The history of copyright claims for Osho’s work - claims and facts

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Osho began giving discourses in the 1960s. By 1969 a charitable trust was set up in Bombay to support Osho’s work. This trust was Jivan Jagruti Kendra (JJK), and it began to publish some of Osho’s discourses in written form. These were actually small booklets containing collections of discourses. Some of those discourses were English translations of Hindi discourses. In those small booklets JJK listed itself as the copyright holder, but there’s no evidence that JJK ever tried to claim ownership of Osho’s copyright interests in the works. JJK may have had a copyright interest in the translations and compilations, while Osho held the copyright to the expression of ideas in the content.

In 1974 Osho moved to Pune (Poona) and the ashram was set up there. As more people came to Pune a publishing department was set up and both Hindi and English discourse series were published in book form and in recordings: darshan diaries, recording Osho’s meetings with individuals in the evening were also published. JJK, which had changed its name to Rajneesh Foundation (RF) in 1975, had these books printed and listed RF as copyright holder.

The books were transcribed from discourses, edited, and sometimes translated into other languages. All of these contributions make up aspects of the work that can be copyrighted. In other words, there can be several copyrights in a work. Osho owned the copyright to the expression of ideas contained in his discourse, but RF or the individuals involved may have also owned an interest in compilations, translations, and extensive editing. The question is, whether a charitable trust owns the work of volunteers - some of them Indian citizens and some foreign visitors - that is financed by the trust and done under the auspices of the trust. Even if the answer is no, it seems fairly obvious that RF thought it owned those rights and claimed copyrights in the work.

There is a copy of a 1978 document where Osho clarifies RF’s rights to his interests in the books. If this was an authentic document (no original is available) it indicates that RF was well aware that it didn’t own Osho’s share of the copyrights and sought an agreement with him so that it could publish and license out the works to other publishers. RF then began to license rights to some major American publishers, and these books gave Osho a much larger profile in the West.

In the early 1980s Osho agreed to go to the USA for a rest that would improve his health.

Osho returned to the ashram in Pune for the last years of his life.

OIF Zurich claims that Osho either transferred the publishing licensing agreement he had with RF to Rajneesh Foundation International (RFI) or agreed to RF’s transfer of that license to RFI. Given that Osho had every intention of returning to India, it’s very unlikely that he would have agreed to shift the center of publishing from India to the USA.

During the four years of Rajneeshpuram, USA, people there participated in creating books from Osho’s discourses, including transcribing, translating, and editing extensively. Under Us law, which applies to the activities in Rajneeshpuram, any rights in the books from these activities belonged to the individuals who did the work, unless they had signed valid work-for-hire agreements with someone before the work was done. there is no evidence that work-for-hire agreements were signed.

Nonetheless, RFI might have thought it did own some rights. In any event, RFI continued RF’s practice of listing itself as the copyright holder. When Rajneeshpuram collapsed in 1985, RFI transferred any rights it had to Rajneesh Foundation Europe (RFE, later in 1990 after Osho left the body, changed to Osho International Foundation [OIF Zurich]).

After Rajneeshpuram the situation of who was claiming copyrights became more complicated. There are reports that when Osho returned to India he asked that the publishing of his work should be centered in India, and that any claim that rights had been transferred to the USA be withdrawn. This report is supported by several facts. First, no originals have been produced of the documents purporting to transfer rights to the USA, so they might have been destroyed. Second, during Pune II, the period of time between when Osho returned to Pune and when he left his body, several Indian entities claimed to own the copyrights in Osho’s work. As Osho saw those publications he was probably aware of these claims.

OIF claimed in the US trademark case that Osho saw books of his discourses that had been published, and so he would have seen that OIF was claiming copyrights. This is not necessarily true at all. After 1985 the then Rajneesh Foundation Europe changed its name to Neo-Sannyas International. Around the same time Rajneesh Foundation in India also changed its name to Neo-Sannyas International. The books published after 1985 listed Neo-Sannyas International as the copyright holder, but gave no indication whether the reference was to the Indian or the Swiss foundation. The Indian foundation might have been relying on the claimed the 1978 license from Osho in claiming copyrights.

At the same time that one or both of the entities named Neo-Sannyas International were claiming copyrights for the books, Tao Publishing claimed to own all of Osho’s work that appeared in the English and Hindi Rajneesh/Osho Times. We have no documents that would support these claims, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. The point is that, given all these claims from Indian entities, Osho had no reason to think that a Swiss foundation was claiming exclusive ownership of all his copyrights.

In 1991, after Osho had left the body, Neo-Sannyas International changed its name to Osho International Foundation (OIF). Around the same time a new charitable trust was set up in India, also called Osho International Foundation. For several years books were published listing OIF as the copyright holder, without indicating if this was the Indian or Swiss entity. Tao Publishing also continued to claim ownership of the copyrights for some time.

All of this is pointless in the sense that since there’s no evidence Osho ever transferred ownership of his copyrights to anyone else, none of these claimants actually owned Osho’s share of the copyrights in the works anyway. This is relevant, though, because it shows that there’s no evidence that Osho had any idea at all that the Swiss foundation Neo-Sannyas, as opposed to the Indian Neo-Sannyas International, was claiming to own any rights in published works. OIF Zurich’s assertion that Osho knew about and approved its copyright claims is completely without support.

