The Revised Grail Psalms: Licensing Issues

by Robert J. Batastini

The copyright on the Revised Grail Psalms (RGP) is held jointly by The Grail, England, and Conception Abbey, Missouri. Their contract with each other insures full protection of the Church’s interests in perpetuity.

They have jointly entered into an agreement with GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago, to serve as literary agent. GIA has the staff, experience and ability to efficiently perform this function. Furthermore, this relationship obliges GIA to act in the best interests of the The Grail, Conception Abbey, and the Church,  or otherwise risk being in breach of the agreement resulting in the right of the copyright owners to pursue dissolution.

Because GIA is itself a publisher, there has been some negative speculation regarding its role in administering the RGP, and the relationship will most likely always be under a degree of hightened scrutiny. Understanding this concern, and being fully aware of the potential for favoring GIA’s publishing efforts in this regard, GIA has imposed a strict discipline upon itself, in order to guarantee that all publishers have an equal access to the RGP. Specifically, no composers have been given the RGP text, and not one word of the text has been set to music by the GIA editorial department. Not until the day the text is released to the public will anyone, including those associated with GIA, have the opportunity to work with the text. All that said, however, the final text has not yet been received from Rome, so that no complete accurate copy even exists. Only drafts are in hand.

The GIA web site contains a great deal of information as to the conditions for licensing the RGP, including when and by whom it may be used without a formal license.  In brief, there will always be a royalty required whenever commerce is involved.  In other words, if any revenue is received for the use of a publication—physical or digital, a percentage of that income will be collected in the name of the copyright owners. For all other uses specific conditions apply according to circumstances, and may result in either a fee for use, or gratis permission. GIA will license to all bona fide users on an equal basis, and will pay the same royalties for its own editions as will all other commercial publishers.

Royalties for liturgical and biblical texts have always been a part of the publishing of these texts. The Vatican assesses a royalty from the publishers of liturgical books. ICEL does similarly for its texts. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops requires a royalty for the publishing of the New American Bible Texts, as do the publishers of  the New Revised Standard Version, The Jerusalem Bible—all used in Roman Catholic liturgy in various parts of the English-speaking world. The standards for assessing such royalties have long been established and are generally the basis followed by all. For licensing the RGP, the royalties will be thoroughly consistent with these establishes standards.

Finally, all revenue earned by GIA for administering the RGP comes from the assessed royalties, with no fees whatever charged to the end user.


    1. We have had this discussion before. The official view of the CDW is that the Grail text it approved for Kenya was not the final text. Go figure. This seems to be borne out by the 341 changes that Bob mentioned in another thread.

      I am amazed that although recognitio has been granted, Bob says the final text has not yet been received from Rome. This is completely unheard of. Recognitio always comes accompanied by a text. What is the CDW playing at?

      Alternatively, how do we know that there are 341 changes if no one has seen the text?

  1. “…there will always be a royalty required whenever commerce is involved”

    Well, that does leave out quite a swath of history and present reality, doesn’t it?

    1. Jeffrey, we had this discussion too, and ended up with an unresolved debate on what, if any, was the ‘ontological difference’ between a text intended for worship and any other copyright text.

      Tell us how you feel about publishers contributing a royalty to the Holy See on every copy of a liturgical book they issue. The whole phenomenon of paying for liturgical texts is not exactly new.

      FWIW, I’m informed that ICEL takes the view that internet publishing of material (e.g. music) containing its copyright texts is not subject to a royalty payment, as long as the ‘publisher’ is not charging for downloading the material. If the download is charged for, a royalty becomes payable.

      However, even if the download is free, anyone downloading a copyright text and then making copies (e.g. for the choir) becomes de facto ‘the publisher’, and is liable to pay royalties on those copies. That should have interesting legal ramifications.

      For information, I’m also told that ICEL has accepted the inevitable and considers the new translation of the Sanctus should be treated as if it were in the public domain, since it is only one word different from the current ICET text which has always been so treated. This will help to ease relationships with publishers.

