Believe it or not, some people keep trying to claim copyright ownership on a creative work that was already in the Public Domain due to copyright expiration. This is kind of like some random person trying to charge extra for admission to public land that is supposed to be free to access. That is because copyright is an exclusive right to make copies (or permit copies to be made) of a creative work. It is the creation of the work that merits the copyright, not making copies of it.
Making a copy of a Public Domain work in another format is not copyrightable. See case law in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeman_Art_Library_v._Corel_Corp. and https://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/36_FSupp2d_191.htm where the court says that taking a picture of a public domain work of art does not create a copyright, even though the output is in a different format. Everything published before 1923 is firmly in the Public Domain, including everything that Leonardo da Vinci painted. If you just take a picture of it, that is just making a copy, not creating a new creative work, so the result is still in the Public Domain. If you make a copy in another file format, that is still just making a copy, and not making a new creative work, and therefore does not merit copyright.
Anyway, all this means that just because you convert a work into another file format does not mean that you can copyright the result, even if it took a lot of labor or expense to do so. Labor isn’t copyrightable. Creativity is. Therefore, if a work is in the Public Domain, there is no loophole in the law that allows you to enslave it to copyright again just by making a copy in another format. You could do some creative enhancement to the work and copyright the derivative work, but the original Public Domain work stays in the Public Domain.
I like this, because it means that I can use lots of Public Domain works freely in all sorts of good ways. This is really important to me in the case of the Holy Bible. Recent translations may be copyrighted, but the original manuscripts and older translations are all in the Public Domain. And they stay there. I believe that is a good thing!
A friend asked me about a Bible site and said it seemed like one was a duplication of effort. Maybe it is, but if it is, it is a good kind of duplication of effort.
Have you ever walked along Waikiki and noticed the ABC stores? Are they duplication of effort or smart marketing? They sell the same stuff and all are part of the same corporation. So why do they have a store every block or two in tourist-dense areas? What about Starbucks? Surely there must be some duplication of effort going on, there? Or at grocery stores, why do they put candy in the checkout lanes instead of just in the candy isles? Is it just smart marketing again? Obviously, the point is to be seen, to be found, to be convenient, and to serve as many of their customers as practical. It is the same with all of the Bible web sites I’m involved with. It isn’t a human corporation, but God whom we serve. It isn’t stuff for sale, but the life-giving Word of God that we provide. There are Bible sites featuring individual Bible translations, customized for that particular language and culture. (Baibala.org is one example, featuring the Hawaiian Bible, but there are many.) There are national Bible sites and regional Bible sites. (TokPlesBaibel.org and VanuatuBibles.org are a couple of examples of these.) There are global sites that try to feature every Bible translation in every language that they can. (eBible.org, ScriptureEarth.org, Bible.is, Bibles.org, and Free.Bible are a few of these.) There are also many Bible study apps and Bibles in various eBook formats. Each of these has their own advantages for different people. There is not any single Bible site, app, or format that best meets everyone’s needs.
The needs and expectations of someone who speaks English, lives in a place where freedom of religion is a protected right, and has constant free or cheap Internet access differ greatly from the needs of someone who speaks a minority language, who might be persecuted severely for reading the Holy Bible, or who has costly and intermittent Internet access. Likewise, there are some who might never go to a big Bible site looking for the Scriptures in their own language, but would visit a site featuring their own language and culture, or perhaps a more regional site. Others might start first at a larger Bible site to see if their language is represented. Some might just enter a phrase in their own language into a search engine to see what comes up. Others would prefer to read the Holy Bible in an app or Bible study program on their phone, tablet, or computer. Still others might prefer to read the Bible like they read other books on a dedicated device like the Amazon Kindle.
So which do we support? All of them that we can practically do. This isn’t a problem with wasted effort when we share Scriptures in a common format. Sure, it gets complicated with copyrights and copyright owner policies at times, but there are hundreds of Bible translations for minority languages that are freely shared under a Creative Commons license. There are also Bible translations that are in the Public Domain. These are the ones that get the most exposure, and which ultimately do the most good for the people who speak those languages. This is because they are the most available, because they get shared with many sites and apps. They can also be shared directly between people reading the Bible, which is important in creative access countries.
Now you know why I share Scriptures with others who run web sites and create Bible study apps (when copyright restrictions allow), even though I already have the same Scriptures posted on web sites I operate, and at least one app format, and in two ebook formats (epub3 and mobi). You also know why I sometimes post Scriptures that someone else has already posted. It is because I firmly believe that God’s Word is good for people. When mixed with faith, it can change a person’s eternal destiny and transform whole societies for the better.
Finding and tracking all available Bibles is a huge task. Check out find.Bible for a great resource in this area. If that doesn’t work, try one of the usual generic web search engines.
Here are the best reasons to count digital Bibles:
To make sure that people are finding the Bibles we post for them.
To encourage the many people who are involved in translating and distributing Bibles.
To discover ways to improve Bible distribution.
To reassure financial partners that we are being good stewards of the funds entrusted to us for this purpose. They understandably want to make sure that their investment in the Kingdom of Heaven is doing some good.
Here are the best reasons to NOT count digital Bibles:
Encumbering digital Bibles with metric instrumentation is extra work and adds costs that are not directly related to Bible distribution.
Adding metric instrumentation limits the number of formats that can be used for Bible distribution, precluding the use of some very good standard electronic book and Bible study module formats.
Metric instrumentation usually assumes the presence of a full-time, cheap or free Internet connection, but most of the Bible translations I distribute are for people who live in areas with intermittent, slow, and very expensive Internet, if they have Internet access at all.
