The Case of Celestial Copyright

The facts of this case sound more like an argument your friends might have over a bottle of wine than the basis of a law suit. If an alien came to earth and told you the secrets of the universe and you copied those into a book, could you sue someone who distributed that book for copyright infringement?

This case, Urantia Foundation v. Maaherra, 114 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 1997), is about the Urantia Book, a compilation of questions posed to spiritual beings and their answers. The Urantia Foundation registered for copyright protection in 1956 and renewed its copyright in 1983, classifying the book as a “work for hire.” In 1990, Kristen Maaherra started distributing a study guide to the book on computer disks (remember floppy disks? Anyone? Never mind) along with the complete text of the book. The Foundation called foul. Continue reading

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Faculty and Staff’s Favorite Banned Books: Part 4

Alex Magalli, Administrative Assistant at the Law Review, writes about “The Societally Crass yet Brilliant Works of Bret Easton Ellis”

They say the Dutch Masters painted with more than 60 unique shades of black. Similarly, Bret Easton Ellis has at least that many tones of vile. And like those Dutch guys who could make their work pop regardless of the subject, Ellis’s prose explodes off the page. American Psycho’s businessmen comparing business cards is taut-wire fear; Rules of Attraction’s parties are cyclones of misguided indulgence. There are thousands of good writers and hundreds of great writers and dozens of legendary writers, but rifling words off the page so as to make the reader set the book down and whisper “that’s good” is praise that only a handful of writers can claim (Higgins; Proulx; DeLillo; Bolaño; Nabokov; a few others).  If there is such a thing as writing with jazz (and there is), then Ellis writes with grunge.

Given how rare the talent of sizzling words is, should we call it a shame that it comes from a writer determined to dip his pen in ink that’s part blood, part drug detritus, and part better unknown? No. We need it. Literature is humanity, and humanity gets ugly sometimes. American Psycho, Rules of Attraction, Less Than Zero, Glamorama: all challenged, frequently banned, undeniably poignant dissections of the seamy and unmentionable.  Sex, drugs, rock & roll, nihilism, obsessive material capitalism. Banning Ellis’s works doesn’t even require explanation:  put it on the high shelf, hide it from the kids. Yet the man’s genius for character and form and, yes, Shock Value, cannot be denied, nor the pleasure of devouring his work. Ellis humanizes complex depravity, and gives insight into why the depraved deserve portrayal as well as the saintly. Ellis shows us that some Holden Caulfieds don’t drape themselves in nostalgia and self-doubt, they choose a road paved in vice and vulgarity. But that’s life, humanity, and we need to acknowledge it.

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Faculty and Staff’s Favorite Banned Books: Part 3

Elizabeth De Armond, Professor of Legal Research & Writing, wrote:

Although I wouldn’t say The Hunger Games was an all-time favorite, I thought it was a wonderful book – a top example of kid-lit – and was somewhat astonished to see that it was among the ten most banned books of last year.  It is a book to convert non-readers into readers, and to absorb even those of us who do not ordinarily read science fiction.  It has a clever main character who is female but not always stereotypically feminine, and themes of virtue and vice that surpass its dystopian setting.  Lots of action, vibrant detail, rich secondary characters. I hear it has been made into a movie, but as a rule I avoid movies made from books I liked!

Dan Saunders, Faculty Scholarship Marketing Coordinator, found a favorite on the list of banned books:

I was surprised to see The Lord of the Rings on the banned books list, and even more surprised to learn that “satanic content” was what led the citizens of Alamogordo, New Mexico to burn it in 2001. This is of course supremely ironic, given that J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout, lifelong Catholic who played an important role in fellow writer C. S. Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity. Tolkien bristled at facile interpretations of The Lord of the Rings that reduced the story to the level of political or spiritual allegory. But it is plainly evident that the three novels portray what might be called a traditionalist Catholic worldview that is anything but satanic—with themes like the apocalyptic triumph of good over evil, the restoration of a lost king, the conservation of the earth, and the elevation of the weak. For these reasons and others—namely, all of the quests, battles, and unforgettable characters—The Lord of the Rings remains one of my favorite books period, let alone banned books.

