Copyright on religious works

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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.

Many editions of the Bible are under copyright due to their unique edition or translation. In the United Kingdom, the King James Version of the Bible is covered by a crown copyright.

The Urantia Book[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

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