Chicago Bldg. Design P.C. v. Mongolian House, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 08-02-2012
  • Case #: 11-1262
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Torruella, Souter, Boudin
  • Full Text Opinion

Although the courts should be reluctant to resolve religious property disputes, they may do so if the dispute can be resolved without consideration of doctrinal or other religious matters.

Opinion (Torruella): Archbishop Gregory posted several excerpts from religious texts translated by the Society of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Monastery) to his website. After the Monastery filed a lawsuit over the postings, he entered into a settlement, agreeing to take down the works and to refrain from copying them in the future. When the Archbishop failed to remove the works, the Monastery filed a new lawsuit. The Archbishop claimed (in part) that the works were actually owned by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), that the works were in the public domain, that his postings were fair use, and that a secular court should not adjudicate this religious issue. The district court granted summary judgment for the Monastery, from which the Archbishop appealed. While observing that secular courts should be hesitant to enter into religious property disputes, the court concluded that it could resolve the dispute so long as that resolution involved no consideration of doctrinal matters. After noting that the Monastery held certificates of registration for each of the works, and that nothing in the Church by-laws had transferred ownership, the court concluded that the Monastery was the owner of the works. The court also rejected the Archbishop’s argument that the works entered the public domain when the Monastery distributed them to select congregations, because it found this was a limited publication. Finally, the court the court determined that the Archbishop failed all four factors of the fair-use test. Thus, the court AFFIRMED the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the Monastery.

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