Response of 11/12/99 by Phil Geiger to Foundation's open letter

Phil Geiger writes:


As the philosophical questions associated with the separate publishing of JANR have been (and continue to be) debated in other fora, I will mainly limit my comments here to the likely effects that suing Michael Foundation will produce; and to suggestions for an alternative course of action.

>An Open Letter to Harry McMullan III and to Readers of The Urantia Book:


>   We, as leaders, former leaders, and members of the community of readers,
>seek to bring peace and good will to our movement regarding this
>controversial issue.  We did not initiate this disagreement and seek no
>unnecessary confrontation.

This statement confuses cause with effect. The decision to copyright the
Urantia Papers is the genesis of the conflict. Without it, the current
situation couldn't exist. The decision to use Caesar's laws to fulfill the
duty of the Trustees to keep the text inviolate was strictly a human policy
decision. It set into motion powerful, impersonal forces of secular law,
specifically commercial law, that have their own deterministic logic. To
simply argue "Harry made us do it", and "We don't have any choice" is to
gainsay the inevitable consequences that unleashing such forces entail.
And, more fundamentally, it assumes that individuals and groups acting upon
their own religious convictions to serve the Revelation must subordinate
their efforts to policy decisions made by humans a half century ago.
Policies which, though arguably appropriate for the time and technology of
its day, contain no guarantee that they are the right policies today.
Without either a (50 year anniversary) review of their current utility and
a cost benefit analysis of their application; or a thorough investigation
of alternative ways to the keep the text inviolate, this action is, at
best, premature.

> Both our time and energy, and Harry's time and
>energy, would be far better spent on dissemination, not litigation. 

Ten million dollars minimum is my guess. I base this on the costs involved
in a lengthy discovery process, depositions conducted over numerous states,
a jury trial and a full course of appeals. (The Maaherra case was decided
on the basis of a procedurally simple summary judgment, limited discovery,
and a limited appeal effort.) All this is money that could otherwise go for
translations, and badly needed outreach and other dissemination efforts.
Those who support this action should be prepared to reach deep into their
pockets to help pay for letting slip loose the dogs of legal war.


>   Harry's publication violates copyright law.

So say the Foundation's lawyers. Michael Foundation's lawyers say
different- no big surprise there. One believer/attorney who has researched
this issue in depth believes the Foundation will lose its copyright as a
result. (He has also offered an alternative licensing policy that would
enable the Foundation to maintain the copyright without having to instigate
this and related actions.) But hey - that's what courts are for. It should
be noted, however, that resolving copyright and fair use issues are not as
simple as proving somebody ran a red light; and for good reason.
Substantive issues of public policy are involved. Though the Foundation
might obtain a temporary injunction against distribution of JANR, resolving
the substantive issues will likely involve a long, protracted struggle that
could take over a decade to resolve.

>It violates the processes of duly constituted group wisdom.

Which group is that? The Trustees and their adjunct IUA, each dedicated
uncompromisingly to the copyright?  The Fellowship General Council and the
Fellowship Societies (duly constituted groups), in separate actions
declined to accede to the Foundation's entreaties to take a vote on a
matter (one that would likely have divided the membership). Neither would
participate in what now appears to be a very well orchestrated campaign
(including even the enlistment of foreign study groups?) to isolate Harry
from his fellows.


>It violates the spirit of the unity movement afoot within our community.

I see. Unity is to be defined exclusively by the holders and believers in
the copyright. (This latest call to unity was Rich Keeler's inspiration
during a snowmobile trip in Wyoming, if I recall.) Suing Michael Foundation
for publishing and distributing The Life and Teachings of Jesus will
probably destroy not only the spirit of the unity movement, but its
actuality as well.


>   As one of the few tools at the Trustees' disposal to do this, the
>copyright must be maintained to ensure that translations are as true as
>possible to the original text. This is not a simple matter of choosing
>between competing groups of equally qualified translators, who may have
>different styles of translating.  If the copyright in the English text is
>lost, enforceable copyrights could be obtained on translations of poor
>quality and on translations which amend, abridge, embellish, or
purposefully distort the text.

Enforceable copyrights on inferior or distorted translations do not
preclude copyrights from being awarded to competing, superior translations.
>Once obtained, such a copyright could be enforced against all other
translations, even against a translation of the
>original text.

How? What is the legal basis for this claim? It implies that the first one
to translate Shakespeare into Greek enjoys a monopoly against all
subsequent Greek translations of Shakespeare.  Can someone provide any
legal authority whatsoever for this critical assertion? Maybe some examples
of public domain works translated into a foreign language that became the
one and only legal version for that country? (All this applies only to
countries that are signatories to international copyright treaties.
Nonmember countries are of course free to do what they want, even now.)