Metric instrumentation reporting back to home is inherently dangerous in places where anti-Christ powers of darkness commit physical violence against those who read and own Bibles. While some good computer security practices can mitigate some of the risk, the danger cannot be totally eliminated. Even encrypted messages reveal the nature of their purpose by the destination of those messages. And a data breach at the publisher could be fatal, even if the messages were securely delivered to the publisher.
Metric instrumentation of digital Bibles is creepy. Honestly, it is a form of spyware. I know of a couple of apps that do this, and I don’t use them for my regular Bible reading, because I have some really good non-creepy alternatives.
Counting the exact number of digital Bibles in actual use at any one time is nearly impossible, because they can be created (copied) and destroyed (deleted) in ways that I couldn’t see, even with metric instrumentation. How much more when the files are made to be easy to share with others, even without the use of the Internet, and when they don’t have metric instrumentation?
Why go through the effort when we already know that God’s Word will certainly do what He sent it to do? See Isaiah 55:11.
It seems vain to “brag” about Bible delivery statistics when my personal involvement is only a part of the whole process of translating and delivering the Holy Bible to people who need it.
Where is the balance point? I suppose that it would be different for different organizations involved in distributing digital Bibles. Some people aren’t concerned with delivering Bibles to creative access countries or areas with expensive Internet, so they would choose differently than I would. For me, I think the optimum point is to count the translations that are posted, which I do regularly at eBible.org/Scriptures/scorecard.txt, and to glean some useful aggregate information from the web server logs.
Being the mathematically-trained and linguistically-trained engineer that I am, I find many different ways to look at the data when counting. I also find that counting myself is too tedious and impossibly time-consuming. Therefore, I have my computer do the hard work. One program that counts Bibles creates an output named scorecard.txt.
There are several terms in scorecard.txt that could use some definition:
languages: ways of speaking (or writing), like Mandarin Chinese, English, and Russian, such that speakers of different languages can’t understand each other.
dialects: different varieties of the same language, such that people who speak different dialects of the same language can understand each other, sometimes with difficulty, like Texan English, Scottish English, and Indian English.
Bible translations: the Holy Bible written (or recorded) such that speakers of a given language can understand it. There can be multiple translations into the same language, like the New International Version, English Standard Version, and World English Bible. Most minority languages only have one translation, and often it is only the New Testament or another portion.
freely redistributable or open access: Bibles (or portions) that are either in the Public Domain (not copyrighted) or which are still covered by copyright but licensed under a Creative Commons or similar license that allows them to be shared freely. Sometimes that sharing is limited to noncommercial use, and sometimes it isn’t, depending on the specific license chosen by the copyright owner.
limited sharing: Bibles that are covered by copyright, and for which the copyright owner has granted only limited and very specific permission for distribution, usually just online only. These Bibles are useless in areas where offline access is essential. Such limits are almost always motivated by money concerns.
As I write this, we just reached 700 freely redistributable translations. Those are the the ones that allow the greatest obedience to the Great Commission, and which are available on multiple web sites and in multiple formats. These are available in formats that are easy to download and share with others. This is awesome, to my way of thinking. I hope the number of freely redistributable Bible translations grows greatly.
There are also some Bible translations that are available via online-only APIs from the American Bible Society’s BibleSearch and from Faith Comes by Hearing’s Digital Bible Platform. Both of these APIs contain Bibles that duplicate those which we have that are freely redistributable. (Of course. We share them when we are allowed to legally.) If you eliminate the duplicates, it comes to a little over 1,000 Bible translations available at Bible.cloud/study, which pulls in not only our 751 locally-served Bible translations but the ones that the APIs have but we don’t have locally.
For counting web traffic, I used to just rely on server logs plus common free programs to analyze the traffic. That yielded numbers of files, visits, and hits for each virtual server. It was a bit tedious to add these numbers up monthly, so I didn’t always do it. It was also hard to explain the relationship between those numbers and the actual Bible distribution going on. Server logs aren’t perfect, and usually get messed up when migrating web sites from one server to another, which happens from time to time. Still, it was an indication. Now, I have written a program (that I call logalyzer) that goes through our Bible web site server logs looking specifically for Bible file downloads and page views on Bible sites. Most page views on Bible sites are chapter views, but some are other things, like index pages, copyright/about pages, glossaries, etc. Note that some page views recorded are actually done by search engine bots as they index the site. These are actually welcome traffic, as they make it easier for people to find the Holy Bible in their language, even though those particular page views might not actually seen by a human. At the traffic volumes we see, search engine traffic is a reasonably small percentage of the total traffic. Anyway, this is where I’m getting Bible delivery statistics reported in our prayer letters, starting with the June 2016 count of 941,727 Bible downloads and 7,532,673 page views in our July 2016 prayer letter.
If that sounds impressive, please don’t be impressed with me. Be impressed with God, who makes all of this possible, and who loves everyone in the world enough to make all of this possible to help reach them with His message of love and forgiveness. Glory be to God!
If you are involved in decision making concerning licensing of copyrighted Bibles or in translating Bibles, this is for you.
The issues of copyright, licensing, and Bibles are more complex than I thought they were. I thought that I knew enough about these issues back when I was manager of the Publications and Computer Training Department at SIL PNG, or even back when I started work on the World English Bible. Don’t get me wrong: I had read the copyright laws of the USA and PNG, and was aware of some copyright treaties. It is just that now I know more about not just the laws and treaties, but how some people and organizations perceive those things and what some of the implications of our current legal, social, technological, and ministry environment is. You see, it takes more than knowledge. It takes wisdom. Just wisdom itself isn’t even enough. It takes godly wisdom. Here are a few things I have learned, and some recommendations to solve some of the biggest problems that poor copyright stewardship can cause.