Did Osho ever transfer his copyrights to others ?


No, he didn’t.

Two documents have come to light that may (or may not) have been signed by Osho. These are publishing licenses for some of his books.

Copyrights are legal rights that must be transferred clearly in writing. They can’t be transferred through inference or oral statements. There has to be a valid written document that clearly transfers all legal interest in the copyrights. If such a document ever existed, which isn’t likely, we don’t have that document now.

The question of copyright ownership was part of the US trademark case, but none of the documents produced in discovery or in evidence in that case over nine years of litigation are assignments of copyright ownership. In other words, OIF appears to have no such documents to produce. (Since the trademark Board did not have direct jurisdiction over copyrights, it could not decide whether OIF Zurich owned copyrights, only how the claim to own them impacted the trademark claim.)

A copyright claimant for Osho’s copyrights has to have what is called a complete chain of title linking Osho to it. To really own Osho’s copyrights OIF would have to prove that Osho assigned copyright ownership to RF, RF assigned it to RFI, and RFI assigned it to OIF Zurich. If any link in this chain is missing, OIF gets nothing. The weakest link in this chain is the first document of 1978 (Document 1), which not only can’t be authenticated, but is on its face a license, not a copyright assignment. Document 2 is essentially the same as Document 1 and could, at most, transfer publishing rights in unidentified works or the eight works for Document 1.

This means that OIF does not own Osho’s copyrights by assignment, as it has claimed.


There is one other theory that OIF Zurich has tried to use to justify copyright ownership. OIF filed copyrights for books and recordings of discourses given by Osho with the US Library of Congress for several titles of Osho’s work claiming that OIF owned copyrights through a work-for-hire agreement with Osho. (It’s important to remember that a registration is not proof of ownership and means nothing if OIF didn’t actually own the copyrights.)

Generally a copyright attaches to a creative work as soon as the work becomes “fixed,” for example, put in writing, recorded, music put into notations, photograph taken, or artwork made. The person creating the work is presumed to own the work he or she creates. If someone creates something on behalf of someone else and is paid for the work, the copyright might belong to the person financing the project. In the US this is true if, and only if, the creator of the project signs a work-for-hire agreement before the project is completed specifying that the rights in the work will belong to the financer. Osho was never employed by any foundation, never was paid for giving discourses, and never signed a work-for-hire agreement with anyone. The two license agreements Osho was alleged to have signed both specified that Osho got to choose whether or not he included any discourse in the publishing license agreement (Documents 1 & 2) In other words, he kept control over his work and only agreed that he might grant limited rights (a publishing license) after the work was created (discourse recorded) and a copyright had been (attached) that belonged to him.

Neither theory can succeed

The only reason the RFI/OIF Zurich would have registered copyrights in the US claiming a work-for-hire basis for ownership is because they realized that the documents allegedly signed by Osho were not assignments of copyright ownership, but license agreements. They may have hoped that they would have more luck passing off the agreements as work-for-hire agreements than as assignments of copyrights. In the US trademark case OIF opted to make the assignment of ownership argument instead.

In truth, neither of these theories can ultimately succeed. The license agreements allegedly signed by Osho clearly do not transfer any ownership rights in Osho’s copyrights. A transfer of ownership rights would have been just as necessary for a right-to-hire agreement as it would be for an assignment of copyright agreement, and there is no document that transfers ownership rights from Osho.

Osho’s understanding

Though there is no existing original of the document allegedly signed by Osho in 1978 (Document 1), it is possible that Osho signed this very limited agreement with RF India. The language of that agreement makes it absolutely clear that Osho intended to reserve the rights to control his own work at that point in time. He set all kinds of conditions on the license he granted and reserved the right to withhold future work from the license and to revoke the license and give it to someone else. The fact that no original is known to exist may indicate that Osho decided to end that license and asked that the original be destroyed. That isn’t the kind of document that would have been lost otherwise.

One more thing is clear, and that is that no document exists that transferred Osho’s copyright ownership to anyone else. This means that Osho owned his rights during his entire life and OIF has no valid claim to copyright ownership today.

Claims & facts

After the recent decision in the US about the use of OSHO and his meditations, first the Resort put out a press release and then Vatayana sent out a message from Global Connections. (OIF Zurich, the entity involved in the case, has not commented.)

Virtually everything in the two messages out of Pune is untrue, a sad commentary on what has been happening in the community. It brings to mind OSHO’s warnings about the hypnotic effect of false statements:

"Adolf Hitler wrote in his autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ that if you go on repeating a lie it becomes real. Repetition is the key. And he should know. He practised it. He is not simply asserting something theoretical, he practised it the whole of his life. He uttered lies, absolutely absurd lies, but one thing he insisted on -- he went on repeating. When you go on repeating some lie again and again and again it starts becoming real, because the mind starts getting hypnotised by it. Repetition is the method of hypnosis. Repeat anything and it becomes engraved in your being -- that’s how we are deluded in life." (Osho, The Art of Dying, Ch 7)

Here is a brief overview of what’s being claimed and the real facts.