> Only by maintaining and enforcing the copyright can we ensure that the
inviolate text will reach as many of the world's peoples >as possible.

Even if the Foundation were to give up the copyright tomorrow, they can
still ensure that quality translations approved by the Foundation are
available internationally. With its (ahem) good will, established presence,
and support of a unified readership, it could easily occupy the translation
field. The amount of money that the Foundation could save on this lawsuit
alone could produce some 20 translations available to foreign countries by
the time the suit winds down. That's 20 good translations that won't be
there to offset any bad ones should the Foundation lose.

>   We urge Harry to retract this illegal printing of copyrighted material and
>to agree in writing not to print or distribute any more volumes of "Jesus-A
>New Revelation" or any other materials infringing Urantia Foundation's
>copyrights and registered marks, with unsold copies to be turned over to
>Urantia Foundation.
>   If Harry fails to comply with this request, the Trustees of Urantia
>Foundation will have no choice but to exercise their fiduciary
>responsibility and their legal obligations under the Declaration of Trust.

The fiduciary duty of the Foundation trustees is to keep the text
inviolate. All that is at risk here is the archaic *policy* they chose to
realize it. (The word "copyright" does not occur once in the Declaration of

At the time the decision was made, copyright was one of the few tools
available to protect the text. Apparently the only other affordable means
was to take three copies of the original and lock them away in a safe
somewhere. Another alternative, flooding the world with authenticated
copies, perhaps the surest form of text protection, would have been very
expensive. But even if the two methods actually utilized were appropriate
half a century ago, that doesn't automatically make them the best tools for
the job today. Other alternatives include (but are not necessarily limited

1. Posting encrypted copies of the text in digital form all over the World
Wide Web.

2. Using digital publishing to download, print, and bind hardcopy texts at
remote sites. This would help supply a critical mass of authenticated
texts. (This would also have the added advantage of lowering the price of
the book considerably by saving on such costs as shipping, insurance,
export duties, spoilage, etc. This would be especially helpful in supplying
affordable books to poorer countries.)

3. Adopting an open licensing policy. This would facilitate universal
dissemination. It would also assure quality control over the primary text,
secondary works, and translations. Additional protection of foreign
translations under such a policy is provided for by: 

4. Exercising the "moral rights" associated with international copyright
law. Article 6bis of the Berne Convention  entitled "Moral Rights", states
in part:

   "(1) Independently of the author's economic rights, and even after the
transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to...object to
any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory
action in relation to, the said work..."

Note: All these alternatives assume preservation of the existing copyright.
>   While we prefer to have this matter resolved privately, if Harry fails to
>comply with this request, the Trustees of Urantia Foundation will-in order
>to defend, protect, and preserve the Foundation's copyright in The Urantia
>Book-exercise their legal option and request that the courts resolve this

The last time the Foundation followed this route they ended up with a lot
less protection than they'd enjoyed before. What did they get for all their
trouble and expense? What the Supreme Court in Feist called "thin"
protection on a compiled, composite work of non-copyrightable "facts"
(co-authored by humans, no less).  With this current gambit, the Foundation
could lose it all, including the quality control they now exercise over
secondary works and translations.

> The legal process, while unpleasant, is used throughout the
>imperfect and evolving universes to resolve conflicts between beings.

To resolve secular conflicts amongst beings, yes. But the persistent denial
of the religious dimension of this debate will only lead to long term
*religious* conflict within the Urantia movement. (One need only review the
legacy of religious versus secular war to appreciate the power of the
former compared to the latter.)

>Such proceedings can and should be conducted in a dignified and gracious
>that reflects positively on how the revelation transforms human behavior.

Yes, by all means. Let us lovingly apply the lash to our own, and limit our
cries to only expletive deleted pain. Let us temper any wailing and
gnashing of teeth over the millions of dollars that will be redirected from
translations and myriad service projects to our lawyers' retirement funds.
Let us show the world that we can do all this in a dignified and gracious

>   Therefore, in the larger interest of the revelation, we respectfully ask
>that Harry cease the distribution of  "Jesus-a New Revelation" and cancel
>any plans for its translation or future printing.

In the larger interest of the Revelation, I encourage the Foundation to
exhaust all alternative ways of fulfilling their Trust before starting out
the 3rd Millennium of Christ mired in yet another expensive and fractious
lawsuit. And I invite all who have signed or are considering signing this
letter to perform their own due diligence.

Hopefully yours,

Phil Geiger