Minneapolis, MN asked in Copyright, Intellectual Property and Trademark for Minnesota

Q: Is it legal to use verses from the bible on "print on demand items" to sell online? Do I need a license? I live in MN.

1 Lawyer Answer
Will Blackton
Will Blackton
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Raleigh, NC

A: It depends on what version (edition/translation) of the bible you're quoting.

The ancient versions of religious texts are almost certainly in the public domain, and freely usable. However, any quote you're likely to come across in the "print on demand" context is going to be from a modern translation. Although modern translations are based on ancient versions, it does not mean they are also in the public domain. That the modern translation took a lot of work from a lot of people to create, and likely qualifies as a derivative work and is eligible for its own copyright protection.

Therefore, modern translations of religious works are very likely to be subject to copyright restrictions. For example, the copyright restrictions on the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible are posted here: https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/, which states that you may not use quotes of their translation for commercial use without permission. The same website states that the the NIV bible was the product of over one hundred scholars working over ten years to complete the original version, with updates having been provided for the last forty or so years. That sounds like an investment of time and resources worth protecting.

To answer your question directly: if the bible verse is modern-sounding, you probably need a license to it commercially.

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