It’s been a while since I’ve made a post. I really wanted to, but I haven’t had anything really interesting to talk about and I haven’t had much time what with WoW and all, so it seemed like I’d fallen off the face of the earth. Anyhow, I’ve been doing some more thinking again…
Something I’ve been wondering about for a long while is Bible translations. To see what I mean, open up your bible to the front, where it tells you the publishing details. You’ll probably find something like this:
The ESV text may be quoted (in written, visual, or electronic form) up to and inclusive of one thousand (1000) verses without express written permission of the publisher, providing that the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verse quoted account for 50 percent or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted.
And so on and so forth. My question is why?
Think about what the publisher is saying. Crossway (or Zondervan, or Tyndale, or any other Christian publisher) is basically saying “We own the rights to this work, and we’re going to allow you to use portions of this work under these conditions, where ‘this work’ is ‘the Word of God’.” See the problem I have with it now?
I am essentially suggesting that the publishers should free the modern translations of the Bible. Of course, you may be wondering why I believe that it is absolutely necessary. I hold the same beliefs about other currently copyrighted material. This is not to say that copyright is bad, just that the current “protection” that copyright entails is currently immensely excessive.
You may argue that the publishers are quite generous to allow us to quote a thousand whole verses for whatever purposes we may want. Yes, a thousand verses is a lot and I may never quote a thousand verses in a work. The publishers aren’t hurting anyone. Sounds familiar.
I believe that it’s wrong in principle for these publishers to be putting limits on how many times they allow you to quote the Bible. That’s a tad absurd, don’t you think? Oh no, I’ve quoted Jesus too many times in my book, and now Zondervan is going to sue me for copyright infringement!
Of course, we have one English translation that is currently in the public domain: the King James Version. We can copy the KJV to our hearts’ content. The problem with that is that most people today don’t particularly enjoy reading the KJV. The point of alternative translations is to make the Bible more accessible, and the fact that the KJV is the only English translation that is free does not help that cause.
There’s a great open source program called SWORD. It’s meant to be used as a Bible study tool that’s free for all and can be run on all platforms. The only problem is that it can only use the KJV since that’s the only free translation. As a result, its usefulness decreases sharply when prospective users find that the NIV is locked. A great project with a great goal becomes irrelevant.
Translating the Bible costs money. Yes, it does, but just because a translation is free doesn’t mean that the publishers won’t make any money. Publishers can still sell books. Just look at the KJV, even without any extras and just the text, people still buy it. Publishers can free modern translations and still sell Bibles. The only reason for publishers not to release translations is because other publishers will publish them. In my mind, that is not a good enough reason to keep the translation locked away.
And so we face, in the twenty-first century, a very basic moral question. If you could make as many loaves of bread as it took to feed the world, by baking one loaf and pressing a button, how could you justify charging more for bread than the poorest people could afford to pay? If the marginal cost of bread is zero, then the competitive market price should be zero too. But leaving aside any question of microeconomic theory, the moral question, “What should be the price of what keeps someone else alive if it costs you nothing to provide it to them”, has only one unique answer. There is no moral justification for charging more for bread that costs nothing than the starving can pay. Every death from too little bread under those circumstances is murder. We just don’t know who to charge for the crime.
We live there now.
Eben Moglen, Software and Community in the Early 21st Century
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus, Matthew 4:4 (ESV)
Right now, I could download the entire text of some translation and fill my 250 GB external drive with copies of it and it would cost me nothing but my computer and the few minutes the script would run. The cost to reproduce any sort of information now is so low that most of us could probably generate a few hundred in a day if we tried.
So why is the most important book ever kept under the control of a few publishers?