  2. What interests me is that there is apparently a difference between an electronic text, and a paper text.

    In an earlier post, either here or elsewhere, it seemed to say that the Revised Grail Psalms were going to be made available over the internet for free. Is that true?

    Does it mean that anyone can download a copy to their computer? Does it mean that anyone who then prints copies of a psalm becomes liable for a copyright fee? Just one copy for oneself? Copies for a group that meets in one’s house? Copies for a parish service?

    Will the electronic text remain free as long as it stays in electronic form? Could one replicate a psalm or portions of it on a website as part of service, and even make that downloadable as long as one did not charge a fee for downloading? Would anyone who downloaded the service then become liable for a copyright fee if they printed it?

  3. Paul, there was no unresolved debate on your assertion that there is no ontological difference between the Word of God and “any other copyright text.” You have dug in your heels on your assertion with the persistence of a stubborn mule, despite the many clear answers that have been given to you. For this reason there is no sense in arguing the matter with you any more.

    For anyone else who is failing to see the ontological difference between the Word of God and other ordinary texts, perhaps “Dei Verbum” of the Second Vatican Council would be a good starting point.

    This is not the real issue at stake, though. Jack R. has hit the nail on the head, and it is an issue that is facing us as 21st century citizens, and it applies to more than the RGP.

    Digital texts are not scarce goods. Printed texts are. Paul Inwood said in a previous thread in this blog “While I’m at it, can I take your car for a spin?” Considering this comparable to asking for a “free” copy of the RGP. Well, Paul, If I could produce an exact copy of my car with the click of a button I would absolutely give you my car. No question about it.

    Commercial publishers can claim “intellectual property rights” on texts and try to sell them, and this makes great sense with “ordinary texts”. The problem is that even these cannot really be kept from digital reproduction. When we’re dealing with the Word of God, though, and the texts of the liturgy, it should be amply clear that we’re dealing with something “ontologically different”.

    1. Adam Bartlett said: “If I could produce an exact copy of my car with the click of a button I would absolutely give you my car.”

      But if he does that, Paul (and Adam’s other friends) wouldn’t need to buy a car, the car manufacturer would make fewer cars and would lay-off workers and the workers’ children would go hungry.

      No one is being forced to publish the RGP. Those that wish to must employ typesetters, printers, binders, distributers etc. If we’re all to eat, money must change hands.

      Or am I missing something here?

  4. Adam’s comments are of course exactly right. There are scarce goods (meaning that there exists rivalry over ownership) that must be rationed and allocated through pricing systems. Then there are non-scarce goods (infinitely reproduceable like the Gospel or grace or a liturgical text) that require no rationing or allocation because I can own it, you can own it, everyone can own it. The most reasonable way forward here is for ICEL to immediately declare its own texts part of the commons of the faith and give up this idea that it will use the state to extract revenue from Catholic publishers and the Catholic faithful. That would put an end to the most morally objectionable aspect of the current system. That would also inspire other publishers to follow suit, and eliminate their excuses for coercing others with conventional copyright and royalty schemes. It might even inspire the likes of GIA to give up its monopolistic scheme to charge its competitors for printing the Psalms.

    1. It might even inspire the likes of GIA to give up its monopolistic scheme to charge its competitors for printing the Psalms.

      Bob Batastini made it very clear that GIA would also be charging itself to make use of the psalms — “and will pay the same royalties for its own editions” — so there’s no question of being monopolistic or doing down one’s competitors.

      GIA are merely the literary agents for the copyright owners. They don’t own the text, Conception Abbey and the Grail do. Attack them if you really must, but leave the literary agents out of it.

  5. Paul, you are telling me that GIA had absolutely nothing to do with the arrangement and has nothing to gain from being the sole literary agent? Nothing? Are you really claiming this?

    1. No, I’m saying that your fulminations against people owning copyrights and deriving benefit from their work are misdirected when you tilt at those who do not own those copyrights.

