In an unusually metaphysical copyright case, a German court has ruled that an American psychologist — and not Jesus Christ — is the author of a book that she said Christ dictated to her in a 'waking dream.' The late Helen Schucman said she was a vessel for the words of Christ in her book A Course in Miracles, and a German Christian group called the New Christian Endeavour Academy argued that they were therefore free to put text from the book up on their website without paying for it....Arguably, to defend ownership in the text is to undercut the truth and significance of the text. Kind of a Catch-22. I haven't read the court opinion, the attorneys' briefs, or the PR for the Foundation for Inner Peace (the copyright owner), but I'd say that even if we assume divine inspiration in the extreme — the human "author" merely took dictation — the activity of setting the words into written form, with sentences and punctuation, is enough to create authorship when there is no human competitor.
By the way, did Schucman assert that Jesus dictated like a boss with a Dictaphone? Did he say "comma," "period," and "new paragraph," and so forth? Surely, even in these divinely inspired texts, the human author in giving some form to the material.
What happens in cases where a human author has related a story told by another human being? I think the person who sets it down in writing owns the copyright. For example, if David Sedaris writes a story that quotes one of his sisters telling some long anecdote, can the sister say it's hers? People are talking all the time, spewing out their stories, and authors nick these things all the time. Maybe one of you copyright experts knows about some cases like this.
I've linked to to NPR which seems mostly to think it's funny to see these legal entanglements following on the absurd claim that Jesus poured His words into the vessel that was Helen Schucman, but it's not necessary to snigger at religion. How many artists have expressed a belief that a text came from them from beyond, that they were merely a channel for the words that flowed from an unseen source? I think Bob Dylan has said things like that. And I'll just preempt the commenters who are ready to say NPR may laugh at Schucman but it wouldn't write an equivalently humorous article about the idea that the Quran has no human author.
Meanwhile, at the same NPR link, there's news of the very best human authors — Jonathan Safran Foer at the head — teaming up with Chipotle to print stories on the chain restaurant's paper cups. We all need inspiration, and if we've left all our books and other reading devices behind and the voices in our head aren't saying anything interesting, we might be sitting in a restaurant someday, staring a blank paper cup wishing there were some text there to read.
For the grandest human customers, the blank cup is enough to contain all knowledge: "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, they slither wildly as they slip away across the universe."
But for the humble people, the routine Chipotle customer, the experience of the text-bereft paper cup is empty. Foer envisions persons "of extremely diverse backgrounds," perhaps lacking "access to libraries, or bookstores." And even though Foer has issued his screed against meat, he pictured all those lost souls and that empty paper in cup form, and "Something felt very democratic and good about this."
The gods beneficently bestow text upon the humble people.