A Lawyers Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation
by Jon R. Parsons
Stumbling Off the Block
It takes time to get up to speed. SRF did not give us that luxury. Their well-prepared initial motion painted the parties as simple business competitors, in the niche market of Yogananda-branded self-realization goods and services. SRF claimed to own all of the tangible and intangible rights concerning Yogananda, and portrayed Ananda and Kriyananda as late-on-the-scene infringers. Ananda was supposedly pretending to be affiliated in some way with SRF, and Kriyananda was selling a trumped-up religious product that was not the real McCoy. SRF said it needed an injunction to stop Anandas palming off, and to staunch the damages that would otherwise flow from acts of infringement too numerous to recite.The motion may have been based on false facts and misdirection, but our response failed to persuade.
Garcia Grants an Injunction
That October morning Garcia granted most of SRFs requested injunction. He ordered that, until time of trial, Ananda could not (a) use for any purpose whatsoever the name "Church of Self-Realization" or any other name similar to SRFs various Self-Realization and Yogoda Sat-Sanga names, or (b) use the name Paramahansa or Paramhansa Yogananda as or in connection with the name of defendants organization. Ananda must change its name and be very careful about its new one.
On a happier note, Garcia did not grant SRFs request for an injunction preventing Ananda from using any of the works in which SRF claimed to hold a copyright. Garcia later explained that he felt compelled to limit the injunction in this way because that portion of the relief could curtail defendants religious practices. This proviso was important, but little comfort in the moment.
We conducted a post-mortem of the ruling over lunch. It was bad news for sure. I gave the necessary analysis of this major set-back early in the case. Judges do not hand out injunctions for the asking, and Garcias ruling showed that he thought SRF had a good case. He had already determined that SRF would probably win, and that it needed immediate protection against Ananda. Like two strikes after the first pitch, we were in trouble. To win now, we must convince Garcia that his initial take on the situation was wrong. Although SRF, as the plaintiff, still carried the burden of proof for each of its claims, that burden had now effectively shifted to Ananda. Before departing our separate ways, we agreed to think through the next steps carefully, and talk soon.
My usual route back to the office through Stockton gave me a good two hours for tortured introspection. I had been entrusted with a sacred task, and stumbled badly. If the Ananda people thought I could help them, maybe they were not a smart as they looked. They had backed the wrong horse, but luckily we were not yet mid-stream. Could I have been so wrong, and SRF already so close to victory?
Receiving Garcias follow-up order in November made us wrestle with the bad news all over again. I had a heart-to-heart talk with Kriyananda and some community leaders about how the case was too much for me. We found ourselves pitted against two giant firms while I was struggling to understand decades of history and complicated federal and state legal issues about nine different claims. It was too daunting, and more than I, a sole practitioner, should even attempt to handle. In fact, there could be little doubt but that I had been out-gunned. There is no dishonor in acknowledging reality, and regrettably, I must step aside, but would be happy to help find a more suitable and much larger firm.
They let me speak my piece, but had already thought it through. They understood the personnel imbalance, and we talked about the need for more warm bodies on Anandas side of the legal table. But, Kriyananda saw something happening that I did not, and he wanted me to stay. It wasnt about me, he explained. It was about what God and Guru were doing here, and I guess I was a cog in the bigger machine. Still, they should have replaced me.
Instead, I would be given help. Ananda put together a legal team consisting of Kriyananda, Jyotish and Devi Novak, Vidura and Durga Smallen, and David and Asha Praver. This team played an active role throughout the case; discussing and deciding strategy, assembling financial and other resources, and actively communicating with the wider Ananda world. Sheila would be made available to assist on what quickly became a full time basis. And, we had a new support team. Cathy Parojinog, who is now known as Latika, and Michael (Keshava) Taylor would provide research, organization and support services, often heading up a bevy of volunteers that handled the copying, collation and delivery of documents. Brothers and sisters in arms.
SRF Tries to Guild the Lily
SRF liked the way Garcia seemed to be leaning, and tried to push him a bit farther. In August of 1991, they surprised us with a motion to expand the scope of the preliminary injunction. Ananda had continued to advertise its church services, now using the name Church of God-Realization, and Yoganandas name and picture would typically appear somewhere on the ads. Ananda was careful, however, that Yoganandas name was not used in connection with the name of defendants organization. SRF did not like Anandas continued use of the Masters name in any form, and collected a number of Ananda advertisements from the various colonies. SRF claimed that these showed Anandas use of Yoganandas name in close proximity with defendants name. While this conduct did not violate the language of the injunction, SRF claimed these ads violated its spirit, or at least what the injunctions spirit should be. In any event, SRF asked the court to hold Ananda in contempt.
