Creators Of Public-Domain Bible Threatened With Lawsuit By Other Bible's Copyright Monopoly Holders

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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Thnurg

    I doubt that the writers of the nastygram are true Christians themselves, but lawyers that the holders have on board. The bible warns about being “unequally yoked” which I take to mean don’t get into a partnership with someone who does not share your moral standards.
    Crap like this is the reason I started
    If you believe that your message is of utmost importance to humanity and want everyone to hear it then it’s crazy to lock up that message, or any other materials that help spread it, under copyright.

    1. Simos Dalkyriadis

      Amen to that!

    2. Aaeru

      I’m a christian and I don’t agree with using any copyright at all because yes, you should be paid your due for your labour, but you should not have to receive your payment by living at the expense of everyone else who labours.
      What copyright really does, is that it gives a subsidy to the first labourer/artist, at the expense of greatly increasing the costs of all other labourers/artists that come after (in the form of royalties).

      Sell your labour to create new works if you want to. Heck, sell copy reproduction of your existing works if you want to. But don’t sell it in a way that restricts others from selling copy reproduction if they want to, because that is no longer your labour. It is wrong to steal from these other labourers (in the form of fines or jailtime) for serving their fellow man or community at their own expense, using their own property and labour.

      that’s why i would have taken it one step further with your site christians against copyright, but otherwise i agree with everything you said.

    3. SomeRandomDude

      “No true Scotsman”…

    4. blah-browser-crash
      1. Pragmatic

        Nice appeal to authority you’ve got there, blah-browser-crash and SomeRandomDude. However, it only holds up if choosing to self-identify as one or being associated with nominal Christian activities is sufficient to meet the criteria required to be a Christian. By that logic, I could claim to be Napoleon simply because I choose to self-identify as him with no proof required of me and you would be obliged to accept it.

        Try again.

  2. Anonymous

    it makes no difference what the subject is, when there is money at stake and someone can see there is even a remote chance that they may be missing out on some or they may be entitled to some, then this issue over patents and copyright is going to get ever increasingly worse! i am not against patents or copyright, but there has to be clear rules and terms. at the moment, these terms are ridiculously and unnecessarily long and unclear. 10 years is more than enough, providing the original filer is alive. also at the moment, there are so many ways of interpreting the same thing, no one knows which is right and which is bullshit. the whole lot of these were first brought in to progress ‘the sciences and arts’. now, they are used for anything and everything except the original meaning, mostly to get money for as long as possible but also to stop the ordinary people from benefiting and to stop ‘the sciences and arts’ from being progressed by others.

  3. Paul Clifford (@PaulAlanClif)

    The World English Bible is public domain and I haven’t heard of anyone trying to stop it. I wonder whay fribibel is being attacked.


  4. Turbulens del 2 | Fri bibel

    […] Rick Falkvinge skriver om vår turbulens utifrån sitt perspektiv. Han intresserar sig mycket för Copyright-frågor och var med och bildade Piratpartiet. Artikeln är på engelska och går att läsa på hans hemsida. […]

  5. Alan

    When I was volunteering with Project Gutenberg back in the 1990s I thought that it would be neat to have some notable works by Christian authors available free online, and I figured that it would be good advertising too. I didn’t want their whole catalog, just a few examples. I figured anyone with even the smallest degree of Christian belief would be delighted at the chance to spread their message.

    The authors in question had been deceased some years, but I wrote letters to four or five estates. Not one of them was interested. _Not one_.

    Maybe someone needs to throw the moneychangers out of the temple….

  6. revdjenk

    … And there is another copyright problem especially for digital Bible users… That is, if you purchase a version of the Bible, it is normally NOT transferable between Bible programs. For example, neither of the Bible programs I use on my laptop are available on my android tablet. So my favorite version would have to be purchased again! (No, KJV is not my favorite, and yes, it too was ‘copyright protected’ King James saw to that!

