Original Bible text cannot be copyrighted, US copyright attorney says

This post was originally a comment on my previous post about copyright. I have decided to make it a separate post because of its importance, and have added the last part, after the quote.

Stan Gundry of Zondervan, in his own comment on a post which is mostly written by him, while not entirely agreeing with me on these issues, confirms that the critical text  of the Greek New Testament, and the Hebrew Bible, is not protected by copyright in the USA:

I am not a copyright attorney myself, but I have had lengthy phone conversations with a lawyer who is credited with being the best in the USA. Here’s the deal, at least according to USA copyright law. Ancient texts such as those we are dealing with in the OT (Hebrew/Aramaic) and NT (Greek) are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright. In fact (and this is controversial), even the critical texts as reconstructed by textual critics cannot be protected by enforceable copyrights.

This is indeed good news. It means that, at least in the USA, the German Bible Study does not have a leg to stand on to in its refusal to allow MorphGNT and Re:Greek to use the UBS Greek New Testament text.

I am tempted to compare this issue with the attempts, which backfired, of Mark Brewer to stifle debate about the former SPCK bookshops – a saga which is continuing, and still being documented by Phil Groom. The comparison is not entirely fair because the German Bible Society has not taken the same kind of active role that Mark Brewer took in demanding that material was removed from the Internet. Nevertheless I think they will find, just as Mark Brewer did, that their restrictions on the availability of their text will backfire on them.

I have a complete electronic copy of the UBS Greek New Testament 4th edition text. I will not publish it myself not least because the copyright position here in the UK is not as clear as in the USA. But I see no reason not to provide this text to people in the USA for them to use as they please.

0 thoughts on “Original Bible text cannot be copyrighted, US copyright attorney says

  1. Its my understanding that in parts of Europe the concept of “public domain” is irrelevant. Do you know if that’s true?

    Either way, I would consider an eclectic text and the work that goes into creating one valuable enough to pay those who did the work and when you add the apparatus to that, well, its worth paying for – at least in my opinion.

  2. There has never been any intimidation on the part of GBS. And Zack’s shutting down of RE:Greek was for personal (lack of time) and professional (conflict of interests) reasons.

    I’m quite amazed that the Glenn and Stan chipped in at BBB. That’s quite a coup by Wayne and Mike. I think they were quite open and honest in their responses which is not what I’d expect from people speaking at that high level.

    At this stage Open Scriptures and the others need to try very hard not to be inflammatory and instead seek to get the MorphGNT available much like the myriad of translations that are shared freely by the Bible societies.

    It would also be helpful to get someone from Germany or Europe to comment on the copyright claims of GBS. Maybe that’s where the Brewer kerfuffle could provide some helpful resources.

  3. David, have you followed any of the discussion at Open Scripture’s Google Group?

    You might want to. That’s where I read someone say that Public Domain is not a relevant category for parts of Europe and Asia (potentially Germany?)

  4. Mike, I don’t know much about copyright law and how it varies from country to country. But I do know that GBS cannot protect how their text is used in the USA, if Stan Gundry’s lawyer is correct, even if they can protect it in Germany or here in the UK. Thanks for the link to the Google group, which I note has also linked to Stan’s comment.

    David, I was careful to say that there had been no intimidation by GBS. I don’t want to say anything negative about them. I am just trying to clarify the legal situation. I don’t know if we can do more than speculate about Zack Hubert’s motives, but it is interesting that Stan Gundry is his colleague or perhaps employer at Zondervan. I have drawn this matter to the intention of Phil Groom who is looking at the SPCK mess, and maybe he has contacts who can clarify the UK legal situation.

  5. Thank you, Danny. John Dyer’s site looks very useful. But it is based on Tischendorf’s text of 1869-1872, which is probably an improvement on the Textus Receptus but still predates the tremendous advances in manuscript discoveries and textual criticism during the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is these advances which are being withheld from the world and the church by the position of the German Bible Society.

  6. I sure hope this doesn’t include the textual apparatus also. That’s clearly the text-critical work of those who produced the critical text, even if they’re going to say that the particular reconstruction of the text in the main text is not.

    (I find the latter claim ludicrous, but I also think it’s ridiculous for Christians to claim that their reconstruction of the most likely original biblical text is somehow their property. So I find the law wrong, but I don’t think there should be a need for it if the people the law is trying to counter would just act like Christians.)

  7. Good question, Jeremy. Stan Gundry’s lawyer’s view of the apparatus, if you read on, is:

    The textual critical apparatus has a somewhat better claim to copyright, but to the extent that such an apparatus is a catalog of information, my sources tell me that any claim to an enforceable copyright is weakened.

    I think the UBS scholars could put forward a strong argument that the apparatus is not just a catalogue of information but a creative selection from it, and so subject to copyright. They can’t make the same claim for the text as their whole aim is not creating a text but restoring one.

  8. Sorry to be kinda slow picking up the baton here… unfortunately I’ve no idea which way to run with it. I know about cyberbullying: my experience says stand up to them and they’ll back off. But as you say, Peter, that’s not the issue here.

    As for copyright on the biblical texts, I’m out of my depth. All I know for sure is that the good Lord in his wisdom hasn’t seen fit to preserve the original texts… which kinda suggests to me that he’s not quite as fussed about them as conservative theologians would like him to be…

  9. Thanks, Phil. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do. In this case, where there has in fact been no bullying, people still seem to be running for cover, when instead they should be standing their ground.

  10. Thank you, German Bible Society. I note that your claim to copyright of the Luther Bible (out of copyright centuries ago) and the Good News Bible (copyright the American Bible Society) are entirely baseless and bogus. If you want your claim to copyright of the original Bible texts to be taken seriously please retract these obviously frivolous claims.

  11. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » German Bible Society copyright claims: from the sublime to the ridiculous

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image