      GIA have been administering Grail in the USA for many, many years. No change there, then. Nothing to get excited about. Lots of people administer rights on behalf of others.

      The difference now is that GIA have exclusive world rights to administer. Before, they did not have exclusive rights, only rights (not exclusive) in the US — hence all the furore when OCP went direct to the Grail for their permissions instead of licensing via GIA. That loophole won’t be possible any more.

      I have to say that I can’t help feeling that some of those who are getting so agitated about all this are those who don’t respect copyrights at all and would infringe them at the drop of a hat, whether they were for liturgical use or not and no matter who owned the copyrights. Hmmm. Question of justice there.

      What happens when X writes a text which is brilliantly successful in liturgy and everyone wants to use it? Do those who want to have all texts for worship available free of charge say “This is for worship, so we shouldn’t have to pay” ?

      1. “I have to say that I can’t help feeling that some of those who are getting so agitated about all this are those who don’t respect copyrights at all and would infringe them at the drop of a hat, whether they were for liturgical use or not and no matter who owned the copyrights.”

        I would call a foul on that smear, which soils your argument more than those of your erstwhile target.

      2. What happens when X writes a text which is brilliantly successful in liturgy and everyone wants to use it? Do those who want to have all texts for worship available free of charge say “This is for worship, so we shouldn’t have to pay” ?

        …Yes, that’s exactly what they say.

      3. Jeffrey

        Not necessarily. Many people have argued for compensation to be up front at the commissioning end, not royalty-based at the user end); that’s not a free model for all texts, but a model used by other denominations for their public worship texts and translations.

        The people raising the objections are not, in my experience (pace Paul’s smear), those who don’t care about ownership and compensation, but those who are rather on the more scrupulous side of things, and who see what reliance on the royalty/permissions model does in practice. It’s not the only viable model, and it’s not necessarily the best model for liturgical purposes.

        One thing I notice as a musician is that works frozen in the copyright/royalty model are (1) less likely to be used for the long term, and (2) more likely to become ossified. I think it’s not an intended consequence, but in practice it’s becoming one. I hear of lots of my peers considering moving to more public domain texts/tunes for their liturgical music as they consider replacing hymnals and other worship aids.

  6. “GIA have been administering Grail in the USA for many, many years. No change there, then. Nothing to get excited about.”

    No, there’s plenty to get excited about. A worldwide agent will have exclusive rights to administer the official translation of the psalms in the English speaking world. I would call this a raise on GIA’s part.

    These psalms, in addition, are the primary source for liturgical singing, according to the norms of Church legislation. If we are to be with the Mind of the Church, we would be singing the psalms MOST of the time.

    Paul asks about “when X writes a text which is brilliantly successful in liturgy and everyone wants to use it?”

    Well, unless “X” is the reincarnation of King David, I would say that the Mr. X’s text will be relatively insignificant compared to the primary source of liturgical singing–the Psalms. And I would have no problem paying X to use his text, but it might occupy a tenth of a percent of my music program, which, buy the way, complies with copyright law, and which includes virtually no music published by GIA.

    1. Adam, you conveniently didn’t quote the last sentence of that paragraph, which said “Lots of people administer rights on behalf of others.”

      Why aren’t you getting excited by all the other publishers who are administering rights that they don’t own on behalf of those who do? Why aren’t you getting excited about the fact that all publishers have to incorporate a charge for liturgical texts because they themselves are having to pay the royalty that the Holy See charges them?

      Let’s be consistent here: either pillory everyone or no one.

      As far as I can see, GIA are going to be very scrupulous about charging themselves as well as everyone else. And if it wasn’t GIA who was administering this copyright, it would be someone else; and that someone else might not be as scrupulous.

      Jeffrey asked whether I thought GIA had nothing to gain from the arrangement. I doubt that it will be very profitable for them. Any small percentage that they may take as an operating fee for administering these rights is certainly going to be swallowed up by the amount of additional work involved which itself will have to be paid for in overheads and staff time/salaries/etc.

