German Court: Jesus Doesn't Deserve Copyright Protection

from the holy-shit dept

The initial copyright on a work is supposed to be bestowed upon the person who added that creative element that made it subject to copyright. For example, if you were to dictate a new novel, you should still get the copyright, rather than the stenographer who took down your words. But perhaps that gets a little trickier from a legal standpoint, when the “dictator” is supposedly Jesus. That leads us to a case recently decided in Germany that found that a woman, who directly claimed not to be the author of a book, gets to retain the copyright over those words… because she claimed the actual author was Jesus. As you can imagine, that raises some slightly unusual copyright questions. Via Adrian Rodriguez:

A verdict released by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt (OLG) on Wednesday decided for a US claimant called the Foundation for Inner Peace. It sued a German foundation for copyright infringement after they published passages of text from a book called A Course in Miracles. The German foundation took passages from the book and justified their actions on the reasoning that Schucman herself claimed not to be the author or the messages, and that the text was a result of the dictations she received from Jesus.

The “author” in question, Helen Schucman, an American psychology professor, is on the record as stating that the texts she transcribed were authored not by her, but by Jesus in the form of ongoing dreams. Because I find it quite convenient to do so, I’d like to completely take Schucman at her word. She transcribed the work of Jesus. If we we do that, it’s difficult to understand the German court’s logic in this ruling. Copyright goes to the author of the words, which by Schucman’s admission is not her. That should kind of be the end of the argument.

Except, the court decided that even if it takes her story as accurate, there would still be a legitimate copyright… for Schucman (and her heirs or assignees).

The court saw it as a breach of copyright law arguing that divine inspiration is legally attributable to their human recipient.

Yup, that’s a governmental court ruling on the proper attribution of supernatural inspiration. As a result the self-proclaimed copier of Jesus’ words gets the copyright. We’ve now got a case on the books in which a person who claims not to be the author of certain words gets copyright protection over those same non-authored words. Now can we admit copyright is getting silly?

Oh, and if you want to make this even more fun, it’s worth noting that a lawsuit over the same copyright in the US had an opposite result, though for different reasons. The court in that case (wisely) avoided the question of who really was the “author” (in fact, tossing out that particular question). Instead, the US court chose to declare the work in the public domain after it was revealed that a version of the work had been distributed without a copyright notice prior to publication. While that wouldn’t matter under today’s copyright law, this happened just a few years before US copyright law automatically handed copyright to every creative work. Back then you needed to register, and without that registration, it put the work into the public domain here in the US.

Either way, have fun dealing with the question of: What would Jesus copyright?

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Comments on “German Court: Jesus Doesn't Deserve Copyright Protection”

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Anonymous Coward says:

If you seriously believe that you have been divinely inspired by Jesus, then you should not be claiming copyright. It’s not your work, and beyond that, you should WANT people to copy it to spread the message.

On the other hand, it might not be a word-for-word transcription. If the message was paraphrased, it might count as a copyrightable derivative work.

In any case, I would argue that divine messages should not be copyrightable for much the same reason that government works should not be copyrightable.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Well Jesus said...

Does this mean that the next time some person, three stools down at the local watering hole, begins their reasoned argument with “Well Jesus said…”, I can change my usual scathing response to “Sorry, everything Jesus said is under copyright, and you are not allowed to quote it?” Or am I misreading that?

Applesauce says:

Life of the author plus...

I also would have assumed that Schucman is telling the truth. Jesus is the author and Schucman is just a recent transcriber. However, copyright is for the life of the Author plus seventy years.

Jesus died 1981 years ago, so regardless of when the writing was put in a fixed form, it seems reasonable to assume his copyrights expired 1911 years ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Life of the author plus...

Jesus died 1981 years ago, so regardless of when the writing was put in a fixed form, it seems reasonable to assume his copyrights expired 1911 years ago.

Arguably, at the very least any works authored after his resurrection remain copyrighted by him.

