A Copy write question

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m a trained and certified Marian Catechist with an active internet ministry.

I’m currently in my 4th years of this ministry where I mail a Catholic Faith Lesson once a week. Everything I do is TOTALLY free of all cost.

I’m currently in week 51 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I take one or two topics every week cut and cop, AND PASTE THEM them into the lesson. Then give the corresponding bible passages, with a brief explanation.

Recently I was advised by one of the people I mail to that “I’m in Copy Write” . infringement

I checked my hard copy of the CCC and found no copy write info and I’m using an on-lime .
Public domain source.

Do I have to stop with these CCC internet lessons? I make VERY clear that they are from the CCC.

God Bless you for your assistance


I’m not an expert in copyright law, but this might be useful:


also, I noticed that the website you use has the following disclaimer:

Also, last year I signed up for a similar Email ministry to what you’re doing, and partway through the year I got an email that said:

"Going forward, we will not be allowed to post the official text of the CCC in your email each day on Flocknote. I know on the surface this is a disappointment for many of you. But it gets better, so please keep reading. :slight_smile:

The reasons for this are complex and have to do with copyrights and licensing and our unique use of it. Please believe me when I say we’ve worked very hard on this and it is now out of our hands."

It indeed may be that you are, without meaning to, participating in Copyright infringement. Unfortunately I can’t really give you advice on how to go about obtaining permission to continue you’re use of the text of the Catechism.

Hope this helps a little

The site you refer to (St. Charles Borromeo) is not a “public domain” site. Just because something is online that does not mean it is “public domain” or that you may copy from it. That site belongs to a Church, who we must assume obtained the correct copyright permission/license to post the Catechism online. The Vatican also posts it online, but they own it and that does not mean you can use it without permission.

I can recommend you contact USCCB Publishing for guidance on copyright of the Catechsim and materials they publish on behalf of the Holy See:


I can also suggest you do one of three things:

  1. Obtain permission/license to use the Catechism passages within your lessons
  2. Stop pasting in the text, and instead paste the links to the sections. Directing them to a properly licensed online Catechism via a link is not a violation of copyright and you do not need permission to do this.
  3. Have your class participants purchase their own catechisms, or provide purchased catechisms with your course, and then ask them to read the relevant sections in their own catechisms

Its a very difficult question. How much do you copy each week? There are fair uses of copyrighted material. My understanding is that anyone can copy, as a reference and as long as credit is given, small portions of a copyrighted material. We see this all the time in books of all sorts copying a paragraph from a reference material.

I would guess if you are systematically copying sections of the CCC as a weekly practice , then you are violating the copyright. But it might be simple to change your format and all would be legal and ethical. For example, start out by just saying what section you are reviewing, providing a link to the online version. Then, throughout your lesson, just copying important paragraphs or sentences that you want to stress: making it clear via formatting that you are copying it and providing correct reference citation. You would likely be just fine at that point.

Here is the relevant law in the US (it is easy to see the intent of the law, but it can get hazy when reading the details:


§ 107 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use40

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

edited to add:
I disagree with the suggestion to contact the UCCCB for permission to copy. It will likely be denied, and you simply have no reason to need to copy the catechism. Also, the denial may be of the form that is somewhat over-the-top from a fair use standpoint (this happens with other types of IP, I know). Then you will be in a quandary of deciding if you should either be using the product fairly.

Finally: do your own research, just use this forum as a means of being pointed in the right direction.

This isn’t accurate. I took a class on copyright law specifically for the training industry. My professor, a JD in copyright law taught us about fair use and that it is WAY more complex that what you read online. Ultimately, “fair use” is in the eye of the beholder (judge). We studied case law where the defendant lost on fair use with only a couple of paragraphs and others where they won after using hundreds of lines of text.

The advice my professor gave was to forget “fair use” and ASK PERMISSION to use material. I would give this same advice.

Especially since Marian Catechists would not want to damage their reputation (after all they teach morality in their courses) they want no appearance of doing anything wrong at all. They need to be 100% above board and able to respond to any question of ethical use of copyrighted materials.

I agree. Links are the best way to do it. I’d link directly to the Catechism of the Vatican.va website.

Yep, that’s why my professor said “don’t even go there”… always get permission!

It is one avenue. It is not permission to copy, it is a license that can be purchased to use USCCB copyrighted materials. On the USCCB website, they indicate they cannot give this permission for Holy See documents, but can give you more information on that topic if you call.

I agree, and contacting the Marian Catechists headquarters directly is also something they should consider. The Marian Catechists may in fact hold such a license for their written materials and that license may extend to the instructors.

Bottom line-- don’t just assume anything, always ask permission. that is the one thing ringing in my head from my copyright class. ALWAYS ask. NEVER assume.

1ke, you never copy portions of the CCC in your posts on this forum?

But I will change my mind on the final recommendation, do contact the the UCCCB, 1ke is correct in that.

Of course I do.

I am not representing the Marian Catechists. I am representing 1ke. I am taking a chance that what I do in the context of posting CCC references on individual posts (sometimes I post links) is considered fair use. If the Vatican ever sues me, I’ll find out if they consider it fair use.

In the meantime, because the OP is representing not herself but the Marian Catechists and is not using the quotes in a post on an internet forum but rather in written class materials she should ASK PERMISSION or at a minimum contact Marian Catechists who have the ultimate say in how she uses MC materials.

In my professional job, representing my company, I never use images, text, or other media without copyright permission, license, or purchase. And I do not allow my people to do that either.

It is copyright not copy write.

That might help you to start off, generally copyrighted material can be used for educational purposes if you just photocopy and/or distribute a small amount.