SRF sought clarification from the Judge that his injunction also prohibited Ananda from using Yoganandas name in any flyer, advertisement, or other public document. And for good measure, SRF asked Garcia for minor modifications to the injunction to prohibit use of (a) Yoganandas photo in close proximity to Anandas name, (b) SRFs copyrighted works, and (c) sound recordings of Yogananda. These were far from minor changes, and amounted to a sweeping new injunction. Garcia thought so too, and chided SRF that the changes were more significant than it let on. He denied both the requests to clarify and to modify the injunction. Perhaps the tide was turning.
SRFs attempt to expand the injunction also functioned as a message motion to punish Kriyananda for his recent publication of The Essence of Self-Realization, and to discourage any repetition. The Essence recorded Kriyanandas account of discussions he, and others, had had with Yogananda concerning Self-Realization. Not only did the book further reveal Kriyanandas close personal relationship with his Master, it highlighted Yoganandas generic use of the term Self-realization. Kriyananda had not come to heel and SRF needed to yank his chain. SRF had reason to worry. The Essence of Self-Realization has become an important source of Yoganandas teachings, displaying the full scope of his wisdom, compassion and humor.
Until the hearing, more than a month later, Anandas religious future hung again in the balance. At the September 12, 1991 hearing, Garcia announced he was denying most of SRFs application and its request for an order of contempt. He took under submission, however, to be decided later, that portion of the motion in which SRF requested an injunction on Anandas use of certain copyrighted materials. Then, on his own, he requested the parties provide written arguments on a new issue that concerned him: had SRF waited too long to file its lawsuit? If it had, then the injunction could be denied on that basis as well.
Before granting an injunction the court must balance the hardships to each side in granting or denying the injunction. If SRF had failed to act promptly, and stood around for too long while Ananda infringed its rights, the judge could decide that SRF did not really need the immediate relief of an injunction. The doctrine of laches was a legal expression of the need to use it or lose it, or as the California Civil Code colorfully observes, The law protects the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights. We liked the way this man was thinking and we were happy to confirm his concerns. SRF saw things differently.
Garcia did not issue his order on the expanded injunction until Valentines Day of 1992. His long-awaited ruling denied SRFs request for expanded protections without ever reaching the question of laches. All that subsequent briefing had been whistling in the wind, but having won the motion, we did not begrudge the work.
SRF sank endless amounts of time and money into the case. It all seemed so foreign to the Yogananda that my clients were telling me about. But things work at many levels, and who can understand why? As we uncovered the forgotten history of Yogananda, there were moments that eerily seemed to link up, as if Kriyananda was following in Yoganandas footsteps, struggling with the same problems, and overcoming challenges similar to those that his Master had faced decades before.
Yogananda returned in triumph to India in 1935, after 15 years abroad. But on the eve of leaving for his extended trip, with everything else that needed to be done, Yogananda had been sued. By his closest friend. Since their early days in India, Basu Bagchi had been Yoganandas friend, disciple and right hand man. Yogananda ordained him and gave him the monastic name of Swami Dhirananda. When Yogananda left India in 1920 to begin his mission in America, Dhirananda remained behind in Calcutta and published the first edition of The Science of Religion. Yogananda called Dhirananda to Boston in 1922, and after buying Mt. Washington in 1925, placed his trusted friend in charge of the headquarters while Yogananda lectured back east.
Suddenly, in April of 1929, Dhirananda showed up unannounced at Yoganandas apartment in New York, talked Yogananda into signing an $8,000 IOU, and returned immediately to Mt. Washington. He packed his bags, and within days had left the organization forever. After teaching briefly in Los Angeles, Dhirananda attended the University of Iowa, obtained a Ph.D., and went on to become Doctor Basu Bagchi, Professor of Electroencephalography at the University of Michigan.
On May 3, 1935, Dr. Bagchi filed a lawsuit against Yogananda in the Los Angeles Superior Court to collect on the note. The press had a field day reporting how the process servers were on the prowl for one of the countrys most famous lecturers. Yogananda did not get away in time. He had asked his patron for money to make the India trip earlier, and had kept the actual departure date secret. But he was served just weeks before leaving town.
Yogananda knew the suit was coming, and on March 29, 1935 had filed papers incorporating the Self-Realization Fellowship Church, Inc. as a non-profit California corporation. A couple weeks after being served, Yogananda signed a General Assignment giving the new corporation all of his personal property located at Mt. Washington. That same day he signed a Last Will and Testament. His personal property now belonged to the Church, and his will took care of both his U.S. and Indian organizations. No one could touch the assets now. Three days later he gave his deposition in the case, and was soon aboard a train to New York, leaving behind the lawsuit he would lose in absentia. He was headed back home to India, and not certain when, or if, he would return. For a moment it seemed the movement hung in the balance.
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