The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Christianity and Copyright

SBL new open access policy

Recently the Society of Biblical Literature informed its membership of a new "Green Open Access" policy for works published in SBL publications (including JBL):

This policy allows the author to post or archive a PDF file of the postprint manuscript in specified types of open-access locations—the author’s institutional repository (IR) and the author’s personal or institutional website—following an eighteen-month embargo from publication date. The complete article citation must be provided as specified by SBL.

So eventually the article can be made available if the author takes action. This is generally a move in the right direction. I think this would work better if the works were openly available from SBL itself, since that would provide a centralized, indexed, and searchable repository. As it stands, the articles would be fairly disparate.

In the full text of the policy [PDF] there is a great synopsis of the enduring importance of centralized academic publishers:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing is also a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology.

In spite of the power of internet technologies for self-publishing, JBL and similar journals still serve an important purpose. But following is where I disagree with the SBL:

In order to foster biblical scholarship and scholarly communication, the Society of Biblical Literature allows specific and reasonable dissemination of the results of scholarly research published within its books and journals.

Contrary to the terms of this new "open access policy," the reasonable dissemination of scholarship would involve providing immediate open access to the works, preferably under a permissive license. After all, how better could SBL serve the biblical studies ecosystem than by releasing the results of research to everyone? It could only improve the scholarly dialogue.

I suspect the only reason for closed access is so that SBL can monetize the articles by using restrictive copyright licenses. The selection of candidate articles, peer-review process, editing, and type-setting cost money, after all. However I think it would be best to cover those expenses up-front. I would like to imagine that my SBL dues and JBL subscription fee would be enough to cover these expenses. If they are not, I would be willing to pay more, if it meant that the articles published in JBL had unqualified open access.

This is definitely a positive development, so I hesitate to criticize this fresh policy change. But I think SBL needs to keep moving in the direction of freely-accessible content, for the good of all.

More momentum for freely-licensed Bible texts

Just a couple of quick notes:

As I have found processing the text of Bible versions, versification is no simple task. What happens when you have verses labeled "3/4" or "5c" or simply null, as a inter-verse portion of a chapter (all these examples from Rahfl's Septuagint). BibleOrgSysis Rob Hunt's "attempt to develop a system that is multilingual, multinational, and multicultural from the beginning—to pull all of these various Bible organisational systems into one place." The project was first announced in 2011, but it is still actively being worked on now. From the looks of the code, he's adding extensions for Drupal and other systems. Great news.

In another corner of the web, Stephan Kreutzer of Freie Bibel explains the importance of free software and free culture licensing for Bible texts. Stephan is working on contributing to the ecosystem of free software tools which can be used to proofread and edit digitized texts.

Very encouraging!

Rigaudon: Polytonic Greek OCR

I came across a very exciting project recently: Rigaudon. This is a polytonic Greek OCR system which has already been used on 532 texts of antiquity. The result as CC-BY-SA licensed, and the code is GPL v2, and available in a git repo. Bruce Robertson, one of the collaborators behind the project, also has other repositories, including one for a web-based interactive syntax tree editor. Check them out.

Transcription is the great boundary between the source texts and boundless application in the digital realm. A good polytonic Greek OCR system will unlock many texts which have never been digitized. This has a dual benefit: a "clean" transcription process can lead to permissive licensing for public domain works, and as a result, we'll all have a lot more texts for research.

The system is not perfect, but it is a work in progress and improvements can be made. Nonetheless, some manual editing will be required. However, these OCR results are the best I have seen for polytonic Greek. And the potential reward is so vast, I cannot help but get excited and get involved. There is already some correspondence circulating about collaborating around a particular text, which could then lead to morphological tagging and syntactic analysis, and maybe more.

In 2011 I wrote that the future is brightfor copyright issues in Christianity. This is just one example of how that is so. Free software licenses for code and permissive licenses for content are becoming the norm in the cutting edge of the field. This is good for everyone, but there is still a lot of work to do (and maybe more than ever).

Welcome to the past and future of the arts

My favorite band Starflyer 59 had a successful campaign to raise funds for a new studio album. By appealing directly to the public for funding, they are able to produce the album without the assistance of a record label. This way the band can be paid to make the album and reap all of the rewards for the subsequent sales.

