German Bible Society copyright claims: from the sublime to the ridiculous

The German Bible Society has rather belatedly commented on my post Original Bible text cannot be copyrighted, US copyright attorney says, by posting a link to what the call A German Bible Society Statement on the copyright situation for the Greek New Testament. In fact this page is a very general one about copyright, in English, with no specific mention of the Greek New Testament. But I was amazed to see what they are claiming copyright for:

Please note that translations of the Bible and original text editions published by the German Bible Society are likewise subject to copyright. Permission is thus also required for the use of verses/passages from our Bible translations (e.g. Luther, Good News Bible) and the original text editions (Hebrew, Greek, Latin).

So, it seems that the GBS is claiming as “our Bible translations” and asserting its own copyright for Luther’s 16th century translation into German, and for the Good News Bible which is in fact copyrighted by the American Bible Society – formally a separate organisation. These claims are entirely baseless at least in British and American law, probably also in German law.

The German Bible Society needs to realise that they cannot claim copyright for anything and everything that they publish, but only (as I understand the law in general terms) for works which are subject to copyright and whose copyright has been assigned to them. Until they are able to demonstrate a proper understanding of this basic principle they can hardly expect any of their copyright claims to be taken seriously.

I continue to hold that the Bible, in the original text and in translation, is the property of the Christian public in general and not of any one society which tries to assert claims over it. I accept the need for proper remuneration of editors, translators and publishers. But I do not accept that unsupportable claims like those of the German Bible Society are a proper way of ensuring this; rather they become a means of restricting the freedom of the word of God.

0 thoughts on “German Bible Society copyright claims: from the sublime to the ridiculous

  1. Peter,

    This page on their site seems to contain the crux of their argument. They are using the principle (certainly enshrined in British copyright law, too) that anything which is an ‘original work’ is entitled to copyright protection. Essentially their case seems to be that the scholarly task of compiling an eclectic text is a creative work, especially given the fact that other scholars come to different conclusions. Any argument is going to have to take on these claims, but they are quoting US and German legislation in their favour. I’m guessing they would say that your stance would be more appropriate if you were a Textus Receptus man, but clearly (and rightly!) you’re not.

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for this discussion on the various posts. I’ve found it stimulating and provocative.

  2. Not the German… and Dave, thanks for the further links, which are probably the pages the original commenter intended me to read. But they have nothing more to say about the ridiculous claim to copyright of the Luther translation and the Good News Bible. I wonder if these claims (or for that matter their claim to copyright of the Hebrew text they publish, which is essentially a reproduction of a single manuscript) have also been “extensively examined in juristic terms with regard to German and US copyright law”.

  3. The trouble with us anonymous commenters is you don’t know whether or not we can be trusted.

    I think the FAQ is certainly more helpful. Legally, I’m not in a position to comment but I suspect that such lines drawn in the sand are very faint indeed. Many people have electronic copies of the Biblical texts and republishing them with or without the consent of the Bible Societies would not in any way hamper their goals or cut into their profits.

  4. Mr International Association, indeed I can’t know whether or not you can be trusted, but I can notice that you are using the same link and IP address as a certain David Ker, so I think I have solved this mystery. Now I suppose if a site with this text were to be hosted in a poor African country without strong copyright laws, it would be very difficult for the German Bible Society to do anything about it.

  5. Peter,

    How can the German Bible Society say that the Hebrew Text of the book of Genesis is copyrighted? The original texts are in public domain. What they can do is to use these public domain documents, print them, and then sell the printed copies of the original documents.

    Claude Mariottini

  6. Claude, I agree with you. They have no case at all concerning their Hebrew text which is simply a copy of Leningradensis. They have a bit more of a case with the Greek but I don’t think it would stand up in court.

  7. Pingback: Love of Bible copyright is a root of all kinds of evil - Gentle Wisdom

  8. You probably have become here the victim of a poor translation, combined with your own lack of knowledge of what they publish and what not.

    The “Gute Nachricht” is a translation published by the German Bible Society. It is a very much non-evangelical, rather weird 1970’s “translation” with huge chunks of paraphrasing of doubtful nature.

    Ans example might be Matt 5:5-6

    “Freuen dürfen sich alle, die unterdrückt sind und auf Gewalt verzichten – Gott wird ihnen die Erde zum Besitz geben. ”

    “Glad shall all be, who are oppressed and put aside use of violence – God will give them the earth as possession. ”
    If it is based in any form on the American “Good News” translation is something I can not tell you. It certainly does not look that way. Either way, if this is an original translation, simply sharing the name with the GNT, or a translation from English into German, it is certainly copyrightable by the GBS. in latter case the ABS would retain a copyright, but the translation is a new (even if derived) work.

    And “Luther” likely stands for Luther 1984 (or any subsequent editions of which I am unaware of).

    So, the stance is not so ridiculous, at least not in the way you felt it to be.

  9. Peter, you may be right. In general writing and translation it might be OK for them to refer to these versions as “Good News Bible” and “Luther”. But in a quasi-legal document like this one they really ought to be more specific about their claims.

  10. I’m a little confused here and probably a lot naive. Could someone please tell me who gives the authority of a person to copyright G-d’s word? Thanks for your input.

  11. fdgj, my answer is nobody. But then from a legal point of view, copyright is a concept invented by secular governments and arguably they have the right to make laws regulating who has permission to publish what, laws from which the Bible is not automatically exempt.

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