Why we don’t let Biblical scholars write licences

Simon Cozens, a missionary working in Japan has a nice little rant about the confusing license for use of the NET Bible. He finds the complexity of the license to be rage inducing (see his image above) and suggests as an alternative: the Creative Commons system. He laments the lack of any Bible translations available under Creative Commons. I know there is at least one: the Bíblia Livre. And the WEB Bible is public domain.

Simon says this is an example of “Why we don’t let Biblical scholars write licences.”

Let me just add that there isn’t a “one-size fits all” solution for Bible licenses. Some Bibles can and should be given away while others which have been produced at great financial expense need to recoup the investment.

What Bible translators and Bible societies need to consider is the effect of tying down translations with excessively restrictive licenses. In general I advocate giving away something. Whether that be an electronic only version, or part but not all of the translation. The NET Bible is available for free with limited notes as a SWORD module but their full notes are available online and also with the commercial version.

Several publishers have shown that giving away electronic versions actually increases their sales since it creates awareness, goodwill and eventually people want to buy a print copy.

Check out Simon’s post here: “Free” Bibles, which aren’t

5 thoughts on “Why we don’t let Biblical scholars write licences

  1. Dannii says:

    I think the best quote in that article is

    I think the thinking here must be “we need to protect something, but we’re insufficiently clear on what it actually is we need to protect.” This is not good enough.

    There is no licence that will fit everything. But if a translation team would actually clearly identify what they want to protect then we could find or make the perfect licence for them!

    I like the CC licences, but for many situations the simple no-derivs or derivs option won’t be suitable. I’m sure there would be many teams who wouldn’t want the text itself to be changed (a freedom which will be harder to encourage) but would be okay with others changing the formatting, perhaps altering footnotes or even changing the capitilisation of words referring to God. So the CC licences might provide a good base to work from, but more precise licences would be practical.

  2. David Ker says:

    Dannii, I think you’ve hit on an important point. If a translation is made available for derivative works then a license needs to clearly state what kinds of derivations are permissible. I think translations such as WEB and Bíblia Livre are creating something new when they make adaptations of translations that have fallen out of copyright into the public domain. Then putting that translation into the public domain or with a simple attribution license gives a lot of freedom for people to do creative things. On one hand I like that. But on the other hand we’re perpetuating errors that haven’t been corrected in these very old translations. Most people creating “Open Source” translations are hobbyists rather than professionals and the translations suffer in various ways.

    Nathan Smith has some good comments on this over at his blog: http://thelibrarybasement.com/2011/01/31/using-standard-licenses-for-bibles/

  3. openenglishbible says:

    The freedom to change the text is probably the most important freedom, in the end. Anything less than that is keeping open the option of using the secular power of the state to enforce a particular translation choice, rather than letting truth emerge through dialog.

    “Most people creating “Open Source” translations are hobbyists rather than professionals and the translations suffer in various ways.”

    This is probably true. But translations which embrace the Open Source ethos try to be open to help and suggestions from professionals. I know that is true of the Creative Commons CC-BY licenced Open English Bible (http://openenglishbible.org) because I’m trying very hard to make it so. I’m also trying hard to make the process itself open – everything is available in standard usfm and all changes are logged.

  4. Dannii says:

    That depends on which CC licence you pick (there are six of them). If you pick one of the ShareAlike (SA) licences then yes, otherwise no. Of course two of the licences forbid modifications altogether.

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