  7. The objection here seems to be towards GIA having exclusive world administration rights. But I still don’t see why that should cause anyone agitation.

    Say this were not the case and that, GIA just had the rights in the US, as now. And Fred Bloggs had the rights here in the UK and Monsieur le Blog had the right in continental Europe. Publishers would still have to pay someone – except the system would be more complicated.

    Surely the new arrangement simplifies the process. And, let’s be honest, the only people who will be paying to use the psalms will be those who seek to make money out of them.

    As an occasional, very small, kitchen table publisher (and a tiny kitchen table, at that), I have never paid a penny for permission to use either psalms or Mass texts and, yes, I did apply for clearance in advance. The fact is that, just because someone is administering rights, does not mean they are trying to bankrupt everyone.

    As I’ve asked on here before, am I missing something?

  8. I think one of the larger issues that no one here yet has addressed is that copyright law is still stuck in the 20th century. In this egalitarian age of digital self-publishing, the whole idea that anyone needs someone to administer rights for someone else seems antiquated and even a little bit silly.

    I don’t remember where I read this, but someone once mentioned the possibility of releasing liturgical texts under Creative Commons licenses.

    Still, from a practical perspective, GIA’s approach does seem to be extremely flexible, even from an old-media point of view. Bob writes above that “For all other uses specific conditions apply according to circumstances, and may result in either a fee for use, or gratis permission.” I don’t see why this would be a problem for self-publishing composers who offer their psalm settings for free, including the Chabanel Psalms project on the traditionalist side and Modern Psalter on the contemporary side.

    It is no small irony that (at least in this thread) people who tend to have more of a “closed church” model are arguing for a more open, modern view of copyright; conversely, many “open church” adherents are arguing for a closed, old-media system of copyright.

    1. “It is no small irony that (at least in this thread) people who tend to have more of a “closed church” model are arguing for a more open, modern view of copyright; conversely, many “open church” adherents are arguing for a closed, old-media system of copyright.”

      And there are a few of us arguing for more open structure on both fronts, amd see the connection.

  9. “It is no small irony that (at least in this thread) people who tend to have more of a “closed church” model are arguing for a more open, modern view of copyright; conversely, many “open church” adherents are arguing for a closed, old-media system of copyright.”

    Very ironic indeed. A a great example of how liberalism and conservatism has changed sides.

    This is one of the most conservative liturgical blogs I’ve seen!

    1. Like “progressives” wanting a liturgy frozen in the past and “conservatives” looking to reform the liturgy. Or parishes that love loads of extraordinary ministers being hostile to the extraordinary form.

    2. This is one of the most conservative liturgical blogs I’ve seen!

      Surely you jest, my Lord! It must be because you’ve previously inhabited the kind of blog where everyone agrees with everyone else and real debate does not happen. It sounds as if your definition of conservative is “strongly held opinions with which I do not agree”. Please tell us that this is not so.

      This is not meant to be offensive, merely intended to try and get to the root (if that’s possible) of your opinion.

      1. For example: “Why don’t we just wait?” This is nothing but conservatism. The truly progressive stance in the Church right now is the “Reform of the Reform”, not conserving the stale ideologies of the 1970’s.

      2. Many would say that the Reform of the Reform campaign is retrogressive, not progressive. An attempt to put Vatican II toothpaste back in a tube can scarcely be described as forward-looking and constructive.

    3. Adam, I’m not sure how helpful terms like “conservative” and “liberal” are to this discussion, particularly when your usage in this instance appears tongue-in-cheek at best and sarcastically uncharitable at worst.

      By going this route, we’ve also veered into a seemingly inevitable tangent (Sigh. “HITLER! HITLER! HITLER!”). As a result, nobody’s discussing what I’d hoped was the more salient point: That publishers, composers, literary agents, and whomever need to re-evaulate their models for copyrights, distribution, and royalties, especially in regard to new media.

      That’s really not a left vs. right issue at all, which was what I’d hoped to point out in my “ironic” comment; instead, you’ve taken it and turned it into a sound byte flashpoint to take cheap shots and derail this thread.

