The History of Copyright Claims for Osho’s Work

This page is part of the historical background relating to "What Is an Osho?", a slick, sannyas-paradigm-shifting policy paper written by Amrito and circulated in 1998. A deconstruction of Amrito's paper is presented on this site, introduced here. A large subset of the background addresses various aspects of OIF's claimed right to control Osho's legacy, particularly regarding the legal muscle of copyright and trademark. This page details the various Indian entities' "competing" copyright claims before 1990 and explores the implications. It is sourced from Osho Friends International. For more legal pages, see OFI or Legal Main Page.

Osho began giving discourses in the 1960s. By 1969 a charitable trust was set up in Bombay to support Osho’s work. This trust was Jivan Jagruti Kendra (JJK), and it began to publish some of Osho’s discourses in written form. These were actually small booklets containing collections of discourses. Some of those discourses were English translations of Hindi discourses. In those small booklets JJK listed itself as the copyright holder, but there’s no evidence that JJK ever tried to claim ownership of Osho’s copyright interests in the works. JJK may have had a copyright interest in the translations and compilations, while Osho held the copyright to the expression of ideas in the content.

In 1974 Osho moved to Pune and the ashram was set up there. As more people came to Pune a publishing department was set up and both Hindi and English discourse series were published in book form and in recordings: darshan diaries, recording Osho’s meetings with individuals in the evening were also published. JJK, which had changed its name to Rajneesh Foundation (RF) in 1975, had these books printed and listed RF as copyright holder.

The books were transcribed from discourses, edited, and sometimes translated into other languages. All of these contributions make up aspects of the work that can be copyrighted. In other words, there can be several copyrights in a work. Osho owned the copyright to the expression of ideas contained in His discourse, but RF or the individuals involved may have also owned an interest in compilations, translations, and extensive editing. Whether. The question is, whether a charitable trust owns the work of volunteers—some of them Indian citizens and some foreign visitors—that is financed by the trust and done under the auspices of the trust. Even if the answer is no, it seems fairly obvious that RF thought it owned those rights and claimed copyrights in the work.

There is a copy of a 1978 document where Osho clarifies RF’s rights to His interests in the books. If this was an authentic document (no original is available) it indicates that RF was well aware that it didn’t own Osho’s share of the copyrights and sought an agreement with Him so that it could publish and license out the works to other publishers. RF then began to license rights to some major American publishers, and these books gave Osho a much larger profile in the West.

[It may be observed that Osho was already getting published by big Western publishers prior to 1978, a prominent example being the first volume of Book of the Secrets (Vigyan Bhairav Tantra) published by both Harper and Row in the US and Thames and Hudson in the UK in 1976.]

In the early 1980s Osho agreed to go to the USA for a rest that would improve His health.

Osho returned to the ashram in Pune for the last years of His life.

OIF, Zürich claims that Osho either transferred the publishing licensing agreement He had with RF to RFI or agreed to RF’s transfer of that license to RFI. Given that Osho had every intention of returning to India, it’s very unlikely that He would have agreed to shift the center of publishing from India to the USA.

During the four years of Rajneeshpuram, USA, people there participated in creating books from Osho’s discourses, including transcribing, translating, and editing extensively. Under US law, which applies to the activities in Rajneeshpuram, any rights in the books from these activities belonged to the individuals who did the work, unless they had signed valid work-for-hire agreements with someone before the work was done. There is no evidence that work-for-hire agreements were signed.

Nonetheless, RFI might have thought it did own some rights. In any event, RFI continued RF’s practice of listing itself as the copyright holder. When the Rajneeshpuram collapsed in 1985, RFI transferred any rights it had to Rajneesh Foundation Europe (RFE later in 1990 after Osho left the body, changed to Osho International Foundation [OIF Zürich]).

After Rajneeshpuram the situation of who was claiming copyrights became more complicated. There are reports that when Osho returned to India He asked that the publishing of His work should be centered in India, and that any claim that rights had been transferred to the US be withdrawn. This report is supported by several facts. First, no originals have been produced of the documents purporting to transfer rights to the USA, so they might have been destroyed. Second, during Pune II, the period of time between when Osho returned to Pune and when He left His body, several Indian entities claimed to own the copyrights in Osho’s work. As Osho saw those publications He was probably aware of these claims.

OIF claimed in the US trademark case that Osho saw books of His discourses that had been published, and so He would have seen that OIF was claiming copyrights. This is not necessarily true at all. After 1985 the then Rajneesh Foundation Europe changed its name to Neo-Sannyas International. Around the same time Rajneesh Foundation in India also changed its name to Neo-Sannyas International. The books published after 1985 listed Neo-Sannyas International as the copyright holder, but gave no indication whether the reference was to the Indian or the Swiss foundation. The Indian foundation might have been relying on the claimed 1978 license from Osho in claiming copyrights.

At the same time that one or both of the entities named Neo-Sannyas International were claiming copyrights for the books, Tao claimed to own all of Osho’s work that appeared in the English and Hindi Rajneesh/Osho Times. We have no documents that would support these claims, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. The point is that, given all these claims from Indian entities, Osho had no reason to think that a Swiss foundation was claiming exclusive ownership of all His copyrights.

In 1991, after Osho had left the body, Neo-Sannyas International changed its name to Osho International Foundation (OIF). Around the same time a new charitable trust was set up in India, also called Osho International Foundation. For several years books were published listing OIF as the copyright holder, without indicating if this was the Indian or Swiss entity. Tao Publishing also continued to claim ownership of the copyrights for some time.

All of this is pointless in the sense that since there’s no evidence Osho ever transferred ownership of this copyrights to anyone else, none of these claimants actually owned Osho’s share of the copyrights in the works anyway. This is relevant, though, because it shows that there’s no evidence that Osho had any idea at all that the Swiss foundation Neo-Sannyas, as opposed to the Indian Neo-Sannyas International, was claiming to own any rights in published works. OIF, Zürich's assertion that Osho knew about and approved its copyright claims is completely without support.