Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 16:35 pm (CNA).
A popular canon law website, CanonLaw.Ninja, is removing much of its content by Friday, March 17, to comply with a copyright complaint, which will leave the website without an English translation of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.
The website, which describes itself as “a resource for both professional and armchair canonists,” includes an up-to-date translation of the Code of Canon Law with a tool that helps users easily find the information they’re seeking. Father Paul Hedman created the website when he was a seminarian and pays for the website’s upkeep with donations from users.
“So I made a tool to be of help. Sourcing the canons from the Vatican website and other places the code was freely available, I put together a website that for the past several years has helped hundreds of canonists, students, and Christian faithful know the law of the Church,” he wrote.
Hedman was served with a cease-and-desist order from the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), which is the copyright holder of the translation.
“The Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition,” which is the society-owned translation, is sold on the CLSA website for $75 but is currently out of stock. “The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches” is available for $50. “Dignitas Conubii: Norms and Commentary” is also available for $50.
The Minnesota priest tweeted that the letter “came as a shock” and wondered why “the CLSA [would] want to prevent people from accessing the law” and why they had not contacted him before taking legal action, based on the principles of Canon 1446.
“If the CLSA chooses to make their fine translation of the code less accessible, the study [and] application of canon law will suffer,” Hedman said. “I beg them to reconsider: rather than make an adversary of a priest trying to serve the Church, be a team for the salvation of souls — the Lex Suprema.”
Hedman said he requested several alternative solutions to the problem, which would have allowed the content to stay on the website, but the CLSA did not accept any of them. He offered to stop collecting donations, split the donations with CLSA, pay yearly royalties, or even give the CLSA rights to the tool.
“I am asking the CLSA to reconsider their course of action and allow for licensing of their translation of the code so that it may be used on http://CanonLaw.ninja,” Hedman said. “It would be regrettable if the resource had to be temporarily disabled until another translation can be found.”
The CLSA did not respond to requests for comment from CNA.
Some priests took to Twitter to voice their opposition to the legal action.
“The reality is that whether it’s a biblical translation (USCCB) or translation of the code (CLSA), these things need to move into the public domain after cost is recouped,” Father Josh Miller tweeted. “Instead, they end up paying for the cocktail parties, and that’s pretty disgraceful.”
Father Matthew Schneider, a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, urged the CLSA to work with Hedman to ensure the website can continue to function as it has.
“Please find some way to work with Fr. Paul & keep http://canonlaw.ninja operating with the best English translation of canon law,” he tweeted to the Canon Law Society’s Twitter handle.
The cease-and-desist letter demands Hedman remove and destroy all copyrighted material from the website and halt any further use, reproduction, and transmission that would infringe on CLSA’s copyright. It further demands that Hedman destroy all materials, including physical copies, of the copyrighted translation, except for publications purchased from CLSA.
According to the cease-and-desist letter, copyrighted materials include the website’s Code of Canon Law translation, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches translation, and the Dignitas Connubii translation, which is a Vatican document on the nullification of marriages. This would not affect the other material on the website.
The letter requests that the content be removed on March 16, but Hedman told CNA that he was given a one-day extension. He said he will comply with all of the demands in the letter and remove the copyrighted materials by Friday, March 17.
“I fully intend to comply with the cease-and-desist order and remove the content that the CLSA owns, if that is what it comes to,” Hedman said in a tweet. “I hold no animosity against the society, and if I ever became a canonist would plan to join.”
Ecclesiastical documents are often copyrighted, except for older documents that have entered the public domain. According to Canon 828: “It is not permitted to reprint collections of decrees or acts published by some ecclesiastical authority unless the prior permission of the same authority has been obtained and the conditions prescribed by it have been observed.”
Other Catholics have also had similar problems when trying to republish ecclesiastical works and specific translations. Matthew Warner, who founded a church communications software company called FlockNote, sent free daily emails with excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was meant to cover the entire catechism in one year.
He discontinued that practice after he received a cease-and-desist letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which owns the copyright to the catechism.
The English version of the Code of Canon Law is available on the Vatican’s website.
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