January 30th, 2010


Who Does the Bible Belong To?

If you were to read the copyright notice of the NIV Bible from Zondervan, you would think it belonged to Zondervan. If you were to read the copyright notice of the Thomas Nelson NKJV, you would think it was Thomas Nelson, Inc. The only Bible I have that doesn't explicitly give such strict restrictions on its use is the Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible (copyright 1970, revised NT copyright 1986), in fact in a preface written by the pope circa 18 September 1970, the language is such as to be implied there be no restriction on its use. Without clear language though, in today's sue happy, tight-fisted, copyright holding society, how can one be sure?

As a Christian, I find the notion of declaring any such copyright to be antithetical to the very precepts set forth in the document the copyright is being applied to. Christ did not tell the disciples to go forth and be tight-fisted with your teachings, restricting new brethren in what can and cannot be used by them. No, in Matthew 28:18-20 he tells His disciples first that All authority has been given to Him both on heaven and on earth, and that the disciples are to go forth and make disciples of all nations. He concludes that they are to teach them to observe all things that have been commanded to that group of disciples (the one he is sending forth). No where in there does Christ stamp down his copyright on the material. God wants to reach everyone. By making disciples of all nations, those new disciples are to follow in the original disciple's commission to go forth.

The whole concept of copyright, especially as it is abused today, is about ownership of the work. It has nothing to do with making money or recouping costs (neither of which are outright sinful in and of themselves, if proper focus is maintained). It's human ego, pure and simple, with perhaps a touch of greed. Current copyright law says that copyright is maintained for life of the owner plus 25 years for an individual, or in the case of corporate ownership, life of the individual plus 99 years.

Really? Yes, really.

So who owns the Word of God? I maintain that God owns his own Word and that it was shared with us via scripture for the express purpose of being freely shared without restriction. Copyright puts on many, many restrictions that, viewed in this light, are extremely antithetical and produce a hindrance that should not be there. Does that man scholars or companies should not be credited with producing accurate, inspired translations? Not at all. They should receive due credit for the work they put in, but if it were not for their God-given skills and abilities, they wouldn't be able to do it in the first place. If it wasn't for God speaking through the prophets and apostles and saints (as used in the bible). Who are we to claim His word as our own work?

My response to this is something that has been working in me for a while, and even more so since I came to learn about a policy and frame of mind that has cropped up during the Open Source Revolution. It is the concept of CopyFree. A work that is CopyFree licensed has no restrictions placed on its use with only one request. Proper credit be given. Can money be made with CopyFree licensed works? I argue that yes, it can be. Costs can be recouped and possibly even a profit, for the profit motivated, can be had with CopyFree license. Of course those who put out the best version of a CopyFree work will make the most money. It encourages diligence, hard work, thought (and in this case prayer), and a desire to be as free from flaw as humanly possible (and with God, anything is possible).

So where does that leave us? Right now, holding on to a bible that possibly has such draconian restrictions as how many concurrent verses you can use, how much of the total work can be used, etc without further special and written permission (possibly at the monetary expense of a further license granting a loosening of restrictions). Hindrances! CopyFree gets rid of that hindrance. Even a weak CopyLeft does away with it for the most part.

Many people do not really think about copyright issues when developing materials for spiritual growth, because the prevailing thought is "Who would sue Christians using the Bible to fulfill Christ's great commission?"

Zondervan would. Thomas Nelson would. In their copyright notices (produced in full below from a scan, text links to full size images) they say as much. What does the copyright notice in your bible say about how you can use that copy of God's word?

I'm willing to put forth all my limited resources in time, skills and other resources to see a CopyFree bible, translated from the original texts, come to fruition. What are you willing to do to see the removal of all hindrances on using God's Word?

Zondervan NIV Copyright notice (699KB)
Thomas Nelson NKJV Copyright notice (829KB)


Originally published at Ameliorations 1.0.