Problem: Unknown Copyright Owners
Copyright law requires permission from the copyright owners before making copies of a copyrighted work. The initial reasoning for this was that the copyright owner could ask for a payment of royalties in return for this permission, thus ensuring some fair compensation for the creation of their creative work. After all, why should Alice write a novel, pay Bob to print it and sell it at a profit for both of them, only to have Charlie make cheaper copies of the same novel and sell them at a lower price? Copyright law makes all kinds of sense in its original intention of providing fair compensation for writers and artists by enforcing a legal monopoly on making copies of their work for a set amount of time, after which the copyright expires and the work enters the Public Domain. After that, Charlie and anyone else can legally sell all the copies of Alice’s novel that they want. Currently, this set amount of time is very long: 75 years after the last surviving author dies, or for a work owned by a corporation, 95 years after the work was first created. Basically, copyright lasts for a lifetime. It used to be that copyrighted works had to be marked with a copyright notice to be valid. There is also a registration process for copyrights. The funny thing is that although the copyright registration process still exists, it is totally optional, and not required to claim copyright on any new work. Not only that, but no copyright notice is required, either. These simplifications to the process of gaining ownership of a copyright has two unintended consequences: (1) many people own copyrights on things that they have no idea they own copyrights on, and (2) there are many millions of copyrighted works that can be found, but due to a lack of clear notice, there is no easy way to determine who the copyright owner, or even if the copyright is in effect. Another exacerbating problem is that because copyrights are considered intellectual property that can be transferred, even materials with a valid and once helpful copyright notice with full contact information might be obsolete and no longer correct. Copyrights can be sold or transferred by contract, or by simply allowing another person or organization to put their copyright notice on a work. Copyrights sometimes are transferred as part of the assets of a corporation that is sold, has its name changed, or merges with another corporation. And sometimes copyrights are simply abandoned because a corporation owning them dissolves without transferring them to another. Or sometimes copyrights owned by individuals are abandoned because nobody cares about them. In the case of a truly abandoned copyright, the work is effectively in the Public Domain, but it takes significant effort to prove abandonment. The result of the unknown copyright owners problem is that anyone who presumes that a work has an abandoned or expired copyright when it doesn’t, and doesn’t ask proper permission to use a work (because he can’t), the legitimate copyright owner could appear and sue that person for both actual and punitive damages. Even if the legitimate copyright owner doesn’t show up, it is possible that a liar could make a false claim to be the legitimate copyright owner. This would be illegal, of course, but difficult (or maybe impossible) to prove incorrect, and expensive to fight in court. This has an understandable chilling effect on publishing, especially with publishers who try to stay squeaky clean with respect to the law.
Solution to the Unknown Copyright Owners Problem
Here is an obvious solution to the Unknown Copyright Owners problem: (1) Include a correct copyright notice on any important work where it matters, like any good translation of the Holy Bible, and (2) make sure the copyright notice includes durable contact information. By “durable contact information”, I mean something that will keep working even if the copyright is assigned to another party or the contact information for the specific individual empowered to grant copyright permission changes. This might mean a web address and/or a physical street address. In my case, a web address is far more stable than my mailing address has been. Even corporations move from time to time, but an Internet domain name can stay constant as long as the registration fees are paid on it, no matter where the offices or servers are. In the case of a change of ownership, people can be directed to the new owners. For example, the Easy-To-Read Bible translations from the World Bible Translation Center, were bought by the Bible League International, so the old wbtc.org address simply redirects to the new bibleleague.org address. The mailing address printed in their older printed books isn’t quite as durable.
Notice that I used the word “correct” in “Include a correct copyright notice”. I have witnessed many cases of this not being the case, and not because of a copyright change of ownership, but because of a misunderstanding between organizations and a serious lack of understanding of the nature of copyright law in one of them. Someone in authority in one Bible translation agency had repeated the mantra that a copyright only applied to one physical manifestation of a work so often that not only did he believe it himself, but others saw his confidence and believed him, too. Sadly this is simply not the case. Copyright protects a work regardless of its physical manifestation. Also, you can’t keep a copyright AND explicitly allow someone else to print a copyright notice attributing copyright ownership to them without actually losing possession of the copyright. In the absence of a written contract that grants back all rights they just gave up (which absence is normally the case), copyright is transferred to the new party and lost by the old party. This sort of confusion about how copyright works is not conducive to good working relationships between agencies in the Body of Christ.
But… we are supposed to follow the laws of men insofar as they don’t contradict the laws of God, too. So we ask for permission, if we can determine who to ask. Suppose we can ask, but either they do not answer (which is the same as a “no”) or they explicitly say “No.” Now what?
Our first option is to pray. God often has a better plan than you do. He is, after all, much smarter and wiser than all of us put together. It was He who directed me to create the World English Bible in response to copyright permission problems with all modern English Bible translations at the time. That solved the problem for one language. We have about 7,000 to go.
Solution to the Lack of Permission to Use Scripture Problem
One of the most basic things to do when starting a Bible translation project is to get written agreement from all who help that allows the project leader to publish the work and license its publication, clearly stating that they should not expect additional payment upon publication (unless this is a commercial project, not a standard minority language Bible translation). This problem is no a hard a problem from the side of the copyright owners. The solution is simply to (1) make sure you are responsive to copyright permission requests, answering “yes” as much as is reasonable, and (2) provide permission in advance to cover whatever you believe God wants you to allow. After all, according to human laws, it is people who control Bible copyrights, but in reality, people are only stewards of God’s property, which is His Word.
