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SBL Greek New Testament Licensing

A lot has been said already about the SBL Greek New Testament text (SBLGNT) which has just been released. It is not every day that a new eclectic text is released. I think that what's just as noteworthy as the release itself is the license under which the text is distributed.

As has been discussed on the Open Scriptures mailing list, the license is fairly permissive, and allows for gratis distribution. In Creative Commons terms, it is essentially a Attribution/Non-commercial license. Actually the non-commercial part is qualified, because it is allowed in sold works under certain circumstances. There are a few curious features of the license I'd like to address.

Derivative Works?

The text of the license is silent on whether it is permissible to distribute modified copies of the SBLGNT. For example, am I allowed to "fork" the text and distribute it with my own changes? It's not clear to me from the license. The license does specifically disallow one type of derivative work (I'll discuss that below), so the implication is that derivative works are otherwise OK.

Reporting Requirement

One of the requirements for qualified commercial distribution is reporting:

If you give away the SBLGNT for use with a commercial product or sell a print or electronic work containing more than 500 verses from the SBLGNT, you must annually report the number of units sold, distributed, and/or downloaded to the Society of Biblical Literature’s Rights and Permissions Office.

This is not an overly harsh measure, in my opinion, and I can certainly understand why the require it. But ideally a license would have no reporting requirement. It's just a little extra burden.

English Diglots

As I mentioned above, the SBLGNT license has one prominent exception for redistribution: if you are going to distribute an English diglot, you need to obtain a separate license from SBL. Presumably this is because they are considering publishing their own English-Greek diglot. You can publish a diglot with other languages than English. I also wonder whether an edition with three or more languages including the SBLGNT and English are permissible. It is a bit of an odd stipulation for a license given that it is so particular, but it is not the worst thing in the world.

Conclusion

As I have written before, I think that the Christian scriptures should not have any copy restrictions placed on them. So I think it would be ideal for the SBLGNT text and apparatus to be released into the Public Domain. Barring that, I think I would recommend re-licensing under something like a Creative Commons Attribution/Non-commercial license which is a bit more established. That would iron out some of the ambiguities of the current license.

Here I've gone and looked the gift horse in the mouth. I am quite pleased by the release of the SBLGNT. Moreover, I think its license is one of the best available for a scriptural text. The permissive license instantly makes this text one of the most important available. It is definitely a step in the right direction. I believe we'll be working on getting the text imported into Open Scriptures before too long.

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