The Pontifical Biblical Commision of the Vatican produces documents in several languages - but not in all of them. For instance, the document L'interprétation de la Bible dans l'Église (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church), published in April 15, 1993, is in German, Italian, Portuguese, Swahili, and Ukrainian. I was looking for a copy in Spanish (as I do not know any of those languages), and found this pdf. It mentions no translator, nor does it acknowledge the copyright of the Vatican on the original document.

But, does the electronic text in the Vatican website (in any language) has copyright? Well, as this was published in 1993, probably in a printed book, it must have a copyright. There is no mention to it however in the website.

Now, assuming the document has a copyright, is the pdf version in Spanish infringing the copyright of the original document?

Reasons why it should:

Am I right? If so, would the only way to produce a legal pdf version of a full (copyrighted) document of the Vatican website require to ask permission for it?

1 Answer 1


According to Wikipedia, the organization that holds Vatican copyrights has the following policy:

[N]ews organizations can quote from the pope's speeches, encyclicals and other writings without charge. They can also publish full texts free provided they cite Vatican copyright ... but if a text is published separately ... payment is due.

You say that no Vatican copyright was cited, which is too bad - they'd have a good argument that they already had permission.

it must have a copyright

Correct. Published or unpublished, it has a copyright from the moment it was fixed.

it's a translation, which require official permission.

Translations are considered derivative works, which is a right protected under copyright. So you need permission, fair use, or some other law that allows you to use it.

it's the whole document, and so not under fair use

Well, not so fast. There are four factors included in fair use, and that's only one of them. The factors are:

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

Is the website offering this work for religious purposes, or for profit?

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

I'm not really sure where religious works fall under this factor, honestly.

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

The whole work is used, so this factor would be against fair use.

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

Is there a market for this work? Does the Vatican sell it, or use it to drive traffic, or anything? If so, this factor would be against fair use. If not, the translation probably does not affect the market for the work, and this factor would be in favor of fair use.

  • Thanks! yes, the Vatican does sell many of these documents, but nowadays all these documents are always available online (and that is their primary mean of spread, I would say). They are sold just to each some wider audience (e.g. in churches libraries), like the elderly and those who do not follow the Vatican press. I doubt they make significant money from it. Prices are usually low. Jul 24, 2018 at 16:56

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