Copyright on religious works
With copyright on religious works it is not always clear who the rights' holder is. Under the provisions of the Berne Convention, copyright is granted to the author on creation of the work. Several religions claim that all or some of their works were authored (written or dictated) by their god or gods.
The Urantia Book
In 1991 the Urantia Foundation held a copyright to The Urantia Book. They sued Kristen Maaherra for reproducing parts of the book unauthorized. According to the Foundation's representatives, the Papers of The Urantia Book were dictated by celestial, unseen cosmic beings to an unidentified sleeping subject (a human being) and they, The Urantia Foundation held the copyright in trust of keeping the text "inviolate". In resolving Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra, the court said that "We agree with [the defendant], however, that it is not creations of divine beings that the copyright laws were intended to protect, and that in this case some element of human creativity must have occurred in order for the Book to be copyrightable. At the very least, for a worldly entity to be guilty of copyright infringement, that entity must have copied something created by another worldly entity."
Maaherra lost the case at this level, on the argument that the members of the receiving group had been given an original direction to the writings by selecting and formulating their questions, thus fulfilling the obligation of creative effort required to gain a copyright under U.S. law. This was later overturned on the grounds that the Urantia Foundation was not the author, and that the sleeping subject, sometimes highly controversially called a channeler, was legally considered the author, and that the Urantia Foundation thus could not file a valid copyright renewal.
A Course in Miracles
A similar case arose when the copyright owners of A Course in Miracles sued New Christian Church of Full Endeavor for distributing A Course in Miracles. The court ruled that the copyright on the manuscripts was violated, and wrote, quoting from the above case:
"In a case similar to this one, the Ninth Circuit recently held that, notwithstanding a spiritual book's "celestial" or "divine" origins, the originality requirement necessary for a valid copyright was satisfied because the human beings who "compiled, selected, coordinated, and arranged" the book did so "'in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.'" Urantia Found. v. Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955, 958 (9th Cir. 1997) ("Urantia") (quoting 17 U.S.C. § 101)."
However, in the final judgement, copyright on the published text was not upheld, because it was published without a proper copyright notice, which was required under US law at the time.
Church of Scientology
Copyright law can clash with the evangelization work of a church. Probably the best known instance of this is the case of the secret religious writings of the Church of Scientology. Since late 1994, Scientology has used various legal tactics to stop the distribution of these documents written by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The church claims these documents may only be read by followers who have reached a state of so-called "clear," although critics hint that the enormous sums of money followers must pay to be able to read these documents could provide another reason as to why the church is so secretive.
Worldwide Church of God v. Philadelphia Church of God
After the death of Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong in 1986, church leaders began moving in a different direction, both in tone and teaching. Some members dissatisfied with these moves formed Philadelphia Church of God, led by Gerald Flurry. By the mid-1990s, much of Armstrong's writings had been repudiated by WCG leadership and were out of print. In 1997, PCG began reprinting many books written by Armstrong and distributed them for free. Flurry and others regarded this material to be central to their religious teaching and practice, requiring their familiarity for any members desiring baptism, especially Mystery of the Ages (Armstrong's last book) and Armstrong's autobiography (recounting his own conversion). WCG sued PCG for copyright infringement, which claimed fair use on religious practice grounds. After a lengthy court battle, WCG won a ruling that,
"...as a matter of law that PCG is not entitled to claim fair use. Because infringement by PCG of WCG's copyright is undisputed, barring fair use, WCG is entitled to a permanent injunction against the reproduction and distribution by PCG of [Mystery of the Ages]. Accordingly, we...dismiss the appeal from the denial of WCG's motion for an injunction pending...and remand for entry of a preliminary injunction pending a trial of any damages and final adjudication."
Despite this win, Worldwide did not continue the suit, but entered into an out-of-court settlement with Philadelphia. Among the terms of the settlement, PCG purchased the copyrights to Mystery of the Ages and 18 other written works.
- Church of Spiritual Technology and Religious Technology Center, owner of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard intellectual property
- Intellectual Reserve, owner of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' intellectual property
- A Course in Miracles
- The preliminary judgement on A Course in Miracles ruling (PDF document) that religious freedom and nonearthly authorship did not void the copyright
- Final ruling on A Course in Miracles ruling (PDF document) that the copyright was lost for other reasons
- U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra finding for the Foundation
- Documents from the final court case that voided the Urantia copyright