Here are some licensing options for providing permission in advance and some considerations associated with each of them:
In the hundreds of years where the Holy Bible existed but copyright law did not, God protected His Word without the benefit of copyright law. He still does. This option can sometimes optionally be combined with a trademark on a translation name to provide some protection for the reputation of the translation, allowing the use of the trademarked name only for faithful copies of the real translation. A Public Domain dedication is the approach taken by the World English Bible, the Tongan Revised West Translation, the Catholic Public Domain Version, and several others. Public Domain is the only legal option for Bible translations whose copyright has expired. (It is possible to copyright a revision of a Public Domain Bible translation, but this does not affect the legal status of the original translation at all.) It is very helpful to clearly mark Public Domain Bibles as such. Legitimate revisions and adaptations are always allowed.
The Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 4.0 is similar in effect to a Public Domain dedication, except that it requires those who make revisions and adaptations to also share their work under the same license, and it requires giving credit to the source. This is a free culture license, which ensures that free works remain free. This can be combined with a trademark on a translation name to provide some reputation protection. Legitimate revisions and adaptations are always allowed. This is the standard license used by Wycliffe Associates for their Bible translations.
The Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives License 4.0 is more restrictive, in that it does not allow any revisions that change the actual text of the work. It does allow file format transformations, i.e. from USX (the format of the ETEN DBL) to ePub3 (something actually useful to end users). This license does not allow legitimate revisions and adaptations of a Bible translation. Those would need additional permission from the copyright owner.
The Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial No Derivatives License 4.0 is more restrictive that the above, in that it forbids commercial use. This forbids legitimate revisions and adaptations. It also forbids “commercial use” which has a very negative effect on distribution options like print on demand and placement of Bible apps or eBooks in major app stores and book stores. This option is really only appropriate for cases where the copyright owner wishes to reserve all money-making copy activity to themselves, or to require royalties if there is any money being made by the licensee.
These could be anything. Some copyright owners might wish to allow free publication only in certain formats, or only on certain web sites, or only with a live Internet connection. (The latter is essentially useless in many parts of the world.) It is difficult to imagine too many cases where this sort of extra effort and legal review both by licenser and licensees would be justified, at least in the context of minority language Scriptures.
Verse quotation limit license
This sort of license is what is commonly found in the front matter of commercial for-profit Bible translations. It isn’t intended to allow Bible sharing and copying except for a few verses here and there as part of a sermon, Sunday school lesson, church bulletin, etc. Without this license, a translation would have minimal commercial value. This one is all about maximizing monetary profit, not ministry. I recommend using one of the options above, instead.
Which Licenses Protect the Integrity of the Holy Bible?
Honestly, none of them do. Copyright itself doesn’t protect the Holy Bible from malicious subversion or from unintentional error. It might arguably make malicious subversion slightly more risky, but in reality, copyright didn’t stop the New World Translation, nor does it stop translations that are of poor quality. The best reason for using CC BY-ND instead of CC BY-SA is not to protect the Holy Bible at all, but to protect the reputation of the translators. That can be done better (and with longer-lasting legal effect) with a trademark. As a concession to the concerns of Bible translators about who revises their translation, I think CC BY-ND is fine most of the time. I can think of one case, though, where a copyrighted Bible translation has a bad reputation with the local church because of some places where the translation is of poor quality. It would only take a few words changed to make it both more accurate and more readable, but this is so far not allowed by the copyright owner. There is risk in both directions.
Does Giving Away Bible Translations Cut Sales?
The conventional fear is that it does, but in reality, giving away digital copies often increases demand for printed copies of the same translation. It is hard to know. What is easy to know is that traditional publishing house models are being challenged, and must adapt to survive in the digital age. To maximize ministry impact and still keep Bible ministries solvent, it will take more income from donations, greater efficiency of operations, less reliance on sales of Bibles, and greater diversification of sales to stay solvent. Those who adapt will continue vibrant ministries. Those who do not will probably find themselves in difficult situations. It is necessary not only to adapt, but to adapt in a timely fashion. Remember Kodak? The were starting to develop digital photography products, but still went bankrupt in the USA due to excessive continue reliance on film and developing chemistry sales, which dropped off precipitously.
Is Limiting the Term of a License a Good Idea?
It depends on your objectives. If your goal is to maximize monetary gain, it might be, at least to publishers, but probably not to end users. If your goal is to maximize distribution and use of God’s Word, respecting God’s Word as God’s property for His purposes, not man’s accumulation of wealth, then definitely not. If you know for certain that a Bible is a test version that will be updated soon, it might also make sense to grant a limited-term license, but usually once a Bible is cleared for publication, and distributed digitally, it cannot realistically be recalled. It can only be taken down from primary distribution points. Likewise when there is a revision, it can be replaced at the primary distribution points. What has gone out, has gone out. In a sense, this is not much different than print Bibles. The NIV 1984 translation in no way disappeared when the NIV 2011 was released, either in print or digital formats, even though Biblica is promoting the latter, now.
What About Copyright Piracy?
Copyright violations happen. A lot. So does copyfraud. Enforcement of copyright violations is generally left to the copyright owner, whose main means of enforcement are to (1) write to violators demanding that they cease and desist, and (2) suing the violators in civil court. In an international context, this gets complicated, and is often not effective. I have seen a lot of obviously pirated movies for sale in other countries, not only by street vendors, but by reputable retail establishments. It happens in places where you don’t even know to look. The Internet has made copyright violation so commonplace worldwide that many people don’t actually think it is wrong. So why do copyrights and licenses even matter? They matter because as Christians, we strive to have integrity and be legal as much as possible. We try to say what we mean and mean what we say. Copyright restrictions affect honest people who understand the copyright laws and terms they are presented with. That is the main reason I advocate for permissive copyright licenses on translation of the Holy Bible.
