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Holy See Declares a "Unique Copyright" On the Pope 447

An anonymous reader sends in news of what must be some kind of record in overreaching intellectual property claims: the Vatican has declared that the name, image, and any symbols of the Pope are for exclusive use of the Holy See. They may have a point if, as the declaration hints, some have used "ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to attribute credibility and authority to initiatives" unrelated to the Vatican. But how much room will they allow for fair use? Will high school newspapers have to remove the Papal Coat of Arms from their Vatican news columns? The royalty schedule was not released, so it's not clear how much Slashdot will have to pay to run this story (or if there will be a penalty for the accompanying pagan idol).


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Holy See Declares a "Unique Copyright" On the Pope

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  • by russlar ( 1122455 ) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:57PM (#30508806)
    Fortunately for the rest of us, the FSM is compatible with the GPL.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @11:58PM (#30508814)

    That the take-down notice is a lightning bolt... up your butt. You've been warned.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Next in the news: Farad cages most popular Christmas gift
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Yeah, I was going to say, isn't the Catholic church infringing on Gods copyright, unless of course they are declaring Papal supremacy.

      Personally I would have thought they would have wanted to get their symbolism out there as much as possible and only react if it was being used negatively.

      Personally I think they are heading down the dangerous and disgusting territory of exploitative corporate religion for profit ala scientology, rather than religion for charity and the furtherance of positive human soci

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        unless of course they are declaring Papal supremacy

        Supremacy? No, but they do claim infallibility. From WP:

        Over the centuries, popes' claims of spiritual authority have been ever more clearly expressed, culminating in the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra (literally "from the chair (of Peter)") to issue a solemn definition of faith or morals.[2] The first (after the proclamation) and so far the last such occasion was in 1950, with the defini

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:31AM (#30509040) Journal
        The Pope's argument would be, of course, that(while God is certainly the ultimate owner of the copyright in question, among a large number of other things) he is God's authorized agent/distributor for this territory.

        Since this seems like the best excuse for doing so that I've yet had, I include the "software licensing analogy for distinguishing between Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism" below:

        Judaism is a corporate site licence: All members of the organization are automatically entitled to software under the terms of a legal agreement between the organization and the software producer.

        Catholicism is per-seat licensing from a value-added reseller: The church has an agreement with the software producer, under which its sales reps entitled to sell the software, along with a suite of helper utilities and documentation supplements, and the support of its field techs, to any interested individuals.

        Protestantism is retail shrinkwrap software: The individual buyer enters into a contractual relationship with the software producer, without intermediaries. All that the buyer receives is the software and the packaged manual(sola scriptura).

        Addendum: Quakers are FOSS: Individuals get together communally, and anybody who the spirit so moves can get up and code something.
  • Well okay but where does this apply, other than in the Vatican?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by The Snowman ( 116231 )

      Well okay but where does this apply, other than in the Vatican?

      In any organization connected to the Catholic church. This includes various parishes around the nation, high schools, some colleges, and any student or teacher organizations that are part of those. For example, a student-run newspaper at a Catholic university such as Notre Dame would be restricted in their use of papal symbols.

      Even ignoring the fact that the U.S. does have treaties with the Vatican and would uphold their copyrights in court, a C

      • Re:Scope (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:43AM (#30509092) Homepage

        Under the Berne Convention and all other copyright treaties, local copyright laws apply in every country. Trademark laws are local as well. The state of Holy See could pass legislation copyrighting the Bible for God's sake (pun intended), and it would have no impact whatsoever on the rest of the world, where that legislation has no relevance.

        Whether organizations around the world connected to the Roman Catholic Church are affected by this isn't a matter of copyright law. That's simply a matter of the rules that a church lays out for its members. If the RCC says "no meat on Friday" or "no condoms" or "no use of the pope's logo without permission", that's just a church being a church. I can see members of that church being concerned about a change in those rules, but is this News For Nerds or Stuff That Matters? No.

        • but is this News For Nerds or Stuff That Matters? No.

          Nope, it says right at the top that its "Idly Passing The Time Away"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      The Pope? How many IP lawyers does he have?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Artifakt ( 700173 )

        This appears to be a reference to Stalin's remark "The Pope? How many Divisions does he have?" (Where Stalin was talking about military divisions, and making the point that without them, what the Pope said about whatever the USSR did didn't really matter.).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cashman73 ( 855518 )
        IP Lawyers? Unfortunately, the Pope doesn't have access to them, considering that they've all been condemned to the firey pits of hell! Of course, one doesn't need IP Lawyers when all you have to do is ask God to smite all of the copyright "pirates" for you! Maybe CmdrTaco and CowboyNeal should each do 100 Hail Mary's to avoid being smitten?
    • Since this "copyright" is of a fairly unorthodox form(seemingly a weird blend of copyright and trademark) it may not matter; but the Vatican is a Berne Convention signatory.