Patronage is the classical method for funding the arts. And it is the future as well. This current age of reaping royalties via copyright restrictions is coming to an end. It was an aberration of our culture caused by the rise of mass media preceding the democratization of media through the internet. The result will be fewer millionaire artists and billionaire record moguls, but it will be better for our culture.

There are currently two hits for "Bible translation" on Kickstarter. Someday a major Bible translation project will be financed this "new" way, and the publishers will make their money from selling physical copies, not from licensing the translations. I'm looking forward to it.

Christianity and Trademark

Well this has probably happened before, but it is going to be amplified when it is a high-profile church like Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill (TM):

We’re not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the “Mars Hill” name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the “Mars Hill” name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we’ve used since 1996.

When cases like this arise in the business world, it’s customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this.

There is more to the post at the above link. Traditional denominations have hundreds of namespace collisions, since most churches are named for saints, or have other predictable names (e.g. "First Baptist Church", or "Holy Trinity"). As a commenter on another blog points out, this seems to be the result of the "multi-site" era, where the same name is supposed to represent the same institution in all locations. I wonder if the Vineyard or Calvary Chapel movements ever ran into this problem.

Oddly enough, there is already another high-profile "Mars Hill" church in Michigan (run by Rob Bell). May the church with the best lawyers win!

An exercise in practical Christian anarchism

Christian AnarchismAlexandre Christoyannopoulos has published a highly-recommended book entitled Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. The work itself is a revision of the author's doctoral thesis, which is available for free (no cost) download from the British Library Ethos system (registration required). I went through the trouble of registering and downloading the document, which was incredibly tedious for a "free" download, but beggars cannot be choosers. I have not read the work yet.

I noticed that the dissertation itself does not indicate a copyright license (or even an explicit statement of copyright ownership). Combining this with the fact that copyright law is coercive and therefore incompatible with Christian anarchism, I have decided to host the PDF of the dissertation on my website to make it easier for the public to find and access it. If at any time the author asks me to take it down, I will do so (I'll also take it down if I run into bandwidth trouble with my hosting provider, but I'll try to put it elsewhere).

Without further ado:

German Bible Society hosts free* online works

I am not sure when this started, but the German Bible Society now hosts online versions of several of its texts. This includes:

  • Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia
  • Novum Testamentum Graece (ed. Nestle-Aland), 27th Edition
  • Septuagint (ed. Rahlfs/Hanhart)
  • Vulgate
  • The Luther Bible, 1984 edition
  • The NET Bible

Those last two are not published by GBS but are included anyway. None of the texts appear to include the related text-critical apparatus. They do not appear to have published an API for accessing these texts from other applications.

Finally BHS and NA27 have official online homes. That is good. However the German Bible Society continues to assert copyright over the ancient texts of the Church:

Terms of Use

The online use of all Bibles on this website is free of charge. By using the clipboard you may copy individual texts and paste them into other applications.

However, the complete download of the text is not allowed, nor is it legally licensed. Without the proper written permissions of the rightful owners every other publication of the text, as well as its integration into other materials, is completely forbidden.

As I have stated before, I am of the (legally ignorant) opinion that ancient texts should not be copyrightable. This goes for eclectic editions as well. The only aspect of these texts which could perhaps be copyrightable are the textual apparatuses, but these are fast becoming irrelevant in the computer age.

It is farcical for the German Bible Society to claim to be the "rightful owners" of the Greek New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, the Seputagint, or the Vulgate. Thank you GBS for your continuing work in editing and publishing these editions, but that does not make you the "owners."

The "rightful owners" of these texts are of course their authors and the church. I attempted to contact the biblical authors, the Septuagint translators, Jerome, and Martin Luther for express written permission to redistribute their work, but they are sadly unreachable.

(If you would like to use the NET Bible, I'd recommend the official web app, which has a better user interface than what GBS provides.  You can also download the full text for non-commercial purposes.)

Two notes

James McGrath has a new book entitled Religion and Science Fiction.This fusion has for quite some time been a favorite for me, so I am excited to see such a title published. McGrath is doing a pretty awesome job marketing the book on his blog as well (I approve of humorous photo edits). Now I have at least one book for my Christmas list.

