Q&A Regarding Intellectual Property Rights

The TBF-GA Notification # 00001 received an enthusiastic response from True Buddha School (TBS) disciples on the TBSN Facebook page. In order to help everyone better understand this subject, the True Buddha Foundation (TBF) organized a Q&A to further explain intellectual property rights. Let’s come together and learn how to legally and rationally promote Grandmaster’s corpus and Dharma teachings.

Q1: Disciples have been sharing Grandmaster’s golden words via Line and Facebook. Considering the rules governing intellectual property rights to Grandmaster’s works, can we still share Grandmaster’s teachings in this way?
A1: TBF first would like to explain that the intellectual property rules and regulations were actually issued a long time ago. The TBS management system of intellectual property rights was also established several years ago, but has been largely ignored. This notification is intended to once again remind everyone to respect and abide by the relevant intellectual property rules and regulations. With regards to sharing the golden words of Grandmaster’s corpus and written works, a relatively small excerpt of Grandmaster’s writings or a discourse may be shared via Line or Facebook. The correct way to excerpt is to reference the author and source of the excerpt. For example, the number, name, and chapter title of a book, or the day, month and year of the discourse should be clearly and correctly referenced. This will inform readers of the source of the excerpted book or discourse.

Q2: How are the limits on internet sharing defined?
A2: As for “sharing” original sources, there are two kinds of sharing. One type of sharing is via the internet, and the issue is whether the amount of the original source (book or discourse) being shared is within reasonable limits. It’s not possible to define or limit the material shared as a certain specific amount. A reasonable limit on shared material can only be determined on a case by case basis. In other words, the amount of material which can be shared is a gray area. If the person sharing has questions or concerns, to be on the safe side, it is best to obtain prior authorization from the copyright holder. It is a mistake to think that sharing an unrevised version of a copyrighted work is not an infringement of intellectual property rights. Regardless of whether the original has been modified or not, if the amount of copyrighted material shared is significant, this sharing constitutes copyright infringement. Another kind of sharing is through the Share function of social media. This kind of sharing will be discussed in detail below.
(1) As to whether sharing a public Facebook post constitutes copyright infringement, since Facebook, in its terms of usage, has established settings and preferences for the content of shared material and settings for the form and content of any licensing agreement for the material, after the Facebook confidentiality preference for sharing a written work or photograph has been set to public domain, there will not be an issue of copyright infringement as long as the only posting is a link to an article. However, if shared material is downloaded to a social media platform other than Facebook, this downloading is considered “making a copy” (reproduction in legal terms). Unless the download constitutes “fair use” under copyright law, one must obtain authorization from the copyright holder to avoid copyright infringement.
(2) When using the sharing function provided by YouTube or sharing by directly posting a video link on Facebook, there is no actual file copying of the video itself. When posted on Facebook for sharing, there is only an extract of a screen image or a portion of text. Therefore, this type sharing should fall within the legal scope of fair use.
(3) However, if one uses software to download someone else’s YouTube video to one’s own computer, then transfers the video to Facebook for sharing, the action of downloading constitutes the reproduction and the act of publicly transmitting the works of others. If one does not have permission from the copyright holder, the reproduction and the act of publicly transmitting the works of others could be considered copyright infringement. Therefore, only videos that do not infringe copyrights can be uploaded to Facebook.

Q3: Should True Buddha School (TBS) Dharma propagating personnel apply for use rights of Grandmaster’s works for their Dharma lectures or teachings?
A3: To put it simply, most actions which constitute copyright infringement are actions which fit the legal definition of reproduction, that is, copying or other kinds of duplication. Dharma lectures or Dharma teachings of TBS Dharma spreading personnel that contain images or words taken from Grandmaster’s discourses or teachings, explain the contents of Grandmaster’s written works, or summarize Grandmaster’s teachings through slideshows, do not constitute reproduction or duplication. Therefore, there is no copyright infringement and no need to apply for permission from the copyright holder.

Q4: Many disciples transmit self-created images or photos with added words, or transmit reproductions of Grandmaster’s essays directly onto Facebook or online. Is this permissible under current guidelines?
A4: Although a disciple’s heartfelt devotion is very precious, it is still necessary to establish one’s actions within a legal framework. Nonetheless, it isn’t necessarily the case that classifying Grandmaster’s works as “intellectual property” means that all sharing of Grandmaster’s works is prohibited. As long as Grandmaster’s words are not taken out of context; the original meaning is not misrepresented; the author’s meaning is not distorted in any way; there isn’t any kind of inappropriate interpretation; and there is an accurate attribution of the work, as mentioned previously, sharing Grandmaster’s golden words or a short excerpt of a Dharma discourse is considered “fair use” and the work can be shared. If, for Dharma propagation purposes, it is necessary to use a significant amount of Grandmaster’s written works or use the material for a long period of time, one may also submit a Use Application Form for Living Buddha Lian-sheng Sheng-yen Lu’s Corpus, Paintings, and all Other Creative Works to the True Buddha Foundation. A copy of the form is available for download at https://ch.tbsn.org/uploads/download/2020_07_31/02a5213d0ed2f934fd8d5934dc3b8e8b.pdf. After completing the form, please return via email to tbfapplication@gmail.com. As long as the user clearly explains the purpose, plan, and vision of the use, the authorization may be granted. If a person uses an image or photo of Grandmaster with added words, even if the photo or image is legally pre-authorized per the application procedure described above, whether use rights are violated still depends on whether the content and meaning of the words added are lawful, appropriate, prudent, and entirely proper in every way. This is why Grandmaster’s works need to be managed. An advantage of the internet world is that information can be disseminated quickly. But at the same time, this brings the disadvantage of misuse and misguidance. One must be very cautious when using the internet.

