Lawsuit: Mormon Church violates copyright

The Tampa Tribune/June 15, 2014

By Elaine Silvestrini

Tampa -- Everyone knows the Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal.”

But did the Mormon Church steal a version of the Bible from a Tampa company?

That’s the claim in a lawsuit filed by Litchtfield Associates, which accuses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of violating its copyright on an audio recording of the King James Bible by Alexander Scourby, described as “the greatest voice ever recorded.”

The company says it entered into a contract with the church allowing the church to disseminate audiocassettes of its repackaged form of Scourby’s recording. But the church and its subsidiaries went further, allowing free digital downloads of the recording from its website and selling compact discs and smartphone apps with the recording, the lawsuit alleges.

A spokesman for the church, Doug Andersen, wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, which hasn’t yet been officially served on the church.

Litchfield Associates, located at 3825 Henderson Blvd., has as its primary purpose the ownership rights of the Scourby Bible, according to its lawyer, Kenneth Turkel. He said the core focus of the lawsuit against the Mormon Church and its subsidiaries is the Scourby narration of the King James Bible as formatted by the church.

Being a religious institution doesn’t protect a church from being sued, said Orly Lobel, professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.

“I think they have the rule of law to abide by just as anybody else,” Lobel said, “whether it’s a religious or nonreligious, for-profit or nonprofit, public or private institution.”

While the Bible is not subject to copyright, various versions, translations, recordings and other derivative works can be copyrighted, Lobel said.

The church has a copyright page on its website as well as a page dedicated to the Eighth Commandment, thou shalt not steal, conveying what it calls the positive side of the commandment: “Respect the rights and property and needs of others.”

The church has also sued others, including Wikipedia, alleging copyright violations for publishing or linking to unauthorized publications of its materials.

“I think they’re really in the business of monitoring their own copyright, recognizing there is copyright,” Lobel said. “If they’ve sued others and also the fact that they entered into this agreement awhile ago — even without that — I think this is an easy case.”

According to the lawsuit, Scourby was the first person to record the King James Bible on long-playing records in the 1950s. The American Foundation for the Blind has named its narrator of the year awards for Scourby, an actor who died in 1985 and whose credits range from soap operas to an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to the voice of Luke in “The Jesus Film” in 1979. Scourby narrated 422 books for the blind.

The lawsuit says the second-highest governing body of the Mormon Church approached Litchfield’s predecessor, Alexander Scourby Bible Recordings, in 1988 about making Scourby’s narrations available to its membership and entered into a contract that October. The company produced the cassettes for the church until 1991, when Litchfield was assigned the rights. In 1994, the church bought the rights to produce its own tapes, according to the lawsuit.

The suit says the church improperly sub-licensed the copyrights with Intellectual Reserve, the corporation that enforces the church’s intellectual property rights, and its for-profit affiliate, Deseret Book.

The complaint says Litchfield began marketing Scourby Bible mobile applications in 2008, first through the Apple store and later for Android devices.

Late last year, the company learned the Mormon Church was offering apps for download of the Scourby Bible narration “contrary to the terms” of the contracts, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit cites a news release from the church saying in 2011 that the apps had been downloaded more than 13 million times. The church is also allowing downloads of the Bible narration and selling sets of compact disc recordings from its website and the website of Deseret Book, according to the lawsuit.

The church’s apps are also being sold for $14.99 through the iTunes store, Google Play and other outlets, according to the lawsuit, which says the apps contain the entire Scourby Bible narration, with chapter headings and footnotes created by the church.

“The Mormon Church is either sanctioning the sale and distribution of these infringing apps and sharing in the financial fruits or willfully neglecting its duties to prevent the multiplication of its own infringing product,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says the church doesn’t identify Scourby as the narrator on the apps, which it alleges is evidence the church recognizes it has no rights to the narrations outside cassette tapes.

Litchfield says it notified the church in September to stop breaching their contract and infringing on Litchfield’s copyrights. But the church has not responded, he said.

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