      If it satisfies Berne, it applies all over the place. If it doesn't, I sure hope the swiss guard likes exercise...
  • by thebiss ( 164488 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:03AM (#30508840)

    ...who have found using IP an effective way to manage criticism.

  • prior art? (Score:4, Funny)

    by nephridium ( 928664 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:04AM (#30508854)
    Seeing the pictures here [] I believe there is a reasonably case for prior art, no? If anything the Vatican should pay George Lucas, as he has 25 years on them ;)

    That being said imho the emperor from the Empire strikes back looked much more formidable, the pope should have gone with that look instead...
    • First time I saw him that was my immediate thought. Since then I've been unable to remember his real name, Pope Palpatine is so freaking catchy. You can even add a 'the 3rd' or something to the end and it only makes it better.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:06AM (#30508868)

    Next, those nativity scenes they try and throw up every winter will be declared illegal now because they haven't paid to license it from God. Atheists, you may now stop attempting to keep the church and state separate: Apparently, God has made himself illegal. Film at 11.

  • Then I'm going to file a patent on the process of performing miracles.
  • by myrmidon666 ( 1228658 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:08AM (#30508880) Homepage Journal
    We have to give money in chur.... oh wait. never-mind.
  • the Vatican has declared that the name, image, and any symbols of the Pope are for exclusive use of the Holy See.

    I searched /. usernames, and there are quite a few that claim to be Pope this or that :-)

  • Doesn't God hold the ultimate copyright on the Pope?

  • How does this pass those statues? I can see if someone is using the current Pope's coat of arms or his particular name, in association with their service/company/announcement etc., but simply using a past Pope's coat of arms (especially one that has long been out of active use) can be restricted. Especially for ones which were developed and first used before trademark and copyrights even were written into law. Those are all in the public domain and free to use.
  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:28AM (#30509016)
    Something that I rarely hear pointed out is that, with copyright as we know it today, Christianity would have died "in the womb." Imagine if the various churches who were the recipients of Paul's letters were unable to make copies and forward them to other churches. Imagine if the Bible were originally copyrighted (the way that the modern critical texts are! I still don't really get that one--how a 2000 year-old text can be coyrighted.) Copyright is an enemy of the Christian faith, and I'm disappointed in the Vatican--of course, here I am a Baptist whose theological 40% evangelical, 30% Anbaptist, and 30% Eastern Orthodox, so maybe that's not surprising.
  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:28AM (#30509020)
    All they need to do is register their symbols, images, etc as trademarks in every country of the world.
    • All they need to do is register their symbols, images, etc as trademarks in every country of the world.

      Even in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran? I wish them luck.

    • Just registering a trademark in the US is an expensive nine-month hassle (or more), and it's one of the easiest and cheapest places to do so in the world. At least Europe now has a way - well two ways - of registering a Europe-wide trademark, as long as nobody in any of the 27 member states complains. As Michael says, good luck with the rest.
  • Terrible article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coppro ( 1143801 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:28AM (#30509024)
    Ugh... I wish people would stop mixing up the difference between trademark and copyright. Notwithstanding that the Vatican is a sovereign state and can do whatever the heck it wants within its boundaries, what they're really declaring is that the trademark of the Pope is going to be reserved for their exclusive use. Copyright isn't even involved here.
    • by ExRex ( 47177 )
      Blame the lawyers who specialize in patents, trademarks and copyrights. Ever since they invented the term "Intellectual Property" folks have become increasingly confused. This has benefited "IP" lawyers and those rights holders who try to overreach by playing on the public's confusion.
  • I don't think that it's a good idea for a church to be able to assert a copyright monopoly over ANY aspect of religious doctrine.

    If such nonsense were lawful, the Church could bring a lawsuit against schismatics for copyright infringement. That would infringe the right of schismatics to split from the church and form their own church.

    One more VERY GOOD REMINDER why we need to separate church and state!

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by natehoy ( 1608657 )

      If a schism group wanted to form their own church, why would they even want to use the Papal symbols as they exist today? Wouldn't they want to install their own command chain with some other symbol denoting their pontiff or leader? Using the same symbols would cause confusion and possibly give credibility to the Church the schismatics want to leave, right?

      You do raise a good point, but I think this is more to prevent criticism of the Church ("you used the word 'Pope' in your article, and it's critical of

      • If a schism group wanted to form their own church, why would they even want to use the Papal symbols as they exist today?

        The history of the Church answers that question pretty nicely.

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        You seem to miss the point of splitting from the source church. Groups that do this usually don't think that the source is wrong, but that it has been corrupted. Thus, when they split, they see themselves as the 'real' church, and thus would take any part that they deem 'real' with them.
  • Trademark is the appropriate protection.

    Of all the things for such a bunch of sticks in the mud to pick to suddenly get with the times, why did they pick copyright? And why in such a bad way? They must listen to terrible advice. They ought to be out there decrying the evils of keeping people in the dark, not dirtying their hands wielding diabolical tools for dubious ends! They ought to endorse the Pirate Party. What's next? Will they try to assert copyright on the Bible?

