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TAGS: Ahmad Sohrab; Copyright and trademarks; Court cases; Covenant-breakers; National Spiritual Assemblies; New History Society
LOCATIONS: United States (documents)
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In 1941 the National Spiritual Assembly unsuccessfully sued Covenant Breaker Mirza Ahmad Sohrab for his use of the word "Bahá'í." This is the court's conclusions.
Brief comments on the history of related lawsuits at end. More information regarding Sohrab's case can be gleaned from his books, certain pilgrims' notes, or found in Peter Smith, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions (Cambridge University Press, 1987), pages 124-25.

United States National Spiritual Assembly vs. Mirza Ahmad Sohrab

(CITE AS: 27 N.Y.S.2D 525)

McDANIEL et al
Supreme Court, Special Term, New York County
March 31, 1941.

Action by Allen B. McDaniel and others, as members of the National Spiritual Assembly and Trustees of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada, and another against Mirza Ahmad Sohrab and another based on alleged fact that defendants were creating erroneous impression that they were connected with and authorized to represent the Bahá'í religion, and to solicit contributions therefor.

On motion to dismiss complaint.

Motion granted, with leave to serve a further amended complaint.

Watson, Bristol, Johnson & Leavenworth, of New York City, for plaintiffs.

Mitchell & Bechert, of New York City, for defendants.

VALENTE, Justice.

This is a motion for judgment on the pleadings, dismissing the amended complaint as supplemented by the bills of particulars as insufficient in law.

The individual plaintiffs sue as members of the National Spiritual Assembly and Trustees of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the City of New York, a religious corporation, is a co-plaintiff.

The complaint alleges that the name 'Bahá'í' denotes a religion identified with the name of the founder 'Bahá'. The plaintiffs claim to be the authorized representatives of all of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada.

They allege that they are publishing books and other publications which teach the Bahá'í religion.

They charge that the defendants, who were members prior to April 5, 1929, of the Bahá'í congregation of the City of New York, have been conducting, without the authority of plaintiffs, meetings, lecutres, classes, social gatherings and other activities, and announcing and advertising the same as Bahá'í meetings, lectures, classes, etc.

They complain that the defendants have been giving these meetings, lectures, ect., a Bahá'í appearance and atmosphere by teaching, in connection therewith, a religion described as the Bahá'í religion, and that they have created an erroneous impression that they are connected with and authorized to represent the Bahá'í religion and to solicit contributions therefor.

In addition, plaintiffs complain of the opening of a book shop by the defendants under the name of 'Bahá'í Book Shop' and of the listing of the shop in the telephone directory under that name, immediately over the name of 'Bahá'í Center,' which represents the listing of plaintiffs' New York office and book shop. _ [1, 2]

In the court's opinion, the complaint fails to state a good cause of action.

The plaintiffs have no right to a monopoly of the name of a religion.

The defendants, who purport to be mambers of the same religion, have an equal right to use the name of the religion in connection with their own meetings, lectures, classes and other activities. No facts are alleged in the complaint to indicate that the defendants have been guilty of any act intended or calculated to deceive the public into believing that their meetings, lectures or book shop are identified with or affiliated with the meetings, lectures, etc., and book shop of the plaintiffs.

Defendants have the absolute right to practice Bahá'ísm, to conduct meetings, collect funds and sell literature in connection therewith, and to conduct a book shop under the title 'Bahá'í Book Shop.'

The bills of particulars furnished by the plaintiffs admit that the allegations, that the defendants created the erroneous impression that they were connected with the plaintiffs and led the public to believe that their book shop was connected with the plaintiffs, were not based upon any acts of the defendants other than their conducting meetings, lectures, classes and other activities under the name of 'Bahá'í' and their operation of a book shop under that name listed in the telephone directory immediately above the name of plaintiffs' book shop.

The position of the listing is, of course, due to the fact that the telephone directory is arranged alphabetically, so that the name 'Bahá'í Book Shop' naturally precedes the name 'Bahá'í Center'.

The motion to dismiss the amended complaint is granted, with leave to serve a further amended complaint within ten days from the service of a copy of this order with notice of entry.

Addenda, added for this online edition:

Comment by a Bahá'í lawyer sent to Talisman:

"...Re: the NSA's suit against Sohrab, just a couple of comments. I do not know a whole lot about copyright or trademark law. I do see that this was brought in the "supreme court" of New York. That's not the court generally thought of as the state supreme court; in New York, the regular state court is known as the "supreme" court. It's the trial court where lawsuits begin, not the appellate court. The judge said that the suit should be dismissed without a trial. It's strange to me that the judge did not cite *any* statutory law or case precedent for his decision. To make any kind of comment, I'd need to look at the status of state and federal trademark law in those days, as well as the federal copyright law...."

Comment by Robert Stauffer on the history of related suits:
The "Bahá'í" trademark (Trade-Mark 245,271) was registered with the Patent Office on August 7, 1928. Likewise, the Most Great Name symbol was registered (Trade-Mark 316,444) August 28, 1934. Trademark was also registered with the Canadian government in 1935. The Sohrab case represented a State judge's opinion years later on the use of the word "Bahá'í". The Federal Court ruling in the mid-60's with the C.B. group in New Mexico I believe effectively over-turns over the Sohrab case ruling... at least that is my impression, though I am not a legal expert. However, I'm of the opinion that a later court decision supercedes a previous one, and certainly Federal court rulings supercede State court rulings.
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