At least if they were written after Walt Disney’s death. Go, don’t tell it on the mountains.

David says:

Re: Re: Life of the author plus...

He definitely forfeited eternal copyright on his prehumous works by descending into the realm of the dead.

After reascension, he might keep tabs on any subsequent works.

But given his stance towards the moneylenders in the temples, it’s not that likely that he’ll avail himself of the necessary legal advice.

He’ll probably insist that he does not need legal representation as he will be the one dealing out judgment over the living and the dead.

But that’s not going to fly.

Sheogorath (profile) says:


From the article: While that wouldn’t matter under today’s copyright law, this happened just a few years before US copyright law automatically handed copyright to every creative work. Back then you needed to register, and without that registration, it put the work into the public domain here in the US.
Actually, before the Copyright Act 1976 was altered in 1988, registration wasn’t required to gain a copyright, only that a correctly formatted notice was affixed to the work in question. It was only if you wished to renew your work that you had to send a copy to the Library of Congress, along with the necessary fee.

Anonymous Coward says:

This story is either humour or trolling.

All that the court has done is reaffirm the common notion that the transliteration of dreams (whether divinely inspired or otherwise) into written form is copyrightable.

Many of the above commenters did not notice that this suit was not brought by the author (Ms Schucman), but by the publisher that she assigned copyright to. The copyright notice
acknowledges fair use, and that some of the work is in the public domain.

Either this article and/or the lawyers involved appear incompetent and/or misleading.

Urgelt (profile) says:

What This Really Says...

The German court ruling tells us that new works by a dead person can’t be copyrighted by that dead person.

Talk about a disincentive! Now *nobody* who is deceased will have a fiscal motive to create new works!

Free market advocates, rebel! Get your protest signs! I’ve got mine right here:


Heck, that’s not a stretch. If corporations are people, *anyone* should qualify.

Dogs, even. Dunno about hamsters.

We’ll meet up at the German embassy, and afterward go talk to dead presidents at Arlington and see what *they* think about Germans stripping away their rights. I bet we’ll get an earful!

I wonder where Ayn Rand is buried. I’ve got a great idea for a new book she could dictate to me. It’s called “Atlas Mugged: The True Fictional Account of John Galt’s Encounter with a More Ruthless Capitalist than Him.” It’ll be a hoot, trust me on this.

richard40 (profile) says:

This article is nonsense. If a singer says their voice is a gift from God, are you then going to claim that they cant claim copyright on their songs and records. The words did not exist until she wrote them, regardless of what inspired her do so. The only way this argument would apply would be if somebody tried to copyright bible quotes in a book they wrote, since in that case the words were already public domain before they wrote them again.

richard40 (profile) says:

In addition, the analogy to dictation is faulty, because in cases where that happens, the person saying the words and the person transcribing, will typically already have a copyright agreement, and in the case of ghostwriters, where authorship is a collaboration, the copyright is often shared, while in other cases where somebody interviews somebody else, and writes a book based on the interview, the interviewer can often get the entire copyright.

Michael W. Perry (user link) says:

A reasonable decision

It’s actually a reasonable decision, since Jesus couldn’t sign any relevant documents, either to get a copyright or pursue a violator. In legal terms he has no standing.

It’d also open up a dreadful can of worms in other areas. Someone could claim to be channelling a new work by Mark Twain. If the court granted such a copyright, then it would have ruled, in essence, that Twain was the author, granting the channeler a right to sue for libel or slander anyone who claimed that Twain didn’t write it.

submandave (user link) says:


While I certainly understand the publisher’s interest in filing suit, I fail to understand why the correct legal action wasn’t to dismiss it as lacking standing. The publisher makes no claim of copyright, so what standing do they have to file a suit on behalf of the author, who likewise makes no claim of copyright. Unless, of course, they are her executor and she is deemed incapable of representing herself or she is making no actual claim of authorship but asserting a right of control over the words of Jesus, a rather bold claim at that.

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