    • They ought to be out there decrying the evils of keeping people in the dark, not dirtying their hands wielding diabolical tools for dubious ends!

      The enlightenment was very bad for Catholicism. The Catholic Church would prefer that everyone was still in the dark.

  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:41AM (#30509084) Journal

    There's been at least one long standing battle in the US over much the same problem: people taking an image, name and/or conceptual equivalent, and using it in such a way as to ... dishonor is frequently used here, but not many understand the it from the injured parties' standing.... insult is closer but too weak ... we'll just say: to promote a commercial product, the juxtaposition of the appropriated image and the product being contrary to the known statements of the party imaged and/or the descendants.

    The product in this case is Crazy Horse malt liquor. Crazy Horse spoke out against alcohol many times, specifically claiming its use was destroying his people. His descendants have been trying to get the brewer to stop using the name. No, they didn;t attempt to acquire copy right or trademark protection, because they didn't think they'd need it. In their culture, such protection is automatic and seated deeply in the cultural mores.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I think your looking for a word in the thesaurus that doesn't exist but really it is a modern problem.
      Steven Colbert sensed this with the "product" such as the paste on Hitler mustache for anybody's portrait.

      There is not a nice politically correct way to say willfully deride, malign, or intend a vicious and ill parody of person or entity for profit.
      Many hide under the guise of sarcasm of a celebrity or public figure but that is not their true intent.

      Others instances are not so such as Che Guevera, and the

  • "...authorities say the phony pope can be recognized by his hightop sneakers and incredibly foul mouth"

  • Legit use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bjackson1 ( 953136 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:44AM (#30509106)

    My guess is that if it's ever used it be against idiots like:

    'Pope' Pius XIII []

    or other people who set themselves up as the pope... Just a guess though...

    • That's one thing the Catholic Church will never support. How dare someone else swindle people out of their money with silly fairy tales.

  • WTF? (Score:4, Informative)

    by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:49AM (#30509130) Homepage

    Who do they think they are, god?


  • When I heard of this, the first thing that came to mind was the painter Francis Bacon and his "Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" otherwise known as the 'screaming pope'. Have fun with that. I suspect they may only want to exercise their supposed copyright claim and control over a very narrow area.

  • How will any of us be able to contribute to Slashdot?

  • This guy [] already came up with a "unique copyright" some time ago...

  • no big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Monday December 21, 2009 @01:35AM (#30509344) Homepage

    I haven't been able to find the actual Vatican statement, but as the news accounts describe it, it looks like this is really nothing more than a routine trademark claim. I don't think they're claiming that you can't refer to the pope or even display his symbols without permission. They just don't want them used in such a way as to suggest that the Pope has authorized something without permission. This is the same as a regular trademark. You can talk about IBM and even portray its logo; you just can't use them in such a way as to suggest that you speak for IBM or are affiliated with IBM.

  • Okay, fine (Score:5, Funny)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @01:35AM (#30509348) Homepage
    Please replace all references to the trademarked "Pope" with "Old Guy In The Funny Hat". Now that's better.
  • by dbcad7 ( 771464 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @03:40AM (#30509784)
    Don't they have their own pope ? Will they challenge this ?
  • And in other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamyskis ( 958091 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @04:19AM (#30509936) Homepage

    And, in other news...

    The Pope was today sued by God for GPL violations of the Bible. The complaint submitted by God claimed that all material published by the Holy Father was required to be released under the GNU General Public Licence because it was a derivative work of the scriptures.

  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @11:04AM (#30512154) Homepage
    From Weekend Update in 1979 []:

    Father Guido Sarducci: It was. It was a real thrill, Bill. It was just terrific. But now I'm a little down. I have what my psychiatrist calls "post-papal depression." ... Was such a high, you know, bein' on that tour and now it's over. Only thing I didn't like about the tour was the merchandising. They had, like, Pope T-shirts, Pope buttons, posters, banners, anything you can think of. You know, you can call me anti-materialistic if you want to but I just don't think it's right for somebody to make a T-shirt, put a person's picture on it, and then not to give that person part of the percentage of the profits. ... I mean, look at this. It's amazing. [holds up a Pope T-shirt] If you buy T-shirt like this, it's not just for the T-shirt you buy it -- it's because the Pope is on it. If you just want a T-shirt, you can go to J. C. Penney's 'stead of going through all the traffic and crowds. But the Pope, from this T-shirt, I'll tell you what he got. He got absolutely zero. It was a rip-off. First, they did it to Mr. Bill, now the Pope. ... [applause]

  • High School (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Monday December 21, 2009 @12:11PM (#30512936) Journal

    Will high school newspapers have to remove the Papal Coat of Arms from their Vatican news columns?

    WTF? What kind of schools do you have in America?

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain