[sword-devel] Copyrighted Texts Summary

George Washington Dunlap III sword-devel@crosswire.org
Fri, 3 Dec 1999 12:16:26 +0200 (EET)

On Thu, 2 Dec 1999, Jerry Hastings wrote:
> The chance to give people a permanent source of free Bibles (translated,
> made and distributed without cost, and without limit) is a somewhat new
> thing. Back when scholars worked with quills and ink wells, and print was
> done on hand cranked presses with hand placed type, it was hard to get even
> a little for free. Imagine trying to do it for free in the days of scrolls!

The difference there was, if you wanted a copy of the bible, and had the
time to copy it yourself, you were free to do so.  If you paid a scribe to
copy it, you were paying the scribe for work and materials, not the right
to have a copy of the Scriptures.  I don't think anyone has a problem with
paying for the time and effort it takes to make a printed copy of the
Scriptures, but rather with being forbidden to make our own copies after
that.  I seem to remember something in the Qur'an condemning certain Jews
of Mohammed's time for asking money to see The Book (i.e., the Torah)...
but then, I guess we aren't Muslims. =)

I've thought for a long time that "intellectual property" laws are a
little excessive.  And it sounds, from the descriptions I've heard here,
that Biblical translation copyright holders put excessive restrictions on
their translations.  Making IRC bots to quote the NIV is hardly going to
put a dent in the market for printed bibles.  I don't even think that free
electronic versions will put much of a dent in printed bibles either.
There's something about printed books that is just better than the screen.
My quiet time will always be at my desk, computer off, my bible open in
front of me.  Having a translation in electronic form that I don't
normally use may even influence me to buy that version in paper if it
helps me in my walk.

Nonetheless, we are not the ones who make the laws.  God has set the
current legislators and judges over us.  Until they start arresting you
for quoting the NIV while witnessing, we must work within the laws given
us, while working to change the laws if we can.  A nationwide campaign to
make licensing copyrighted scriptures less restrictive is a much harder
thing to do than petty illegal copying, but it has the advantage of
benefitting all of Christendom while obeying the authority God has set
over us. Note that it is part of ours system to use civil disobedience to
challenge certain laws; so if you have the money, time, and intent to take
Zondervan through the courts, then doing something to prompt a lawsuit is
acceptable, IMHO (except maybe for the prohibition against suing other
Christians in 1 Corinthians).

Once electronic versions become popular, I think a nationwide campaign
to loosen the restrictions placed on Scripture could happen, and would be
a great benefit.  Once the Christian community is used to less restrictive
licenses, a new translation with too many restrictions would be criticized
widely, so that it would be in the best interest of the new translator to
loosen their restrictions.

Ah well... we are in His hands.

 -George Dunlap