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Vatican shoots back in copyright dispute for Pope's works January 26, 2006

The Vatican has reasserted its legal ownership of the copyright to works by Pope Benedict XVI, prompting a heated exchange with a leading Italian publisher.

In a January 21 editorial, the Italian daily La Stampa charged that the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, was seeking to squeeze a profit by limiting access to the Pope's statements. The Italian paper charged that the Vatican wanted to "terrorize" editors and publishers with the threat of charging heavy fees for use of the Pope's written work.

Libreria Editrice Vaticana shot back with a public statement released on January 23, saying that the Vatican was not limiting access to the Pope's work, but merely protecting against "piracy" of papal statements. The Vatican publisher stressed that Italian publishers were well aware of the rules governing reproduction of papal statements, and that those rules have been essentially unchanged since 1978.

The question of copyright ownership for papal works has special urgency, as reporters await the appearance of the first encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI. The Italian journal Famiglia Cristiana won a major coup by arranging for publication of the full text of Deus Caritas Est, but had to set back the publication date of its special issue until the encyclical was released.

Some English-language reports on the dispute in Italy have suggested-- inaccurately-- that the Vatican would forbid quotations from the encyclical, or charge fees to journals that reproduced passages from the work.

Vatican officials explain that their goal is not to limit access to the Pope's words, but to prevent "premature" publication of leaked documents, and to guard against exploitation of the Pope's name.

The dispute with La Stampa began when Libreria Editrice Vaticana sent a bill of 15,000 euros (about $18,400) to the publishers of a book entitled The Dictionary of Pope Ratzinger, which was advertised as coming from "the pen or the voice of Joseph Ratzinger." The journalist who compiled that book wrote the first article in La Stampa criticizing the Vatican policy.

Last May 31, Cardinal Angelo Sodano announced that Pope Benedict had turned over all of his rights as author to Libreria Editrice Vaticana, which would henceforth control the copyright to all future works by the Pontiff. The Vatican publisher also assumed control of the copyright for all works completed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his election, except insofar as existing contracts with other publishers would remain in force. In its public statement on January 23, the Vatican publisher pointed out that this policy matched the policies that have been in force since 1978 regarding the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In December, the publishers who have handled Cardinal Ratzinger's books in the past met in Rome with officials of Libreria Editrice Vaticana to discuss the implementation of the policy with respect to existing publishing contracts.

The policies regarding use of papal work have been announced and explained to the media, the Vatican observed, with special notice given to editors in Italy.