      1. Christian, I agree that publishers, authors, composers, translators, literary agents, etc, need to re-evaluate their models, but perhaps not in the way that you mean.

        The Creative Commons pathway is an excellent one if those contributing do not need to earn their livelihood from their creations and are altruistic enough to cast aside the possibility of benefitting from the fruits of their labours.

        However, in our current situation,

        (a) we need to acknowledge that there is such a thing as intellectual property, something that has been created or work that has been done, which is recognized by law.

        (b) we also need to acknowledge that many of the people whose minds you are hoping to change actually rely on that concept to earn their daily bread.

        I’m sure that if I’m a tenured university professor, or a priest, or someone who actually does not need the money in order to live, then I might well want to put my work at the disposal of the Church via Creative Commons or whatever. But many of us are not in that happy position, and publishers, printers, translators, indexers and many others in the field of conventional publishing certainly aren’t.

        This of course has nothing to with new publishing media such as the internet, which are a bit of a red herring. All those media have done is fuel our desire for instant gratification and accessibility to the point where we can no longer see how immoral it is to “defraud labourers of their wages”.

      2. It seems to be beyond the wit of some to understand that publishers invest large sums of money in the development of projects, and these sums may take many years to recoup. What the publisher of a book or music or a CD is effectively doing is giving the purchasing public an interest-free extended loan. I find that something to be praised, rather than criticised.

        Similarly, an author or composer may spend many hours working on a creation, perhaps preceded by yet more hours of prayer or reflection or research. That time somehow needs to be paid for, otherwise the author/composer will need to find other remunerative work instead, and his/her creations will be lost to the world.

        I often encounter people who think that composing is an instant process — that time is not a factor in it. They somehow think that music springs as it were fully-formed from the head of Jove. When you explain to them that, even on the rare occasions when inspiration does ‘arrive’ quickly, there will probably be hundreds of additional hours of honing, refining, polishing, laying out, they begin to see that under the surface of all creative and publishing activity there is a large unseen world. The finished publication is only the tip of the iceberg.

        All this, I believe, is why the concept of intellectual property is one that needs to be continued, not demolished.

      3. So, as far as new media is concerned, publishers need to evolve ways in which people can pay to download whatever material they wish to use so that those whose livelihoods depend on fair recompense do not suffer. That’s extraordinarily difficult, given that a single download can result in thousands of copies very quickly. Because, as is clear from the arguments in this and previous threads, we have become a people who cannot be trusted to be honest about these things, I myself do not see an easy solution that does not involve someone, somewhere along the line, losing money.

        And all of this applies just as much to material used in worship, and it is on this basis that I have difficulty in understanding those who think material for worship should be exempted from normal copyright restrictions.

        I think I may have said in a previous thread that I have even encountered people who say that, far from expecting to have all material used in liturgy available free of charge, we actually ought to be prepared to pay more for this material than for conventional material — i.e. that we should be glad to pay extra for the privilege of giving praise and worship to God. I don’t know that I would go along with that, but it’s certainly a thought-provoking viewpoint!

  10. I am trying to figure out how some people on this thread think that the publishers and we as composers are making all of this grand money off these things… this is fiction beyond fiction. It just is not the case…. as Paul is so patiently and ardently trying to express that there needs to be a basic recognition of intellectual property and some basic common sense justice about these things. While it may sound self-serving for me to say so (since I am a composer published by GIA),, I believe Bob Batastini’s outline of the situation is clear, honest, and that GIA’s stance is just, equally fair to everyone involved, to the point of they themselves subjecting themselves to the same rules and policies in these matters.. What more could people possibly need or ask for? There is no conspiracy here… just some common sense.

  11. Actually, what we are talking about is liturgical texts as texts (particularly the ritual texts *required* by the Church, as opposed to optional texts like hymnody), and the question of whether the copyright/royalty/permissions model is the best model for compensating the production thereof (it’s certainly not the *only* model), not musical settings as such.