What is your favorite way to read and study the Holy Bible? Here are some of my favorites, because they work with hundreds of minority language Scriptures as well as with the World English Bible. They are also almost free to use (except for whatever your device and Internet access might cost you).
EBible.org, especially if you follow the “More Bible translations in more languages” link.
There are many more Bible web sites, but you can find links to most of them from the first two of the above sites. That isn’t all-inclusive, but many of the stragglers can be found using one of the major search engines with a phrase found in the Bible in your favorite language.
Bible study apps
There are literally hundreds of Bible study apps available for English. For Numanggang or Kapingamarangi, not so much. One of my favorite sets of Bible study apps for everyone belong to the Sword Project by the Crosswire Bible Society. All of these use the same module format, and can access the repository at ftp://ftp.eBible.org/sword/ or http://eBible.org/sword/, where the latest language update of the World English Bible and many minority-language Scriptures can be found:
In addition to the apps listed above, an honorable mention goes to YouVersion, which is one of the first and most popular Bible apps for mobile devices. You can find it in the app stores and at Free.Bible. The developers of this Bible app draw Scriptures from the Every Tribe Every NationDigital Bible Library, which I also share Scriptures with, so it has most of the minority-language Bibles that I host in the eBible.org Sword repository, plus many of the popular majority-language Bibles.
Another good app is Faith Comes by Hearing’sBible.is app and web site. It is particularly good for including audio along with text of the Bible. I also share Scriptures with them for their app.
You can download Bibles in ePub 3 format from eBible.org/epub and read them in several popular readers, including:
IBooks for iOS devices. Just download an ePub and open it in iBooks, then you have it to read off line.
Portable Document Format (PDF) was started by Adobe Systems Incorporated and made into an open standard. You probably already have a PDF reader. If not, you can get it from Adobe, Foxit, or many others, for pretty much any computing platform. You can get free Bible PDF files from eBible.org/pdf in a few different sizes. These are good for reading on screen, but they really shine as a format to print. Sometimes I like to print out a passage of Scripture for a Bible study and take notes on the printed Bible pages.
You can download a zipped HTML file from eBible.org/bible, unzip it into its own directory on your computer, then read it with any modern web browser. It is like reading it online, but you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to read the Bible.
Now you know how to get a copy of the Holy Bible to read and/or listen to. You would do well to read it every day. It will feed your spirit, strengthen your faith in God, and help you overcome obstacles in your life. The Holy Bible is unlike any other book, because the same God who inspired it keeps his Word. He really does do the good things written in the Holy Bible.
This report is for the organization called “eBible.org”, which operates many web sites (including, of course, eBible.org) and engages in other ministry associated with distributing God’s Word, the Holy Bible, to the world. Staffing consists of Michael Johnson and a team of volunteers. Although we refer to what we do as “electronic Scripture publishing” or “digital Bible distribution”. By “publishing”, we don’t mean taking on the role of a traditional for-profit publisher, but just distributing Bible translations for those who translated them and making them available to those who can read and listen to them, as permitted by either copyright owners or Public Domain status.
EBible.org does not charge either the Bible copyright owners or those who read the Bibles we distribute for this service. Asking for someone to pay to hear the Gospel for the first time is not the most effective evangelism technique. Even people who already believe in Jesus Christ and know the great value of the Scriptures sometimes live in places where there is no reasonable way for them to pay for something over the Internet, and we don’t wish to exclude them. More discussion about the economics of digital Bible distribution is given, below.
How can we know we are doing any good?
There are really five main ways that I know that we are doing good in spreading God’s Word throughout the world:
I can think of nothing that is both more sure and more subjective than the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God still speaks to His children in many ways. When He does so, He never contradicts what He inspired in the Holy Bible. Therefore, I am greatly assured that what we are doing will be both pleasing to God and effective, to the extent that we are obedient to Him. Romans 8:14, John 10:4
What We Do
We do the following to encourage the Holy Bible to “go viral” in the good, social media sense:
Distribute Scriptures that don’t have legal restrictions on copying, i.e. Public Domain or licensed to allow unrestricted copying and also allow conversion to other formats (i.e. for specific Bible study apps).
Distribute Bibles in presentation formats that are not difficult to read or copy, with or without Internet access.
Share Bibles in source formats with others who are like-minded and wish to share Bibles from their own web sites and apps.
Distribute Bibles from multiple web sites, including both large multilanguage sites and sites targeted more at specific cultures and languages.
Keep adding more Bibles to the distribution as translations are made available to us or found in the Public Domain.
Keep adding more digital Bible formats to the distribution, each for its particular advantages.
Automate Bible format conversion as much as practical to speed access to new translations and facilitate rapid updates.
Check quality on the initial publication as well as responding to reports of opportunities for improvement from the field.
Strive to make the presentation of the Scriptures pleasant and worthy of the Word of God.
Make the Scriptures available in digital formats to end users at no cost other than whatever their Internet connection and/or media and hardware costs them.
The above activities create conditions that encourage sharing. Unlike a printed Bible, I can give away as many copies as I like, and still have mine to read and cherish. Indeed, it seems that information wants to be free. Traditional publishers go to great lengths to try to limit copying with various “copy protection” and “Digital Rights Management” schemes. Simply not spending our time on such barriers to copying gets us closer to our goal of giving everyone access to the Holy Bible in their own language.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that we understand that there are some Bible translation copyright owners that do not permit their Bible translations to be freely published as above, usually for economic reasons. In those cases, have future plans to support more limited (non-viral) distribution, more like a traditional publisher. Limited support for their distribution models exists today via InScript and on various partner web sites. This will get more of our attention after we have gone farther in distributing Public Domain Bible translations and copyrighted Bible translations with appropriate open access licenses.
