Osho: Your Right to Publish
By Ma Dhyan Anandita
Several people have asked me, over the years, about the issue of using quotations from Osho in their articles, stories, books. This is because I am a lawyer dealing with – among other things – intellectual property rights, so I have some familiarity with the issue of copyright. I’ve given personal advice, but never made a public statement until now.
Ramateertha’s interview on the trademark issue inspires me to speak out. Of course, the attempt to trademark “Osho” is absurd. It’s like the Vatican saying, “You can’t use the name ‘Jesus’ without our permission.”
However, the copyright issue is different. I respect the attempt by Osho International Foundation to safeguard the integrity of Osho’s discourses. In their shoes, I’d probably do the same. But, like all organizations, they tend to extend their concern beyond its legitimate boundaries.
As I understand the situation, many requests have gone to OIF over the years, asking to use Osho quotes in various kinds of publications… books, memoirs, people’s personal stories about meeting Osho, etc. Almost invariably, OIF wants to see the proposal, assess its worth and give or withhold permission.
I want to make a clear statement: you have the legal right to publish Osho quotes. You do not need to ask OIF. Your right to Osho’ s words is safeguarded by the legal framework of “fair use” that has been adopted in the United States and in most other countries.
The US is signatory to the Berne Convention, an international agreement governing copyright, which goes back to 1886. Almost all countries around the world are also signatories. The function of the convention is to protect the rightful owners of literary and artistic works.
However, even before the convention, common law in both the US and Britain upheld the right to fair abridgement and fair use. This right was strengthened under US law by the Copyright Act of 1976.
One of the key issues in permitting “fair use” is public interest.
For example, Osho is a public and controversial figure. He might well be described as one of the most radical philosophers of the twentieth century. Therefore, it greatly benefits the public to understand him from as many different perspectives as possible.
Let’s say, I’m totally opposed to Osho’s teachings and regard him as a danger to society. I want to write a book showing how immoral and subversive are his teachings.
Now, clearly, OIF is never going to give permission for a book like that. But, equally clearly, it is in the public interest to have access to my views, since it broadens the public’s general understanding about Osho and his work. It encourages debate and discussion. It widens the public’s knowledge about a controversial figure.
So, with full legal protection, I can use long quotations from Osho in my book, refuting each of his statements as I go along, and OIF cannot do anything about it. If they take me to court, they are certain to lose.
Similarly, if you have personal stories about Osho, or if you want to use Osho quotes in your book, you do not need permission to do so. Why? Because your use of Osho, in your particular context, is broadening public understanding about this controversial mystic.
You’re adding to the body of knowledge that is available to the public about Osho. The chat you had with him, over a cup of tea in Woodlands in 1973, or the relevance of his vision to your book on quantum physics, deepens the public’s understanding of this extraordinary man.
If Osho had been a very private man, things would be different. But he was not. On the contrary, he made every effort during his life to become as widely known and as notorious as possible. Parodying Dale Carnegie, Osho once said that his biography should be called “How To Make Enemies And Influence People.”
Osho’s public stature is your protection.
If you want to play safe, then keep each quotation under 300 words, because this has been adopted as a general “fair use” guideline. But longer quotes will also be okay, especially if you break them up into short sections of direct quotations, while paraphrasing in between.
In my view, OIF does have legitimate concerns over copyright when it comes to publishing complete discourses by Osho, and whole discourse series in book form. Here, I understand their intention to protect the integrity of his words.
Here, too, the law will not offer you so much protection, since publishing whole books directly affects the commercial value of the copyright holder. You’re no longer criticizing, or commenting, or adding new perspectives. You’re trying to supersede the original work.
Then you will be faced with the task of proving that OIF is not the legitimate copyright holder, which is a totally different ball-game.
Credit also has to be given to OIF’s dedication to keeping Osho’s archive of discourses updated. The process of digitalizing his video and audio recordings, making them available on DVD, via the internet, and so on… It shows a genuine desire to keep Osho’s work intact and alive. So they have good reasons for acting the way they do.
But for those of you who just want to write about their personal memories, or use a quote here and there, or talk about Osho’s views on various subjects… have no fear. Feel free to quote the Great Rebel. He’s public property and your right to comment will be protected under the law.
Anandita practices law in Chicago and has been a sannyasin since 2002.