Heterodox Baha’is Loses Court Cases Against Orthodox Baha’isPosted: May 6, 2013
Oh you didn’t know that the word “Baha’i” is trademarked?
Seriously. It is.
I wish I was making this up.
It was registered by the US NSA with the US trademark office on March 11, 1952 (Registration #556,004). Look it up if you don’t believe me.
So is the “Greatest Name” symbol (in Arabic calligraphic script). But wait, you ask, shouldn’t Mishkin-Qalam own the trademark to that? or at least his descendents? A spokesperson for the US NSA helpfully replies: Shut up.
No word as of yet if the US NSA has patented the postures within the Baha’i long obligatory prayer. But just to be sure, I would suggest you not bend down to pick up anything off the ground for the foreseeable future as that may constitute a dilution of the NSA’s reputation.
Anyway, getting back to our story, it turns out the judge back then was high on a groovy mixture of pot and LSD so he sided with the US NSA. Well, to be fair, I have no evidence that the judge was tripping on a cloud 8 miles high… other than the roach clip that was later found by the janitor under his chair and the fact that he went along with the trademarking of “Baha’i”.
Think about it.
He gave exclusive legal ownership of the adjective… the very word that describes a religious organization. (Who owns the trademark for “Christian” or “Jew” by the way? Someone look that up between tokes.) I think if that judge was presented with the trademarking of “chair” or “tree” or “hair” he would have gone along as well. When you’re baked… you’re baked.
Which brings us up to the present day. More accurately, November 2006 – when the present US NSA filed a motion to hold the Orthodox Baha’i group in contempt for not abiding by the 1966 judgement.
You see, they were publishing content online which used the trademark and distinctive words, phrases and markings that the 1966 court ruling said they couldn’t be using.
The defense of the Orthodox Baha’i group was that there was no privity (look it up) between them and the Mason Remey organization to which the previous ruling was bound upon. The US NSA argued that they were one and the same organization, just with a different name.
So they went back and forth:
Are not. Are too. Are not. Are too.
Except the lawyers used more complex words to justify their hefty bills at the end.
The result? The judge (from now on called Amy) just like a parent, after patiently listening to the intricately nuanced arguments for more than a year, finally got tired and sent them all to their respective rooms for a time out. No, I’m just kidding.
Amy, being a sensible woman, free of all narcotic and hallucinogenic compounds ruled as follows:
… there was a significant doctrinal rift on a critical tenet of each group’s faith, and that the PNBC’s membership varied materially from that of the NSA-UHG. The record further reflects a demonstrable lack of intent to violate the injunction, and that the PNBC was not created to avoid the effect of the injunction. Simply put, there is no substantial continuity between the NSA-UHG and the PNBC, and, as a result … the PNBC have not violated the injunction.
PNBC stands for Provisional National Baha’i Council – it is one of the many acronym soups that you’ll find within the legal documents of the case.
I am not a legal expert by any means and I hope that some who are will step forward to offer their wisdom… however, it seems to me that the NSA weighed their options and chose to attempt to enforce the 1966 ruling on the Orthodox Baha’is because they estimated that a new legal proceeding would have less chance of winning.
Let’s face it, you simply can’t trademark or copyright the word, “Baha’i” or the nine pointed star any more than you can the word “Christian” or the symbolic representation of the cross. These do not belong to anyone or any one organization. They are in the public domain.
Can you imagine the Catholic church suing the Protestant church for the use of the symbol of the cross? or saying that they infringe on their intellectual property for calling their houses of worship ‘churches’ and for having similar ecclesiastical organizations?
The judge would soak his/her robes laughing before dismissing the case and awarding several millions of exemplary punitive damages for bringing a frivolous law suit to the docket.
That option would have been just plain DUMB. But what the US NSA did, I would argue, is almost as dumb. Here’s why:
Because it meant entering into a no win situation.
If they had won they would have appeared like bullies and would have given the break-away group much more attention than they would normally get. We’re talking about a splinter group of less than 40 people! Forty. Yes, say it again. Forty people.
As well, it would have opened up a hornet’s nest as the Orthodox Baha’is would have gained the sympathies of groups like the EFF. In the end, it would have been nothing more than a hollow legal victory overshadowed by a public relations nightmare. Any positive advantages would have been tiny in comparison to the negative outcome. Also a win would have encouraged the Orthodox Baha’i group to continue to lobby the public’s sympathies by presenting themselves as martyrs, the underdogs, the wronged ones.
On the other hand, had they lost (which they did) it would have meant that they had wasted both time and money (the Faith’s precious resources) to only receive a setback. A loss would embolden the Orthodox group and encourage them to write further bombastic prose on their websites to garner attention. It would also present the US NSA as weak and unable to protect its trademarks and intellectual property.
