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2004.04.24

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» http://www.islamicate.com/islamicate/2004/04/1974_my_soul_an.html from islamicate
Just so we are clear, I was "published" in 1974, and am exercising legal control over my soul and genetic material. My thoughts, until published, are part of the Creative Commons. I was inspired to protect myself after reading a [Read More]

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I'd like to clarify my example (which, I suppose, means it wasn't a good one), and then discuss copyright law, which I do have to be versed in during my "day job."

But first, I'd like to thank you for broadening my horizons a little. I was considering this topic in a purely Christian perspective - partially because so much public "Christianity" is so commercialized (can we get a moratorium on fish, please?) - and of course that just rubs me the wrong way.

But I'd never considered that Muslims - English-speaking Muslims - would have some of the same translation issues. And I think the core religious issue is probably common for Christians, Muslims and Jews. All three major religions believe that a personal all-powerful God (as opposed to a life-force or some such), deliberately communicated a body of truth to select individuals, with the intention that this truth should be then communicated to all mankind. So for all three major religions, the idea that anyone should set up "tollbooths" on the delivery of this truth to mankind is a serious issue.

To answer your particular question, it depends on the translation of the Bible you were using. This is, in a way, a particularly modern quandary. When I was a child, most available translations of the Bible were already out of copyright (those that were ever copyrighted to begin with), and many American Protestants at least unofficially accepted the King James Bible as the only "true" Bible. As a completely public domain publication, the King James Bible can be cited in its entirity . . . and the only reason for a citation at all is to ensure that people understand the source.

Modern translations generally include a page with citation rules right up front. The current "gold standard" of American Protestants is arguably the New International Version. The citation rules for this translation are posted on its copyright page. It's a pretty generous set of rules . . . much more so than standard copyrights. For your particular use . . . one verse in a non-commercial usage, the only requirement of the publisher would have been the inclusion of the initials "NIV" at the end of the verse in any media you produced. Again, just from a writer's point of view, including such attribution would be important for the audience's understanding of the source.

On the broader question of copyright and my example, I was specifically addressing a problem that often crops up among college kids or recent graduates. It is helpful to review copyright law to explain the illustration. You are partially right in raising the "corporate" demon . . . but copyright is specifically owned by the creator of a work, until assigned to a commercial enterprise.

First, to keep it simple, under U.S. law, any work is copyrighted as soon as it is created. This copyright does not require notice, nor does it require filing with the Copyright Office. It just exists. My original post was copyrighted as soon as I wrote it. So was your comment. And so is this post. The only question is what value this copyright has, and how well it can be enforced.

A copyright basically means that no one else can copy or re-use your creation unless you give them permission. There is a small loophole in this, known as "fair use." This is where academic influence comes into play. One of the "fair uses" of copyrighted work is in academic works. There are limits on the amount of a work that can be copied, and how it should be attributed, but in general, it's safe to say that properly credited material presented in an a college report, for example, is going to be safe. And even the citation has more to do with academic requirements to combat plaigiarism than with copyright.

(This is also a critical issue in journalism, by the way. "Fair use" also covers news reporting, and attribution is key to a story's credibility. The failure to properly credit sources has created many recent scandals in journalism.)

At root, copyright has two main functions. The most important is commercial. The person who creates this "intellectual property" should have the right to the payoff for it. He may do this directly, or he may sell the right to capitalize on the copyrighted material to a third party - a publisher. The second function is control over the quality of the product. In the case of the Bible, for example, there is at least one glaring example of a re-editing of the King James version of the Bible that changes an important point about the divinity of Jesus. But the miniscule change by an offshoot group was needed to support an entirely different view of God and salvation. Just a couple of words in a few key verses.

To clarify my example about college kids, let me make sure you understand. We are not talking about a religious matter, but a secular one . . . a clear violation of copyright law in a secular context. This involves students who have spent years in an academic culture in which they have lived in a "fair use" universe, as well as an "information wants to be free" internet culture. When they leave academia, they carry this over into the "real world," the problems begin. What is OK . . . or at least ignored in the academic world is not applicable or overlooked in the real world. A typical copyright violation we would handle would be a recent graduate who is now running a commercial web site. He copies a photograph that is posted on NOLA.com . . . a photograph licensed by The New Orleans Times-Picayune for use on our web site. His misunderstanding of copyright law is that if he cites the source - the Times-Picayune - that he is free, without permission, to post the photo on his site. This is manifestly illegal. No citation can make it OK. At the very least, he would need permission from the copyright holder, in this case, the Times-Picayune. We do, in fact frequently receive requests from non-profit or niche web sites to reprint articles or photos from NOLA.com. While we rarely deny such use, it's generally because there's no way that it costs us anything. If you really want a lesson in copyright law, here's a good experiment: Place an image of Mickey Mouse on your web site, with full credit to the Disney corporation. The Disney lawyers will give you an education.

As I said earlier, copyright law has two facets. The first is pretty absolute. You write it, you own it. The second has to do with enforcement. Assuming you can show in any way that you wrote it first, you're clear on the first facet. But the second facet has to do with commercial value: assuming someone has violated your copyright, has it robbed you of money, or benefited them? This is key to how serious someone is going to be about going after you for copyright violations. It's one thing to get a judge to force a violator to quit using your copyrighted material. It's quite another to get him to levy a fine . . . you need to put a price tag on the violation. So going after minor violators of copyright makes no sense . . . if they're just using your material without permission, but you can't really prove it's costing you anything or making them money, about all you can do is spend a lot of money on lawyers to make them stop.

None of this really has anything to do with the question of people capitalizing on the Christian gospel, of course (or as noted above, the Jewish or Muslim messages). One is a legal matter . . . the other a moral matter.

Since my Muslim correspondent specifically brought up the issue of translations, I would just offer the following for thought. Just about 500 years ago, the Bible was only supposed to be available to priests. The Latin Vulgate was the "gold standard," and it was unintelligible to the mass of worshipers. The men who dared to translate the Bible into the common language of the day . . . who made the gospel available to the people . . . were burned alive and tortured in unspeakable ways. If you think "The Passion of The Christ" was hard to stomach, try "Fox's Book of Martyrs." Slow roasting was the penalty for translating, owning or preaching from an English Bible. But those early translators put their lives on the line to get the word to the people.

Contrast that to the controlled copyrights of today's modern translations. Nuff said.

islamoyankee

You're right that the new digital copyright rules are confusing, even for those supposedly educated to avoid intellectual theft/plagiarism. However, I'm not sure I follow this point:

"that taking a photo from our web site is stealing . . . and that adding a credit line, as they were taught in college, doesn't make it OK"

Are you talking in re-use a fully cited image is not legally reproducible? Or in citation? What is the fair use limit?

The difficulty with current copyright regulations is that they are distribution and corporate oriented, not used, and in most cases not producer, oriented. The Islamic tradition faces something similar. The Arabic of the Qur'an is considered the word of God as given to man, so even in translation, it's standard to have the parallel Arabic text. The copyright is applied to the translation, a practice which many Muslim translators find difficulty, but what about the Arabic? The law, as I understand it, prohibits the reproduction or use of that text, even thought it's 1400 years old, because of the use of the entirety of the text. So the distributor can use the Arabic because it's out of copyright, but once I buy the translation, I can no longer use the Arabic text.

On the subject of the Gospels, we have a similar concern as well, since the Bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) are respected by Muslims. I gave a presentation recently on intercession in the Muslim tradition and used John 3:17 to discuss the concept in Christianity. How was I supposed to cite it?

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