According to contributing writer William W. Bedsworth, the following column is actually going to have some redeeming social value -- not a whole lot, but some. It starts with an odd question about an unusual sentence from a published 9th Circuit opinion: When's the last time you read an opinion in which a court found it necessary to describe the legal position of the "humans?"
By William W. Bedsworth|October 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM
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Pay attention. This column is actually going to have some redeeming social value. Not a whole lot, but some. Get ready. I want you to read this sentence, from a published opinion of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and tell me what about it strikes you as unusual — unusual, that is, even for the 9th Circuit: “We believe the controlling issue, however, is whether, as of the time of the publication, the Foundation, the copyright claimant, could trace its title back to the humans who owned the original common law copyright.” You done? All right, what struck you as unusual about that sentence? No, no, besides the six commas. How about the use of the word, “humans.” When’s the last time you read an opinion in which a court found it necessary to describe the legal position of the “humans?” Let me just suggest to you that any time you find a court referring to participants in a lawsuit as “humans,” you’ve found yourself an opinion that is not going to be just another roadside attraction. The only reason for referring to the holders of the original copyright as “humans” is to differentiate them from the NON-HUMANS. That’s pretty much my definition of a case worth reading.  Which, of course, pretty much assures that it’s going to end up with the feds. They get all the really good alien being, spaceship sighting, Elvis is alive and well and working for the CIA in my rec room kind of cases. That’s because, under a little-known federal law, they get first choice. And, of course, the 9th Circuit gets first choice of all the goofy cases that come out of California, Nevada and Arizona. That’s like having a license to mine gold in Fort Knox. I mean, between the half-baked ideas that come out of California and the overcooked ideas that come out of the desert southwest, the 9th Circuit gets to listen to more craziness than Mick Jagger’s therapist. For example, they get cases like Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra. Here are the UNCONTESTED facts of Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955. I took these right out of the court’s opinion. Read them and tell me you wouldn’t be bitter if the 9th Circuit kept stealing cases like this from you. According to the 9th Circuit, the Urantia Book is a collection of divine revelations, authored by “non-human spiritual beings” including the Divine Counselor, the Chief of the Archangels of Nebadon, and, my personal favorite, the Chief of the Corps of Superuniverse Personalities. Wouldn’t you just love to be the Chief of the Corps of Superuniverse Personalities? I mean, just being a Superuniverse Personality would be really cool. But being the chief of the entire corps, THAT would be a great job. How many Superuniverse Personalities do you suppose there are? I mean, I figure Dr. Phil is pretty obviously one of them. And John Tesh. Arianna Huffington, maybe. But beyond that, I think they’ve done an admirable job of cloaking their identities.  Perhaps too good. The revelations of the Superuniverse Personalities et al. were divulged through — I am not making this up — the “patient of a Chicago psychiatrist.” The Chicago psychiatrist is identified by the 9th Circuit only as “Dr. Sadler.” The name of the patient who actually walked into Dr. Sadler’s office with the stone tablets in tow is not divulged, presumably due to patient/psychotherapist privilege. Isn’t it always the way? I mean, if the godhead would just make these pronouncements through the President of the United States or the Speaker of the House of Representatives or Wolf Blitzer, or somebody else we all believe all the time, the whole religion thing would be a lot easier. But She keeps picking people with very little credibility . . . like psychiatrists. This really seems an unnecessary complication of stuff that’s already tough enough. And before I go any further into this, let me hasten to point out I am NOT disparaging anyone’s religious beliefs. Do not send me letters about religious intolerance. Most of my family are Zen Golf-Baptists: They believe dancing is sinful unless you do it in sand and rake up your footprints. I myself happen to belong to a religion which accepts as fact burning bushes which speak and people who live inside the bellies of large fishes for extended periods of time. My religion is just chock-full of stuff Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking on their best days couldn’t make heads or tails of. Having bought into all of that, I am in no position to indulge in religious bigotry. Besides, I really know nothing about what these people believe except that it involves a whole crew of archangels I never heard of, and that doesn’t bother me a bit. Near as I can determine every religion gets to name its own archangels, just as every major league manager gets to name his own coaches. Seems fair to me. I figure until one of these groups shows up with a notarized document from God, we’re free to root for