Most modern Bible translations are copyrighted, which means quotation and re-sharing of Bible verses can be limited by copyright owners, copyright laws of the country in which you live, and “fair use” provisions of copyright law in some countries like the United States. While the advent of social media has “reduced the friction of sharing” texts including Bible verses and images like Bible verse InfoPics, copyright laws still apply to many Bible translations and it is important to be aware of these limitations and legal restrictions as we consider together the multitude of ways God’s Word and the witness of believers in and followers of Jesus Christ can be shared with others.
While the author has never encountered a copyright-owning and enforcing organization issuing a “cease and desist” letter or order involving the sharing of God’s Word via social media, that possibility does exist. The author shares the information about copyright and fair use in this chapter NOT to “chill” or restrict anyone’s sharing of Bible verses and God’s Word, but rather to make readers aware of legal provisions of copyright law which may apply and what options are available to comply with local copyright laws.
As with legal advice found in many other places, a “legal disclaimer” is needed here. The author is NOT a lawyer, and the suggestions included in this chapter and elsewhere in this book should NOT be construed as legal advice. If readers have more questions about the applicability of copyright law in a specific country, please consult with a board certified lawyer in that specific location.
Examples of Permitted Bible Verse Quotations
The publisher of the “YouVersion Bible,” shared via smartphone apps as well as a web-based version on the domain my.Bible.com, partners with a variety of copyright owners to share textual as well as audio versions of multiple Bible translations. Details about the specific copyright restrictions (if any) which apply to a specific Bible translation version and media format are provided at the end of each chapter via a “Learn More” link. For example, the New International Version (NIV) “Learn More” page on Bible.com links to “The International Bible Society” (biblica.com) which provides a helpful website FAQ page on the question, “Do I have to notify Biblica to use a Bible verse from the NIV?”  The short answer to this question is, “Probably not as long as your usage is non-commercial, i.e. you are not making money selling your shared Bible verse. If you are, then you need to contact Biblica to obtain permission and possibly license that reuse of NIV verses.
Cambridge University Press is the designated organization in the United Kingdom overseeing and managing the use and reuse of the “Authorized Version of the King James Bible in the United Kingdom.” They permit up to 500 verses be reproduced under similar conditions as Biblica:
for liturgical and non-commercial educational use, provided that the verses quoted neither amount to a complete book of the Bible nor represent 25 per cent or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted…
Open, public domain Bible translations exist, like ebible.org, but even these projects include lengthy “Intellectual Property” pages which explain not all versions and texts are available for reproduction / sharing without restrictions.
In most online versions of the Bible, “non-commercial, educational use” is permitted and often encouraged. For specifics with the Bible translation you are using, however, it can be important to read the fine print.
Fair Use Provisions of US Copyright Law
In the United States, “fair use provisions” of copyright law specifically allow certain uses / reuses of copyrighted materials without permission by the rights holder / owner. The “Copyright” chapter of the author’s 2011 book, “Playing with Media: Simple Ideas for Powerful Sharing” highlights these fair use provisions in greater detail. While there are no guarantees when it comes to lawsuits and litigation in the United States (just about anyone can sue anyone for anything) these general guidelines favor “fair use” when it comes to sharing individual Bible verses via social media:
- Sharing a Bible verse non-commercially (in a context where you are not making money)
- Sharing a single verse or limited number of verses (NOT sharing an entire book of the Bible, or entire translation, for example)
- Limiting the access others have to your shared Bible verse / media (using a protected social media account, for example)
All of the above guidelines do NOT need to be followed for a re-use of a Bible verse to be considered “fair use” under U.S. copyright law. As of this writing in January 2020, the author is NOT aware of any examples of an individual being sued or issued a “cease and desist” letter / order for sharing Bible verses or media products including Bible Verses (like a sermon sketchnote) via social media.
Do Not Live in Fear, But Also Do Not Be Reckless
Given these ideas about copyright and sharing God’s Word, what should you do as a digital witness for Jesus Christ?
Those decisions are up to you. Hopefully the information and guidelines provided here are helpful. As Christians, we are clearly called by Jesus Christ to not live in fear. This does not mean we should be reckless, either.
‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. ‘
If you read about or encounter someone facing a lawsuit or a cease and desist order as a result of their sharing of Bible verses on social media in any media format, please let the author know by using the electronic contact form on www.wesfryer.com/contact. Non-commercial sharing of Bible verses arguably fall within the “fair use provisions” of U.S. copyright law and therefore should not be subject to legal censure. As followers of Jesus Christ we understand God’s Word is both alive and powerful, able to transform hearts and minds according to God’s will and purpose. Let us therefore pray together that copyright and other intellectual property laws will not be obstacles in the way of sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, across our world to every corner of our globe.
‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. ‘
- “Cease and Desist.” Wikipedia, 18 Jan. 2020. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cease_and_desist&oldid=936329619. ↵
- Download The Bible App Now - 100% Free. https://my.bible.com/app. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵
- “Copyright Information for Plans and Bible Versions.” YouVersion, 27 Mar. 2019, https://help.youversion.com/l/en/article/o8t2xmy9q2-copyright-information-for-plans-and-bible-versions. ↵
- “Do I Have to Notify Biblica to Use a Bible Verse from the NIV?” Biblica, 31 July 2018, https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/do-i-have-to-notify-biblica-to-use-a-bible-verse-from-the-niv/. ↵
- “Rights and Permissions: KJV.” Cambridge University Press, https://www.cambridge.org/bibles/about/rights-and-permissions/rights-and-permissions-kjv, https://www.cambridge.org/bibles/about/rights-and-permissions/rights-and-permissions-kjv. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵
- Intellectual Property Policy. https://ebible.org/legal.php. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵
- Copyright, », and Fair Use in the Classroom Freedom to Teach-the Doceri Blog. Copyright – Playing with Media. http://playingwithmedia.com/pages/copyright/. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵
- 2 Timothy 1, King James Version (KJV) | Chapter 1 | The Bible App | Bible.Com. https://my.bible.com/bible/1/2ti.1.kjv. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵
- Matthew 24, New International Version (NIV) | Chapter 24 | The Bible App | Bible.Com. https://my.bible.com/bible/111/mat.24.niv. Accessed 27 Jan. 2020. ↵