The end is in sight for the 12-year lawsuit of SRF versus Ananda
Ananda wins more than 85% of the 12-year case
A 12-year legal battle between Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) and Ananda Church of Self-Realization (Ananda) may have ended on October 28, 2002 when a jury rendered its verdict on copyrights in 50-year-old writings and sound recordings by the Indian guru Paramhansa Yogananda.
The case began in 1990 after Ananda added the term “Self-realization” to its name. SRF responded by filing a massive lawsuit for trademark, publicity rights, and copyright infringement. After the start of the lawsuit, SRF registered trademarks in the terms “Self-realization” and “Paramahansa Yogananda,” the parties’ common guru.
By the start of the October trial in United States District Court in Sacramento, 85% of the case had been resolved in Ananda’s favor according to Judge Edward J. Garcia who has presided over the case since the beginning. In a split decision, the jury found that although SRF owned the copyrights in writings by Yogananda published in its magazines, Ananda’s religious, non-commercial use of the works was a “fair use.” The jury refused to give SRF any of the $6 million in damages it sought on the writings, but awarded $29,000 on the sound recordings.
Ananda’s other legal victories over the past 12 years are not affected by the verdict. These include:
(1) Cancellation of SRF’s trademarks in the term “Self-realization.” Ananda presented voluminous evidence of the term’s generic nature. Thirty-five American Hindu-Yoga organizations submitted statements supporting Ananda’s position.
(2) Cancellation of SRF’s trademarks in the name of “Paramahansa Yogananda.”
(3) Dismissal of the claim that Ananda was trying to “pass itself off” as SRF.
(4) Dismissal of the claim that SRF’s reputation would be “tarnished” if it was confused with Ananda.
(5) Court ruling SRF did not own Yogananda’s publicity rights. SRF’s claim was based on a California law that gave the heirs of celebrity’s control over their name, image and voice.
(6) Court ruling that SRF did not own the copyrights in certain books by Yogananda published before his passing. Based on this decision, Ananda later published the first edition of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi.
(7) Court ruling that SRF did not own the copyrights in various photos of Yogananda.
Twice during the course of the lawsuit, SRF filed appeals to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1994 SRF unsuccessfully appealed the cancellation of its trademarks in “Self-realization” and “Paramahansa Yogananda.” In 1998 SRF appealed copyright rulings in Ananda’s favor on books, photos, writings published in its magazines and sound recordings. SRF lost the appeal on books and some of the photos, but won the right to a jury trial on the writings in 50-year-old magazines and sound recordings. SRF unsuccessfully petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the copyright rulings. At trial, SRF’s claims in the remaining photos were dismissed.
SRF has said that its goal in proceeding to trial was to win a ruling that it owned the copyrights at issue, not the 6 million in damages the jury refused to award. If true, the jury’s split decision may finally end this 12-year battle.
November 4, 2002 Press Release