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
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
> 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
This statement confuses cause with effect. The decision to copyright
Urantia Papers is the genesis of the conflict. Without it, the
situation couldn't exist. The decision to use Caesar's laws to fulfill
duty of the Trustees to keep the text inviolate was strictly a human
decision. It set into motion powerful, impersonal forces of secular
specifically commercial law, that have their own deterministic logic.
simply argue "Harry made us do it", and "We don't have any choice" is
gainsay the inevitable consequences that unleashing such forces
And, more fundamentally, it assumes that individuals and groups acting
their own religious convictions to serve the Revelation must
their efforts to policy decisions made by humans a half century ago.
Policies which, though arguably appropriate for the time and technology
its day, contain no guarantee that they are the right policies today.
Without either a (50 year anniversary) review of their current utility
a cost benefit analysis of their application; or a thorough
of alternative ways to the keep the text inviolate, this action is,
> Both our time and energy, and Harry's time and
>energy, would be far better spent on dissemination, not
Ten million dollars minimum is my guess. I base this on the costs
in a lengthy discovery process, depositions conducted over numerous
a jury trial and a full course of appeals. (The Maaherra case was
on the basis of a procedurally simple summary judgment, limited
and a limited appeal effort.) All this is money that could otherwise go
translations, and badly needed outreach and other dissemination
Those who support this action should be prepared to reach deep into
pockets to help pay for letting slip loose the dogs of legal war.
> Harry's publication violates copyright
So say the Foundation's lawyers. Michael Foundation's lawyers say
different- no big surprise there. One believer/attorney who has
this issue in depth believes the Foundation will lose its copyright as
result. (He has also offered an alternative licensing policy that
enable the Foundation to maintain the copyright without having to
this and related actions.) But hey - that's what courts are for. It
be noted, however, that resolving copyright and fair use issues are not
simple as proving somebody ran a red light; and for good reason.
Substantive issues of public policy are involved. Though the
might obtain a temporary injunction against distribution of JANR,
the substantive issues will likely involve a long, protracted struggle
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
uncompromisingly to the copyright? The Fellowship General Council and
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
participate in what now appears to be a very well orchestrated
(including even the enlistment of foreign study groups?) to isolate
from his fellows.
>It violates the spirit of the unity movement afoot within our
I see. Unity is to be defined exclusively by the holders and believers
the copyright. (This latest call to unity was Rich Keeler's
during a snowmobile trip in Wyoming, if I recall.) Suing Michael
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
>possible to the original text. This is not a simple matter of
>between competing groups of equally qualified translators, who may
>different styles of translating. If the copyright in the English
>lost, enforceable copyrights could be obtained on translations of
>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
translations, even against a translation of the
How? What is the legal basis for this claim? It implies that the first
to translate Shakespeare into Greek enjoys a monopoly against all
subsequent Greek translations of Shakespeare. Can someone provide
legal authority whatsoever for this critical assertion? Maybe some
of public domain works translated into a foreign language that became
one and only legal version for that country? (All this applies only
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
inviolate text will reach as many of the world's peoples >as
Even if the Foundation were to give up the copyright tomorrow, they
still ensure that quality translations approved by the Foundation are
available internationally. With its (ahem) good will, established
and support of a unified readership, it could easily occupy the
field. The amount of money that the Foundation could save on this
alone could produce some 20 translations available to foreign countries
the time the suit winds down. That's 20 good translations that won't
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
>New Revelation" or any other materials infringing Urantia
>copyrights and registered marks, with unsold copies to be turned over
> 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
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
realize it. (The word "copyright" does not occur once in the Declaration
At the time the decision was made, copyright was one of the few tools
available to protect the text. Apparently the only other affordable
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
expensive. But even if the two methods actually utilized were
half a century ago, that doesn't automatically make them the best tools
the job today. Other alternatives include (but are not necessarily
1. Posting encrypted copies of the text in digital form all over the
2. Using digital publishing to download, print, and bind hardcopy texts
remote sites. This would help supply a critical mass of authenticated
texts. (This would also have the added advantage of lowering the price
the book considerably by saving on such costs as shipping, insurance,
export duties, spoilage, etc. This would be especially helpful in
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
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
law. Article 6bis of the Berne Convention entitled "Moral Rights",
"(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
any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other
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
>to defend, protect, and preserve the Foundation's copyright in The
>Book-exercise their legal option and request that the courts resolve
The last time the Foundation followed this route they ended up with a
less protection than they'd enjoyed before. What did they get for all
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
could lose it all, including the quality control they now exercise
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
of the religious dimension of this debate will only lead to long term
*religious* conflict within the Urantia movement. (One need only review
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
>that reflects positively on how the revelation transforms human
Yes, by all means. Let us lovingly apply the lash to our own, and limit
cries to only expletive deleted pain. Let us temper any wailing and
gnashing of teeth over the millions of dollars that will be redirected
translations and myriad service projects to our lawyers' retirement
Let us show the world that we can do all this in a dignified and
> Therefore, in the larger interest of
the revelation, we respectfully ask
>that Harry cease the distribution of "Jesus-a New Revelation" and
>any plans for its translation or future printing.
In the larger interest of the Revelation, I encourage the Foundation
exhaust all alternative ways of fulfilling their Trust before starting
the 3rd Millennium of Christ mired in yet another expensive and
lawsuit. And I invite all who have signed or are considering signing
letter to perform their own due diligence.