On Friday when Lumen Fidei was released it was nice to see early on that morning that Brandon Vogt had converted that encyclical for use in multiple e-readers along with PDF. I was just about to do the same thing myself.
In the last couple hours, I’ve received a litany of emails from both the USCCB and the Vatican accusing me of “[violating] both civil and moral law” and “stealing from the pope” (actual words used) by making the encyclical available in other formats. They’ve ordered me to remove the documents with full knowledge that this would prevent hundreds of people from reading it who otherwise wouldn’t read the encyclical online or in print.
In my view, this is tragic and unjust. It’s valuing profit over catechesis, and I have to believe Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict) would be extremely perturbed. Their goal and the goal of the Church is to evangelize—to spread the message of Jesus Christ, especially through papal encyclicals—not to make a dime off each copy printed.
This annoys me on so many levels.
First my vanity took a bit of a hit (although being such a large target it is easily hit). I have been converting Vatican documents for quite awhile plus I put out first “The Weekly Benedict” and now “The Weekly Francis.” I have never had a complaint from any official sources.
The tone of the reaction to Brandon Vogt reminds me of St. Teresa’s humorous lament to God “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” To accuse him a stealing is just so unjust.
The Vatican and other Church structures are usually rather slow to adapt to a changing situation. So-called new media and the internet requires a revisit of the paradigms of the past. I can certainly understand a protection of copyright and in a world where this was just about printed materials it made sense. There is a need to some extent to control documents to ensure that a document printed contained the original source with no alterations.
When it comes to making documents available, the Vatican does a fairly good job in that they are made available to read on their site at no cost. In a world where phones, tablets, and dedicated electronic text readers there is a serious downside to reading their documents on these devices, especially longer documents.
Unfortunately the Vatican instead of using CSS to format their documents they use Table formatting. Putting all the text in a single row/column at a specified width. Thus the text does not flow correctly at smaller screen resolutions. The Vatican in the case of this new encyclical also offered a PDF version, which is also very difficult to read on any mobile device smaller than a 10″ tablet.
The solution of course is to offer the document in a known e-book format such as ePub which can be read on a multitude of devices along with a mobi (Kindle) version. Thus making documents available to a large segment in a format where chances are good they will actually read it. These ebook version allow text to flow correctly regardless of screen size.
So Brandon Vogt steps in to fill an obvious hole and gets slapped down and accused of stealing. Somehow I get the feeling that if Pope Francis was told about this specific case he would not concur and in fact this would only reenforce his attitude towards the Curia and other forms of Church bureaucracies.
The [New Liturgical Movement] blog has been talking about problems with the Church’s heavy-handed use of copyright for years in regards to hymns and they discuss this specific case here.
The Church has made some movements in reaching out towards some bloggers and trying to put the so-called “new media” to use. It would be nice if the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization looked at this situation specifically. What I think needs to happen is that the Vatican should use some form of a Creative Commons license. Certainly a situation where Catholics in good faith and at no cost are helping the distribute information and documents should be encouraged. Trying to control this has no real upside and mostly downside.
The other thing I would like to see happen is for the Vatican to release these documents in e-book formats themselves. Really what I would like to see is more cooperation in regards to these documents with the laity. Certainly those in charge of making these documents available have enough work to do, but I am guessing there are a lot of Catholics who would love to be able to help out in converting documents to e-book versions. They definitely need some help with quality control since the English version had some formatting problems with the footnotes. In fact it would be nice to have some contact information to be able to point out problems or for example to be able to ask why the General Audience of 5 June 2013 still has not been translated?
I consider the way Brandon Vogt was treated to be rather Pharisaic. Although I totally agree with how he responded in taking down the content. I am thinking about my own situation with The Weekly Francis ebook. If I was told by the Vatican to cease and desist I would since if you are only obedient when you want to you are not obedient at all. Maybe I have been going too much with the “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
Still something like The Weekly Francis e-book is a project that the Vatican should be doing in multiple languages. It certainly takes me considerable time each week to track recently translated documents, provide indexes, and collate into the various e-book formats. If I had to stop it would certainly free up my time, but I do this because I know so many people are thus enabled to read the words of the Holy Father without having to spend a good deal of time in document tracking and subsequent conversion.
It will be interesting to see the fallout over this and if common sense will prevail in the end.
Note: The blog title I used is taken from the “New Litugical Movement” posts on the same subject. It expresses the subject better than anything I could come up with.