This begs the question: Why would anyone grant free, unrestricted access and no-royalty copying of their copyrighted Bible translation, at least for noncommercial ministry use? The main reasons usually include one or more of the following:
Seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)
The cost of the translation was already covered by donations and missionary support.
The target audience is small enough and/or poor enough that it is unlikely that Bibles could be sold for economic profit to that group.
The target audience is in a creative access access area where persecution precludes economic profit in providing Bibles.
Free distribution of basic text-only digital editions acts as effective advertising to create greater demand for print editions and premium digital editions with extended features of some sort.
The World English Bible is a special case, in that it was intentionally dedicated to the Public Domain as it was translated, at God’s direction. This is specifically for the purpose of maximizing the ministry impact of God’s Word among English-speaking people around the world. It has literally “gone viral”. I just did a Google search for “World English Bible” (with the quotes), and got over a million hits, with the first three entries being being its primary distribution point at WorldEnglishBible.org and eBible.org/web. There are a few other translations where the translators have done the same thing, for the same reasons.
Reports from the Field
Almost all of the reports I get from the field are in the form of personal communication or feedback via our web contact forms. Sometimes I find out what is going on by going on a personal visit. Sometimes indications of usage come indirectly, via a typo report or someone asking about an outage. Sometimes people ask about using Scriptures for various purposes. Sometimes they don’t, but just take the licenses at face value and comply with them. That suits me fine. I don’t need to know about someone reading the Bible or quoting the Bible in their book for God’s Word to be effective. (It would be serious information overload for me, anyway, if I did know all of that.)
I’m not going to quote from the reports, complements, or complaints, but just summarize what I learned, here:
Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship (CRMF) in Papua New Guinea (a part of Mission Aviation Fellowship) sells Android smart phones. For no extra charge, they preload the phones with Scriptures appropriate to the areas they sell them in, which I provide to them.
CRMF also works with MAF in placing portable WiFi hot spots around the country that don’t provide Internet access, but do provide access to Scriptures. They load them up with Scriptures I provide to them that are appropriate to the areas they send them.
SIL PNG Branch is also placing “Save Long God” (know about God) WiFi Bible boxes like CRMF’s, loaded up with Scriptures that I process for them.
Our Bible web sites are locally promoted by SIL, PNGBTA, and Vanuatu Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. PNGScriptures.org is promoted on bumper stickers on SIL vehicles in PNG. The opening of the VanuatuBibles.org web site was reported in the local newspaper, courtesy of Ross Webb, who wrote the article.
In the last Pacific Orientation Course in Papua New Guinea, students went out for their village living with Tok Pisin Bibles in Kindle format.
On Manus Island, Scripture Portions in the Nali language are being read on people’s phones.
Solar powered Bible players are being distributed with audio Bibles in many language groups throughout the Pacific.
In Micronesia, a group of local believers has taken responsibility for maintaining their own Bible web site, FSMBibles.org.
I lost count of the number of cases of relieved gratitude resulting from people finding a simple “Yes, with no royalties” answer to using the World English Bible in their book, devotional, web site, or app, usually after encountering some sort of brick wall of denial using other English translations. Usually, the only people to ask are those who have trouble believing the Public Domain notice. No, it is not too good to be true.
There are many believers in creative access countries benefiting from Bibles in formats that require no Internet access and that can be easily copied.
Some school computers in Papua New Guinea were loaded up with local language Scriptures.
Sometimes the line between digital and print publishing is really thin. The government of Papua New Guinea paid for a print run of a container load of World English Bible New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs for use in school curriculum in that country, and gave them as a gift to the students. I typeset it for them in exchange for 10 copies of the New Testament. The endorsement in the introduction is enough to make a Gideon cry tears of joy.
Another print run of the World English Bible was done for distribution in Papua New Guinea by a ministry in Lae, funded by a believer in the gold mining business.
Shortly after the text of the 66-book protocanon of the World English Bible was stable enough, someone published a print-on-demand version of the whole Bible in a large paperback edition. The typesetting is embarrassing, but the words are there. (My only appropriate defense against the embarrassing typesetting is to release a much better edition, which I hope happens this year.)
Sometimes when I meet new people, I ask if they have ever heard of the World English Bible. Increasingly often, the answer is “Yes.” This gives me hope that the same sort of familiarity will follow for the many minority language Scriptures that we publish.
I recently deleted an old yearly Bible reading plan on eBible.org that I didn’t think was in use. I got a complaint about it being absent by a man who had been using it for his daily Bible reading for years. I’m sure he isn’t alone. Not everyone is bold enough to contact me about such things. I’ll put it back.
I got the silly idea that it would be good to stop posting an edition of the World English Bible in the traditional Roman Catholic book order. Not much later, someone wrote asking if they could do one themselves. So… I put it back, since the way I do it, it keeps automatically updated with the latest language updates, which there are many of left to do in the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha.
I have gotten help from a native Chinese speaker in correcting some character encoding issues.
I get regular proofreading comments, mostly for the World English Bible, but sometimes someone still finds a rare typo in the ASV or KJV, and even rarer still, someone will send a valid comment on one of the minority language translations. Nobody reports typos in books they don’t read—especially such hard-to-find typos as generally get reported.
There are frequent complements and the occasional complaint, usually from Christians and cult members, respectively. Sometimes an accurate translation of the Holy Bible offends someone because it disagrees with a pet doctrine of theirs. I don’t worry about either category, but do investigate if they appear to bring up a valid translation or clarity issue in the World English Bible. If it is a comment for one of the other translations, I pass it on as appropriate.