John Hobbins reports that another denomination has rejected the NIV 2011. However the reason is a bit different than the Southern Baptist Convention:

The issue of whether or not to adopt NIV 2011 was forced on WELS Lutherans by the copyright owners of NIV. The copyright owners, beginning in 2013, will disallow the use of NIV 1984 in Sunday school materials and other official publications of denominations which have, until now, paid hefty royalties. WELS Lutherans would have gladly continued with NIV 1984 and paid for the privilege to do so.

Another benefit of freely-licensed Bible translations would be the avoidance of this sort of situation. The decision to stop licensing the previous version clearly benefits Zondervan, but not the church.

Making a living from Christian scholarship

On one of my Christianity and Copyright posts I received the following comment:

I’d love to hear you talk about the ways in which someone who uses a CC license and makes it their occupation to produce scholarly work can make a living.

Allow me to begin with some caveats. First, I am by no means an expert at earning money through Creative Commons publishing. Second, I am not an occupational scholar and I do not really know how a living can be made by producing scholarly works.

My go-to answer would be to use a Creative Commons license with a non-commercial clause. This way you the copyright holder can grant an exclusive license for commercial sale to a publisher and thereby earn a share of the profits. O'Reilly Media is an example of a real-world company using this model: many of the books they publish are available as free downloads from the authors. The only thing being sold is the physical copy of the book. There are probably other examples as well. I must re-iterate that I do not really know anything of the economics of this, so I am not sure if it can earn a family wage.

Another model for funding scholars would be the patronage model. Here a scholar would make the case to the Christian community for the benefit of the scholarly work he or she will produce (whether Bible translation, lexicon, etc.). If the case is convincing, people may pay up-front to fund the scholar's work. If Christians had to raise funds for scholarship which would become freely-licensed for the benefit of all, we might find that a lot fewer scholarly works get produced. However this would be a good approach in my opinion, since it aligns the work of Christian scholarship with the needs of the church (and not the capitalistic logic of the market).

I wonder about the person who makes it their occupation to produce scholarly works and thereby makes a living. Does such a scholar exist? Virtually all of the publishing scholars I am aware of hold faculty positions at colleges and universities, and presumably that is how they earn their living. Any scholarship they produce is in the course of or in addition to their didactic duties. Perhaps a few of the most outstanding scholars earn a living merely by publishing, but I do not think that is the norm.

So maybe it is not possible for someone who uses a CC license to earn a living as a Christian scholar because it is very difficult to do so in any case.

SBL Greek Language and Linguistics opening up

Via Mike Aubrey, some very good news from Randall Tan and Cynthia Westfall, co-chairs of the SBL Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics section:

Starting with 2011, we are strongly encouraging all presenters to make available on our website any content from their presentations at [SBL Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics] sessions that they are willing to make public for distribution. This information can be submitted both before & after presentation at SBL. This content can be extended abstracts/summaries (beyond what has previously been submitted to the SBL program book), handouts, PowerPoint presentations, links to online content from presenters’ own websites/blogs, etc., up to & including full papers.

Sharing data, papers, and presentations about biblical studies is a good thing. There is little doubt that this website will become an important resource in short order. I am glad to see SBL embracing the importance of centralizing and sharing this information. There is nothing about licensee standardization so it seems they will take anything. Hopefully we'll see a lot of Creative Commons licensed work posted.

Christianity and Copyright (4): The future is bright

There are practical and ethical problems with using copyright law to restrict the copying and distribution of the Bible and other Christian texts, study materials, and music. This mode of financing is still predominant among Bible publishers. However, I am much more optimistic now than I was when I first started writing about this issue in 2008. There have been a lot of positive developments, and I believe that the momentum in Bible punishment is behind permissively-licensed texts. This is good for everyone.

Our story begins with the venerable NET Bible, which has actually been around for quite a while. The NET's licensing terms are somewhat restrictive and confusing, but were nonetheless a far sight more permissive than anything else available at the time of its release. The NET Bible was a bold and deliberate step in the right direction, and it is no accident that it coincided with the rise of the world wide web. From the preface:

We don’t like the copyright notice on the second page of the NET Bible, but we don’t yet know the best way to fix it. The reason for this dilemma is that we stand at the beginning of a new era made possible by the Internet. New approaches to ministry, publishing, distribution, and collaboration are made possible by the Internet. When the first Bibles and books began to be printed rather than copied by hand, new issues emerged (plagiarism, author’s rights, freedom of the press versus censorship, copyright laws, etc.). It is now time to recognize that the copyright and permissions conventions carried over from printed books must now be upgraded for the Internet age.