OIF Claim
Since the 1970s OSHO’s name and meditation techniques have been trademarked.
OSHO’s meditation techniques have never been trademarked. In the late 1970s a couple of OSHO groups attempted to register trademarks for “Rajneesh” for their own specific goods and services, but those trademarks were never used and there’s no evidence OSHO even knew about them. No one before OIF Zurich has ever attempted to use a trademark to monopolize the use of OSHO’s name or control OSHO centers. No one ever assigned legal rights in OSHO’s name to OIF Zurich.
OIF Claim
OIF Zurich trademarked OSHO when OSHO changed his name.
OIF Zurich could not have “trademarked” the name OSHO when OSHO changed his name in 1989 unless OIF Zurich owned exclusive rights in the name OSHO at that time, which it did not. If OSHO had wanted to, he could have assigned the rights in his new name “OSHO” to OIF Zurich or some other person or group to use as a trademark, but OSHO chose not to assign the name to anyone. Instead, OSHO asked all the people who had been using his personal name, Rajneesh, in their work, to use OSHO instead. This is a use exactly opposite to a trademark use.
OIF Claim
“In particular, trademark law allows the Foundation to act against people who misuse the name OSHO. For example, anyone changing any of the OSHO meditations, and still presenting them as “OSHO” meditations, can be stopped from putting the title “OSHO” on the changed meditation.”
OIF Zurich has not been able to do this till now and will not be able to do this legally. OSHO’s meditation techniques have been in the public domain since the 1960s. This is because OSHO openly encouraged people to take the techniques and teach them to others without exercising any control over them. OSHO never assigned ownership in the techniques to anyone else. No entity, including OIF Zurich, can now take the meditation techniques out of the public domain and claim to own or control them. A trademark registration would not give OIF Zurich control over the meditations. The US Trademark office has already pointed out to OIF Zurich that it does not own the meditation techniques that have been widely used for many years.
OIF Claim
Trademarks allow OIF Zurich to “protect” OSHO by controlling claims people make about OSHO, such as false claims that he created certain meditations or did artwork.
Trademarks have absolutely nothing to do with historical people. Even if a trademark is the same as the name of a historical person (George Washington. Lincoln. etc.). If people make false claims about the person OSHO, his estate might be able to take some action, but a trademark holder for “OSHO” would have no legal grounds to bring an action. Someone selling a fake piece of artwork would be guilty of fraud.
OIF Claim
Trademarks allow OIF Zurich to prevent people from using OSHO as a trademark for other goods and services like hamburgers, brothels, tissue, etc.
OIF Zurich has not been able to do this, even with trademarks. Trademark law allows the same trademark to be used for goods that won’t be confused by the public. For example, two companies couldn’t use the same trademark for computer accessories and computer programs, because the public would confuse them. Two companies probably could use the same trademarks for cars and stuffed animals, or some other products that the public wouldn’t confuse.
There is already a trademark for OSHO in the US for a Japanese restaurant. Internationally there’s a brand of OSHO bicycles. OSHO is a Japanese word that has several different meanings. No one who had a trademark for OSHO as related to the teachings of OSHO could prevent anyone else from having trademarks of OSHO for some other kind of goods or services.
OIF Claim
OSHO’s name is protected in 40 countries.
OIF Zurich, the entity claiming tademarks in the US has also registered trademarks in Switzerland, the EU, Canada and Australia. A trademark registration is not the same thing as trademark ownership. To register a trademark the applicant has to swear it owns the trademark and pay the fee. No evidence of ownership is required. If the trademark claim is challenged by anyone, or if the trademark claimant tries to enforce it, then the claimant will have to prove ownership. In the US OIF Zurich failed to prove a trademark existed at all.
OIF Claim
The Inner Circle is involved in trademark claims.
The Inner Circle was set up by OSHO as an advisory group with no legal standing or power. OSHO could have had the Inner Circle set up as a charitable trust, and he could have transferred ownership of his rights in his name and his work to it, but OSHO chose not to do any of those things.
The original members that OSHO appointed, to the Inner Circle has long been changed. The Inner Circle is also not directly concerned in any trademark claims. Exclusive rights to use “OSHO” and to control how other people doing OSHO’s work use “OSHO” is being claimed by OIF Zurich, a small Zurich-based group. This is a small group of men with a board including the following: Jayesh, Amrito, Yogendra, Pramod, and Mukesh. The Inner Circle has no legal control over this group.
OIF Claim
There has been a copyright of OSHO’s work since the 1970s that is registered and protected by international treaties.
The documents on file with the US Library of Congress show that the document purportedly signed by OSHO in the 1970s (no original is available) was only a conditional license of publishing rights for eight early OSHO books. There is no document known where OSHO assigns his copyrights to anyone else.
International treaties on copyrights only apply when a copyright actually exists. OIF Zurich has never produced any document showing it received copyrights from OSHO.

(Ma Prem Sangeet, 2014)

see also
The history of copyright claims for Osho’s work - questions and answers
Trademarks and copyright