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.
Hmmm. I had wondered about this.
One question I have is whether Vatican City copyright law is the same US copyright law. When they made the ridiculous decision to include me in the blogmeet in Rome 🙂 some Vatican official said Vatican City was changing its copyright law to be more like Creative Commons. I KNOW I heard that, because I rejoiced and thought that was brilliant. But what is the deal funneling through the USCCB I don’t know. The USCCB either must have some rights to the encyclical in the English language, or just see itself as the enforcer within the USA…and perhaps not understand the distinction in copyright law.
I’m not a super insider person but I think I know what is going on and it is mostly about one person within with the USCCB. I could be wrong. But publishers (ad hoc like Brandon and yourself and big pub houses) have been tearing their hair about the USCCB’s copyright and payment policies.
Obviously the smart thing to do would be: 1) hire Brandon and yourself to convert doc and files to ebooks (or someone else if they prefer), 2) reduce their charge for publishing from the NAB to the rough equivalent of all the current Protestant translations rather than exorbitantly more (it IS the BIBLE), 3) go Creative Commons with all of it.
On the more upbeat side, would it be possible to continue the weekly Francis as a blog post with links? Those homilies and such are not as easy to find as an encyclical.
I wanted to print out the pdf. It was over 80 pages most of which were filled with white-space. I tried to convert it to docx but could not easily do so because of the complex pdf formatting. An online conversion site could not easily do it either. I began to do it manually and it would have reduced the size to about half but it was taking forever. I stopped and said to myself, “I will wait until someone cleverer than me does this”. I don’t want to print 80 pages when forty will do. The first book ever published was the Bible. I think they’re still using the same technology. I’m kinda emabarassed for my Church at this point.
I’ve thought of another valid reason for not wanting people to post and format copies of these works. Authenticity and correctness. Unless the document came straight from an authenticated source how can you be sure it is correct or hasn’t been tampered with?
Best case scenario: You take a authorized copy of a text and simply reformat it to make it readable for a wider audience. No changes are made, it is perfect, and I can now read it on my desktop, tablet and tiny phone screen.
Bad case scenario: Some other well-meaning person takes an authorized copy and does a bad job reformatting it by hand. Maybe a paragraph gets deleted by accident. A couple sections look bad on most devices.
Worst case scenario: Some bad person takes an authorized copy and subtly changes it. Twisting the document to their own purposes.
How is someone to know which of these cases applies to any document they have downloaded? And let’s look at the worst case scenario. A news agency jumps on the changed copy and starts a scandal with it.
Really the safest answer for works like this is to only trust documents you get straight from the source. I agree that the formatting is a huge problem, but you know for certain that the text is true.
Well this also can be easily satisfied.
It really does not take much to determine if people such as Brandon or myself would be acting in good faith if granted copyright to these documents. They currently are doing basically the same with people who are currently granted use of copyright and are paying a license fee.
As for a user knowing if the document is going to be accurate it is simply the case of credibility that any source builds up. You pretty much know who are the good players and who are the dubious ones.
I’m sad to see the Weekly Francis going offline, but I understand the decision. I really, really hope that someone in the USCCB sees this entire situation and decides to do something positive as a result, instead of maintaining the status quo.
This really has a chilling effect.
There are two ways to deal with this.
One is just to give up and just focus on the traditions of the faith. The Catechism in a year project was halted because of copyright restrictions, so they switched to YOUCAT (which contains paid content, but something must have been worked out), but they could just as easly switched to an older catechism like the Catechism of Trent. When the RSV bible clampdown started, many Catholic bible sites switched to the Douey-Rheims version since that’s the only freely available Catholic Bible.
Another way is to be bureaucratic yourself. Continue with the weekly Francis but ask permission for every single detail and make it known on your site that you want to be in full compliance with the Vatican and encourage everyone else involved in the New Evangelization to do the same. If enough people try to be compliant to the Bureaucrat’s wishes one of three things will happen, the Bureaucrat will be replaced (it’s impossible to get any work done because of information overload), the approach will be rethought (e.g. some activities don’t require permission, some only require a one time permission from one’s bishop, and some require permission from one’s priest who then reports it to his bishop — all documents produced by the Vatican will also make explicit the type of license associated with each document), or the Bureaucrat will dig in and ignore all requests and the New Evangelization grids to a halt due to bureaucracy and the Vatican will panic and “get to the bottom of this”.
Finally, you can just give up out of fear and frustration, and you can be sure others will too. Eventually when enough people give up, the New Evangelization will grind to a halt and the Vatican will panic and “get to the bottom of this”.
I am still not clear what role the USCCB plays in policing documents posted on the Vatican website and that belong to the Vatican. Can someone explain?
Just try to get anything done thru the Pro-Life “department” at the USCCB, I dare you…..
I have wondered about this, too. I have a large collection of Church documents on my Kindle, which I have made up for myself to read on the go. I liked the fact that the Vatican’s website had many well-coded documents which were easy to convert into an e-book format.
[[Though, as an aside, Lumen Fidei is not very well coded and took a lot of work to make it perfect as an e-book.]] [[As a second aside, by “well-coded”, I simply mean that the formatting was consistent making it easy to automate the process of picking out the structure to reformat headings and set up a table of contents, not that it was good/easy to read on the webpage.]]
I hope that people within the Church see the importance of opening out their documents to the world. This is essential to the New Evangelization. Now, I recognize the importance for the Church to want to ensure the integrity of the documents (and, for instance, the Bible texts a la USCCB and NAB(RE)), and want to ensure that they are being disseminated properly. But, to go so far as to target those who are just trying to make a nicely formatted version, or collection (or audio recording, etc.) in good faith seems far too heavy handed to me. I would have thought things like the letters of the Pope or his public speeches were essentially open, public documents: free to read, quote, repost, reformat, just not sell. What if I wanted to give a lecture; could I (legally) distribute such a document either in excerpt or fully as a supplement for my listeners (even if I slightly reformatted it)? Should I be able to?
A solution could be a permissions policy for said documents which spells out that so long as the text is unadulterated it can be freely distributed at least in an electronic forms for free, and other uses would violate copyright.
[…] recently, my friend Jeff Miller shut down his popular "Weekly Francis/Benedict" project where he collected the Pope's audiences, speeches, and writings. Each week he formatted them for […]
I’ll miss the weekly Papa links, but am not surprised 🙁 It is embarrasing. I asked to use the Year of Faith graffic on a Church webpage to link to the Vatican and was flatly turned down. Seriously???