Thing 001079 (Concordance Study Aid)

In 1911, a Chicago physician named William S. Sadler, treated a man who had an unusual sleeping pattern. The patient purportedly spoke through his sleep in an unusual voice that claimed to be a “visitor from another planet” 1. After examining the man for psychiatric problems, Sadler said he was unable to make a diagnosis. Sadler studied this man for over eighteen years. During this time his patient dictated numerous messages while being asleep. With the help of a stenographer, Sadler transcribed the statements of the channeller during 209 sessions. The revelations of the channeler seemed to be from celestial beings who visited our planet, which they call Urantia. These celestial beings described themselves as the “Divine Counselor”, the “Chief of the Corps of Superuniverse Personalities”, and the “Chief of the Archangels of Nebadon”.

In 1925, Sadler also found handwritten documents in his patient’s house called the “Contact Personality”. These documents were compiled by a small group (William S. Sadler, Lena Sadler, William S. Sadler Jr., Anna Kellogg and Wilfred Kellogg) called the “Contact Commission” and a larger group of people who read and study the early drafts of the text called the “Forum” into the Urantia Papers2. In 1934, the Contact Commission edited the various Urantia Papers and compiled it into a book. In 1935, The Urantia Book was completed. In 1939, a group of volunteers began studying the Urantia Book 3. The turnover of new readers was great. In 1950, the Contact Commission formed the Urantia Foundation, a charitable trust. It’s goal was to preserve and disseminate the Urantia Book. In 1955, the Urantia Foundation published The Urantia Book. The same year the Urantia Foundation registered a copyright claim with the Copyright Office. The certificate stated that the Foundation as the “proprietor of the copyright in a work made for hire”.

From the summer of 1989 to the summer of 1990, the Son Worshipers, a Urantia Book study group in Tucson, Arizona, made a study aid. They decided to scan the text, transfer it to a computer text file and make a search index. In 1990, Kristen Maaherra, who was part of Son Worshipers, presented the Concordance Study Aid for the first time at a Urantia conference in Snowmass, Colorado. She distributed the Runtime Folio Views file Concordance Study Aid on disks and also as print. The file circulated among many readers. 4

On February 27, 1991, the Urantia Foundation filed a complaint against Kristen Maaherra, alleging that she had copied the text of The Urantia Book and distributed it throughout the United States. Kristen Maaherra claimed that the Urantia Papers are the Fifth Epochal Revelation and stated that the freedom of religion guaranteed practioners the rights to study Urantia Papers. On February 10, 1995, during the court case The Urantia Foundation v. Kristen Maaherra at United States District Court of Arizona judge Urbom stated:

[...] [Kristen Maaherra]’s admission as to copying the text of The Urantia Book allows me to focus solely on the validity of the [The Urantia Foundation]’s copyright. [...]

1. Works for Hire Doctrine. [...] I interpret the Contact Personality’s role to be that of a mere scribe, unable to be the author of that which it mechanically transcribes. [...] [T]he crucial question is whether there is sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there was an employment relationship between Dr. Sadler’s patient and either Dr. Sadler or the Contact Commission. I find that there is not. [...] [I]t is the patient from whom, ultimately, The Urantia Papers came. [...] [T]he instant case, suggests the absence of an employment relationship. Originally, it was the patient who sought Dr. Sadler, and not as an employer but as a therapist. The first Urantia Papers were not created at the insistence of Dr. Sadler, nor was the thought of their creation conceived by Dr. Sadler or the Contact Commission. [...] More important, there is no evidence that either Dr. Sadler or the Contact Commission had any power to induce, direct, supervise, oversee, or control the actual production of a single Urantia Paper. [...]

2. Composite Works. [...] I agree that The Urantia Book may be considered a composite work [...] [The Urantia Foundation] channels its efforts toward proving that the structure of The Urantia Book satisfies the definition of a composite work, but is unable to offer evidence that the individual Urantia Papers were transferred pursuant to a contractual arrangement, entitling [the Urantia Foundation] to become their proprietor. [...]” 5

The court concluded that the copyright in The Urantia Book was invalid, cause the book was not a work made for hire as claimed on the certificate, and stated that even though the book could have qualified as a copyrighted composite work, the Urantia Foundation had failed to prove that there was a transfer of rights. The Urantia Foundation appealed the court decision. On June 10, 1997, during the court case The Urantia Foundation v. Kristen Maaherra at United States Court of Appeals judge Schroeder stated:

