October 30, 2002
Copyrights violated by church
legal battle involving the Nevada County-based Ananda Church
of Self-Realization ended Monday in federal court.
All eight jurors found that Ananda
and its founder, J. Donald Walters, infringed on the
copyrights of the Los Angeles-based Self-Realization
Fellowship by reprinting articles and selling recordings of
the fellowship's long-since-dead guru.
Jurors also awarded Self-Realization
Fellowship roughly $29,000 in damages.
The verdicts capped a monthlong
trial and 12 years of courtroom wrangling, and it ended with
each side declaring some form of victory.
"On balance, I'm pleased with the
outcome," said Ananda lawyer Robert Christopher of Palo Alto.
"It will mean the (Ananda) church will survive without
He claimed the fellowship had
earlier sought $6 million in damages.
But a lawyer for Self-Realization
Fellowship, Philip Stillman of San Diego, said the case was
never about money. "These guys literally stole magazine
articles and started publishing them as their own," he said.
The case hinged on the writings and
recordings of Paramhansa Yogananda, a native of India who
founded Self-Realization Fellowship in the late 1920s. He died
in 1952. Walters became a member in 1948 but was "thrown out"
in 1962, said Stillman's legal partner, Michael Flynn.
Walters, known as Swami Kriyananda,
later started Ananda Village in Nevada County. It became home
to hundreds of followers who also revered Yogananda and his
words. The group republished his articles and sold his
recordings, according to Stillman and Flynn.
Jurors ultimately agreed with
Self-Realization Fellowship's argument that Yogananda had
repeatedly made his intentions clear before dying - he wanted
the fellowship to maintain copyrights to his works.
The lawsuit moved sluggishly, as it
was twice appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and
twice returned to Sacramento.
Along the way, Walters was sued for
sexual harassment and fraud by former Ananda member Anne-Marie
Bertolucci, whose lawyers claimed Walters fraudulently used
his title of swami, implying he was celibate.
Other women testified Walters
coerced them into sex. Bertolucci was awarded damages in
excess of $1 million in 1998.
Ananda leaders painted the sexual
harassment lawsuit as a smear campaign and the product of the
bitter dispute between Self-Realization Fellowship and Ananda.
Christopher, Ananda's trial lawyer,
contended the dispute still exists. He said the copyright
lawsuit lasted so long "because religious intolerance still
prevails in this country ... A lot of times, people involved
in certain religions will not tolerate persons or institutions
that take a different path."
Stillman scoffed in response. He
claimed the Self-Realization Fellowship wasn't behind the
Bertolucci case and that the fellowship hasn't filed other
suits against Ananda.
"This has nothing to do with
religious persecution," he said, returning to the copyright
issue. "I mean, go write your own stuff, and (Walters) has
done some of that."