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Faculty and Staff’s Favorite Banned Books: Part 2

We asked faculty and staff of the law school to write to us about their favorite banned book. To give them some ideas we included a list of classic novels that were banned at one time or another:  One more staff member and one member of the faculty have responded, and their remarks are below.

Professor of Law Richard Warner wrote:

I spent a good part of my senior year reading Ulysses under the supervision of Ian Watt [Stanford professor and literary critic], who made me see that it was laugh out loud funny. People associate it with its stylistic innovations, but it is also a great comic novel. Both the style and the comedy inspired Catch-22, another banned book.

Gwen Osborne, Public Affairs Director, wrote:

My pick is Their Eyes Were Watching God, author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s best known work. First published in 1937, the novel explores issues of race, gender and class through the life of Janie Crawford Killicks Starks Woods. In Janie, Hurston created a strong, independent African-American female character unlike most black women found in fiction of that time. The book’s central theme of women’s empowerment still resonates more than 75 years after it was published. Zora Neale Hurston died in obscurity in 1960 and the book was out of print for nearly 30 years until Alice Walker — then a college professor — resurrected interest in Hurston’s life and work. It’s not surprising that Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, contains many of the same themes as Their Eyes Were Watching God and is also a banned and challenged book.

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Faculty’s Favorite Banned Books: Part 1

We asked faculty and staff of the law school to write to us about their favorite banned book. To give them some ideas we included a list of classic novels that were banned at one time or another:  Three members of the faculty have responded, and their remarks are below.

Jeffrey G. Sherman, Professor of Law Emeritus, wrote:

Of the books mentioned on the list, I’d nominate The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but in my opinion the book falls apart when Tom Sawyer enters the story.  For a book that does *not* fall apart at the end, I’d pick To Kill a Mockingbird.  Obvious choices, I know, but what can you do?  I think it’s been years since Madame Bovary was last banned, but it was certainly banned when it was new, and it’s a favorite of mine, too.  This last book was mentioned in a movie line whose double meaning seems to have escaped the Hollywood censors.  The movie is “Auntie Mame.”  There’s a scene where Mame and her amorous ghost writer are working on her memoirs, and she asks the writer how much time they’ll need to complete the book.  The writer, in response, reminds her that “Flaubert spent thirty years on Madame Bovary.”

Sarah K. Harding, Associate Professor of Law, wrote:

It is hard to pick a favorite from all these wonderful books. I read most of them a long time ago so that also makes it difficult to choose, but I re-read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle this summer – a marvelously nasty piece of muckraking.

David S. Rudstein, Professor of Law, chose Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for the author’s “Wonderful use of the English language,” made all the more remarkable because English was not Nabokov’s native language.

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Welcome to Banned Books Week!

This week the Library’s blog posts will be devoted to the freedom to read as we celebrate all types of literary work during Banned Books Week, which begins today. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom established this annual event in 1982 in response to the fact that thousands of books are banned or challenged every year. Faculty and staff of the law school were asked to write a short tribute to their favorite banned book; we plan to publish the tributes all week.

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A Brand New Lexis

Have you logged in to Lexis today?  Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy–this is not your Daddy’s Lexis (even if he just graduated from law school in May).  This morning marks the unveiling of a completely redesigned Lexis Advance interface.  That’s right–Lexis just got more Advanced.

Your Lexis ID and password will remain the same, but beyond that, not much else will look familiar.  Lexis has overhauled its interface in an effort to improve navigation and to make it easier to review and analyze search results.  The new Lexis Advance features improvements to Alerts, Browsing, Filters, Tables of Contents, and more.