Copyrightability of the Book. A threshold issue in this case is whether the work, because it is claimed to embody the words of celestial beings rather than human beings, is copyrightable at all. [...] The copyright laws, of course, do not expressly require “human” authorship, and considerable controversy has arisen in recent years over the copyrightability of computer-generated works. [...] 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. [...] The copyrightability issue is not a metaphysical one requiring the courts to determine whether or not the Book had celestial origins. In this case, the belief both parties may have regarding those origins, and their claim that the Book is a product of divine revelation, is a matter of faith, and obviously a crucial element in the promotion and dissemination of the Book. For copyright purposes, however, a work is copyrightable if copyrightability is claimed by the first human beings who compiled, selected, coordinated, and arranged the Urantia teachings, “in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship” [copyright definition of a compilation]. [...] Those who were responsible for the creation of the tangible literary form that could be read by others, could have claimed copyright for themselves as “authors”, because they were responsible for the revelations appearing ‘in such a way’ as to render the work as a whole original. [...] In this case, the Contact Commission may have received some guidance from celestial beings when the Commission posed the questions, but the members of the Contact Commission chose and formulated the specific questions asked. These questions materially contributed to the structure of the Papers, to the arrangement of the revelations in each Paper, and to the organization and order in which the Papers followed one another. We hold that the human selection and arrangement of the revelations in this case could not have been so mechanical or routine as to require no creativity whatsoever. [...]

Ownership of the Copyright at the Time of Original Publication. [...] The district court accurately observed that the selection of Dr. Sadler’s patient as the amanuensis for communicating the teachings eventually transcribed on the plates was indeed serendipitous. We believe the controlling issue, however, is whether, as of the time of publication, the Foundation, the copyright claimant, could trace its title back to the humans who owned the original common law copyright. [...] The Papers were [...] protected by common law copyright from the moment they were created by the members of the Contact Commission until publication of the Book. The question is whether those humans transferred that copyright to the Foundation. [...] [T]he mere possession of the printing plates by the Foundation, the purported assignee, may have been sufficient to establish an assignment [...] Because the intent to transfer ownership of the plates to the Foundation was clear, and the plates were delivered to the Foundation, we hold that the members of the Contact Commission also intended to transfer, and did in fact transfer, their copyright in the Papers to the Foundation. [...]

Validity of the Renewal. [...] The certificate stated that the Foundation was claiming renewal as the “proprietor of copyright in a work made for hire”. Maaherra first contends that the Book was not a “work made for hire” and that the renewal for that reason is invalid. [...] As to whether the Book was a “work made for hire”, Maaherra is probably correct that it was not. The Foundation was never the employer of any of the spiritual beings, of Dr. Sadler, of the Contact Commission, or of any other entity that played a role in the creation of the Papers that were eventually transferred to the Foundation. [...] Maaherra [...] argues that because the renewal certificate described the Foundation as the “proprietor of a work made for hire” rather than as the “proprietor of a composite work”, the renewal registration is not valid. [...] [W]e have found no case that has ever held a renewal invalid for lack of an adequate description of the basis of the claim. The only cases in which renewals have been forfeited have involved renewals filed by the wrong claimant, not by someone describing the wrong type of proprietorship. [...] Maaherra argues that the Foundation’s claim is nevertheless barred even under the holdings of these cases because the Foundation intended to defraud the Copyright Office when it stated it was the “proprietor of a work made for hire”. [...] Maaherra asserts that the Foundation did not want to reveal to the Copyright Office that the “authors” were celestial beings because the Copyright Office would have rejected the application. [...] There is no merit to this contention. The Foundation deposited two copies of the Book with the Copyright Office. The Book clearly describes its own origin as having been created at the instance of: “Planetary celestial supervisors [who initiated] those petitions that resulted in the granting of the mandates making possible the series of revelations of which this presentation is a part”. We conclude that there has been no fraud on the Foundation’s part [...].6

The court concluded that the Urantia Foundation’s copyright was valid, and that Maaherra infringed it. The previous decision of the district court was reversed.

  1. Sadler, William, The Mind at Mischief: Tricks and Deceptions of the Subconscious and How to Cope with Them, 1929

  2. Kantor, David, The First Century of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, 2003

  3. Kantor, David, The First Century of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, 2003

  4. Maaherra, Kristen, Kristen’s Letter to the Judge, 1999,

  5. The Urantia Foundation v. Kristen Maaherra, United States District Court of Arizona, 1995

  6. The Urantia Foundation v. Kristen Maaherra, United States Court of Appeals, 1997