Foundation Wins Copyright Appeal

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On June 10, 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that URANTIA Foundation's renewal copyright in The Urantia Book is valid and will remain in force until 2030. This ruling reverses the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona which had ruled on February 15, 1995, that URANTIA Foundation's 1983 renewal of the copyright was invalid. The appellate court found the ruling of the lower court to be flawed on several points of law; it declared that the copyright had been infringed; and it directed that the case be "remanded [to the district court from whence it came] for further proceedings on damages."

Kristen Maaherra, the Foundation's opponent in the case, made a request to the Appellate Court that the case be reheard by Judge Urbom in the US District Court of Arizona. The request was denied. She has until November 11 to appeal the June 10 ruling.

While this decision strengthens the Foundation's ownership of the copyright, the Trustees desire to avoid litigation whenever possible. We pray that readers will work together in their efforts to disseminate the teachings of the fifth epochal revelation to all the people of the world.

Judge Schroeder, one of the three appellate judges, made the following 15 points in her Summary of the Opinion:

[1] The copyright laws do not expressly require "human" authorship. It is not the creations of divine beings that the copyright laws were intended to protect. In this case, some element of human creativity must have occurred for the Book to be copyrightable.

[2] The Book was copyrightable if copyrightability was claimed by the first human being who compiled, selected, coordinated, and arranged the Urantia teachings in a way that the resulting work as a whole constituted an original work of authorship. Those who were responsible for the creation of the tangible literary form that could be read by others could have claimed copyright as authors because they were responsible for the revelations appearing in a way that rendered the work original as a whole.

[3] The Contact Commission may have received guidance from celestial beings when it formulated the questions asked. The questions contributed materially to the structure of the Papers, to the arrangement of the revelations in each Paper, and to the organization and order in which the Papers followed one another. The human selection and arrangement of the revelations could not have been so mechanical or routine as to require no creativity whatsoever. The extremely low threshold level of creativity required for copyright protection was met.

[4] The claim of infringement concerned the verbatim copying of the entire Book, including the selection and arrangement of the revelations into the Papers that comprised the Book. This case did not concern the use of a single "revelation" outside the context of the Book, which would have been analogous to a "fact," and would not have been copyrightable.

[5] The Papers were works amenable to common-law copyright protection.

[6] Under the 1909 Copyright Act, an unpublished work was protected from the moment it was created until it was published with notice or otherwise received protection under federal copyright law. The Papers were therefore protected from the moment they were created by the members of the Contact Commission until publication of the Book. The question was whether those humans transferred the copyright to the Foundation.

[7] The members of the Contact Commission demonstrated their intent to transfer the common-law copyright in the papers through the language of the trust instrument and delivery of the printing plates to the Foundation. Under the 1909 Act, a common-law copyright could be assigned without observing formalities. Mere possession of the printing plates may have been sufficient to establish an assignment as against a third party, particularly when interested parties had acquiesced in the putative assignee's ownership. Because the intent to transfer ownership was clear and the plates were delivered to the Foundation, the members of the Contact Commission transferred their copyright in the Papers to the Foundation. When the Foundation published the Book, the original statutory copyright automatically vested.

[8] Maaherra was probably correct that the Book was not a "work made for hire." An employment or commissioning relationship at the time the work is created is a condition for claiming renewal as the proprietor of a "work made for hire."

[9] The general term "proprietor" was probably sufficient to identify the legal basis of the renewal claim in 1983.

[10] No case has held a renewal invalid for lack of an adequate description of the basis of the claim.

[11] The requirement of accurate identification of the renewal claimant has not been rigidly enforced.

[12] Even if the Foundation could no longer correct the "work made for hire" description of its proprietorship claim on the renewal form, the renewal copyright was not invalid.

[13] Inadvertent mistakes on registration certificates do not invalidate a copyright unless the alleged infringer has relied to its detriment on the mistake, or the claimant intended to defraud the Copyright Office.

[14] The Foundation deposited two copies of the Book with the Copyright Office. The Book clearly described its origin. There was no fraud on the Foundation's part and no prejudicial reliance by Maaherra.

[15] The renewal copyright was valid and Maaherra infringed it.

The summary, © 1997 by Barclays Law Publishers, is reprinted with permission.

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