Many of Peter Ruckman’s oft-repeated claims deserve a closer look. One of them is his claim that the KJV is not copyrighted. We do not wish to portray the Authorized Version negatively, but factual information should be welcomed and appreciated, even if it does not fit a feel-good narrative. As will be demonstrated, Ruckman’s claim is a misleading half-truth at best.
The following is an example of Ruckman’s claims:
The best way to prove the AV is the word of God is by three simple historical facts:
1. Those who don't believe it have to use it to make a living and keep their attendance and enrollment.
2. It has no copyright and all other English translations DO have a copyright.
(Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. Sep. 1980, p. 4)
Note on the flyleaf of White's work, that the KJV HAS NO COPYRIGHT, EXACTLY AS WE TOLD YOU IN 1960 (The Christian's Handbook of Manuscript Evidence). The other four corrupt versions (NASV, NKJV, NRSV, and NIV) are all copyrighted.
(Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. Aug. 1995, p. 17)
We believe the AV of 1611 because of the promise of its preservation, the instruments of its preservation, the honesty of its translators, the fact that it has no copyright and can be printed by anyone, the time of its publication…
(Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. May 2008, p. 8)
…or the fact that the AV is the only Bible in America with no copyright.
(Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. Jan. 1981, p. 1)
That the KJV has no copyright jurisdiction in America and many other countries at present is true. That there are no other Bibles in America without a copyright is not technically true. Obviously, the most common and well known modern translations are copyrighted. There are some little-known Bible translations that were never copyrighted to begin with or whose copyright has expired. The following webpage lists about 10 Bible translations without a copyright: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_Bible_translations (As a disclaimer the information needs to be verified, because it comes from a website that anyone can edit).
In the following quote, Ruckman disagrees with even referring to the KJV copyright in the past tense, and continues his attempt to revise history:
8. The King James Bible WAS copyrighted because the “cum privilegio” is found on the opening pages.
Answer: Wrong again; that was permission given to the printer and had nothing to do with ANYONE COPYING ANYTHING THE PRINTER PRINTED. The FIRST copyright in England was never given to any publisher until 1735, when The Rake's Progress was published as a series. (This information will be found in The Revolutionary Period, Brown Landone Books, Inc., New York, 1923 and 1942).
(Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. Jan. 1987, p. 4
The book referenced above could not be located, but there is an abundance of material available on the restrictions on the right to copy granted by law before the time period mentioned by Ruckman, regardless of whether or not the restriction was called a copyright as it is commonly known today, and whether it included all the elements of modern copyright law in the United States. Before 1611 the “Stationers' Charter” was in effect in England, followed by the “Licensing Act 1662” then subsequently “The Statute of Anne,” also known as the “Copyright Act 1710.” (A simple internet search will yield more information about these Acts and the history of copyright in England). The following is some documentation from 1860, which deals with some of the legalities of the printing of Bibles in England:
The words in the title page of every copy of the Bible or New Testament, printed by the present privileged printers,—"By His Majesty's special command," and "cum privilegio,"—imply that the right is vested on the Crown; and such appear, to have been the opinion of not only high legal authorities, but even of the highest. In the 11th year of Queen Anne, when the case of the Stationers' Company v. Partridge was argued, Mr. Salkeld for the defendant, after denying the prerogative of the Crown over the press, or any power to grant any exclusive privilege, said, "I take the rule in all these cases to be, that where the Crown has a property or right of copy, the King may grant it. The King may grant the sole printing of Bibles in the English translation, because it was made at the King's charge."
(Report from the select committee on the queen's printer's patent; together with the proceedings of the committee, minutes of evidence, and index, Volume 2. Parliament Commons, Proc, Vict., 1860, p. 78)
Is the KJV currently copyrighted in England? The following link is of an official statement by Cambridge on the KJV’s current copyright status in the United Kingdom, which answers the question in the affirmative: http://www.cambridge.org/about-us/who-we-are/queens-printers-patent
The following statement by Ruckman would sound very convincing to an uninformed audience. But is it true?
How do you explain a book sitting here that has no copyright on it, when there are fifteen million books in the Library of Congress, and every one of them printed in this century has a copyright on it? That's a mess of books, man! And one of them doesn't have a copyright. How do you explain that? New "Bibles" come out, a printer prints them, and there is a copyright on them. (Ruckman, Peter. Why I Believe the King James Bible is the Word of God. 1983, p. 3)
That the KJV is the only book among the millions in the Library of Congress printed in the last century without a copyright is not true. Publications by the US government are not copyrighted. Books and Bibles printed after the original copyright expired are not copyrighted. Although rare, a book in which the author or publisher affirm therein that they do not wish to claim copyright privileges and thereby grant permission for anyone to copy and reprint freely (sometimes referred to as “releasing to the public domain”) would not be copyrighted.
