In this question What major translations of the Bible are in the Public Domain? we established that most modern translations allow for fair use of a certain amount of Scripture - meaning that specifically you are allowed to reprint their translation without specific copyright provision.

To wit, using the NIV and the United States as an example:

The NIV text may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio),

says that this would include projecting the words on the overhead screen. No question there.

Question 1. Length:

According to this:

up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher,

it says 500 verses. Obviously, it is unlikely that any one sermon is going to need more than 500 verses. But, does each sermon reset the counter? In other words, over the course of a year, it would be likely that I would project more than 500 verses. Where do I know that the counter resets?

Question 2. An entire "book"

It also says:

providing the verses do not amount to a complete book of the Bible

So, what if I'm preaching on 3 John? Or Jude? In those cases, it would seem very likely to just do the whole "book." Are we breaking the law there? And if so, how do I rectify the situation?

  • I feel like the answers are sufficiently closely related as to warrant a single question. Feb 14 '14 at 14:18
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    I feel obliged to add - if it ever came to a legal dispute, the participants would be "completely defeated". Rather, I hope the copyright holders appeal to the spirit in which it used, rather than the letter of the law. Feb 14 '14 at 14:44
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    Your question nudges an iceburg many people don't know exists. The Christian Commons should be required reading for anybody thinking about this issue.
    – Caleb
    Feb 14 '14 at 15:28
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about legal issues.
    – Flimzy
    Nov 16 '14 at 1:32
  • @Flimzy Legal issues in regards to professionals in Christianity (clergy). If that's off topic on any SE (a practical question for professionals in the broader topic of the site) then I don't know what might be. The real issue is that most of us are (amateur) theologians, not lawyers, so you might get inaccurate advice/answers. Unless we officially tackle legal related questions in meta, this is on-topic by default.
    – fгedsbend
    Nov 16 '14 at 16:55

The length is the length of what you quote in a single document. So yes, a new sermon resets the counter. However, if you then publish all your sermons together in a single book, that single book becomes the reference document and can only contain 500 verses in toto (and of course, the rules on selling the text then come into play).

The terms are quite explicit about not amounting to an entire book of the Bible. So yes, you can't do all 25 verses of Philemon in one go. But then you could simply omit v1, which probably leaves enough to be useful.

  • OK, so it wasn't a typo... I've learnt something new! Feb 14 '14 at 14:50
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    @Wikis It could probably be italics as a Latin expression (rather like et al.). Toto is the ablative case form of totus. Feb 14 '14 at 14:56
  • People don't typically buy a theology book or collection of sermons so that they can have the text of a specific translation. I'm not sure the problem you are painting is even real. Also, most publishers will make an exemption for these cases. Just write them a letter.
    – fгedsbend
    Feb 14 '14 at 23:00
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    @fredsbend Yes: ask by all means. But if you don't ask for a variation of the published terms, then you've contravened them. Feb 15 '14 at 9:47

Note: I am not a lawyer. This is all uneducated opinion and reasoning.

It's difficult to imagine that any of these companies would press charges (or even accuse you of wrongdoing) for simply using the Bible, since what you're doing is the very thing it was translated for.

It seems like they're trying to protect their assets from being republished without any remuneration, not prevent reasonable use of the work. Sermons really don't count (unless you are recording and rebroadcasting them, perhaps) as a work covered by their restrictions. The sticking point with your question (I presume) is embedding a complete book into a file (PowerPoint or other) for the sake of a visual aid in a sermon. If you don't distribute the file, it's hard to imagine how any copyright owner would have grounds to sue you (not that they can't sue you without grounds).

At worst, it seems like they would only be able to get an injunction issued against you to stop doing that rather than sue you for damages, because I don't know how they could assess any damage (what income have you taken from them)?

In the end, I think it's most important to act with a clean conscience, and if their lawyers want to take issue with what you've done, then try to accommodate them.

In the case of reproducing the entirety of a short book (3 John, e.g.), you could always leave out a verse/passage or use an alternate translation of that it (that reads very similarly, if you like the way it reads) in the document you're creating. This is ridiculously nitpicky, but if you want to deal with lawyers on their level, you ought to be able to satisfy their requirements and still be able to accomplish your goal.

An alternate approach is to be congenial to their draconian rules and only reproduce the most pertinent passages of Obadiah or Jude, going out of your way not to reproduce the entire book. Have someone orate the entire book without reproducing it in your file. If you're dealing with it verse-by-verse, only insert the portions of verses that contain something you want to discuss. It is, at least, a polite way to deal with them, and that's probably worth more than having the text in your docs.

  • Unfortunately, your instinct is not the way this sometimes plays out.
    – Caleb
    Feb 14 '14 at 19:47
  • My primary goal is to act with a clean conscience. Am I depriving someone of money they have a right to expect? Am I acting within the spirit of requirements? (Often, this is the only guidance I have because the details can be extremely difficult to understand, and, in America, can be fluid until a judge sets a precedent.) If you're not depriving someone of money and you're acting reasonably, you have a fair chance at not being spanked. If you're depriving them of something they have a legal right to expect, then caution should be the watchword.
    – mojo
    Feb 14 '14 at 20:28

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