India Today, July 2000

Royalty Ruckus

A bitter battle erupts in the commune over who owns the copyright to the godman’s works and techniques.

By Sheela Raval

Things can be copyrighted, thoughts cannot … they are not things of the marketplace.”- Osho’s comments on copyright, published in the journal Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi.

The Master’s words. But who’s listening? Ten years after Osho died, his commune in Koregaon Park in Pune is a changed place. The merriment and laughter that used to ring around the commune have now been replaced with a pregnant silence, full of suspicion and hatred. The reason: battlelines have been drawn and the Bhagwan’s very legacy is being torn apart by a bitter power struggle to retain control over his teachings and meditation practices. Says Swami Ganja Vedant, an old hand at the ashram: “Greed is spreading like a terminal cancer all over the commune.”

• 750 meditation centers across 80 countries, including 200 in India.
• 1,500 books published in 40 languages. 3.5 million copies sold last year.
• 400 tapes of music and sermons. 200,000 copies sold every year.
• 800 signature paintings.
• 10,000 exclusive photographs.
• Diamond robes and accessories, Rolls Royce fleet and properties.

The main fight revolves around Osho’s works – his books, sermons, music, art, pictures and meditation techniques – all worth millions of dollars. While the top leadership in the Osho Commune is trying to convert all of Osho’s works into commodities in the market by patenting them and charging copyright, a rebel group led by disciples in Pune and supported by like-minded Oshoites all over the world is resisting this attempt at commercialisation. Though Oshoites claim that this battle has been going on for a while now, the latest flashpoint came a few months ago when strongly worded legal notices were sent out by the New York-based Osho International to a couple of senior disciples for publishing the godman’s works. These notices claim that the Osho International Foundation (OIF) Zurich holds the copyright to Osho’s works and that anyone publishing or reprinting any such material must pay royalty to the foundation. Even the US Government’s trade and patent website lists the OIF Zurich as “the sole and registered owner of the copyright of all published and unpublished words and works of all various writing, music, art and other products created or otherwise associated with the author (Osho) …”

Osho International (New York) has warned the disciples that if they continue to publish or reprint Osho’s works, legal action would be initiated against them. Says Swami Ananda Sant, whose wife, Gatha, publishes Osho’s works in France: “Earlier we used to receive Osho’s blessings for spreading his message to the masses. Now we are being served with rude legal notices.”

The move to slap a royalty on Osho’s works has invited a lot of criticism in the Pune commune. But as is the usual practice, those who have questioned, criticised or shown any disagreement, have been asked to resign or have been banned from the commune. Says Ma Yoga Neelam, who had been Osho’s personal secretary in India and was in charge of the Pune commune till she abruptly quit a year ago: “It is a very embarrassing and shameful thing because making money was never our prime objective.” According to her, as far back as in 1997, Swami Prem Jayesh – who is the chairperson of the 21-member Inner Circle appointed by Osho – told her that he, along with a few Inner Circle members, intended to charge royalty on all of Osho’s works. His exact words at that time, she says, were: “We are sitting on a gold mine. Why not ask them to pay?”

The legal notices have only served to bring the dissent out in the open. Today everybody in Koregaon Park is discussing the issue – and the fall of what was once a great empire. At the height of Osho’s popularity, the lavender cult spread across 80 countries with over 750 meditation centres all on prime real estate. After his death though, things started going awry because of an intense power struggle in the Inner Circle appointed by Osho himself. Some Inner Circle members led by the Canada-born Jayesh (formerly Michael O’Bryne), rebel Oshoites point out, have been trying to control all the fortunes of the commune. Since Osho died, 15 of the 21 original members of the Inner Circle have quit following differences with Jayesh.

Though the Inner Circle is supposed to be the highest decision-making body for Oshoites, the rebel group alleges that the power centre has now shifted to OIF Zurich. It seems OIF Zurich has appointed Osho International (New York) to charge royalty from publishers dealing with Osho’s works. The rebels allege that the New York chapter is run by Jayesh’s brother D’Arcy O’Bryne while the managing committee of OIF Zurich is filled with people close to him like Swami Amrito (formerly Dr George Meredith), who used to be Osho’s personal physician, and India-born Mukesh Sarda. Interestingly, investigation by India Today revealed that Osho International (New York) was, in fact, just a trading name for a UK-registered company called Master Zones Ltd. However, when contacted, the management of the Osho commune in Pune was silent on Master Zones Ltd and its ownership.

The Osho management denies that Osho himself was against charging royalty on his works. Points out Swami Satya Vedant, one of the top leaders of the Pune Commune: “On Osho’s directions, the copyrights have been protected by an international foundation for the past 20 years. As the owner, Osho assigned them to a foundation in the US while a resident there. He later transferred them to a trust based in Switzerland and directed that they remain there. The legal records of assignment of copyright are well documented and carry Osho’s signature. Further, Osho had testified in a copyright infringement lawsuit in the US confirming his assignment.”

However, the rebels insist that Osho never intended to commercialise or charge royalty on his works and meditation practices. Swami Tathgat, a former Inner Circle member, in fact refutes the fact that Osho transferred the copyright on all his works. He says, “Twenty years ago, Osho – who was then called Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh – was still in India. He left for the US only in May 1981.
Besides, he was never a resident of the US.” india today’s investigation reveals that Osho had assigned his copyrights in 1972 to the Pune-based Rajneesh Foundation, the trust that ran the day-to-day affairs of the commune till Osho left for the US. Mumbai-based copyright and trademark registration firm R.K. Diwan & Company, which handled the registration work for Osho between 1973 and 1993, took care of the legalities of the transfer of copyright of all his works. The Rajneesh Foundation was run by a board of trustees that did not include Osho. Rebel Oshoites also have an interesting point to make: once Osho assigned the copyrights to the Rajneesh Foundation, he could not have transferred it to an international foundation or to a
Switzerland-based trust. Says Mohan Diwan, proprietor of R. K. Diwan & Company: “Once Rajneesh assigned his rights to the Rajneesh Foundation, he no longer held any rights. It is an absolute and unconditional transfer.” As per the Copyright Act, argue the rebels, the copyright should still be with the Rajneesh Foundation, which though non-functioning, still exists.

Many of the rebel Oshoites are outraged that India, Osho’s homeland, has been completely sidelined by the “western” leadership that has injected a commercial agenda into the soul of the cult. In fact, on various chat sites on the Internet frequented by Oshoites, disciples have criticised this new “commercial viewpoint” of the organisation. Swami Keerti, a former spokesperson who left the commune last February, says, “We are very agitated about the secret shifting of the headquarters from Pune to the US. This, even though Osho had made his home in Pune.” Some are even contemplating a public-interest litigation against the Jayesh coterie while others want the Indian Government to intervene. Says Swami Narenda, one of the rebel disciples: “Osho is not a fiefdom of Swami Jayesh and his coterie.”

Though the Indian chapter has been given independent rights of functioning, the disgruntled disciples feel it is not enough. “It is merely an eyewash,” charges Keerti. He explains that as of now, OIF India has only been given the Hindi rights to all of Osho’s works, besides the royalty on the goods sold in India. The rest goes into the coffers of OIF Zurich.

The biggest weapon in the hands of the rebels is the claim that they are only following Osho’s views on copyright. However, Ma Anando, who was once Osho’s legal secretary, says that the godman was full of contradictions. The views he expressed on copyright to a particular person cannot be taken as the final word, she argues. Justifying the move by OIF Zurich to charge royalty, she says, “The aim is to protect these priceless works from being used in a distorted manner.”

Whatever be the truth, one thing is clear: the tug of war to control Osho’s legacy is likely to be a bitter one.

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