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Copyright Upheld on Prayer Book Translation

November 30, 2002|From Times Wire Reports

NEW YORK — A translation of a Jewish prayer book is covered by federal copyrights and can't be sold without permission, a U.S. appeals court ruled in a dispute between two publishers within Hasidic Judaism.

Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch Inc. owns a translation of a prayer book widely used in the Lubavitch movement of Judaism. Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch Inc. sought to sell a book with that translation and added instructions and a different layout.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said a trial will need to determine whether Merkos is the true owner of the copyrights. But the translation is subject to copyright law, the judges said.

"This is the first case involving a translation of a prayer book that is used for oral prayer," said Otsar lawyer Jacob Laufer. "It tends to give certain groups an ability to monopolize religious works."

Courts have held that new translations of historical religious books, such as the Talmud, Bible or Koran, can be protected by copyrights.

The three-judge panel said U.S. District Judge Reena Raggi was correct in saying that the translation of prayers "involves partly the precision of science but partly the sensitivity and spirit of art. Behind the words that are found in the Hebrew and the words that are used in the English are shades of meaning and subtlety that cannot be labeled functional."

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