FEL PUBLICATIONS v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago

Decision Date09 January 1981
Docket NumberNo. 76 C 3471.,76 C 3471.
Citation506 F. Supp. 1127
PartiesF. E. L. PUBLICATIONS, LTD., a corporation, Plaintiff, v. CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CHICAGO, a corporation, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois


Charles A. Laff, Larry L. Saret, Laff, Whitesel & Rockman, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff.

Valentine A. Weber, David W. Maher, James Serritella, Reuben & Proctor, Chicago, Ill., for defendant.


LEIGHTON, District Judge.


The plaintiff, F. E. L. Publications, Ltd., allegedly owns 21 copyrights to liturgical hymnals and songbooks, each containing large amounts of materials said to be wholly original either with plaintiff or its assignor, one Dennis Fitzpatrick. In a second amended and supplemental complaint, it alleges in 21 counts that defendant, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, himself or his agents and employees, have infringed these copyrights "by publishing, distributing and/or selling in this district songbooks including songs which were copied largely from plaintiff's aforesaid copyrighted work, and/or by allowing others to publish, distribute and sell songbooks on property owned, controlled, and supervised by the Catholic Bishop sic."1 Then, in three additional counts plaintiff invokes the pendent jurisdiction of this court and makes claims which in substance are based on the laws of Illinois.

Defendant has answered, denied all material allegations of the complaint; and has pled 19 affirmative defenses, two of which, the 8th and 11th, assert the claim that plaintiff has misused its copyright monopoly. The historical and material facts which give rise to the controversy between the parties, including the defense of copyright misuse, are not in dispute.


In December 1961, Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council. Such councils function to formulate law, practice, and doctrine for the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose of the council was to make those church observances which are open to changes more responsive to the requirements of modern times.

In late 1963, Second Vatican promulgated the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy. Liturgy is the body of rites prescribed for public worship in the Roman Catholic Church. The Sacred Constitution changed Catholic liturgy in two respects. First, it provided that religious services may be conducted in the vernacular. Prior to this, Roman Catholic religious services were conducted in Latin. Second, it compelled encouragement of active participation by the congregation in the religious service. In this country and in others, this allowed a congregation to sing Psalms and hymns during the mass, in English. Prior to Second Vatican, Roman Catholic religious services were conducted almost exclusively by the priest, and if songs were sung at all, this was done only by the choir, and in Latin. The changes made by Second Vatican caused a period of adjustment within the parishes of all American archdioceses.

The Sacred Constitution also encouraged development of liturgical music in the vernacular, citing the need to provide an opportunity for the entire assembly of the faithful to actively participate. From this need a new market arose, a market for Catholic liturgy music in the English language. The Church, in an effort to maintain its independent identity, did not consider existing English hymns of the Protestant reform appropriate for use in Catholic religious activities.

Pursuant to the dictates of Second Vatican, administrative co-ordinating commissions were created to implement the new reforms. An example of this is the Liturgy Commission of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Founded in 1964, its role was to keep abreast of developments in liturgy and communicate them to the parishes. Currently this function is served by the Liturgy Advisory Board, which advises the Director of the Office of Divine Worship and the Cardinal of the Archdiocese on the liturgical needs and concerns of the parishes.

The Liturgy Commission of the Archdiocese of Chicago determined that liturgy teams should be formed in the parishes to implement Second Vatican reforms. These teams typically included the parish priest and representatives of the laity. Before Second Vatican, the priest was the sole minister at a service of the Catholic Church. After Second Vatican reforms, other members of the congregation actively participated in the administration of communion and were allowed in the sanctuary during mass. The form of religious services was changed in order to expand the participation from the traditional roles of priest and choir, to include all those present. The effort was to allow the congregation to celebrate the mass, and in its own language.