I believe it is fair to say that since the time that preface was written, the new era of online copyright licenses pined for has come about. There is a lot more infrastructure to support freely-licensed works in the internet age.

While the NET Bible got the ball rolling, other Bible resources have been building momentum of late. Logos Bible Software has published the Lexham English Bible and the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament (SBLGNT) under fairly permissive licenses. I do have some minor gripes about these licenses, but I find the SBLGNT development particularly encouraging given the frustrating history of copyright issues surrounding modern eclectic editions of the Greek New Testament.

Even in cases where texts have a more traditional licenses (and by traditional I mean "similar to the NIV") there have been positive developments. Many publishers are permitting or creating their own excellent web interfaces to their texts, so that anyone with an internet connection can read them on demand. Furthermore some have created public APIs, making it so their texts can be integrated into third-party applications. The ESV is a pioneer in this regard.

Yes, now is an exciting time for Christianity and Copyright, but there is still more progress to be made. On the whole, I'd like to see these efforts toward more permissive licensing and accessibility become more unified and standardized. To that end I have previously suggested that content publishers ought to use the already-established Creative Commons suite of licenses. There is no point in recreating the wheel, and I am skeptical that the terms of all these custom licenses are truly necessary. Using a standard group of easily-understood licenses makes it easier for people to understand how they can make use of the work.

In the realm of online applications and interoperability, I'd like to see more moves toward a standard data interchange format as well as a common API for accessing Bible data on the web. This will make newly-liberated texts easier to make use of in modern technologies. Work is already being done on this front, and I believe it will come to fruition.

Additionally I would like to see this spirit of openness spread to other works of Christian scholarship and culture. Worship music, academic texts, journal articles, devotionals, and the like should be freely licensed just like the Bible. It it is not a big stretch to apply the same arguments I put forth concerning the scriptures to other matters of Christian culture.

I am quite optimistic about Christianity and Copyright. The current legacy of restrictive copyrights results mostly from publisher-financed translation and fear of change. Christians intrinsically agree that the Bible should be freely-licensed. The only reason restriction has been tolerated is to raise funds, but that is no longer necessary. We are at a temporary impasse, and I think the age of limited quotation to 250 verses will be only a brief memory in the history of the church.

There is yet a lot of work to do. Anyone can help out, by petitioning copyright holders to change their licenses, by licensing their own work permissively, and by participating in projects which make sharing of the scriptures easier. By creating new works and pressuring the rights holders of existing works to change their stance, it will not be long until there is a very fertile ecosystem of freely-licensed Bibles and other Christian works. That is a time to which I am looking forward.

Christianity and Copyright (3): The Ethical Problem

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen.

You may copy and distribute up to five (5) paragraphs of this epistle without obtaining permission from the author. To obtain a license to distribute this epistle in its entirety, please contact Paul, care of Silvanus.

\~ Romans 16:25-28, NET Bible

The above is absurd, of course. The biblical authors never placed copy restrictions on their text. Even if the modern notion of copyright had existed when the various books of the Bible were composed, the authors would not have used their rights to restrict the copy and distribution of their works. The practice in the early church was to freely and widely share what was written amongst believers.

Moreover, the scriptures are God's Word and the canon of the Christian Church. It is presumptuous for modern scholars to place restrictions on how those texts may be copied. Why should they have the right to have a say on such matters? The spread of the Bible goes hand-in-glove with the spread of the gospel. Since the Bible is integral (if not essential) to Christian life, I believe it is imperative for Christians to encourage its spread (and translation), and not to restrict it at all. I also believe that this ethical judgment is intuitive for Christians.

So why do Bible publishers today use copyrights to restrict the copy and distribution of Bible texts? To raise money. I have not found any other justification. Raising money is not a bad thing. Biblical scholarship can be expensive, so placing copyright restrictions on the texts has been an effective way to monetize the output of such scholarship. "The worker is worthy of his wages."

The ethical question is: does the right of a worker to receive his wages via copyright override the right of believers to copy and distribute the scriptures? I say no. The importance of sharing the scriptures amongst the Christian community far outweighs the utility of raising funds via copyright. The good news is that there are plenty of ways for the worker to receive his wages nonetheless.