A visit to Vanuatu early in 2015 confirmed the need for digital Bibles that were easy to install and copy in an area where Internet access was intermittent and expensive, but smart phones were cheap and ways to charge them were available in remote villages. I really wish I had ePub generation finished when I visited there, but I’m glad that I do have it done, now.
Missionaries are increasingly able to search for and find digital Bibles in the languages of the people they are going to minister to.
Here are is a collection of things that can be counted without disrupting or hindering our Bible distribution ministry. There is more analysis that could be done with the web server logs, but that will have to wait, because of programming resource limits. (In other words, given a choice between spending the same time putting more Bibles in more formats into distribution or just counting what is going into distribution, I keep coming up with the same answer. Maybe I can get some volunteer help on this for next year.) In the mean time if you enjoy the book of Numbers, you will like this section of the report.
Numbers of translations by format on eBible.org:
# 31 Dec 2014
# 31 Jan 2015
Web site hits per month (just the sites with the highest use rates):
Bible.af (operated for DBS)
Bibles.pw (operated for DBS)
Note that July through September 2015 all had totals of over 5 million hits per month. At the end of November, code was implemented on the eBible.org server to deflect hits due to a malware attack, so the reduction by about a million hits per month in December mostly means that the defense was successful, leaving the server able to perform faster for legitimate site visitors. Even with that correction, web site traffic nearly doubled over the last year. Note that a web site “hit” can be a page view or a file download, either by a real person or a search engine bot. Since search engine bots are normally followed by real people doing searches and finding our Bible sites, we consider search engine hits to be friendly hits. They are usually a small percentage of the hits, except for some of the very small language groups, where a very small number of speakers of the language have access to the Internet.
Search engine ranking is another measure of success. Tests with sample queries that should find one or more of the sites listed above usually came up with the web site on the first page of results, often at the very top of the list. Thus the search engine optimization efforts have been effective.
Haiola project statistics as of Tue, 19 Jan 2016 23:51:43 GMT UTC provide many more numbers for both eBible.org and part of the Scriptures distributed by the Digital Bible Society:
616 languages with freely redistributable translations
656 dialects with freely redistributable translations
683 freely redistributable translations
426 certified translations (extra quality checks completed)
52 limited-sharing translations (not open access licensed)
637 total languages
682 total dialects
735 total public translations
5 subset projects
737 primary distribution URLs
8 master sites
252 open access translations converted from Paratext projects
96 open access translations converted from USFM
6 open access translations converted from USFX
361 open access translations converted from USX (DBL bundles)
48 restricted translations converted from Paratext projects
4 restricted translations converted from USFM
1 restricted translations converted from USFX
2 restricted translations converted from USX (DBL bundles)
Translations by site:
235 translations at pngscriptures.org
7 translations at baebol.org
1 translations at bible.cx
423 translations at ebible.org
2 translations at no public site
6 translations at alkitab.pw
11 translations at pacificbibles.org
52 translations at inscript.org
Digital Bible distribution costs money, just as print Bible distribution does, but the costs are different. The cost of translating the Bible is the same either way, but when it comes to distribution, things look drastically different. There are costs associated with software development, converting the Bible translations to file formats that are suitable for end users, plus costs of setting up and maintaining web sites and other distribution channels. The cost per copy distributed, however, is negligible once those are covered. Costs are actually much lower when there is no need to try to sell the Bibles to recover royalty money, because there is no need to implement and maintain digital rights management/copy protection schemes or payment systems. There are costs, however.
Funding for eBible.org operations comes mostly from third parties and volunteers: not usually the Bible translators or Bible readers. Tax deductible donations to cover Bible distribution costs can be made to support Michael and Lori Johnson through World Outreach Ministries. (We also have some other revenue sources, but cannot continue this ministry without donations, at least not at this pace.) This support model greatly simplifies the Bible distribution and removes concerns that someone might not receive the Good News of Jesus Christ because they are unwilling or unable to pay for them. Honestly, I don’t expect that an evangelist who charged admission to his meetings would do well, but free will offerings let him cover his costs without hindering anyone from coming to the Lord. In the same way, we enjoy being able to freely give the Holy Bible to anyone for free, especially when we have a translation available in their heart language. When those who are like-minded partner with us both with prayer and finances, it becomes possible.
The newest repository for Bible translations for the Crosswire Bible Society’sSword Project applications is at ftp://ftp.eBible.org/sword. It is also the largest, because it has all of the Bible translations that I have permission to distribute freely and have processed, so far (677 of them as of today). This new repository has just been added to the official master repository list for all Sword Project applications (which they call “front ends”). There are many of them, but here are my favorites:
Unfortunately, as I write this, AndBible doesn’t use the master repository list, and doesn’t have a mechanism to add another repository manually. However, you can manually add modules from the eBible.org repository via the Android file system. Just copy modules to a jsword directory on your sd card. Expand the module so that the .conf file is in sdcard/jsword/mods.d and the bible files in a subdirectory of sdcard/jsword/modules e.g. sdcard\jsword\modules\texts\ztext\engWEB2014eb. Hopefully, AndBible will eventually be upgraded so that this “side loading” of modules isn’t necessary.
Another issue currently is that PocketSword may report that no search index is available for any or all of these modules. Hopefully, that will be corrected before too long. In the mean time, Bible reading will work fine.
Other than that, the Sword Project Bible study applications provide an awesome way to read, study, and search the Holy Bible in many languages, all offline, and without paying more than whatever your Internet access and device(s) that you probably already have cost.
