Copyrights and Christian Bible Software

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I just purchased a beautifully cared-for set of James Bannerman's The Church of Christ via Alibris. I had to check to make certain it wasn't a later printing than the used bookseller listed (1974, Banner of Truth). I've bought new books from Banner of Truth's warehouse that didn't look as good.

It's a shame that this two-volume set is no longer in print. The last printing I'm aware of was Banner of Truth's 1974 edition. Of course, photocopies of various editions have been sold over the internet--I bought one several years ago--but actual volumes of this classic remain frustratingly elusive.

Which brings me to my primary thought.... Why has no one scanned and OCR'ed this work? For that matter, why has no one scanned and OCR'ed countless other worthy classics? CCEL (Christian Classics Ethereal Library) has done a good job of scanning and serving an eclectic mix of titles, but no Bannerman--and no plans to scan him (or many other worthy titles) appear on their "Wanted List."

I'm afraid part of the reason many Christian works in the public domain haven't been scanned and made publicly available is the balkanization of the Christian Bible software market and the greed of Christian software publishers.

When Adobe came out with Acrobat they chose to distribute the Acrobat reader freely and to charge for PDF-creation software. Not long after that, they went further and opened the PDF format to the public, allowing other software companies to publish and sell PDF-creation software. As a result there now exists a healthy market in PDF creation software and a world of publications in the PDF format.

And by opening its standards and allowing others into the market, Adobe profited greatly. Its PDF creation software remains the standard for PDF production and Adobe continues to expand Acrobat's capabilities: from forms to pre-press production, Acrobat reigns.

Contrast this with Logos Bible Software's work in the Christian market. Logos not only charges for the software necessary to read books published in its format, it also charges for titles. You must buy a collection of electronic titles from Logos when you purchase their software; depending upon the price you pay you receive either a modest collection of Bibles and various other works, or a larger number of scholarly and devotional works.

While it is possible to purchase software to convert an electronic book into a Logos-compatible file, the software costs $100 and explicitly requires that any converted books not be transferred to other Logos software owners. For $240, a program that permits you to convert an electronic book into Logos format and give the converted file to fellow Logos owners is also available. But the license explicitly forbids sale of the converted work and cripples some of its features.

In essence, Logos wants the entire pie. It wants to sell the reader. It wants to sell the converter. It wants to sell the books. And, as you might expect of a Christian software company, many public domain works are sold as copyrighted material. Matthew Henry is sold as copyrighted and costs $34.95 from Logos. Jamieson, Fausett, Brown costs $79.95. The irony is, print versions of many of the works available through Logos can be purchased more cheaply than Logos electronic editions.

I could say more about the kludginess of Logos software. It takes forever to load--even on a blazing computer. Searching requires a graduate degree in Boolean terminology. Original language tools still bamboozle me after nine years of owning the program. And there is still no way to insert Bible verses from Logos into a manuscript you're working on without firing up the entire program.

But in the end, the thing that offends me is the greed of a company refusing to permit users of its software to convert and sell their own personal works--but then turning around and selling public domain texts themselves. Almost the whole CCEL could be converted for use in Logos if Logos would only put the needs of its customers ahead of its desire to profit from every text read on its software. But that wouldn't make Logos money so it's unlikely ever to happen.

For an alternative vision of how Bible software should work to the glory of God, check out the SWORD Project. This open source Bible software is available at no cost--with many public domain books available free as well.

I notice on the SWORD Project's front page news that a German publisher has made its commentary series availabale in the SWORD format. The commentary comes locked, but can be unlocked for a reasonable fee. SWORD makes no money from the sale of the commentary.

I wish SWORD the very best. Now let's get Bannerman's Church of Christ up on the web--along with a great many other deserving works in the public domain. If enough public domain works can be put up in the SWORD format, more and more publishers will put out electronic versions or copyright material for SWORD rather than Logos. And that will benefit us all.