  7. dmol8

    This new pope sounds like someone who would be interested in dealing with this problem:

    Try reaching this guy and maybe getting his help with the copyright problem in general.

  8. Zacqary Adam Green

    I would like to point out that Jesus was a filthy copyright thief who illegally counterfeited bread and fish, depriving bakers and fishermen of their hard-earned revenue.

    1. Morten

      It’s not the rationale behind copyright to just give someone a job or income, and you know it. Why are all people involved in politics in any way so damned dishonest?

      1. Pragmatic

        Money, the love of which is the root of all evil.

    2. anyhow

      I thought that Jesus was the original designer?

  9. Anonymous

    The members of Svenska Bibelsällskapets should refamiliarize themselves with 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.

  10. Morten

    They should sue them for legal bullying or something. It’s not as if the intention of copyright laws was to rid the world of bullies.

  11. Mike Peralta

    Any bible version should only be copyrighted to protect anybody changing it.
    For example if you publish the New International Version it should retain the original
    wording of the NIV. However, the NIV copyright holders should not restrict publishing of the NIV by others. Leave a donation request if desired but do NOT restrict the spreading of the gospel.

    God’s law – which states that the Gospel should be spread – supercedes man’s laws that restricts the gospel from being preached (or published).

    NIV and all other bible versions are you listening?

    1. buricco

      I tend to think that copyright turns the idea of sharing the Scripture (or any religion’s scripture) on its head, and am opposed to copyright on Bible translations. (I actually did a translation of the New Testament a couple years ago, which I put in public domain with a big CC0 logo on the page behind the title).

  12. […] Creators Of Public-Domain Bible Threatened With Lawsuit By Other Bible’s Copyright Monopoly Holder… […]

  13. Robert

    The Bible Its self no matter how many ways it is translated should never be under any copyright or restriction. This is suppose to be The Word of God to the World, and His Word (the scriptures and its Stories) shall be made to all. This is the one book that should never be under any copyright or restrictions, plus the fact that it was written over 2,000 years ago.

  14. skreutzer

    I always wonder why costs and prices and money get even mentioned in debates about copyright, of course creators and service providers should get paid for their work. Also, contrary to public opinion, the Bible text doesn’t necessarily need to be distributed free of charge (one can’t generally expect this for print copies, and if they’re given away free of charge, then others funded their distribution), but every recipient should be allowed to further distribute it freely, so it’s up to every individual to choose if he participates in distribution to the lowest cost possible or for profit, while for profit distribution only fosters the spread of the Bible, each recipient individually enabled to distribute too.

    A restrictively licensed Bible text is a particular useless and harmful thing in itself, because either people are forbidden to make good use of it (while they’re technically totally able to with their digital technology) or they’re taking a big risk if they do so anyway and violate copyright restrictions. The ordinary reader might never encounter those restrictions, but Bible software developers, Christian literature authors and website operators do, and their work that gets prevented would also benefit the reader. Those groups can’t afford to get accused of copyright infringement or even to go to court. Everyone who receives a restrictively licensed Bible translation faces the same problem if he ever comes into a situation where distribution or adoption would make sense. Please note that the Bible text itself explicitly states that it is supposed to be distributed, and where restrictive licensing wasn’t a problem in the pre-digital ages, it isn’t acceptable any more and a clear violation of what the text says about itself.

    The no-derivatives position mentioned by Mike Peralta isn’t acceptable as well, since Bible translations can be used as foundation for other translations, can be re-arranged and enhanced, and need updates from time to time.

    I don’t know about the situation in Sweden, but I’ve heard that the government issued a Bible translation which is in the equivalent of Public Domain for Swedish citizens (not for the rest of the world, and think about interlinear and parallel bibles), and a new translation under a free license (hopefully CC BY-SA 4 or even GNU AGPL3 or later) is a project which deserves our support to fix this problem. A reform of copyright law would also be much appreciated, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like it is coming any time soon, so we depend on ourselves as creators by free licensing as well as users by demanding respect of digital human rights for the works we obtain.

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