The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Christianity and Copyright (0): Paying for Christian scholarship

How do we pay for Christian scholarship? It is an important question. After all, we modern American English-speaking Christians (and this can apply to any nationality and language) depend upon scholars to translate and explain our scriptures. This is never-ending task due to the constant evolution of our languages. And we know from Jesus that "the worker deserves his wages." Scholarship is difficult, highly specialized, and time-consuming work? So how do we as Christians afford it?

I'll put forth the NIV and Biblica as an example funding model, since the translation is so popular. The NIV translation effort was started by the New York Bible Society in 1965. The project was so large that the bible society (and its various financial backers) had trouble paying for it. They even sold their historic headquarters for \$1 million to help pay for the effort. Sounds like a familiar tactic for Christian fundraising. However, the project was still short on funding. In 1971, Zondervan invested in the NIV translation effort by means of advanced royalty payments. In return, Zondervan was granted exclusive publishing rights in the United States. To make a long story short, the NIV became the world's best-selling English translation of the Bible and Zondervan reaped a substantial return on its investment.

So far as I can tell, this has become the standard model for financing translations (and many other products of Christian scholarship): a publisher pays advanced royalties in exchange for exclusive publishing rights. The concepts of "royalties" and "exclusive publishing rights" rely on copyright law. Content creators exercise their copyrights to prevent their work from being copied and redistributed by any unauthorized party (under threat of lawsuit and criminal penalties). In the case of Bible translations, the publishers have even extended fair use rights significantly in order to make it easier for churches and others to make use of their translations.

This is an incredibly effective and profitable business model for financing Christian scholarship. But there is a problem in this model's reliance upon copyright law. Due to the changes of the digital age, copyright law has a different ethical bearing on this subject than it did before. This has created two new problems. The first is practical and the second is ethical. I will be exploring each aspect of the problem and some solutions in a forthcoming series of posts.

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