What is the New English Translation (NET)?
The New English Translation (NET Bible) is a free, "completely new" on-line English translation of the Bible, "with 60,932 translators' notes" sponsored by the Biblical Studies Foundation and published by Biblical Studies Press.
The New English Translation, like the New International Version, New Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not an update or revision of an older one (such as the New Revised Standard Version of 1989, which is a revision of the Revised Standard Version of 1946/71, itself a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901, itself a revision of the English Revised Version of 1881, which was a revision of the King James Version of 1611).
The translation and extensive notes were undertaken by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The NET Bible was initially conceived at an annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in November 1995 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide a digital version of a modern English translation over the Internet and on CD-ROM without cost for the user: "The NET Bible project was commissioned to create a faithful Bible translation that could be placed on the Internet, downloaded for free, and used around the world for ministry."
Many of those involved in the project's initial discussions eventually became part of the translation team. The translation itself claims to be non-sectarian, "inter-denominational" and evangelical. The translation is most notable for an immense number of lengthy footnotes (which often explain its textual translation decision), its open translation process, its availability on the Internet (both during its beta process and in its final form), and its open copyright permitting free downloads.
The NET Bible's approach towards copyright comprises a full copyright license which is explained in its "Ministry First" statement, both of which emphasize its openness and freedom. The publishers claim that "after 10 years, the NET Bible is still the only major modern translation that can be downloaded free in its entirety and used seamlessly in presentations and documents."
However, as of October 2010, the NET Bible's copyright statement is over 1500 words long, and contains different conditions for generic copyright, diglots and bible quotations in multiple formats, including commercial and non-commercial publications. The NET Bible's approach to copyright is self-summarised as: "The Bible is God's gift to humanity – it should be free."
In "Copyright Innovations – Toward a New Model," the Ministry First position statement makes at least four additional important clarifications: We still don't fully like the copyright notice for the NET Bible, but in our litigious world it remains a challenge... We believe that 1 Tim 5:17-18 (the author has the right to be paid) and Lev 23:22 (allow the poor and foreigner free access) can be simultaneously satisfied far better with a new Internet model... We want all authors to know that the NET Bible is a safe choice.
It is time for ministry to be more free – and for a Bible which puts ministry first....Let us know how we can better serve your needs. However, these statements do not form part of the copyright notice itself, so their legal value is unclear. Rick Mansfield describes these permissions as "[they] basically take a "YES" position in regard to permission to use the NET Bible in publications or on the internet for "the vast majority of requests."
Michael Paul Johnson's Bible FAQ at the World English Bible site is more specific, saying "You may download a free copy for your personal use at http://netbible.org. Copyrighted." The "Copyrighted" category in the FAQ classes the NET bible with most other English translations mentioned, except for the World English Bible, which is described as public domain. Peter Kirk's review of the NET Bible copyright notes that the Open English Bible (OEB) is "under a licence enabling the maximum reuse, remixing and sharing without requiring the payment of royalties or the obtaining of permission from copyright holders". The review contrasts this with the NET Bible copyright by quoting a letter by Russell Allen stating "On the (Free Software-based) definition above, the NET Bible is not free. I cannot take the NET Bible, make changes and redistribute my changed version without permission".
1. Wikipedia, used under GDFL (with minor edits)