Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is there a rat in London?

I think we'd better start ignoring The Times of London when they report on happenings at the Vatican. First, it was that Judas was going to be rehabilitated by the Vatican and they even had an editorial backing that up. Now they report that the Vatican wants to charge anyone who quotes the Pope for royalties.

This, of course, got a number of people upset, not least of which was the Disciples with Microphones podcasters group I belong to. Then there were those outside the faith who thought it rather crude that the Pope should do this.

Here's what I told the DwM group:
A couple of things -- it could be that something is going on in the Vatican. However, it could also be that The Times has the story wrong -- again. Remember they were the ones who said that the Vatican was going to "rehabilitate" Judas and based it on a story in La Stampa. Turned out they mistranslated it and I haven't seen a retraction from them since, although it has been in Reuters and other sources.
Some time later, Catholic News Service had this story which showed that, well, I was right. The Times goofed it up again. No, that Milanese-based publisher had not only borrowed 30 lines as The Times reported, but had done a whole book of the Pope's speeches.

Still, some podcasters were concerned, so I called Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press. From what he understands (and since Ignatius was Ratzinger's official publisher for years, he's a pretty darn good source), the Vatican is more concerned with what gets published than with making money.

Remember a couple of things:

1) The Vatican has the responsibility to be sure that if someone claims to be printing what the Pope said or wrote, it actually has to be what the Pope said or wrote. One European publisher published the World Youth Day talks Pope Benedict gave without seeking permission from the Vatican. Problem was, they published only the printed texts that had been given to journalists prior to the talks -- so they ended up not being what the Pope actually said since he inserted all kinds of comments off-the-cuff and dropped other sections. When Vatican officials learned of this and called the publisher to say they got it wrong, the publisher said, basically, "Tough." If that happened to you, I don't think you'd be very happy. And since we're talking about papal material here, stuff that goes into the making and interpretation of Catholic doctrine and dogma, it's extraordinarily important to be accurate, which is the Vatican's job.

2) The Vatican has costs associated with this -- they have to pay their people who are tracking what is being published, making sure the translations are accurate, etc. Royalties go to help pay for these people's jobs.

3) Remember that The Times screwed up royally (puns intended) again. The story of the 30 lines in the Milanese publisher's book was false, just like their story about the rehabilitation of Judas.

Bottom line -- most people aren't going to have any problem quoting the Pope's material. The Vatican is basically going after book publishers who will make money off of what the Pope says, especially those who are doing it without permission and without concern for accuracy. If they're going to allow newspapers and magazines to publish documents under two very quite reasonable conditions without paying royalties, then they're not going to be breathing down the necks of most others who quote his stuff.

Perhaps someone needs to look at why The Times is publishing stories that are blatant errors -- Judas will be rehabilitated and the Vatican is going to be the copyright enforcer and money collector. Methinks I smell a rat.

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