Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bibles, copyright, and restrictive licensing

One Wednesday evening as Pastor John Cashwell wrapped up his sermon, I found myself staring at the binding of a pew Bible. "Holman Christian Standard Bible" … and then that big ol' ® (registered trademark) symbol. Recalling that in the past I'd read the New International Version (NIV) licensing statement, I flipped open the cover of the HCSB to read its own, and found stuff pretty similar to what I remembered the NIV's to be. You can quote the text, but not more than 250 verses, not quoting a whole book, and not using the quotes as more than 20% of the body of work in which you are embedding the verses.

Why do modern Bible translations carry restrictive licenses?

How can a publisher restrict the free distribution of a work that is, by its very definition, just a remix of some other, written-before-there-were-even-copyrights, text?

I Googled around a bit for some answers. My first hit was a FAQ entry on, which talks—among other things—about the cost and effort involved in creating an accurate Bible translation. It contains the following wrap-up summary:

To sum up, Bible versions are copyrighted to make sure that translators are fairly reimbursed for their hard work. Most copyrighted Bible versions have relatively lenient quoting rules that should cover most common situations. But if for whatever reason the copyright rules prevent you from using the Bible as you like, you're free to use a non-copyrighted Bible version.

The article also states that "there is nothing stopping you from creating your own Bible translation—there are online projects dedicated to doing just that!" This intrigued me. I'd never considered the idea of crowd-sourcing a Bible translation before, so I Googled again for "crowd-sourced Bible translation". This led me to a project called The Seed Company ( Initially, I was excited, but as I read on, I didn't see many obvious differences between the Seed Company and other traditional translation methods such as those employed by its sister company, Wycliffe Bible Translators. Some digging around further led me to a well-written set of blog posts which somewhat echoed much of what I was thinking (plus a bunch of stuff I'd not considered).

Dissatisfied, I tried a different search: " wikipedia style Bible translation".

Finally, I landed on something promising! The WikiProject Wiki Bible ( is the project that I found myself wishing into existence.