These developments led to a search by Catholic parishes for music and prayer which conveyed the message of the Church in contemporary terms. Plaintiff, formerly known as Church Publications, Ltd., is one among many companies which began publishing English language hymnals suitable for this use. Its founder, composer, and president, Dennis J. Fitzpatrick, entered this business with Hymnal for Young Christians in 1966. Subsequently, he obtained copyrights to several other works, some the subject of this suit, which he assigned to the plaintiff.

All of plaintiff's hymnals and songbooks concerning which it brings this suit are compilations or collective works. A number of them contain the substance of Catholic liturgy that were originally composed during the early years of the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the songs have an origin that has been lost in antiquity. Included in the hymnals are traditional historical religious songs which have long been in the public domain, some of which have been set to a different melody by a large number of composers who, plaintiff alleges, were its employees. Those works which are in the public domain are grouped with original works by plaintiff's authors and composers and for which no royalties from licensing revenues are paid. The materials in the public domain included in plaintiff's copyrighted works are distinguished in its accounting books by the notation "P.D." Many of the songs included in plaintiff's hymnals and songbooks are themselves not protected by any copyright. The right to use songs composed by other authors is obtained by plaintiff through exclusive assignment to it of the right to license their use in return for payment of royalty, and by exclusive assignment to it of copyrights obtained by other authors and composers, again with the right to license use of the copyrighted works.

Prior to 1972, plaintiff occasionally authorized Catholic parishes, religious organizations, and publishers to copy its music at two cents per copy, per song. In November of that year, it initiated a new marketing procedure which it called an "Annual Copy License", hereafter referred to as ACL. This marketing technique was in response to plaintiff's heightened awareness of unauthorized copying of its musical works. At the time it announced the ACL, plaintiff offered three methods by which a customer could obtain the benefit of its copyrighted works.

One allowed the prospective purchaser to accept the provisions in its ACL and pay $100 per year for the "right to make unlimited numbers of copies from F. E. L.'s printed page or from user's own original master copy." The right was to terminate one year after the ACL was purchased. Further, the purchaser was granted "the right to perform the music and/or text at not-for-profit performances for purpose of worship and/or classroom use sic."

The second was a "one time usage plan" which, for 2¢ per copy per song, with a minimum charge of $10, allowed the customer to purchase the right to use any song of his choice. After the one use, at a wedding or funeral, the copies had to be destroyed.

The third and last allowed the customer to buy copies of plaintiff's hymnals and songbooks, regardless of whether the customer desired permanent copies of all or only a few selections.

The terms of the ACL incorporated a master title index that listed the 1400 songs owned by plaintiff, together with the names of the composers. The church that wanted to use one of plaintiff's listed songs could not deal directly with any of the authors or composers whose musical works or copyrights had been exclusively assigned to the plaintiff. The ACL as a type of marketing was not, and still is not employed by any other publisher of religious music in this country; plaintiff acknowledges that this marketing method was a pioneering effort in the field of religious music licensing. Its ACL differs from traditional marketing of music in that it does not distinguish between songs, but charges a lump sum for which the licensee receives copying and use rights to all of plaintiff's 1400 available compositions, even though the purchaser may desire to use only a few of the more popular songs. It also differs from usual marketing practices in that it relies heavily on the licensee to patrol his own use. On the anniversary of the license, the customer has to destroy all copies he has made of the virtually unlimited number allowed, unless he decides to pay plaintiff another $100 for an additional year of the ACL. The effect is that the copies are the property of the buyer only as long as he is able, or allowed, to continue buying the right annually. Plaintiff has sought to enforce its ACL, allowing past violators to redeem themselves by remitting a proportionate monthly fee multiplied by the duration of the claimed infraction.

Defendant's archdiocese contains 447 parishes. Of these, between 22 and 30 had purchased plaintiff's ACL at the time the complaint in this case was filed. Nine had paid plaintiff for prior copying releases; and in 149 there had never been any copying of plaintiff's songs or music. In 122 of them, if there had been any copying, this had occurred more than three years before plaintiff filed its suit in this case, but homemade...

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