For some front ends, or to use the eBible.org beta repository, you might need to enter the following parameters:
User name: anonymous or ftp
Password: insert any email address here
For the eBible.org beta repository, the directory name is /swordbeta. All of the other parameters are the same. You can also access the same repositories with http protocol, using the server name eBible.org.
Once upon a time, there was a grievous war. Many people lost their homes and fled to wherever they could. A compassionate king agreed to take 20,000 refugees and provide for their needs. They were assigned to tents on two different islands. Every week, the king sent a ship with food, fresh water, and other necessities to each of those islands, all at the king’s expense. He appointed a man on each island to distribute the goods fairly and to make sure that everyone got fed.
On the first island, the store manager built a store and sold the King’s supplies to both refugees and the local population. He grew rich. He used part of his wealth to help build houses for the refugees, and to make a big show of giving away a bag of groceries once a week to a needy refugee family. He was very proud of his accomplishments. After a while, this manager hired many people to help with his grocery business. It was a great business, in that the food was all supplied for free to him, but brought good money in. Indeed, the king’s supply was more than they needed to keep the business running. Much of the food was discarded when it spoiled. When his employees noticed the local churches handing out free food to the poor, they were concerned that this might cut into their profits. So, they talked the local mayor and his officials to make a law that only the king’s authorized representatives could distribute food. Anyone else distributing food had to pay royalties to the king’s food manager. Many of the poor, including a great number of the refugees, often had to resort to dumpster diving, scavenging, and even theft to feed their families.
On the second island, the store manager organized volunteers from among the refugees to set up dining tents and run an efficient food service. He also supplied local churches with food ministries and encouraged them in their work. Nobody had to go hungry. This store manager also sold some of the excess produce to the local population, and used the proceeds to help the refugees become productive members of society. He also helped them organize some local farms, using some of the king’s provision as seed to grow crops and to buy dairy cows and chickens. He also encouraged and helped others who were involved in feeding the hungry. Eventually, the second island grew enough food to feed themselves and to welcome even more refugees. Many were saved from death.
After a year, the king came to visit both islands, starting with the second island. He was very impressed with the great good his generosity had done, and how the store manager had multiplied the gifts he had given by increasing local food production. He rewarded the manager and promoted him in the kingdom.
Then he visited the first island. The store manager there showed him his impressive grocery stores, with branches all over the island, selling the king’s food at premium prices. He showed him a few houses that he had built, and told of the wonderful weekly food distributions to the most needy family they could find—usually someone near starvation. In spite of the manager’s efforts to distract him, the king also saw people who told of the starvation and hardships on that island, even though it was supplied the same as the second island. The king was most displeased, and threw the manager and his assistants all in jail, and put the manager of the second island in charge of the first island, as well. He also provided him with a new ship and crew so that he could travel freely between the islands.
“If you remain in my word, then you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” —Jesus in John 8:31b-32
Although I lost count of how many times I have read the Holy Bible, I keep reading it, because it really is God’s Word, and it is true. It makes a nice contrast to the other stuff we get exposed to daily in this world. Reading the Bible daily provides a time where I focus on God and His righteousness, love, justice, power, and gentleness. I’m reminded of things I need to consider in life. I know better how to pray. I end up with greater joy in life, because of God’s mercy and loving kindness.
I like freedom: not the world’s crazy idea of freedom to sin and freedom from moral restraints, but freedom to serve God with my whole heart and seek His righteousness. That isn’t always the easiest road to take, or the most pleasant (at the time), but it is the best road to take. See Romans 6.
Aren’t you glad you have easy access to the Holy Bible?
One of the most important themes in the Holy Bible and the history of God’s interaction with His people is the importance of marriage and family. I get that. There are many references on that topic, and many important lessons to be learned. One thing I have been noticing in my personal Bible study lately is the importance of healthy marriages and families in church leadership. We don’t get much of a peek at the foundational apostles’ marriage and family life, but we get a few clues:
When I look at what the Lord is actually teaching us, I see a great deal of love, and a strong emphasis on the value of marriage as defined in the Holy Bible and families where children are nurtured by a loving father and mother. This is an important part of church leadership: leading by example.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not out to condemn anyone or attack anyone. I’m not the Judge of all the earth. I just know that there is great wisdom in following God’s ways as taught in the Holy Bible, and that is what I intend to do, because I love God, who first loved me beyond what words are adequate to express.
I’m glad we are on the winning side of spiritual war. In case you haven’t noticed yet, spiritual battles spill over into the natural realm. The enemy of our souls tries to distract us from doing what God calls us to do. Sometimes it is ordinary distractions. Sometimes the spiritual forces of darkness try a little harder. Like sending a criminal with explosives on a high speed chase into our parking lot. Or hacking the eBible.org web site to insert illegal content and deliver a profane blast of spam emails. Or distracting us with sickness in the family. And that was just my last 10 days. So… let it be known to all of the hosts of Heaven and hell, I will keep following Father God, lifting up the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. No weapon formed against us will prevail.
The servers hosting eBible.org and many other Bible sites are now running with higher capacity and higher security. Due to some ISP issues, the eBible.org public FTP server is currently down, but the content of ftp://eBible.org/pub/Scriptures/ is duplicated at https://Bible.cx/Scriptures/ and fully accessible, there.
Also, due to some software bugs and spam holes, those servers will no longer host mailing lists. My apologies to my friends in the affected ministries, but it is time to move on to more robust solutions, anyway, as I will be doing. My humble apologies to those who got unwanted email relayed from the desecrated servers during the time between the attack and the time it took me to lock it down and to remove some buggy mailing list software.