Copyright and the Catechism of the Catholic Church hold some legal surprises| National Catholic Registry


The Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1992 after years of development. He has helped generations of Catholics deepen their understanding of their Christian faith.

But those who want to use the text of the Catechism for Internet projects must deepen their understanding of something else: U.S. copyright law and the requirements of the U.S. copyright holder of the Catechism, the Conference of Catholic Bishops. the United States.

Matthew Warner, founder of Texas-based church communications software company FlockNote, once faced a cease-and-desist letter from USCCB attorneys over a free daily email that sent excerpts catechism to those who had subscribed. Although he finally got the necessary legal permissions for this project, he wonders if there is a better way.

“I don’t think they should be at all shy about giving everyone permission,” Warner told CNA. “These essential Church documents should be freely licensed to anyone who wishes to promote their use in any way. There are ways to do this where the USCCB still retains the legal right to protect the integrity of the texts.

A spokesperson for the US Bishops’ Conference, however, says there are good reasons for the paperwork.

“Each year, the USCCB receives hundreds of requests for commercial and other uses of the Catechism in the United States,” Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“Each request is considered in light of our contractual obligations to the Holy See, copyright compliance and other considerations,” Noguchi said. “We are required to ensure accurate use of the Catechism in respect of intellectual property for the license granted to us by the Holy See. The Catechism plays an important role in forming the faith of Catholics, and we look forward to continuing to find ways to make it more accessible. »

Warner’s company violated copyright restrictions on a project involving the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In response to Benedict XVI’s Year of Faith 2012 exhortation to Catholics to read the catechism, Flocknote launched a “Catechism in a Year” email at no cost to subscribers.

“You get an email a day with a bit of catechism,” Warner recounted. “365 days later, you’ve read it all.”

“Over 100,000 people signed up, and it very quickly became the largest group in history to study catechism together,” he said. “We have had over 300,000 (users) participating since and counting. It has been phenomenal.

The initial use of the Catechism in the project provoked a reaction from the episcopal conference that Warner did not expect.

“(P)During this first year, the USCCB has instructed its attorneys to send us a cease and desist letter to close it,” he said. “I told them what a tragic idea it was and even offered to give it all to them. They just told us to shut it down again. It was very sad for me.”

The Flocknote project eventually turned to using texts like YouCat, the 2011 Catechism for Young People of the Catholic Church, as well as the 2005 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. the USCCB.

“Fortunately, we were able to work with Ignatius Press to get permission to use the YouCat as a surrogate and were able to complete the year,” Warner said. “A few years later we were able to get permission from the USCCB to use the Compendium of the Catechism, which was perfect for a daily email.”

Although Noguchi did not discuss specific requests for use of the catechism text, she explained that there are legal constraints on the USCCB.

“Unfortunately, not all requests can be met,” she said. “Other considerations, such as upholding the exclusivity contract granted for original paperback editions and consumer gifts, must be taken into account. We make every reasonable effort to work with publishers. Sometimes it has been necessary to notify groups of copyright violations, but we will not comment further on negotiations between the USCCB and those seeking permissions.

The second edition of the Catechism has 924 pages in the English paperback edition. This version is available on the USCCB website for a cost of just under $30.

Saint John Paul II is the author of an apostolic letter of August 15, 1997 marking the publication of the Catechism. He hailed the work as an “authentic and systematic presentation of Catholic faith and doctrine” and urged Catholic bishops “to intensify their efforts to disseminate the text more widely.”

The USCCB website offers an online version of the Catechism and offers several resources, including a question-and-answer document with 48 sections.

The website also discusses copyright issues and permission to use the catechism.

“The Holy See has given the United States Conference of Catholics (USCCB) specific rights and responsibilities regarding the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the website states. Written permission is required for all editions of the Catechism published or imported for commercial distribution in the United States. Excerpts from the catechism in English, Spanish, or French may only be used in accordance with USCCB guidelines.

The USCCB Catechism Subcommittee and USCCB Publishing oversee the use of the catechism. Their goals are to preserve the integrity of the text, to seek its “widest possible dissemination”, and to encourage “proper use of the text” in secondary and derivative works.

Warner questioned whether the USCCB’s approach was in the best interest of the mission of the Catholic Church.

“I think their view of how to ‘control’ or ‘protect’ Church texts is outdated and in practice ends up harming the promotion of these important and essential texts, thus going to the against the mission of the Church,” he said. reflect on the obstacles encountered by their business.

This put a group like Flocknote “in a difficult position to try to keep the USCCB, which represents my Church, from looking bad while hopefully working to bring about positive change,” Warner said. “I think it has gradually improved and I hope it will continue in this direction. We are very grateful to them for allowing us to use the Compendium and many people have benefited from it. I hope this kind partnerships will continue.

Warner had some advice for small projects or volunteer groups wanting to adapt the Catechism for new endeavors and new media: “Just ask the USCCB and see what they say.”

“Give the USCCB the benefit of the doubt and engage in good faith, even after hitting those initial roadblocks. Keep trying. There are good people working there. Make connections and work together to improve the situation. It’s possible. And we will be more productive if we work on it together as brothers and sisters,” he said. “They sometimes give permission. If they don’t, find out why. Share the answer with your bishop and hopefully we can all work together to make it easier to use and promote these texts.

Flocknote doesn’t make money from its catechism project, Warner said, adding, “It actually costs us a lot of money to provide it for free. But we’re okay with that.

The guidelines for using the Catechism discuss various ways of including copyright notices and ensuring the accuracy of use of the text. Printed works, recordings, or other electronic media that use the text do not need permission from the USCCB, provided the use of the text is less than 5,000 words.

If this word limit is exceeded, additional permission is required whether the work is commercial or non-commercial. Written permission from the USCCB and USCCB review of non-commercial works are still required. Commercial use of the text of the Catechism faces another requirement: they must pay a pro-rata royalty, according to Vatican requirements, calculated on the basis of 10% of the list price.

These measures apply even to the educational works of dioceses or entities directly under diocesan control.

Father Mike Schmitz, the priest from the Diocese of Duluth who hosts the popular podcast The Bible in a Year from Catholic publisher Ascension, said he originally hoped to read both the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church over a one-year period. A year-long catechism project is now in the early stages of development, Fr. Schmitz told EWTN Nightly News anchor Tracy Sobol in December.

“We wanted to give people time to finish the Bible podcast before they have this other thing, you know, on their shoulders,” he said, “and so we’re going to start it in 2023, if God willing, if we get all the t’s crossed out and the i’s are dotted.

CNA contacted Ascension, which declined further comment.

The USCCB website also notes the legal permissions required for use of the New American Bible, the English edition of which is copyrighted by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.


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