    1. I think everything I have said above applies equally to the ritual texts “required” by the Church.

      The texts belong to the Church (if they’re in Latin), to the translator/publisher (if they’re in the vernacular). If you want to use them, you pay for them, as with any other texts. The work and time involved in translating, editing, printing, publishing and distributing, as outlined above, is no less than with any other similar enterprises in the secular world. Therefore we need to provide recompense. And, as already stated, the publishers are paying a royalty to the Holy See, the ultimate owners of the texts, and that money has to be found from somewhere.

      Even if you’re talking about internet publishing, there’s still a significant cost. Sometimes I have the impression that people think making something available online costs a publisher little or nothing, but this is certainly not the case. There may be no printing and distribution costs, but you still have editorial costs, initial set-up costs, ongoing and maintenance costs, and much else. Nothing comes free.

      It’s the same in other walks of life.

      A bad but easy-to-understand analogy would be that if you want to be a member of an organization and take part in its activities you pay the subscription. If there’s a required uniform or other accoutrements, you pay for those too.

      I really can’t see why we should expect to serve God textually on the cheap.

      1. Paul,

        Subscription is not the only payment model. In fact, it’s a relatively recent model, in terms of historical practice. You keep on defending it as if it were the only model. I understand that it’s a model you and your network are vested in maintaining because the costs of changing it are uncertain and therefore feared; like the Church and its structures, there is fear about what a change in structure would bring to those who’ve built their lives around the existing structures. But other denominations don’t all use that model.

  12. The assumption that those of us in the pew are going to pay for all these changes needs to face two realities:

    1. We mistrust church management. They appear to have wasted billions of dollars in the sexual abuse scandal, to be closing parishes for financial gain, and have no way to supervise priests as independent contractors. Giving to the church is not giving to God its giving to a bunch of poor managers. I’ll take my chances with the poor.

    2. In this economy we are all managing our resources more frugally. We see our local and state governments doing the same, and we expect our parishes to manage on less not more money.

    So the Vatican, our bishops, our publishers and our parishes need to figure out how to pay for this, how to do it in the most cost effective manner. Expecting to pass the cost off to people in the pews needs to face some reality.

  13. What is the exact copyright situation with the LBW and the BCP, etc? How are their texts regulated?

    1. The BCP is, by canonical policy, relinquished to the public domain once it is adopted in a final (as opposed to test or experimental) form.

      1. Fr Christopher

        Well, I guess a different perspective is that the BCP should not be used because it serves God textually on the cheap.

  14. By the way, all details of the agreements between GIA and others are being held secret. GIA has repeatedly said this, using the word “secret.”

    It will not disclose its financial arrangements. It will not disclose its contracts. It will not disclose any payments it has given or received.

    In a time when transparency is the rule in corporate matters and in Church matters, GIA has completely rejected transparency. we are just supposed to take the word of its spokesmen and trust the good will of this Psalm monopolist.

    And then its spokesmen are shocked, shocked, that anyone would raises questions about the obviously fishy aspects of this whole thing and how it is going to affect every Catholic in the English speaking world.

  15. Now we are getting into “silly-land.” Jeffrey, this is getting to sound just a bit too much like some kind of scandal-cover up thing… I have been working with GIA for almost 30 years now, and I went to them for many reasons, one of them being their tremendous integrity around issues such as this. “Psalm monopolist?” Come on… are there not more important things to get upset about? There is nothing fishy here, except what seems to be an obsession around who owns copyright, and also what would seem to be, a real rage toward GIA for whatever reason. I cannot help but what wonder what the real issue is here. I am not trying to sound “goopy” here, but the people at GIA Publications, while yes, being a business, are also a group of faith-filled people, trying to serve a singing and praying Church. The same can be said for the people at WLP, OCP, Liturgical Press, and the composers who publish with them. You might not like what they publish; you might not share the same tastes as them and their composers; you might have real problems with their vision for liturgical music.. but my gosh, these types of accusations are just to me, out of line, and to be honest, reflect a real sadness.

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