of. Still my question would be that just because something is copyrighted, does that prevent the copyright owner from granting access? I would think not. As Jeff Geerling noted and what I have seen is that in every case the USCCB does not work with anybody to grant copyright without payment. Now I don’t think the USCCB’s only consideration is monetary. But in my opinion they have been jerks about it shutting down evangelical projects done for love of the faith. No compromise is ever made. They can still defend their copyright while also having a policy of granting copyright in cases such as this. That control of the texts seem to have become more important than actually having people read them.
- By the same token, the Pope has every reason to want people who are interested in Lumen Fidei to track it down on the Vatican website (not that it’s all that difficult to find, given the site’s current pop-up ad for it). The Holy Father knows that if a reader finds the encyclical on the Vatican website, he or she may go on to explore other writings on the site. And isn’t that what all of us, as Catholics, should want people to do—to go from reading about “The Light of Faith” to delve more deeply into what Catholics believe?
I don’t really think the Pope cares all that much whether the document is read on that Vatican’s site. After all there are printed editions. I would guess the Pope’s highest priority would be that people read his encyclical and other documents. Responsive design is where a website adjusts to the device that is accessing it. Reformatting for mobile devices. The Vatican is currently using “Unresponsive design”. It does not send you to a mobile page, although there is a semi-mobile link. I looked at the encyclical on my iPhone and it just was not reformatted at all. The same is true for other documents on Vatican.va. As somebody whose day job involves a lot of web programming, it is rather embarrassing to see how documents are handled on Vatican.va.
Still with this all being said I have decided to take down “The Weekly Francis” ebook and to no longer maintain the ebook aspect of this project. Previous links to these ebooks are now broken.
Back in November of 2011 I started what was then “The Weekly Benedict” after seeing Jimmy Akin’s weekly list of links. I wanted to be able to easily read of Pope Benedict XVI’s writings and so decided I would make an ebook from these links for my own personal use. Having an ebook version meant that I was much more likely to keep up with these documents and that was indeed the case. It also meant that I could now easily highlight and note passages. As an afterthought I though I might as well offer this ebook for others since I was already going to make it for myself. It certainly turned out that many people found this ebook to be quite valuable and to help them actually read what the Pope had to say on a consistent basis. Later on I took on the job of maintaining the weekly list of links on Jimmy Akin’s site and to also reference my ebook there. I will continue to do so in regards to maintaining this weekly list of links to Papal documents, speeches, etc.
The truth was I knew there could be a copyright problem doing this. In the ebook I took care that each document displayed the copyright information and that this was also spelled out at the start of the ebook. From the start my intention was that if I did get a complaint from the Vatican I would certainly comply. Although truth be told it was more along the line “it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission” considering how I had seen this handled in the past.
When the kerfuffle Brandon Vogt started when the USCCB and the Vatican contacted him and I saw his post I started to evaluate what I was doing. When I put out last weeks edition of “The Weekly Francis” I was conflicted about doing so. My thought then was if asked to take this down I would. I now realize how stupid the justification was. Really I know knew for sure what the USCCB and Vatican response was to ebook reformatting and really my immediate response should have been to do what I have done today.
Just because I dislike the heavy-handed way the copyright issues is being handled, it does not entitle me to violate copyright “to do good.” Just because I think they are being shortsighted jerks on this doesn’t mean that I get to be a jerk in disregarding them. In other areas of my life I have been very careful regarding copyright. In my early stages of conversion I had trashed hundreds of cassettes I had pirated along with software I had also pirated. Wouldn’t you know it that was when Napster first appeared on the scene to tempt me (but not successfully).
I know Brandon Vogt is working on a fuller reaction to this situation. He had asked me permission to reference my publication of “The Weekly Francis” ebook as an example. He did not want to “out” me. This aspect really triggered my rethinking about this. If I can’t be above board about doing something, then I shouldn’t be doing it at all. I’m hoping that with Brandon’s much higher profile that the whole situation will be getting more attention triggering an approach more concerned about evangelization than seemingly tight-fisted control. That copyright can be protected and individuals involved in the new evangelization can seek permission regarding worthy projects.
Maybe in the future I will be able to continue “The Weekly Francis” ebook or better yet that the Vatican have a similar project offered in multiple languages. In the meantime I will be still making this ebook for my own consumption, but will not be offering it to others via any channel.
For those disappointed at no longer having this resource I will be working on creating some instructions and ideas how people can use the weekly list of links to Papal documents and to be able to read them formatted for their devices. Instructions will include how you can make your own ebooks or how to use services like Instapaper, Readibility, and Pocket to easily view these documents.