Closing the Copyright Debate
Posted May 25, 2003

EDITOR'S NOTE: With this response, Chakra is closing the discussion of the BBT copyright issue for now. Readers who want to read Hansadutta's texts can do so at http://www.vnn.org. Specific links to previous articles are noted below.

My Challenge to Hansadutta
by Akruranath das

[A response to Hansadutta's article "A history that could have been avoided"]

It was never my intention enter into a debate with Hansadutta about every aspect of his litigation with the BBTI, nor will I do so now. What I wrote in Hansadutta's Distortions" was done to correct errors and lies in Hansadutta's account. I stand by everything I said on that score.

I feel I should point out that I have not been asked by anyone at the BBT to write any of these articles and that the views expressed are my own.

As for the details of all of the facts and legal theories that were presented in the lawsuit, I am not at liberty to discuss them even if I wanted to. Hansadutta and the BBTI agreed to seal the records of the case, and not to disparage each other. As BBTI's former lawyer and an officer of the Court, I am obligated to abide by the terms of that agreement. Hansadutta obviously does not care for keeping his word in that regard, which I find unfortunate.

Although I am therefore at a disadvantage, I believe I can and should make the following points:

Hansadutta's description of the "works for hire" doctrine as something that by its very nature is somehow demeaning or insulting to an author is wrong. Period. During the lawsuit Hansadutta used such propaganda in order to inflame the passions of devotees, as if Srila Prabhupada were being insulted. He has resurrected this tactic now in order to change the subject and divert attention from the facts in my article.

Even Hansadutta agrees that Srila Prabhupada did not want to hold the copyrights in his own name, but wanted them to be held by the BBT. Whether Srila Prabhupada accomplished this by creating the books as "works for hire" or by donating his copyrights is functionally equivalent.

Hansadutta's claim that I was the author of the legal theory of applying the "works for hire" doctrine to Srila Prabhupada's writings is complete speculation, and it is absolutely wrong. I categorically deny it.

Similarly, Hansadutta's claim to know how the judge saw the merits of the case is totally false. The judge never made any ruling as to any aspect of the merits of the case. As I said before, the Court's denial of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment merely meant that there were disputed issues of material fact that had to be resolved by a trial, rather than by pretrial motion.

Hansadutta's claim to be a BBT trustee in 1997 was an unfortunate lie, which, in my view, caused all the trouble. Hansadutta had long ceased to be a BBT Trustee. The Court undoubtedly would have seen through the lie if the case had gone to trial, in my opinion.

It was very generous of Jayadvaita Swami to apologize and seek reconciliation for the sake of Srila Prabhupada's mission and the feelings of devotees. It demonstrates Jayadvaita Swami's divine nature and saintly character as a real Vaisnava.

I would like to see Hansadutta show some of the same class. After all, the undisputed facts are that Hansadutta pirated books and then tried to pretend, through false affidavits, that he was actually the head of the BBT. Hansadutta has not even denied this. In my view, Hansadutta should be the one apologizing.

I would also like to say for the record that, throughout the litigation, Jayadvaita Swami, more than any other person in the BBTI, had kind things to say about Hansadutta and genuinely appreciated what he called the "good side" of Hansadutta.

The BBT International has not always sold books at temple prices to every group that wanted to purchase them, but Hansadutta's claim that the PYMA pirated the Chinese Bhagavad Gita because of such a policy does not ring true to me. At least I never saw any evidence that PYMA had tried to purchase the books through legitimate channels (and I imagine it would not have been that hard to purchase the books through back channels). Hansadutta denied that any such evidence existed, which did not surprise me, because it would have exposed the fact that Hansadutta was not really in charge.

My personal sense, which could be wrong, is that PYMA published the books on their own to avoid paying BBT prices. One thing is clear. Sri Rama wrote personally to Hansadutta more than once inviting him to talk about the copyright issue before the Singapore lawsuit was filed. Hansadutta never even replied.

The BBTI was never a for-profit business corporation, as Hansadutta claims. Hansadutta is either unable or unwilling to get his facts straight.

I remained counsel of record for BBTI through the time the settlement was put on the record in Court. If memory serves me, Amarendra was also counsel from the time the case was filed in around May of 1997, but he represented ISKCON of California, Inc., a separate entity. After the settlement, Amarendra was substituted as counsel for BBTI as well.

Please do not be fooled by Hansadutta. The case was definitely not about book changes, but about control of the copyrights. Facing almost certain defeat in court, Hansadutta finally did agree to back down when his group obtained a license to publish the books on their own. But now that Krishna Books, Inc. has expelled Hansadutta, he is attacking the copyrights, and Srila Prabhupada's desire that 50% of BBT sale proceeds should be used for ISKCON temple projects. The devotees should not be persuaded to undermine Prabhupada's wishes in this regard.

Although I have tried not to take sides in the editing controversy, my personal views are as follows: The earlier versions of the books were wonderful, but the newer editions are much better, and are fully approved by Srila Prabhupada. Many important and illuminating portions of Bhaktivedanta Purports have been restored that had been eradicated from the earlier books. Many mistakes have been corrected.

These were not Prabhupada's mistakes. They were editors' mistakes. I believe Srila Prabhupada wants his books presented nicely, without such mistakes. But both versions will be "heard, sung and accepted" by sadhus, and Srila Prabhupada's real desire is that we should direct our energies to studying and distributing the books, rather than quarreling amongst ourselves.

We all fondly remember the Hansadutta who pleased Srila Prabhupada by publicly debating the atheist Dr. Kavoor in Sri Lanka. I find it sad that Hansadutta has now been reduced to using his talents to fight against his godbrothers and against Prabhupada's wishes.

If Hansadutta really believes that the edited versions of Srila Prabhupada's books distorts or "tampers" with their original meaning, let him cite some examples, as Jayadvaita Maharaja has done, and explain why he believes the earlier versions more accurately expressed Srila Prabhupada's views. At least that way, the controversy would encourage deeper study of Srila Prabhupada's Books.

Unfortunately, just as Dr. Kavoor was unable to produce life in a test tube, Hansadutta cannot do it. As far as I have seen, the efforts of devotees to show how the changes have "distorted" the intended original meanings have all been totally unpersuasive, to the point of being embarrassing.