whatever team we want. I lose very little sleep over OTHER people’s religious beliefs. I am, however, seriously frosted about what terrific cases other courts get. I have nothing against the 9th Circuit — which, as I understand it, disqualifies me for Congress, but that’s not a bad deal, either — I just don’t understand why they merit this case, while highly qualified deep-thinkers like me plod through the muck of cases involving mere mortals. Why should a court which spends most of its time struggling to get its batting average above the Mendoza line get thrown softballs like this one? But I digress. To return to the actual reported decision — a fact which I mention here because I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this isn’t satire, it’s MCLE — Dr. Sadler did what anyone would do when confronted with divine revelation: he formed a committee. He got together “five or six followers, called the Contact Commission.” Personally, I think this was a mistake. I haven’t had a lot of truck with commissions in my life, but it seems to me they’re always riling folks up. Think about it; you got your Securities and Exchange Commission, your Public Utilities Commission, your police commission, your Warren Commission, and all you ever hear about is how unhappy people are with them. I think any chance you have NOT to form a commission should be taken advantage of, but Dr. Sadler did not ask my advice.  According to the 9th Circuit, “[A]pparently in response to what they perceived to be prompting from the spiritual beings, and in collaboration with a larger group of followers called the Forum, the Contact Commission began to pose specific questions to the spiritual beings. The answers to these questions, as transmitted to the humans and arranged by them, became the Urantia Papers [also known as "the Book," the subject of this lawsuit].” Honest. Things apparently went well at first. Oh, there was the occasional lawsuit brought by covetous non-Nebadonians (see, e.g., Urantia Foundation v. Burton, 210 U.S.P.Q. 217 (W.D. Mich. 1980)), and the occasional problem with state courts rejecting believers’ freedom of religion defenses to their pot-cultivation charges (see, e.g., People v. Mullins (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d61), but nothing more than you’d expect whenever the Divine Counselor is involved. Until 1990. That’s when the folks in charge of the Urantia Book found out someone was distributing it — along with a “study aid,” no less — on computer disks. FOR FREE!! They tracked down defendant Maaherra in Arizona, and sued her for infringing the copyright they had presciently obtained in 1956 and renewed in 1983. Her defense was that their copyright was invalid because, after all, THE BOOK WAS NOT WRITTEN BY HUMANS! This enabled the 9th Circuit to break some new ground.  They noted that “The copyright laws, of course, do not expressly require ‘human’ authorship . . .,” but nonetheless upheld the Foundation’s claim of copyright violation. This required the pronouncement which is perhaps my favorite thing ever said by a federal judge that did not include dinner plans: “We agree with Maaherra, 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.” 114 F.3d 955, 958. Tell me if I’m reading too much into it, but isn’t that a holding that God has no standing on copyright issues? Isn’t the 9th Circuit hanging out a sign on the area of intellectual property that says, “Divine beings need not apply?” They make it even clearer later in the paragraph: “At the very least, for a worldly entity to be guilty of infringing a copyright, that entity must have copied something created by another worldly entity.” Note they don’t say “an other-worldly entity,” but “another worldly entity.” The other-worldly entities are just S.O.L.  I mean, I don’t know where these people worship, but I ordinarily make it a practice to try to decide cases without ruling that DEITIES HAVE NO STANDING! Call me timid, but that just seems real risky to me. I can only assume the 9th Circuit has decided the U.S. Supreme Court is not a sufficiently worthy adversary and has decided to take on the REAL Supreme Court. Talk about tugging on Superman’s cape. I must confess here that I was too timid to shepardize this case. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be more likely to see, “Petition granted,” or “Plague of locusts visited upon.” I’ll leave it to you to determine whether Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra is still good law. But you don’t need Shepard’s to tell you that anybody who rules God has no standing is not a good person to be standing next to during an electrical storm. And, sure enough, of the three judges who joined in this decision, two (Donald Lay and Mary Schroeder) have been saddled with the chief judgeship of their respective circuits.  And the third, Alfred Goodwin, got to decide the Pledge of Allegiance case — not quite a non-stop ticket to hell, but close enough. So by my lights, none of the godlings who decided this case have been well-treated by the Real Thing since Urantia. Just goes to show you, it may take awhile, but the mills of God do not forget. You deny standing to deities, you get ground exceedingly small.
 Which, as my colleagues on the Court of Appeal are wont to explain to me, is not the standard for publication set forth in rule 976(b) of the California Rules of Court. Pity.
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