To Safeguard the Authenticity of the Magisterium

To Safeguard the Authenticity of the Magisterium

Carlo Carrieri and Sergio F. Aumenta

New Vatican law on the protection of copyright and intellectual property

Last 19 March [2011], the Solemnity of St Joseph, the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State — authorized by the fundamental State Law of 26 November 2000 — approved the law on the protection of copyright, on intellectual property and on related rights, n. CXXXII. The most important changes in the law are described in the article below, translated from the Italian text.

The proclamation of the Gospel message is part of the very essence of the universal mission of the Church. In carrying out her Magisterium in the contemporary world, she is called to engage with the modern means of communication and with the high technological standards common in advanced societies, taking advantage of the opportunities these offer.

While the greater ease in the dissemination of data, makes the wealth of information more accessible throughout the world, fostering the work of evangelization itself, it nonetheless calls for greater attention to ensure the integrity of the content, especially when this refers to evangelical teaching or to the Magisterium of the Church.

In the context of the technological development taking place, the protection of copyright and of related rights (of execution, reproduction and so on) has been thoroughly put to the test. Therefore, over the past 50 years and especially in more advanced societies, the legislation of the major countries of the world has been thoroughly updated. Vatican State could not ignore this radical evolution and a revision of its laws was also necessary in order to adapt them to the technological progress and new developments in legislation.

This is why the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State deemed it opportune to update Law XII, approved by John XXIII on 12 January 1960, which has regulated the matter of copyright in the State to this day. This Vatican law, apart from a few details, absorbed Italian law n. 633 of 1941, with the amendments made until that date.

The new law on copyright, which did not want to break away from the standards previously adopted, absorbs within Vatican City State the legislation in force in Italy. However, unlike the 1960 law, future adjustments of the Italian source have been duly provided for and will be automatically absorbed without further need for formal legal acts.

The automatic absorption is applied nonetheless with the usual limits foreseen by the Law on the sources of law (1 October 2008, LXXI). These limits apply in the case of norms contrary to the precepts of divine law, or to the general principles of canon law or to the norms of the Lateran Pacts, with the successive amendments, or to those of other international agreements and — in relation to de facto and existing law in Vatican City State — should the provisions of Italian law not prove applicable.

This updating will enable Vatican legislation to keep abreast of the Italian and international context, which it deals with continually on the operational level, except for interventions to possibly discontinue norms that may no longer be relevant, or to introduce new, more specific, norms to respond to the specific requirements of the Vatican reality.

In particular, great importance is given to the requirement of disseminating the original texts of the Magisterium. Therefore, any private person is free to download and distribute information from the website of the Holy See, provided that it is not for financial gain.

In addition to the provision that absorbs the Italian legislation, the new copyright law contains some original norms which meet the need to give a point of reference to the institutions and bodies of the Holy See, which are institutionally involved in the protection of copyright or of related rights.

A few examples follow. Article 2, which takes up the content of the article of the 1960 Law, expressly subjects to copyright the texts of the laws and official Acts of the Holy See and Vatican City State (for example: Encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law, etc.). That provision, which is a peculiarity of the Vatican discipline compared to the Italian, protects not only the distribution and reproduction rights, but above all the originality and integrity of the texts of the Magisterium which it is, therefore, illegal to modify (besides being ethically reprehensible). Yet another example: the Holy See would have the right to request of an editor (even on the internet) the correction or deletion of a document of the Magisterium, which has been published for commercial purposes, without permission, or with errors or changes in the text. The purpose of the law is not therefore to take away the free and personal access to the texts of the Magisterium, which will continue to be available for nonprofit activities, but rather to protect their integrity and, ultimately, the authenticity of their content.

Article 3 introduces the express protection of the writings and speeches of the Roman Pontiff and regulates the standards relating to the management of his image and voice (which will continue to be entrusted, which is already the case, respectively to the Libreria Editrice Vaticana [Vatican Publishing House], the Vatican Television Centre and Vatican Radio), thereby responding to a clear need for protection from abuse and inappropriate usage.

In compliance with already existing provisions in the Law of 25 July 2001, n. CCCLV, on the protection of cultural assets, Article 4 deals with photographic reproductions, used for documentary purposes, confirming that the only entities officially recognized entitled to carry out this activity are the institutions which are custodians of these assets.

An innovation in the law which has now been approved is the establishment of the Commission for Intellectual Property, which was widely considered necessary to discuss the most important issues and to facilitate the necessary coordination among the Vatican authorities. The new Commission may adopt its own rules and it will be authorized to carry out its consultancy role for the parties concerned. These are just some of the most important aspects of the new Vatican law which absorbs, with the adjustments necessary, the legislation in force in Italy, upholding the fundamental criterion of its pastoral nature which is the dissemination of the Magisterium of the Church, in its integrity.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 April 2011, page 10

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