For questions about navigating the new Lexis Advance interface, stop by the reference desk to talk it over with one of our Research Librarians, or contact our Lexis Representative Jonnell Simpson (  You can also explore the new interface on your own with the assistance of these resources published by Lexis:

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New Students (and Old Ones, too): Take Advantage of the Library’s Access to the New York Times

Welcome, incoming Chicago-Kent 1Ls (and welcome back, returning students).  If you’d like free access to the New York Times (and who wouldn’t?), take advantage of the Chicago-Kent Law Library’s subscription.  The process is simple: To access the library’s subscription, first create an account using your Chicago-Kent email address. Note: You must be connected to the Chicago-Kent network at the time you create your account. Once the account has been created, you can access the resource from any network using your account credentials.

Access is provided via your web browser; that is, it does not work with the New York Times application on your mobile device (but will work in a mobile browser).

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Welcome 1L’s!

10th floor reading room ceiling

A view I remember from doing my class readings while the jet planes from the Air and Water Show flew overhead.

This week is the beginning of orientation for our 1L’s.  For me, this August marks the 10 year anniversary of when I started law school right here at Chicago-Kent.  I remember how exciting it was to be at the threshold of the legal profession.  The most exciting part of orientation week was probably going to class for the first time.  It was intimidating, but it made me feel like I had finally arrived.  After a year of LSAT, applications, acceptances, rejections, tours, and agonizing, it was a relief to be actually sitting in the classroom learning something!

And even though I’m not a practicing attorney anymore, I still feel proud of my J.D.  As law school goes on, it can seem like being a lawyer isn’t all that special.  After all, you’re around law students and lawyers all day long.  It starts to seem like everyone is a lawyer.  But don’t forget that not everyone gets to be a lawyer, even those who might want to.  So please hang on to the excitement that you feel this week.  Getting to law school is a major accomplishment, and everyone here at Chicago-Kent is excited to see what else you’ll achieve next!

To help you make this transition, the Library has several online guides for those of you who are new to the law school and/or new to Chicago.  “Welcome to Chicago” will tell you about things to do in the city and also help you get to know the area surrounding Chicago-Kent and its nearby restaurants, drug stores, and grocery stores.  We also have a library guide to help new law students who have questions about how to succeed as a 1L.


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carving of a WWI doughboy

An American doughboy, Archie Sweetman, carved this self-portrait while staying in a quarry at Chemin des Dames, France.
Photograph by Jeffrey Gusky; appears in National Geographic magazine June 2014

In my last post, I told you a little bit about the events commemorating the beginning of WWI which are taking place all across Europe. One of the events that I find most interesting is Lights Out. The Royal British Legion is encouraging people to turn out their lights from 10pm until 11pm, leaving on a single light or lighting a candle to mark the anniversary of August 4, 1914, the day that Great Britain declared war on Germany. It is a reference to the famous line by Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary. He looked out at the lamplighters in London the evening before the declaration of war and said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” This will not be quite so striking for those of us in Central Standard Time because it will be 4:00 in the afternoon, so perhaps it’s best to make it 10-11pm local time on Monday the 4th.

While you are sitting in the dark, you might think about the darkness in the trenches or carved-out quarries where soldiers waited before going into battle. It was undoubtedly miserable. Every book I’ve read so far talks about the dampness, mud, and cold in the trenches. Often, soldiers could not clear out their fallen comrades right away. The scene is sad and macabre, to say the least. So I was heartened, as much as anyone reading about WWI can be heartened, to read about an American photographer/ER physician/all-around fascinating man, Jeff Gusky, who is working to document the carvings that soldiers left in the walls of the trenches and quarries. National Geographic just did a story about his work. It includes some wonderful galleries of his photography. Men stuck underground carved their names, religious symbols, self-portraits, and patriotic images and sayings. There is something wonderful about the human impulse to make art in the ugliest circumstances.

If you have time, I highly recommend listening an interview with Dr. Gusky on “Think,” a public radio station out of Dallas, TX, linked below.  I especially enjoyed Dr. Gusky’s explanation of why we should care about WWI.  He noted that the soldiers who made this art were humans facing technology on an inhuman scale, something humans still struggle with today.  Here is the link to listen.  It’s about 45 minutes long:



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