SOPA and Sacred Music

It should go without saying that I’m all for the protests against the proposed legislation in Congress that would effectively end free information flows on the web. The sharing of content has been the key to the renaissance of sacred music in our time., CPDL, and many others, have provided the music that has inspired a generation. It was all provided for free and put into the commons.

Having been deeply involved in this process, I can tell you that very little of this would have happened if the burden of proof over copyright and piracy had shifted against the institution doing the sharing. There are always deep pockets ready to make a claim of ownership, whether true or not and however ambiguous the claims. The legal tangles and possible penalties alone would have been enough to keep the entire library off line.

Even our daily posts here make use of material in a manner consistent with the fair use doctrine. But that would end too because in a future of government control, no one could know for sure what does and does not qualify. Generosity, sharing, and collaboration would be replace by possessiveness, isolation, and fear. We are already seeing signs of this.

Think of how the chant tradition made its way from the ancient to the early Christians, through the fall of Rome and the rise of Christendom, from the oral to the written means of transmitting, from monastery to cathedral to parish, and how this came to create the universal and beautiful liturgical art. None of this involved the thoroughly modern notion of “intellectual property.” If it had been in force, not only would the chant not have spread; scripture itself would have remained imprisoned on scrolls and not copied and preached to the ends of the earth.