Ruckman continues the paragraph as follows:
I believe the King James Bible is the word of God because it has no copyright on it. It may have the Crown Copyright, but you don't have to ask the Crown for the right to print it. In Ecclesiastes 8:4 it says, "Where the word of a king is, there is power." If it had a Crown copyright, it was copyrighted under a king. If it was copyrighted under a king, it has the right copyright. (Ruckman, Peter. Why I Believe the King James Bible is the Word of God. 1983, p. 3)
Ruckman completely contradicts himself here. He states emphatically that the KJV has no copyright, but in the very next sentence feels forced to admit that “it may have the Crown Copyright.” But he treats the matter as unsettled as evidenced by the “if” in his statement: “if it had a Crown copyright.” As for Ruckman’s statement that “you don't have to ask the Crown for the right to print it,” it would not be true for everyone. If you would be printing it in a country subject to the British monarchy, permission will need to be requested, and perhaps royalties will need to be paid. (See official statement of Cambridge University Press). As for Ruckman’s use of Eccl. 8:4, it is taken blatantly out of context. To begin with, King James did not do any of the translating or writing. The KJV is a translation of God’s Word, so in our opinion to utilize a Bible passage that would have to make it “King James I of England's Word” for Eccl. 8:4 to be applicable is improper.
In the same booklet, Ruckman continues contradicting himself:
Next, I believe the King James Bible is the Holy Scripture because of its lack of copyright. Anyone can publish a King James Version any time they want, anywhere they want, without having to get anyone’s permission or pay anyone for the rights to do it. The copyrights which began to appear in King James Bibles after 1960 (after my material began to circulate throughout the United States and England) have nothing to do with the text. They apply to the typesetting, the notes, the maps, etc.; anybody can reproduce the text. No copyright was ever enforced on the text of the Authorized Version one time in 400 years anywhere on this earth. The so-called “crown copyright,” the cum privilegio found in Bibles printed in Great Britain, has nothing to do with anybody else being able to print the King James Version; it just gave the King’s printer the right (cum privilegio—“with permission”) to print it. No permission was ever needed to copy or sell any King James Bible as is necessary with the NIV, RSV, NASV, etc. A fellow put out a work on the crown copyright one time, and it was a lie from start to finish. The crown copyright never applied to anyone outside of the British Empire and was even occasionally overlooked there. It was not binding to the King (or Queen), and no British monarch ever got a dime from the sales. All it did was give permission to print the KJV; it was not a bar against printing it. (Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers' Bulletin. January 2011, p. 5)
After admitting on p. 3 that the KJV “may have the Crown Copyright,” Ruckman proceeds to refer to its “lack of copyright.” He affirms that “anyone” can publish a KJV “anywhere they want.” (See official statement of Cambridge University Press to the contrary). Then he arrogantly claims that copyrights appearing in KJV’s after 1960 were in response to the circulation of his materials! However, we don’t dispute that the copyright symbols in KJV Bibles printed outside of England would likely be for text layout or such additional items as notes and maps.
Ruckman does at times admit the KJV was published with “cum privilegio,” but he is very dismissive about what that meant in England when the KJV was published.
Ruckman’s statements that the KJV is the only Bible with no copyright while all other English Bibles have one is so easy to refute that critics of the KJV-only position have often used opposing facts to make a mockery of the claim. In recent years more KJV-only writers have made clear in their writings that it is incorrect to say that the KJV was never copyrighted.
Ruckman has been repeating these myths since his first book promoting the KJV in 1964. The following is a statement from said book:
The King James Bible is the only Bible in the world that anyone can reproduce, print, or copy without consulting anyone but God. All other “bibles,” without exception, are copyrighted COMPETITORS whose motive was to destroy the A.V. (Ruckman, Peter. The Bible Babel. Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Bible Press, 1964, p. 16)
The contrary facts could be documented more in depth, but the non-profit Bible printing ministries that readily publish foreign Bibles (such as Bearing Precious Seed) and the Bible translations that were never copyrighted to begin with or many whose copyright has expired prove Ruckman wrong here.