PROTECTING A SPIRITUAL LEGACY
Trademark/Copyright Lawsuit Between SRF/Ananda Reaches Conclusion
Final Documentation Signed by Courts on December 16, 2002
We are happy to let you know that a conclusion has been reached in the lawsuit between Self-Realization Fellowship and the Ananda Church of Self-Realization, thus bringing to an end the legal proceedings between the two organizations regarding certain trademarks and copyrights.
On October 28, 2002, a unanimous jury verdict was rendered in the remaining and most important aspect of the proceedings — the copyright portion of the litigation.
One of the main issues to be decided by the jury was whether or not Paramahansa Yogananda intended that SRF be the owner of the copyrights in his writings, lectures, and recordings of his voice. Although in the course of the lawsuit Ananda had challenged SRF’s assertion that this was indeed the case, the jury unequivocally found that Yogananda did in fact assign to Self-Realization Fellowship the copyrights in all the works at issue in this trial.
The jury’s decision was based on thousands of pages of manuscripts, letters, and legal documents produced as evidence by SRF — and on the personal testimony of a number of close disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda.
The works at issue in the trial comprised a large body of articles authored by Paramahansaji, including more than 200 of his Bhagavad Gita commentaries and Bible interpretations printed in SRF’s magazine over a period of many years, as well as portions of some of his lectures also published in SRF’s magazine, and tape recordings of his voice.
The jury determined that Ananda had infringed SRF’s copyrights on all these items, and awarded SRF an amount of nearly $29,000 in damages for Ananda’s sales of the infringing sound recordings. No damages were awarded in connection with Ananda’s past reproduction and distribution of SRF’s printed materials because of the specific circumstances under which they were used at that time.
Because monetary gain had never been a goal for SRF in the lawsuit, immediately following the jury verdict Self-Realization Fellowship had its lawyers prepare an agreement that would dismiss all remaining issues pending in the litigation to avoid any further dispute or expense to either party — including attorney fees. Ananda agreed to the settlement terms, which affirm the jury’s decision and make it final, without imposing any further burdens on Ananda. On December 16, 2002, the court entered the final judgment on the case.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE LAWSUIT
Self-Realization Fellowship initiated this legal action in 1990, after learning that Ananda had changed its name to Church of Self-Realization and was also reprinting and selling SRF-copyrighted publications and recordings by Sri Yogananda. In filing the lawsuit, SRF’s one concern was that the two organizations — the society founded by Paramahansa Yogananda and the one founded by J. Donald Walters — be clearly distinguishable from one another.
The Self-Realization Fellowship name is known by hundreds of thousands of members and friends throughout the world, who associate it with the organization Paramahansaji established more than 80 years ago for the purpose of disseminating his teachings and preserving their purity and integrity for all future generations. Ananda’s name change — combined with its unauthorized publishing of the Guru’s writings — made it increasingly difficult for people to distinguish between products and services originating with Paramahansa Yogananda’s organization and those from other sources.
The legal proceedings regarding trademarks were concluded towards the end of 1997, and SRF’s trademarks in its own names, Self-Realization Fellowship and Self-Realization Fellowship Church, were deemed valid. The courts further stated that while the terms “Paramahansa Yogananda” and “Self-realization” by themselves could not be trademarked, Ananda should use the name Ananda Church of Self-Realization rather than Church of Self-Realization, in order “to minimize confusion.” (SRF had never objected to the use of the term “Self-realization” in a religious context but only as the name of another church.) In the five years since the trademark issues were resolved, SRF has found that confusion has been lessened to some extent.
There was no jury trial regarding the trademarks, as this aspect was addressed by district and appellate court judges. As for the copyright matters pertaining to the large volume of works described above, these were addressed by the jury in a four-week trial, culminating in the unanimous confirmation by the jury of Paramahansaji’s intent that the copyrights in his writings and recordings belong to SRF. (Contrary to what has been inferred by Ananda, the copyright status of the Guru’s best-known book, Autobiography of a Yogi, was not at issue at any time during the legal proceedings.)
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
This period of litigation has been difficult for all parties involved. We are grateful it has concluded and that we are now able to look forward to what we hope will be a future of harmony, understanding, and goodwill.
As we have done for more than 80 years, we will continue to publish the most comprehensive and authoritative editions of Paramahansa Yogananda’s books, and to disseminate his teachings worldwide, preserving their purity and integrity for generations to come. We deeply appreciate the support we have received from so many of you for our ongoing efforts to uphold the aims and ideals of our founder, Paramahansa Yogananda, and to carry on his spiritual and humanitarian work.