Q5: Can I make copies for personal use of Grandmaster’s books I have purchased? After purchasing Grandmaster’s books, can I loan them or give them to others?
A5: As far as copyright law is concerned, when one purchases Grandmaster’s written works one obtains the “ownership of works” not the “copyright”. In other words, purchasing Grandmaster’s books does not mean one has obtained the copyright (right to copy, translate, edit, etc.) If one obtained a copyright by purchasing a book, anyone who purchased a book could copy it and the author and publisher would have no protected copyright whatsoever. As for loaning or giving a book to someone after reading it, as long as one has not copied or duplicated any material from the book, loaning or giving away a book does not constitute copyright infringement.

Q6: The sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha are as vast as the mountains and oceans. Who manages the copyright to these works? Are disciples who spread the sutras infringing on Shakyamuni Buddha’s intellectual property rights?
A6: According to the concepts of modern copyright law, the works and discourses of Shakyamuni Buddha should receive copyright protection. However, the period allowed for copyright protection is limited to 50 years after the death of the author. Therefore, because the period allowed for copyright protection has expired, present utilization of the Buddha’s works does not raise an issue of copyright infringement. The copyright of online Heart Sutra, Vajra Sutra, Liaofan's Four Lessons, etc. have long passed their protection period, so there is no issue of copyright infringement. Therefore, one should not compare these works to those of Grandmaster in the present era. We are hereby clarifying this point to avoid any misunderstanding. There was a question as to whether TBS owns the copyright to Buddhist sutras. Although the person asking this question did not give the name of the sutra, the name is not the point. The point is, who authored the work? Has the work of a given author reached the time limit for copyright protection? This is the key point. One can clear up the question in this way.

Q7: Do “intellectual property rights” rules and regulations have any particular focus?
A7: Any activity should be established on a legal basis, and promotion of True Buddha Tantric Dharma should also be conducted within a legal framework. Out of respect for the law, we emphasize legal concepts and strictly obey the law. It’s not that TBF just strictly follows the law for its own sake. If TBF did not strictly follow the law, we would be neglecting to perform our administrative function.

Q8: Concerning translations of Grandmaster’s written works, translated articles are only shared occasionally. If translated articles are to be used in spreading True Buddha Tantric Dharma, must one obtain prior approval from TBF?
A8: Regarding translations of Grandmaster’s written works, when they are used in relation to the spreading of Dharma teachings, one must be cautious. The copyright to English translations is held by US Daden Culture, whereas copyrights to Indonesian translations are held by Indonesia Yideng Foundation. Each organization has its own system for reviewing translated manuscripts. Therefore, we hope that anyone who desires to translate Grandmaster’s written works will submit an application for authorization and only make translations public after following the review system for translating manuscripts into that particular language. When propagating True Buddha Dharma to the general public, accuracy of translation is a mandatory requirement. Disciples have asked why they are unable to access all Grandmaster’s works in English and Indonesian on the True Buddha Prajna Treasury website. First, although Grandmaster’s corpus is already issued up to Book 279, the rate at which works can be translated cannot keep up with Grandmaster’s output. Second, as for works which have already been translated, the sale and marketing of paperback editions must be considered. For this reason, only certain chapters of newly translated works can be made immediately available online. After a paperback edition has been out for six months, the entire book will be available online at the True Buddha Prajna Treasury website.

Q9: Is the True Buddha Sutra considered Grandmaster’s intellectual property?
A9: The True Buddha Sutra is a sutra which was revealed from Grandmaster’s mind. It is indeed Grandmaster’s intellectual property. However, it is Grandmaster’s publicly expressed wish that disciples memorize this sutra, print it for free distribution, copy it out by hand, and use it to eradicate calamities. Under the circumstances, the author’s copyright has been placed in the public domain so that everyone can print and distribute it. For this reason, reproducing (copying) the True Buddha Sutra is not subject to any legal limitations. By the same principle, practice manuals created by TBF are intended for wide distribution. Therefore, copyright is not an issue when providing these works for free distribution. But, this is not the case for commercial usage. As for works by other authors which are derived from the True Buddha Sutra, the creators of these works should, in fact, apply for copyright authorization.

Best Regards,
True Buddha Foundation
Sept. 10, 2020

Translated by TBTTs
Translator: Henry Wolf
Editor: DJ Chang

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