Please accept my humble obeisances.
Please print this letter as your publication or notify those devotees who you may consider interested to start a discussion on this subject.
This letter is trying to give some suggestions on how Vaisnava Siddhanta views copyrights of transcendental literature.
"Copyrights" means, that someone claims to own the rights of some creative contribution, and are as such incompatible with the nature of a divine descend of knowledge to this world. The spiritual master is the transparent medium of God to deliver his teachings to the world. Once Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master, was reading the Krishna Book. His secretary asked him why he was reading his own books. Srila Prabhupada replied: "These are not my books, they have been dictated to me".
A disciple receives the mantra and teachings from his Guru. He promises to remain faithful to his Gurus teaching. There is no other formal condition made to be accepted as a disciple. This clearly shows that each disciple has the right and duty to distribute the teachings of his Guru in the way he considers the most appropriate. The only real proprietor of the rights is the supreme Lord Sri Krishna himself. But even he allows his Bhagavad Gita to be printed by so many different persons. Only the real devotees though get the blessings of Bhakti by printing the Bhagavad Gita. It is only Krishna who can decide which disciple is really qualified to deliver the pure message of his Guru. Therefore all the attempts by any person or institution to claim the exclusive rights to their Acaryas contributions is not according to the transcendental law. Acaryas desire their teachings to be handed down through their disciples and other sincere Vaisnavas. Only by his own qualification and not by any type of nomination can someone be accepted as qualified to represent his spiritual master properly. It would contradict the nature of our Siksa Guru Parampara and the emphasis of the Vaisnava Acaryas if the publishing of the holy scriptures and their distribution could be limited to any person or institution. This is not correct since all Acaryas, like Srila Prabhupada, wanted their books to be distributed by anyone and to everyone. Any Copyright claim decisions which will cause the number of transcendental books distributed and published to decrease can not be in the interest of the Guru Parampara.
Do not forget that every Vaisnava mission naturally wants to use the literature they print and distribute to further their cause through the invitations printed in the books. History has shown that the properties of the missions of great Acaryas sometimes end up in the hands of mundane persons unaware of the sacred meaning of such places. But such persons have not had the opportunity to claim monopoly on the teachings and writings of their Guru and founder Acaryas. This is a very important observation. It is a well known fact that the successors of some Acaryas fail to continue his line of pure devotion, and that sometimes other disciples are the ones, who really continue the Sampradaya. Bad enough, that due to the failure of some leading members of some Vaisnava missions, the properties, which their Guru established become object of dispute or misuse. But the teachings of any true Guru are the property of all those who carry on the true spirit of his message. Since it can not be previously determined, of who is really a qualified disciple, it is clear that all have the right to preach the message of their Guru and also to publish and distribute his teachings.
We find that this conclusion is supported by the living Vaisnava tradition. Examples: All Gaudiya Math sections freely publish the books of the previous Acaryas. Iskcon published the Brahma Samhita, which was previously published by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. All Gaudiya Vaisnavas sing the songs of Bhaktivinoda Thakur and of Narottama das Thakur. Normally, Vaisnavas are very happy if any other Vaisnava prints and distributes the sacred Vaisnava literature of any Author, knowing well that Krishna and the Author will be very happy that more souls will get to know the divine truth. Since only Krishna can lead somebody to his spiritual master (Brahmanda Bhrahmite kona...), it is a mistake to think that somebody unlawfully could abuse the teachings of any Guru by distributing and publishing his works.
For practical reasons there is no objection to coordinate and publish the books of the previous Acaryas in an joint effort of several missions. But it could only be done if the purpose of the publishing house is transparent and known to all who participate. Srila Prabhupada himself encouraged his disciples to write even while he was personally present. How can a disciple write if he had no permission to quote his Guru and to publish his writings? Srila Prabhupada started many different divisions of his publishing house called BBT.
I (B.A. Paramadvaiti) was personally responsable for several BBT departments from 73 until 79. (For Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Portugues.)
Srila Prabhupada gave us full freedom to publish and happily welcomed any new book. His concern was that all energy should be spent for Krishna, regardless of who will manage it afterward. Potentially every disciple of Srila Prabhupada and their genuine followers is qualified to start a transcendental Publishing division, and to publish Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhar Maharaja as well as all the other previous Acaryas writing. He only has to make sure that the energy from these books will truly be used for the Lords service, otherwise he will be held responsable by his reactions. Also it is necessary that any transcendental printing department or joint Vaisnava enterprise be transparent in their financial dealings in front of all their contributors. As the saying goes: Clear accounts maintain the friendship. Love and trust with good administration.
It is a fact that we are all one family, we all belong to the same tree of Lord Chaitanya. It is very disappointing when the family members cannot recognize their other relatives. Is Srila Prabhupada anyone less important in the Vaisnava history then Srila Jiva Goswami? Imagine Mr. Pancho Goswami from the Radha Damodar temple trying to claim royalties for any book published by any Vaisnava written by Srila Jiva Goswami. It is bad enough that so many wonderful properties like the Goswami temples and many more recent examples, have been held hostage for so many years, misused for personal enrichment and made inaccessible to those who have denounced such conditions.
It is about time to bring the true siddhanta into the clear focus. Even the Berlin Wall had to fall. Submission can only be desired unto the perfect ideal. And even then it is voluntary. Successors of an Acarya, even if they received the proper appointment, should keep in mind that their God brothers have the equal right and duty to carry on the disciplic succession. That is the law of the disciplic succession.
All Glories to Sri Sri Guru and Gouranga!
Swami B.A. Paramadvaiti
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