What you are doing sounds like it may fall in that category. M
The issue with flick note was I believe that in a year they would have distributed 100% of the catechism.

I don’t recall the threshold, it may vary, but it’s like 10% or so.

Check with the USCCB, and look into educational copyright exemptions.

Posting the whole text in the email is probably going too far. You can write your lesson in a way that allows you to add links to the parts of the Catechism you are discussing. Readers can see it for themselves on the website. You can also give the CCC number for readers to look it up if they have their own books.

I’m sure that the Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church parish is very happy that you are using their great resource to promote the Catholic faith.

Do also include the link as well as the quote for each of the one or two topics every week in the lesson. I think that would be proper and they would appreciate it.

They have an excellent web site and it’s worthy of promoting.

You didn’t mention if you were also warned about giving (quoting) the corresponding bible passages!

=thaddeus;12427473]I’m sure that the Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church parish is very happy that you are using their great resource to promote the Catholic faith.

Do also include the link as well as the quote for each of the one or two topics every week in the lesson. I think that would be proper and they would appreciate it.

They have an excellent web site and it’s worthy of promoting.

You didn’t mention if you were also warned about giving (quoting) the corresponding bible passages!


Are you suggesting that I can’t use the bible either?

I use the Douay and the RSV

God Bless and thanks

That would be what some groups might prefer. Using the Catechism together with the Bible; how horrible.

I suggest full speed ahead.

Best wishes

I agree with 1ke. It is always better to get permission. Or if your lessons are completely web-based, then you can always just link to the sections of the Catechism. If you link to the scborromeo site (or the USCCB site, which also has the Catechsim online), you can tailor the URL so that you link directly to the appropriate paragraph.

With regards to using Scripture quotations, the Douay-Rheims translation is in the public domain. The RSV is not (nor is the NAB or many other modern translations). You would want to contact the copyright holder for using the RSV. You’ll see on the copyright page of many Catholic books where they say something to the effect of “All Scripture citations taken from the [fill-in-the-blank] translation, copyright 19xx. Used with permission.” Even the Catechism itself says this on the copyright page as it uses the RSV translation.

The Douay–Rheims translation is old enough that it is public domain. The RSV is still under copyright and you could have legal issues in copying it.

This is unofficial advice, so take it for what it’s worth: if you do use quotes they should be short, and they should be followed by a link or reference to the original site - sort of like we do on this forum. The same rules apply to written material - always give a reference to the source (author, publication, date, and often page #).

Copyright laws can seem burdensome and unnecessary, but other than preventing users from profiting off a work they didn’t contribute to (not applicable in your example), it decreases the chance that the work may be misrepresented or reproduced with errors. If you think of it that way, it might seem clearer why even religious works of the Church are safeguarded this way.

Many modern Bible translations are copyrighted, and thus place restrictions on the extent to which you can quote or reprint passages from them.

Fortunately they don’t enforce it - Yet.

Gods word is now owned by human beings with conditions - pretty crazy

Just contact the Copyright Office and ask:

U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
P: (202) 707–3000 or 1 (877) 476–0778 (toll free)

They’re very nice.

God bless,


No. Helping people and doing good work is to be admired.

Copyright is a can of worms. Pretty scary stuff. You have done and are doing nothing wrong.

It seems to me at times that copyright scrupulosity is running amuck. Are Catholics not allowed “Fair Use”? Sometimes I wonder.

Something to look forward to:
A [Future] News Flash: The “Catholic Church” will be issuing a cease and desist notice to a “Catholic” member of “Catholic Answers Forums” for using a brief quote (with link) from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and a brief quote (with link) from “Catholic Versions of the Bible” to prevent any emailing of a “Catholic Faith Lesson” that promotes “Catholicism”.

Congratulations. I wish I could get one of those notices also.

Putting God’s word on a page (paper or electronic) takes a lot of painstaking attention to detail - so no His word is not owned by anybody, but it’s reproduction is not free. Copyright is very important to Church publications, particularly to avoid misuse and error.

As to the legal side of things, check with an attorney is always good advice, especially if you are working on behalf of another organization. (If you’re acting on your own and have no assets, you likely only have to worry about the morality of the question.) The morality is not necessarily coextensive with the US law here, but roughly includes all the law since one moral proposition is to respect the state when not contrary to moral norms. I would have a hard time thinking that a Catholic sense of ownership on intellectual property would be stricter than US law, which is pretty commonsensical. But I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask a trained theologian if there are further hurdles. Since the golden rule applies, and you can always ask them by phone, the moral analysis maybe should involve a phone call.

If you follow my advice below, you’re probably stupid since my legal training is not in this field. That said, here is my best nonexpert guess.

I had a copyright lawyer for my research and writing class. I recall the “four-factor balancing test” as the main law, which I’ve pasted below.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

Factor #1: Your nonprofit use helps make this fair use.
Factor #2: I forget, but I think this factor weighs against you (the source being a published book). However, not all factors are weighted the same, and I think this might be the least important.
Factor #3: Weighs heavily for you, at least on an individual weekly level. Cumulative use may hurt your cause.
Factor #4: You are probably not depriving the copyright holder of sales. In fact, your use is probably tending to increase them. This factor weighs in your favor.

The judge has many, many precedents he has to follow in his jurisdiction, but he has a lot of leeway as to the finding of facts, and some leeway as to their characterization. If you have not been issued a cease and desist letter, which might bring in heavier penalties if you further transgress a copyright holder’s claim, you are probably not looking at major damages if you lose. Therefore, no one is likely to sue you over this (and if they do, you still may win). Feel free to roll the dice, or be prudent and call an expert. Don’t forget the morality either.

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