United States: Copyright Infringed When Small Portion Of Work Used If It Constitutes “Heart” Of Work

Addressing a factually complex copyright dispute and a laches issue of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court ruling that the Church of Scientology (the Church) did not infringe a salesman’s copyrighted book used in the Church’s seminars. Peter Letterese and Assoc., Inc. v. World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, et al., Case No. 05-15129, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 14496 (11th Cir., July 8, 2008) (Tjoflat, J.).

The copyrighted work in question is a book by Les Dane entitled Big League Sales Closing Techniques (Big League Sales), which pinpointed effective sales techniques. The book was properly copyrighted and eventually used by the Church of Scientology (the Church) in both public and private courses (respectively the Sales Course and the Church Course) with the permission of its author. The Sales Course materials were widely disseminated, while the Church Course was solely used by the Church in seminars and workshops.

Peter Letterese (an off-and-on member of the Church who at the time of the suit had been excommunicated from the Church) acquired the exclusive rights to Dane’s literary works through a written contract with Dane’s heirs in 1993. Letterese brought suit alleging that the Church was using the works in violation of its copyrights.