Adventures in copyright compliance

In my quest to find more scripture passages set to music (see my list here), I came across an ambitious project at Sing The KJV, where a musician named Tirzah Joy has taken on the challenge of putting entire books of the King James Version of the Bible to music, creating lead sheets, music mp3s, and instrumental mp3s for each chapter. Every month, she adds another several chapters. Ruth, 1/2/3 John, Colossians, most of the book of Proverbs, she finished those and more. It’s an incredible undertaking, and so far she has completed (in whole or in part) over three thousand verses.  And here I was thrilled to find songs for a thousand verses.

However, I’m not a fan of thees and thous and want to learn the English Standard Version (ESV). Fortunately, the KJV and ESV have a lot of overlap, and I have successfully converted several songs to the ESV, changing the music’s rhythm as needed but trying to keep it as close as possible so that I (and others, if they’re interested) can use my modified lead sheets and her instrumental tracks to easily memorize gobs of verses in context.

Unfortunately, there’s a catch, and it’s not in using Tirzah’s music—she has kindly placed these songs in the public domain. Rather, it’s in using the copyrighted ESV. If I only wanted the music for myself, there’d be no problem, but why go to all that effort solely for my own use?

This meant contacting Crossway Bible, the copyright owner. The company has very flexible guidelines for those who want to use a few verses as part of a larger song, but to put entire books to song with no other lyrics? Eh, not so much. Here was the response:

Dear Dawn,

Thank you for your permission inquiry regarding the Tirzah Joy music you’re interested in setting to ESV lyrics.

You have our permission to create this music for your personal use (provided that you have permission to use the actual music by Tirzah Joy), but we cannot grant you permission to distribute this music to the public.

We appreciate your interest in the ESV and apologize for any inconvenience this may be.



I don’t have hard feelings against Crossway for the denial. The reason for a copyright is to keep control over the product, and my project is beyond the scope of what they want to allow. So be it.

But what if I didn’t use any ESV lyrics on the music sheet? What if I only used words from the KJV? What if…

…drumroll please…

I made lead sheets available that interested memorizers can fill in themselves with whatever words they want?

And thus the Fill-in-Blank (FIB) version of the Bible was born. The lead sheets will contain no ESV wording so Crossway’s copyright is safe. It’s more work for prospective memorizers, but hand writing what you want to memorize can help you memorize more easily.

This is in no way a home run. For that, I would have copyright permission and would create entirely new instrumental mp3s. But with a little out-of-the-box thinking, I’ve avoided striking out. Perhaps it will get people to second base in their Bible memorization. They can reach home through their own efforts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *