1. Do you remember in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" Ginny Weasley wrote scary texts in blood on the wall while posessed by the Tom Riddle spirit?

A strange question: Who has the copyright to these texts – Ginny or Tom?

A strange answer: The same question has been considered by UK and US courts.

Here is a thread about the copyright to texts dictated by spirits and ghosts πŸ‘»

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2. Let's kick off with the Cummins v. Bond (1926, UK) case. Miss Geraldine Cummins was a journalist and was also practicing as spiritualist medium in her free time. If you are looking for a new hobby, take this for a spin.

Her seances looked like that: she was covering eyes with a left hand, taking a pencil in a right hand and resting it on a paper, recording over 2000 words in an our and a half without any pause.
You can think judges often do the same, but let's discuss it in another thread.

3. So, sometimes the sessions were attended by a man named Bond. Frederick Bligh Bond. He was keenly interested in the work of Cummins. One day he published her records with a headline "The Chronicle of Cleophas" without any permission of Miss Cummins.

Then Miss Cummins sued Bond for a copyright infringement. Her arguments were simple: she is author of the text, so Bond has no right to publish them without her permission.

Bond's arguments were more interesting.

4. Firstly, Bond stated that he was a co-author. During spiritual sessions he placed his fingers upon the back of the medium's hand (yes, she had a chance to become a Bond girl) when she was writing, so he was influencing on the situation and the spirit's meassages.

Secondly, Bond argued Miss Cummins was not an author as she just recorded the spirit's messages but not created them, so true author is the spirit.

The poor judge has to answer the question, Does spirits have any copyrights?

5. Regarding the argument that Bond participated in creating the work, the judge expressed a simple point: the work was created in the mind of Miss Cummins, so there was no any co-creation by Bond.

6. The opinion about copyrights of spirits was much more interesting. The judge said that he was not prepared to make the opinion "that the authorship and copyright rest with some one already domiciled on the other side of the inevitable river".
"That is a matter I must leave for solution by others more competent to decide it than I am", the judge added.

So, Miss Cummins was recognised as the author.

7. It is extremely important – the judge didn't say that ghosts has no copyrights. He just said that he was not competent enough to state that. So let's make an assumption that ghosts and spirits are able to have copyrights, and they just can't get a recognition of this in the earthly life courts.

8. Now we make a leap 15 years forward to another continent to see what the US District Court for the Southern District of California said about sprirts' copyrights in Oliver v. Saint Germain Foundation (1941, USA). This case is even cooler.

Before I continue... You know it's hard to find people who are so interested in crazy intellectual property stories as me. Please boost this thread, it will help me to find soul mates.

Good, let's return to souls 😈

9. In this story our hero's name is Frederick Spencer Oliver, he was born in 1886, and he was a medium too. But contrary to Miss Cummins he published his book with recorded messages of a spirit himself. The book is called "A Dweller on Two Planets", you can read about it on Wikipedia:

When Oliver was 17, the spirit named Phylos began to tell him cool stories and this had been continuing for 3 years. Poor Oliver had no choice but to write them all down.

10. FYI, Phylos was from Atlantis, so he told to Oliver a lot of amazing stories about this land. He also described such Atlantis technologies as wireless telephony, TV and antigravity. One fine day we will discuss Atlantis patent system, but it will be another story.

11. So, Oliver's book was published by Borden Publishing Company. One day they found out that another company had published Oliver's book too without any permissin. That company was pushed with cease and decease letters.

That company filed a claim to the court with a statement that the copyright to the book belongs neither to Oliver nor to Borden Publishing, as the true author is Phylos.

So the judge had to answer something, and it's pretty funny that the judge's name was Dawkins πŸ™‚

12. Well, judge Dawkins was very imbued with arguments about the fact that Oliver emphasized the statement he is not an author of the text, but Phylos is.
No, Dawkins didn't limit himself with babbling about he's not competent in the rights of otherworld entities. Dawkins applyied the estoppel doctrine.

In accordance with estoppel doctrine a person cannot refer to any facts in court if previous behaviour of the person demonstrates person's disagreement with these facts.

13. Dawkins analyzed the book and found out that Oliver really denyed his authorship and stated that the author is Phylos. Oliver didn't lose the copyrights because of these statements but he lost the opportunity to protect them in court.
It was a pretty elegant decision of judge Dawkins.

14. The judge also added that "the law deals with realities and does not recognize communication with and the conveyances of legal rights by the spiritual world as the basis for its judgment". Ironically, the judge made statements about Oliver's rights despite of the fact that Oliver had already died by that day and existed in the spiritual world πŸ€”

15. On the basis of these two descisions we can make two conclusions. The boring one – judges are not competent enough to make judgements regarding ghosts' copyrights. The funny one – jurisprudence in UK and US basically doesn't deny ghosts' copyrights, we just need a jurisdiction that will be competent enough... 😏

@VGM My wife raises a question from your motivating example: The wizarding world knows spirits exist and has communication with them, so would they have courts with sufficient competence?

@naga It's a brilliant question! Well, I think, yes. As I know from "The Goblet of Fire", the Wizarding World has its own legal system. So, their notion of law can be free from our restrictions.

However, what if they even don't have copyright law? πŸ€”
Their society was separated from our world a long time ago, before we created modern copyright law. It is very likely that the Wizarding World don't know anything about copyright.

This thread is amazing and I love information like that. You don't happen to have a place where you have this in one piece so I can share it with people who are not on Mastodon?
This would also make a great, short video essay :D

@Ayior Thank you :) I like the idea to make a video and maybe publish this text as one post, but for now it's just a thread.

Also I wonder if the same applies to merely fictional works. Author Walter Moers deems himself the translator and not creator of his fantastic world, claiming he's merely transcribing the works of the most famous author in that universe πŸ€”

@Ayior It's a good question πŸ˜„ Well, in this case there is a chance to apply the estoppel doctrine and prohibit Moers referring to his copyright. BUT translations are also protected! Translators have the copyright to translations. So, if he is really a translator... 😏


Thanks for sharing this amazing thread. I love reading about this kind of thing. Every kind of legal system becomes fun to think about when the paranormal gets involved.

I was expecting some of the decisions about spirits as copyright holders to be based around the length of copyright and how long ago it was that somebody died. That could be a problem for spirit authors who had died a few centuries before channeling their writings.

YES. I'm glad you concluded the thread with a happy ending. I was quite annoyed at what Miss Cummins got away with!

@VGM Dead people hold copyright so why not ghosts? Seems it doesn't matter about having someone alive for it to be protected, just that someone gives a shit to protect it.

@MxCraven Dead people doesn't hold copyright) Heirs succeed dead people's exlusive rights as other property rights.

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