* * * * * * * * *
Here is a portion of the testimony in the trial:
MR. JEFFERY A. HANDELMAN, Attorney for NSA (Direct Examination):
Dr. Henderson, what caused the NSA to file the current contempt motion that is now pending before the Court?
DR. ROBERT HENDERSON: The National Spiritual Assembly became aware, as a result of reports, that there were Web sites that were misrepresenting Baha’i belief and claiming to be official institutions of the Baha’i faith. We hadn’t seen them, but we began to get reports. And upon investigation, we were alarmed to find that there were Web sites claiming to be the official institutions of the Baha’i faith and — and — presenting beliefs which were in direct conflict to Baha’i teachings and Baha’i principles and at broad variance.
We had significant concerns about this. First, we were concerned about Baha’i refugees who were forced to flee their homes and their home countries because of their belief in the Baha’i faith, and who, in some cases, had corresponded with the wrong institutions, thinking that they were corresponding with the international governing body of the Baha’i faith and, in fact, they were sending their correspondence to some other institution.
Secondly, we were concerned about the public because one of our major strategies is to advise the public of the teachings and the fact and general aim of the Baha’i faith through the Internet. In fact, our Web site has won several awards for excellence from the National Religious Communication — Communicators — Council, which is an organization that looks at religious publications and Web sites and videos, and so forth.
And we won the gold medal, in fact, as having the best Web site of the faith communities in the United States.
And, so, this is a primary means by which we communicate Baha’i belief, and who are the Baha’is, and what do we believe, and what do we do, and where can you find Baha’is close to you.
Suddenly, we began to receive some alarming reports from people who were not Baha’is, but who were investigating the Baha’i faith through the Internet, concerned about what they were reading on Web sites claiming to be official Baha’i Web sites. And their concern was stimulated by the fact that the content on these Web sites was in direct conflict with their understanding of Baha’i belief; and, in fact, it was in direct conflict.
And, then, lastly, there were — or penultimately, we were concerned about the Baha’is themselves who might be misled and find themselves involved in discussions — in fact, this did occur; find themselves involved in Internet forums and the like and corresponding — with organizations that were not part of the National Spiritual Assembly.
And last, we were concerned with reputational harm. As I mentioned, we have extensive and longstanding relations with the United Nations, with the White House, with the — with both Houses of Congress, with the human rights community. And these are based on principles of peace and cooperation, of universal fellowship, of race unity, of the equality of women and men, and so forth. All of the Baha’i principles centered around facilitating unity and cooperation and universal well being and social progress.
Alright, here’s the thing. We will always be infected with stupidity. There are, even as you sit there reading this, millions of stupid people endangering our gene pool. Heck, you or I have even on occasion partaken liberally of stupidity. No one is immune. Not completely. It is part and parcel of being human. And although we should be compassionate with each other, we should also help each other out as best we can to rise up from it.
Thankfully, we also have reason and intelligence among us. And more often than not, it wins the race. That’s how we have survived this long on this, the third rock from the sun.
So there will always be people who are dumb enough to mistake the insane, bombastic rhetoric that can be found on the Orthodox Baha’i websites (like the 9/11 towers in flames with horrible predictions of apocalypse or worse). No, I’m not going to link to it. It doesn’t deserve further attention. If you really want to find it, you can.
To show you how “dumb” people can be, BahaisOnline was recently contacted by a Baha’i who inquired how their pilgrimage request was coming along. How can anyone mistake that site which aggregates and disseminates Baha’i related news and content from across the web to the “official” Baha’i pilgrimage website run by the UHJ? They don’t have any similarities!
Are we going to now start attempting to protect people from their own stupidity by suing everyone who has an “unofficial” Baha’i site?
Thankfully, there are also among us many people, both Baha’i and not, that will have no trouble at all differentiating between that Baha’i blog and the pilgrimage site. Nor will they have any trouble telling apart the various websites of the Baha’i Faith (Haifa) and those from splinter groups.
What lessons can we draw from this?
The NSA needs better legal advice. As in none.
Since they would be in better shape had they no legal team, I would suggest they fire their lawyers and hire instead a pack of squirrels. After all, when did squirrels do anyone any harm?
And everyone on the NSA who suggested, recommended and went along with this boondoggle please do the rest of the Baha’i world a favor and “retire” from administrative service. It is all the rage right now. All the “cool” Baha’is are doing it: Herr Grossman and Sgt. Mitchell as we speak.
Am I being too harsh?
Perhaps. But is the irony lost on everyone that here we have an institution which is charged with the duty to establish and encourage unity… and they spend their time and the money donated, to pursue an inane litigatious process against a small group of people who believe something slightly different from them?
How about spending more time on the challenges facing the US Baha’i community?