David James Faces Alleged “Harbinger” Copyright Infringement Challenge

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alleged law suit over harbinger

The original book by Jonathan Cahn

David James, a former missionary and author of The Harbinger: Fact or Ficton? is being threatened with a lawsuit from Charisma Media, publisher of New York Times bestseller, The Harbinger, written by Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn.

The Copyright Question

Why does a Christian publisher want to sue another Christian? Is it because Charisma Media and author Cahn cannot take the criticism that James doles out?  Is it because the Berean Call, publishers of the James book originally used a cover image similar to Cahn’s book?  Is it because of some doctrinal issue?  It is none of these things.  David James is under the threat of a lawsuit because he allegedly violated copyright laws by quoting large portions of text from The Harbinger without permission.

In order to quote from a book, a writer needs to get written permission from the author or publisher.  Authors and publishers are entitled to charge a fee for the permission if they want, or even to deny permission if they wish.  “Rights and Permissions” departments were once major profit centers for publishers, and that continues to be true to a somewhat lesser degree today.

Does Fair Use Apply?

There is an exception to the requirement that a writer needs to get permission, and that exception is in the “fair use” provision enshrined in Section 107 of the U.S. copyright law.  The fair use provision allows writers to quote small amounts of copyrighted material without seeking permission under these circumstances:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

These regulations are not a license to steal the literary work of others.  They only exist as possible defenses when a copyright infringement case is filed with the courts.

Of course, those authors who lift the copyrighted text  from another book always claim that they are taking the minimum, and that they are entitled to it. In this case, David James is claiming that the vast  amount of text he used from the Cahn book is fair  use.  He said, “[Charisma Media is] claiming that we were causing them financial harm of as-yet-undetermined amount, because of the amount of  The Harbinger that I quoted in my book. A very experienced copyright lawyer has responded to them on our behalf, concluding that I was well within ‘fair use’ — and that I had only quoted enough to establish context for my critique in every instance.”

Court Case or Settlement Coming

Regardless of this statement, James and  his copyright lawyer are likely to have a difficult time making their case  if it goes to court. There are plenty of precedents for this kind of issue, the most famous involving President Ford. He wrote a 200,000 word autobiography, and his publisher successfully sued The Nation magazine for using just 300-400 words of it without permission.

Both the amount of material used, and the significance of the portion used, will eventually be the deciding matters in The Harbinger case. The Charisma Media attorney’s will undoubtedly win if they can demonstrate that no one would need to buy the original book, since all the relevant details are included in the James interpretation of what Cahn said in his book.

When Christians get sued by another Christian or Christian organization, they often reproach the person or organization by reminding them that the Bible is against such litigation. However, they never stop to think that coveting someone else’s text is not different than coveting or stealing their other belongings, and that too is against God’s commands.

It is wrong for Christian authors to believe that copyright laws do not apply to them because they have a theological ax to grind. A sense of mission does not give anyone the right to repackage large portions of another person’s book  in an effort to make their point.

Published on: Feb 7, 2013


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