Religion is big business. The Christian Bible, like any other book, is under copyright monopoly – or, to be precise, any translation of it younger than 100 years or so is under copyright monopoly, and people quoting extensively from the Christian Bible bring in big licensing money to the copyright monopoly holders. Activists decided this was not in tune with the religion and decided to create a free alternative, only to be met with a threat of lawsuit.
A couple of free culture/knowledge activists in Sweden decided to retranslate the Christian Bible into modern-day language, using old out-of-copyright-monopoly sources, and send their final work right into the public domain. The name of the project was “Free Bible” (fribibel).
A laudable goal, for sure, regardless of whether you agree with religion as such. The project had been repeatedly torpedoed by the monopoly holders of the predominant bible translation, using statements saying how the project “wasn’t necessary” as everybody was able to quote from their bible.
Well, yes, but only because the law specifically says the monopoly holders are not allowed to prevent that. Also, somebody saying “we give you permission to do X today, so you don’t need to create a free alternative” gives me a very bitter aftertaste. A project like this is about removing the mere ability for somebody else to grant or deny such permission in the first place, and not about getting permission for a day.
The license terms for quoting from the copyright-monopoly bibles changed pretty much overnight as project Free Bible was announced – from having extensive license fees for every reprinting beyond a very short amount, no matter the context, to requiring license fees for commercial use only. (Not that it changes the rationale for a public domain version, but it highlights the power of breaking monopolies.)
It gets considerably worse, though. Last week, the copyright monopoly holders sent a legal nastygram threatening a lawsuit to the translators of the Free Bible if they didn’t update a blog page (!) to reflect the new licensing terms of the current monopoly holders (!!). The blog page in question was the rationale for the project Free Bible, and described why a public-domain version was necessary by highlighting the license requirements for usage of the book today.
To add insult to injury, this nastygram had pretty much no legal weight whatsoever. The page was accurate when written, and in Sweden, you can’t slander or libel an organization – only an individual – so the nastygram is doubly inaccurate, and underscores the need for a public domain version of the work in question.
Some Christians definitely don’t do unto others as they expect others to do unto them. In this aspect, the perennial entitlement of copyright monopoly holders, no matter where they are found, seems to be the defining factor.