A portion of a “seemingly never-ending dispute” in New York Federal Court came to an end when a district judge dismissed a major part of a lawsuit filed by Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos and Zalman Chanin against Merkos and Aguc”h over the printing of the Rebbe’s Sichos.
In a decision issued yesterday, the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkos, senior district judge Frederic Block dismissed claims of copyright infringement and unfair competition which were brought by Chanin.
This lawsuit was originally brought by Vaad and Chanin as a challenge against Merkos’s trademark of the Kehot logo in 2001 and again in 2011 in federal court. The plaintiffs claimed that the logo was simply a ‘spiritual mark’ and was not that of a publishing house.
Both the U.S. Copyright Office and the United States District Court ruled against the plaintiffs and dismissed a lawsuit seeking $21 million, as well as granting Kehot exclusive use of their logo. The ruling was based on “the record [which] shows that both the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe… each took the business steps that any trademark owner would take with respect to a trademark, including filing for protection of the mark under the laws of New York State.”
Now, in a twenty-six page ruling, judge Block noted that “For the third time, the Court is called upon to adjudicate an aspect of the seemingly never-ending dispute precipitated by the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson” and that “Even a matter as final as death is a subject of debate in the Lubavitcher community, with some holding the “heartfelt belief that, notwithstanding his physical passing in 1994, the Rebbe still lives.””
He went on to say “Though perhaps more mundane, the matter before the Court is no less fiercely disputed. At issue is the right to publish the Likkutei Sichos…”
The plaintiffs claimed ownership and copyrights over the 29 volumes of Likkutei Sichos along with a number of other Seforim including: Hadronim Al Ha’Shas, Sefer Ha’Maamorim Meluket/Sefer Ha’Maamorim Bosi L’Gani, Biurim L’Pirush Rashi Al Ha’Torah, Biurim L’Pirkei Avos, Hilchos Beis Habchira Im Chiddushim Ubiurim, and Hagada Shel Pesach Im Likkutei Taamim, Minhagim Ubiurim.
Though they did not contend that they were the authors of the Hanochos [the unedited transcriptions from the Rebbe’s chozrim] they claim that they were the exclusive authors of the Likkutei Sichos themselfs and that the Rebbe was not the author [ch”v], the judge notes that only reluctantly they acknowledged that the Sichos were preexisting works. The judge further noted that “Curiously, however, Vaad argues that the Rebbe was not the author, either, because he did not play a role in “fixing” the oral sichos into a reproducible medium by transcribing them.”
The judge recognized the plaintiffs “invaluable contribution to the publication to the Likkutei Sichos”, but said “It is equally clear, however, that their contribution was not of a type giving rise to a copyright in that work” and denied their copyright claim.
In regards to the six other Seforim the judge said “It is undisputed that each of the six additional works registered by Vaad contains portions of the Likkutei Sichos. However, each also involves at least some modification of that work.” The only remaining Sefer which the plaintiffs have a claim to is the Haggadah and that matter will go before a trial jury.
This article was updated to reflect a correction with regards to the Vaad’s claims that they were the exclusive authors of the Lekuttei Sichos.9-30-15-kehot-vaad-summery-judgment-ruling