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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended November 24, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 22Nov00

By Kent Larsen

Mormon Website Criticized For Copyright Violations

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- An LDS-oriented website is flirting with copyright violations that may cause it legal trouble, and seriously jeopardize its existence because the violations seem to make up the majority of the website. All About Mormons ( may be the LDS-oriented website most at risk for copyright violations, and industry sources are betting that the site will eventually be required to remove the violating material.

LDS Church member John Walsh says on the website that he started All About Mormons because he saw a need for orthodox, reliable information about the LDS Church's doctrines and practices. Walsh gathered what he considers authoritative information, organized it by subject, and posted it on the Internet. But most of the material he posted consists of entire articles from the nationally published "Encyclopedia of Mormonism." The website also contains the complete text of all General Conference addresses from October 1996 to April 2000 and many images from LDS Church-owned publications.

And the site has become fairly successful, establishing itself as a resource for information about the LDS Church. It is listed in many search engines and Internet directories, and has even appeared as a resource along side news articles about the LDS Church, such as a recent article in U.S. News and World Report (see US News Puts LDS Church on Cover ).

Normally, using an article from an encyclopedia requires the permission of the publisher, who generally holds an exclusive license to publish the material. But finding the publisher isn't always easy. While the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism was published by Macmillan, a company that no longer exists, the rights are now owned by the Gale Group, which sold an exclusive license to the "electronic rights" to the encyclopedia to LDS CD-ROM publisher Infobases, which is now part of Deseret Book. Contacted by Mormon News, Deseret Book has verified that it owns these electronic rights and did not know that All About Mormons had posted the text to its website.

Walsh admits on his website that he is using some of the material on the website without permission from the author. Contacted by Mormon News, Walsh would not respond to a query asking if he had a license to use either the Encyclopedia of Mormonism material or the talks from the LDS Church's General Conference. Instead, he referred Mormon News to a page on his website that talks about his use of copyrighted material (see ). There he says he used the material "with the assumption that the author would not mind or be offended." The page also acknowledges that other users of his site have questioned his use of the copyrighted material. In response, he tells a story about contacting BYU's Robert L. Millett, Dean of Religious Education about a copyright violation, only to find Millet unconcerned about illicit use of his work. Walsh goes on to say, "Since most of the articles we use are from faithful Latter-day Saints, we have never been too concerned about obtaining written permission to use some material."

But Walsh's explanation doesn't wash with other LDS website developers. Dallas Robbins, editor of the on-line LDS magazine Harvest Magazine calls Walsh's explanation for using copyrighted material "sincere, though naive." "Just because Dr. Robert Millet says it was fine that a recorded talk he gave was distributed without his knowledge, does not give the owners of the to right to reprint anything they please, just because it furthers the gospel cause." Robbins says that Walsh's use isn't really fair to authors, "A person spends hard work and time to create a piece of written work; we just can't take advantage of people's time and sacrifice without compensating them." He is also disturbed by the implication that Walsh thinks it OK to take advantage of fellow LDS Church members, "[if] they are faithful LDS Church members, [All About Mormons] should even take more time and effort in following the legal and lawful standards in copyright permission," says Robbins.

Another LDS webmaster, Alan Jones, is much more blunt about Walsh's use of the material. " . . . what that website has done is not legal nor moral." Jones says he has a fairly good understanding of copyright law because he just helped roll-out a new copyright and confidentiality policy for his company. One of his worries with the abuse of Church materials is that anti-Mormons will get ahold of the material and use it for their own ends. He claims that well-meaning church members posted the LDS Church's General Handbook of Instructions to the Internet, and the anti-Mormon Utah Lighthouse Ministry obtained it. The LDS Church had to file a lawsuit to get the material removed from their site.

The experience of others indicates that both Deseret Book and the LDS Church are likely to act on Walsh's use of the material, now that they know about it. In addition to filing a lawsuit against the Utah Lighthouse Ministry over their posting the General Handbook of Instructions, the Church also asked LDS Church member Mark Davies to remove his archive of General Conference talks from the Internet in December 1997, once the Church learned of its existence. Dallas Robbins of Harvest Magazine knows Deseret Book expects to be paid for the use of its material. He contacted the LDS Church-owned publisher recently about reprinting a chapter from one of its books, and was told that he would need to pay a monthly fee of $150 for the privilege.

Deseret Book declined to say what they will do about the use of its materials on Walsh's website, and LDS Church spokesman Randy Ripplinger told Mormon News, "Publishing copyrighted materials is the right of the copyright owner. The Church does not give others the right to choose how Church owned materials are published."

Robbins of Harvest Magazine worries that All About Mormons' use of the copyrighted material will make it more difficult for him and other webmasters to follow the rules. "I have seen many sites republish much material in such a manner. It only makes it harder for me, someone trying to play by the rules; while others sites don't follow the rules, it gives them the liberty to provide more content and thus creating more traffic. It makes me feel somewhat left out; but of course I would only want to have a site built on honesty and full author participation whenever possible." He says that Walsh should not only take the material down, but also pay for its illicit use, "All About Mormons should pay for what they have reprinted up to this point, - making a restitution, and secure proper copyright before continuing any further reprinting."

But Chris Bigelow, an editor of Irreantum, a magazine covering Mormon literature, disagrees. He can see the LDS Church choosing to ignore All About Mormons. "One of the guiding principles at the Church Headquarters is, 'We may permit it, but we don't promote it.' In other words, tolerate the activity but avoid any implication of 'Go and do thou likewise.' That principle would seem to apply in this case." He says that the number of sites using Church material is already too large to stop, "I think that would be like putting a finger in a dike that is leaking in numerous other places."


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