Sadly the ethical problem with using copyright to restrict the distribution of the Bible seems to be lost on publishers. For example, when the German Bible Society's FAQ page asks, "How can the Word of God be copyright protected?", their answer is essentially "it is perfectly legal to do so." We as Christians need to aspire to a moral standard beyond the laws of the secular state.

So how should works of Christian scholarship be financed since it is unethical to use copyright restrictions to that end? As it turns out, there is more than one way to raise money for Christian scholarship. There are even ways to allow free sharing while reaping royalties only from commercial sale of the scriptures. Also, there is a growing trend among publishers to use more permissive licenses for Bible works. I will examine these prospects in my next post on the subject.

Christianity and Copyright (2): The Practical Problem

For many people, the shutdown of Zack Hubert's Greek website is the epitome of the practical problem of copyright restrictions on Christian texts. The website was well-known, well-used, and well-loved. It was ahead of its time. But it met its demise because the MorphGNT text upon which it relied was the subject of a German Bible Society takedown request due to copyright claims.† There was a tremendous loss felt by the users of this remarkable resource.

To sum up the practical problem of restrictive licensing, I'd say that it makes texts harder to work with and therefore less useful. When users have to worry about complicated licenses, fees, and the like, it makes it more difficult (or even expensive or risky) to utilize a particular text in its published form.

One of the assumptions I am working from here is that scholars create Bible texts and translations so that they can be utilized in the church. I think it is a safe assumption. People are not doing it for their own careers are for publishing royalties or any of that. They want their work to bear fruit in the church. So when license problems prevent a work from being used to its fullest potential, I think it is safe to assume that the content owner must be upset on some level.

License fees, terms of use, requests for permissions, and the like all contribute to making a work more difficult to use. Ease of digitization and data portability are key to creating Bible resources in the modern technological milieu. Most of the commonly used licenses for Bible texts make them difficult to use effectively in digital systems, without licensing fees paid to the publisher.

As an illustration of this, I'll point out that the Open Scriptures project only currently has importers written for public domain (KJV and Tischendorf) and permissively licensed (SBLGNT) texts. We do not have the UBS Greek or its apparatus, nor the NIV, because a license is required. (Fortunately the Open Scriptures api is being designed with a federated structure, so that people may choose to use the software to serve any text for which they have a license.)

Another practical problem that has arisen in the more permissively-licensed texts of late is the variety of license terms which have been applied to each work. For example, the SBLGNT, the Lexham English Bible, and the NET Bible each have (slightly) different terms which can make them confusing to work with. I would prefer that copyright holders use license families like Creative Commons, which are widely used and understood. Of course I do not want to diminish the contribution of these texts. Their licensing terms are absolutely a step in the right direction, but I think there is still room for improvement.

Restrictive copyright licenses make Bible texts difficult to use, especially in the digital age. If scholars would like their works to be useful, I encourage using a standard permissive license. This way the text can have the maximum benefit within the ministry of the church.

† I will address the moral issue of using restrictive licensing on Christian texts in the next post in this series. I also dispute that an eclectic text and textual apparatus reflecting ancient documents should be copyrightable. That opinion is informed not by legal expertise but by common sense. I will not be expanding on this point, however.

Bible Licensing: The Idealist

Following up on yesterday on my hopeful prediction about a Creative Commons licensed Bible text, I'd like to explain which license I'd like to see chosen, as opposed to the license I think is most likely to be chosen. I would also affirm that a copyight license should be chosen, as opposed to public domain assignment. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.

  • Attribution should remain a requirement. This way the people who did the work can be assigned credit (and blame). It also facilitates better cooperation with those people who are creating derived works.
  • Commercial uses should not only be allowed, but encouraged. The production of a good Bible translation could be a boon to Christians who could earn money by selling derived works. The implication here is that the production of translations should be decoupled from publishing.
  • Redistribution, correction, expansion, and derived works should be encouraged. Scholars get nervous about allowing derivations, since those can easily become mutilations. However, it is important for the health of the academic community that improvements be allowed. Let a mechanism other than copyright law decide which are proper improvements to the text. Also, some people may create derived works (audio recordings, translations, commentaries, etc.) which will multiply the value of the translation for the church.
  • Downstream distributors should be required to "share alike," so that the text and its derivatives always remain freely licensed.

That adds up to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. I'd love to see a high quality translation or revision be released under such terms.