What is the copyright controversy I hear about?

A Course In Miracles was copyrighted by the Foundation For Inner Peace (FIP) shortly before it was first widely published and printed in 1975. However, apparently, quite a number of photocopies were distributed before that date and these copies were not copyrighted. Exactly how many and in what manner these earlier copies were distributed is still a matter of disagreement. For many years there was a very liberal policy when it came to quoting ACIM in books and publications. There were no restrictions on using the words "A Course In Miracles" or the acronym "ACIM", and teachers could publicize that they were leading an "ACIM Workshop" freely and without restriction.

In 1992 things started to change. Marianne Williamson wrote a book based on ACIM named A Return To Love that became a huge best seller. Suddenly, ACIM rights were worth lots of money and a tighter quotation policy went into effect. This policy changed several times. At certain points it seemed like very few were being given permission to quote at all. In 1993 the words "A Course In Miracles" and the acronym "ACIM" were turned into regulated service marks (a broad kind of trademark) and were tightly restricted. This disturbed many in the ACIM movement because they related to this material as spiritual source material similar to the: Bible, Koran, Bagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching .... The fact that it was being controlled and owned didn't seem right to them.

In 1999 FIP transferred the copyright and service marks to the Foundation For ACIM (FACIM), Ken Wapnick's organization. Ken Wapnick was a well known teacher and author of ACIM. This appeared to be a direct conflict of interests to many because he was on the board of directors of FIP. Now, he could quote in an unlimited manner and use the words "A Course In Miracles" or the acronym "ACIM" in all his teachings while others could not. During this time FIP and FACIM had lawyers write threatening letters to many teachers and organizations informing them that they were in violation of copyright and service mark laws and legal action was threatened. Many capitulated to their control. A few did not.

One organization, Endeavor Academy of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin continually ignored the letters and were subsequently sued in 1996. They fought the lawsuit. They would have liked to have fought the lawsuit on the basis of an inability to copyright a non-human author, Jesus. However, this tact was not successful as the courts determined that ACIM was written by Helen Schucman, not Jesus. However, a secondary factor proved to be legally, more important. There had been too much free distribution prior to copyright to make the material copyrightable. The law suit continued for seven years. Huge amounts of money were spent on both sides. This is thought to be in the millions of dollars but no one knows for sure. During this time previous versions of ACIM surfaced that also proved controversial and interesting. An earlier edition was found in the Association For Research And Enlightenment library (ARE), that was called the Hugh Lynn Cayce version. This version is now published as A Course In Miracles – Original Edition. This edition showed that much more editing of ACIM had taken place than students had been repeatedly told. Students wondered why they had been lied to about this. An even early version that consisted of Bill Thetford's original typing from Helen Schucman's dictation also surfaced. This is referred to as the URText. While this has yet to be published, electronic versions of it are available for download through the internet. Different students now study these various versions. Each version has introduced it's own set of revelations and controversies.

On October 24, 2003, the Honorable Judge Sweet of the USA Southern District Court of New York, declared that the original copyright for ACIM was null and void because of too much prior distribution. The official court order to release the copyright was made on April 24, 2004. Since the registration of the service marks was based primarily on the enforceable copyright of the book, it was only a matter of time before the service marks were also released. On April 21, 2005, all parties agreed to release the service marks. On August 10, 2005 there was an official court order to release the service mark "A Course In Miracles." On October 25, 2005, there was an official court order to release the service mark, "ACIM."

The complexity of this issue should not be understated. While the primary copyright has been voided there were subsequent copyrights that covered small additions and adjunct material. These are apparently still in effect. The enforceability of any legal action based on copyright infringement seems unlikely since so much of the material is now definitely in the public domain. Since these legal decisions mentioned above, there has been no attempt on the part of FACIM or FIP to legally restrict anyone from using words from ACIM. The copyright controversy vastly changed the ACIM landscape. Teachers who were once thought to be almost infallible were consequently seen to have functioned with the blurry perception of their own financial interests clouding their guidance. A diverse array of different authors are again quoting from ACIM in an unrestricted manner.

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