Question: "Why do modern translations of the Bible have a copyright?"
Answer: Many KJV Only advocates argue that the modern English translations are corrupt due to their being copyrighted, with the King James Version being “pure” because it is not copyrighted. Copyrights, to the KJV Only crowd, “prove” these are man’s words, not God’s. Others dislike the idea of a Bible translation having a copyright as a matter of principle. The purpose of a copyright is to protect one’s property and prevent the making of unwarranted copies. “But the Bible should be available for unlimited use. It is the Word of God, after all!”—so goes the argument. God would not restrict the distribution of His Word.
While it could be that Bible publishers should be more lenient when enforcing their copyrights, having a Bible translation copyrighted is not wrong in and of itself. It is expensive to develop a new translation of the Bible. The translators, scholars, grammarians, proofreaders, etc., all need to be paid. If other companies or individuals took a translation and published it as their own, the original publisher would lose money, and further Bible translation efforts would be hindered. Bible publishers have to make a profit, or they will go out of business.
In regards to the claims of the KJV Only Movement, they are entirely incorrect. The King James Version was copyrighted when first published. In fact, to this day, the KJV is still under copyright protection in the United Kingdom. The existence of a copyright is meaningless in determining the quality of a translation. And, even if the existence of a copyright mattered, the King James Version is, in fact, copyrighted.
The key point is this—the existence of a copyright does not impact the quality of a translation. The fact that a Bible publisher is seeking to make a profit from the sale of a Bible translation does not necessarily mean the translation process was compromised. Whether or not a Bible translation has a copyright should not be the determining factor in whether you use that translation. Please visit the following two articles for more information:
Why are there so many Bible translations, and which is the best?
What are the different English Bible versions?
All modern Bible translations have reasonable “fair use” clauses in their copyright statements, meaning that a limited use of the text is allowed without receiving special permission from the publisher. Below are links to the copyright statements for some of the more popular Bible translations: