In Society of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Inc. v. Archbishop Gregory of Denver, Colorado, (1st Cir., Aug. 2, 2012), the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Massachusetts district court's copyright infringement judgment in favor of an Eastern Orthodox monastic order. (See prior posting.) Holy Transfiguration Monastery translated a number of ancient religious texts. Archbishop Gregory, a former member of the Monastery, left it and formed his own monastery, the Dormition Skete, in Colorado. The Archbishop also created a website on which he posted 7 of the translations that had been produced b y Holy Transfiguration Monastery. An earlier lawsuit over the postings ended with a settlement agreement. However documents remained on the Archbishop's website, and the present suit-- for breach of contract and copyright infringement followed. The Second Circuit rejected a number of defenses raised by the Archbishop-- including contentions Monastery's Works were made for hire for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR); that they are in the public domain; that the materials are not copyrightable; a fair use defense and a claim that the dispute was a matter of religious law outside the jurisdiction of civil courts.
Particularly at issue was a provision in the Monastic Statutes for Monasteries of ROCOR calling for transfer of monastery property to ROCOR in case of closing or liquidation of a monastery. The Archbishop claimed that this provision was triggered by the Monastery's ending of its affiliation with ROCOR. The 1st Circuit said:
A review of the record confirms that we may apply the Monastic Statutes' plain terms without treading upon religious doctrine, church governance, and ecclesiastical laws.... Neutrally applying this plain language, we conclude that the Archbishop's position as to ROCOR's ownership holds little water.