Huseng wrote: Technically the song "Happy Birthday" is "owned" by someone according to law, but that doesn't mean I have to believe that.
You have to believe it if you want to use that song for commercial purposes. You almost never hear this song sung in movies.
This topic is about the issue of copyrighting the works of the Buddha or other teachers, which, technically, is public domain material. The same can be said about the Christian Bible. But the dialogue has morphed into a discussion about copyrighting in general. This is an area with which I am familiar (mostly in the area of image licensing) and I'd like to share some thoughts on this, keeping in mind how it relates to the Buddhist context.
I'd like to refer to as an example, the book Manual Of Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki
, one of my favorite books.
it is now published by Pacific Publishing Studio, who copyrighted it in 2010. The copy I own was published by Grove Press Evergreen Editions in 1960 (my copy is the seventeenth printing, 1982).
This is a good example, because the publishers own the reproduction rights to the book,
but the book itself contains three elements which one might argue the "rights" to:
--translations of Buddhist texts,
--reproductions of old Japanese woodblock prints and paintings,
--the author's own commentary.
Now, there is something called fair use, which applies to artwork as well as written material, which mean that material may be borrowed for the purposes of discussion or in some application toward the expression of a secondary thing. Permission to use is not legally required, but it is always nice to ask, and to credit the source where the material came from. So, I'm not going to go into that.
What copyright is meant to do is to protect both the non-tangible material (images and words) created or compiled by one entity from being misused or sold without permission by another. The fact that images and words may not have any "real existence" in the Buddhist sense doesn't really matter. In the Buddhist view, the thought of a book is no different from a book itself. So, it isn't about the material itself, but the time and effort, scholarly accomplishment, research, and various costs that the material represents, because here in the human realm of samsara, all that stuff takes a lot of time and money. People who just take it and copy it may not realize that, because running stuff through a Xerox machine doesn't seem like a whole lot of work and isn't very expensive.
My dear lama found a picture on the internet of a particular diety, a photograph of a thangka and asked me to copy it hand have it printed up. What I explained to him was that while the painting itself may not be copyrighted, and the subject in the painting, the deity, is of course not owned by anyone, the photograph taken of that painting is owned by someone, and to reproduce that photograph I would need permission.
But getting back to Manual Of Zen Buddhism
, Suzkuki wrote an overview of various aspects of the Zen tradition, including excerpts from various sutras, some writings by Chinese masters, and many images. He published what is essentially an academic publication, and he used all of the material included in the book as examples of what Zen Buddhists might study or recite. For example, the book includes a short rendition of the Heart Sutra, which "belongs" to everybody. If the people who owned the original source material, perhaps an old scroll with that Heart Sutra block-printed on it, or silk paintings of the Ten Oxherding pictures, they could claim that they also owned the rights to reproduction of that specific material even if conceptually it belongs to everybody, and they would have a legitimate claim, and then they could demand some payment for using it in research work. Suzuki, on the other hand, could claim that the Heart Sutra belongs to nobody and everybody, and that referring to a particular printed item for the purposes of copying does not require compensation.
Fortunately, these kinds of battles are both rare and usually unnecessary.
However, the publisher who has produced the book in print now has the full rights to the reproduction of any part of the book, meaning that you can't legally reproduce it and sell it or give it away, because the book is now more than the sum of its parts, but is an entire "body of work". I will continue later but right now I am out of time.