As we near the end of Ramadan and Eid approaches, it seems somewhat topical to bring up the time I deleted the Holy Qur’an as a copyright violation.

Despite being about one-and-a-half millennia old,* the Qur’an was still under copyright in the United States, so it had to go. (Strictly speaking, I just nominated it for deletion, rather than actually deleting it myself, but it’s close enough.)

This is not a joke about the United States’ famously long periods of copyright protection.  The problem in this case is something that often seems to be missed in other cases too.  This copy of the Qur’an was an English translation and a translator receives a brand new copyright on their work in addition to any potential copyright that may or may not apply to the original.  The true Arabic original is very much in the public domain.  I doubt the translator in question, Indian Islamic scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872–1953), wanted to restrict access to his work, and very much doubt the Prophet (pbuh) would want that either, but we have no proof it was ever released, so copyright law must apply.

This was complicated by the fact that Ali published his 1934 version in Lahore, a part of British India that is now Pakistan, although he was born in Bombay, a part that is now India, and died in Surrey, which was and is in the United Kingdom. Quite which body of copyright law to use was unclear. Unusually, the URAA laws solved some of this because, whichever country was involved, it was still under copyright in 1996, so it became copyrighted in the United States, if it wasn’t already, and remains so under that country’s laws.

(For reference: Pakistan is the most generous—from a certain point of view—and uses Life+50 for its copyright terms, so it would have become public domain there in 2004. India uses Life+60, so it actually entered the public domain there at the beginning of this year. The UK uses Life+70, so it is still under copyright there for another decade.)

You can still find his translation on Wikilivres (Canada uses Life+50 just like Pakistan) and a derivative on Project Gutenberg (I don’t know why).

I’ve done a little work in adding a new, non-copyrighted Qur’an to Wikisource but it is not currently my priority (it’s the most important book of the world’s second largest, and fastest growing, religion; it isn’t hard to get a copy if you want one).

* EDIT: There was a mistake in my original post, stating just 500 years instead of 1,500 years. I’m not sure how that happened but I only noticed after I made the post.