Copyrighting the Bible

Earlier this month, I mentioned that the RSV Catholic edition of the Bible was online. Thank goodness it is! Today I noticed via John Three Sixteen that the Virginia etext version of the non-Catholic RSV has now been removed because of the assertion of copyright by the NCCCUSA:
We regret that we are unable to host the Revised Standard Version of the Bible on our website any longer. We were recently contacted by the National Council of Churches of Christ (, who own the copyright for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible in the USA. They have asked us to remove the text from our website, and we have complied with their request. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
The NCCCUSA owns the copyright to the RSV and the NRSV. It has a page for its Permissions Policy which seems to rule out the possibility of anyone publishing the texts online.

On the Bible menu page, it says:
The Bible Translation and Utilization program ministry seeks:
  • to encourage the widest possible use of the NRSV and RSV in their various editions,
  • to maintain the purity and integrity of these texts, and
  • to provide a plan whereby all who profit financially from the use of the various editions of the NRSV and RSV will participate in the cost of further Bible translation and utilization under the NCC.
Let's take a look at these three because they seem to be a fairly standard justification for preventing people from freely accessing texts online.

The first is in direct contradiction of the action that they have taken. By hounding the text off the etext website, this version of the Bible will be used less widely. Inferior versions that are not subject to copyright will be used instead because they are easier to access, copy, paste, search, and compare. The Virginia etext site offers a link to the King James Version - criticised in the preface to the RSV (as published by the NCCCUSA.)

The second is a spurious justification for taking texts offline. The myth is that if it is on the internet, anyone can interfere with the text and damage its integrity. In fact, if someone interferes with a text on the internet, others notice quickly and the vandal is discredited. The internet acts in favour of the integrity of texts. A good example is the immediate scrutiny of texts made available by the Vatican. Corrections to texts and translations are posted very rapidly by those who take an interest in the texts. Besides which, electronic texts can be easily checked for integrity - electronically.

The third seems also quite spurious to me. If a site is obviously making a profit out of the bible, by all means chase up some fees or something. But what seems to happen is that people who are not trying to make money (university etext resource providers, for example) are simply blown aside so that people who do make money can publish printed texts without any competition. This is short-sighted in the extreme. Profits on the internet do not come from the sale of content but from a high hit-count which can pay off in terms of advertising or other means of revenue - as Google realised some time ago. If the copyright holder of a Bible text want to generate revenue for further research, they need to provide a site with good resources and content worth reading.

The RSV Catholic edition is still online but I expect that will probably be hounded out in due course in another triumph for greater availability and integrity.

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