Ethical Writing: Quoting the Bible

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Is it possible for Christian writers to get in legal trouble when they quote the Bible? Yes. This is especially true for indie authors. To quote any modern translation requires written permission from that translation’s publisher. If we quote it without permission, not only is it unethical, it also breaks copyright law.

Copyright law does have a Fair Use clause which says a writer may quote a certain amount of copyrighted material without permission. However, it doesn’t specify how much an author may quote. It’s always wise, in my opinion, to ask for it first. As an indie author, I use the Authorized King James Version because it’s in the public domain in the United States. In the United Kingdom, a writer still needs permission. It’s copyrighted there.

For United Kingdom authors., here’s an important link: Rights and Permissions | Cambridge University Press

Typically, traditional publishers have a contractual agreement with certain Bible publishers. In their guidelines for writers, they specify which translations they use. Thus, writers for these publishers needn’t worry about getting permission.

Of course, indie authors can use modern translations if they get permission first. The best way to do this is to visit a Bible publisher’s website and click on its “Terms of Use” or similar link, usually at the bottom of the Home page. Then read what it says regarding its copyright status and how to obtain permission. Sometimes, it’ll lead us to another page where we can fill out a request form to submit.

Steps to Follow, B & H Publishers

  1. Visit Home – B&H Publishing (bhpublishinggroup.com).
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the Home Page.
  3. Under “About Us,” click on “Privacy Policy and Terms.”
  4. Under the “Permissions” section, click here.
  5. On the Permissions Page, click on Licensing and Permissions Request form
  6. Fill out form and submit

This is how to request permission from the B & H Publishing Group. Other Bible publishers use a similar procedure.

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