Copyright Law and Catholics

Copyright Law and Catholics

© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns 

Many have questioned the “proprietary” attitude of Catholic writers today who copyright their works and insist that others honor their wishes concerning the use of their material. In doing so those questioning this right seem to intimate that such behavior is not in keeping with the Church’s own attitude on the matter. Far from being the case, it was the norm prior to the false Vatican II council for Catholic writers not only to copyright their works but to be paid for their writing. Today, “Traditionalist” Catholics seem to think that writers should be happy to donate their works to the “movement,” or to posterity for the sake of the faith. This is not a choice as much as it has become a reality. Few outlets exist for those writing about the true faith, and what outlets there are can seldom afford to pay its writers.

Some have objected to my “strict” copyright notice, but do not know the story behind it. If I write articles stating truths of faith, especially if they are quoted from other Catholic works, and I am misquoted, then Catholic truth suffers. It is only logical to ask anyone intending to use a work to which considerable time and research has been devoted to request permission to use it. That way the author can check the posting or printed material to make sure the copy agrees with the original. Anyone whose intentions are honorable concerning such intended use of another’s material should not object to asking permission and allowing the author to check the resulting use. It is the responsibility of every Catholic writer to see that if their work is quoted, it is quoted properly. The motive is not pride of authorship, as some have suggested, but watchfulness where matters of faith are concerned and the right to refuse permission to post to sites or be quoted in publications that intimate support of heresy or schism.

It has been this author’s misfortune to experience such misuse, and for this reason it is important to know the true teaching of the Church in this matter. The following is taken from The Casuist, Vol. IV: “All theologians are agreed that an author or writer, architect or draftsmen has a strict right to the fruits of his genius. And this right of ownership in the fruits of one’s intellectual labor is founded in the law of nature. For if it be the law of nature that men have a right to the labor of their hands, with much more reason ought they to have an exclusive right to the labor of their brains. And if the good of civilized society requires that a man be secured by law in the peaceful possession of whatever property he has acquired by his industry, with much more reasons must we hold that the good of civilized society requires that men be secure in the peaceful possession of that higher and more valuable property, namely the results of intellectual and artistic talent.

“There is nothing more intimate to a man — or to speak more properly there is no kind of property so intimately and closely connected with a man — as the fruits of his own genius… the fruits of his intellectual industry belong to him and are part of his being in a way that no other kind of goods and chattels can be said to be. Consequently it has always been maintained by theologians and jurists alike that an author…or any other intellectual worker is entitled to exclusive ownership in the results of his intellectual labor as long as he does not hand over his rights to the public or part with them by sale or free gift. And this strict right of an author or inventor or other intellectual worker to the fruits of his genius imposes a grievous obligation on all other persons to respect this right, and to avoid all invasion of it. It is not allowed to steal another’s ideas any more than it is allowed to steal his lands, and any such theft must be made good by adequate restitution.”

The editor quotes Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey as his source for these comments. The editor also adds that such theft is a sin against the seventh commandment and full monetary restitution must be made. As Rev. Francis J. Connell, writing for The American Ecclesiastical Review stated in the 1950s: “Theologians agree that the civil laws upholding the right of an author to the benefit of his writings and forbidding others to publish them without permission bind in conscience, because such laws are a reasonable determination of the natural-law right of a person to the fruits of his intellectual genius, (Aertnys-Damon, Theologia moralis, Turin, 1950)…  When a writer plagiarizes, publishing as his own what is taken from another’s published writings, this is a sin against justice a mortal sin if [harm] is great… One who illicitly publishes another’s writings, or portions of them, to the financial detriment of the author…is bound to restitution. Some hold that this obligation binds only after a court sentence, but the more probable opinion is that even prior to such a sentence, this obligation must be fulfilled by the guilty party, (Aertnys-Damon).” And what harm could be greater than misleading the faithful?

Permission to use the works found on this site is requested to prevent any harm to the truth, or misrepresentation of the author’s beliefs. It is not done out of the desire to prevent others from freely spreading Catholic truth; far from it. Anyone truly anxious to share the faith with others can easily distribute a website link to their e-mail list, and avoid any inconvenience.

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