Eric Fritter Riley (fritterfae) wrote,
Eric Fritter Riley

Who Owns Your Tradition?

 photo phoenix-1_zps39812d4f.jpgOne of the things that we deal with as a community is the rise and fall of small groups that we have built up over the years.  The Pagan community of DC is not the same Pagan community it was ten years ago.  We have seen a number of groups start, dissolve, sputter, start again, dissolve again.  And each time it happens we learn new things from the experience.  Having observed this, and been through this process more times than I care to count I wanted to share some things that I think should be a part of the discussions you have with your covens, groves, traditions, etc.  Both for the sake of group cohesion, and the carrying on of wisdom from one group to the next.  And just to be clear, these are not just for Pagan groups, but I feel like our volatility as a burgeoning religious movement makes these questions all the more prescient.

Who Leads Next?

One of the most heart wrenching problems comes with the loss of a charismatic leader.  Whether through death or separation, a group formed around an individual can fall apart without that lynchpin.  Many Pagan traditions don't have a formal hierarchy, especially if they are formed around the spirit and passion of a singular leader.  But leadership takes it's toll on people, and they will eventually be lost.

  • What has your group done to ensure that your tradition could survive the loss of it's leader
  • Do you have legal incorporation documents and by-laws that determine a manner of succession or elevation?
  • Do you have a process by which members can nominate a new leader?

Who Has The Keys?

When a tradition has property, whether physical space or virtual space online, it's important to know who has the keys to that property and what will happen if that person is gone.  Physical property can be the subject of unbelievable disputes, especially if it is not the property of the corporation, but of an individual or a couple.  Divorce, death, or the fickle whim to sell a property could destroy long standing traditions.  Similarly, online real estate such as websites, list serves, Facebook pages, etc. are often left to the whims of a single webmaster.  If that person flakes out, your whole trad could just decay on the vine because no one would be able to communicate with you.

  • Do you have physical or online properties?
  • Who controls those properties, and is there a plan to revert them to the tradition?
  • Have you established any kind of legal protections, if everything goes haywire?
  • Do you have backup plans (and backup files) to reconstitute your tradition in the event of a loss?
  • What happens to the paperwork, ritual books, and all of your assets if it does go belly up?

Who Owns These Works?

Next to nobody I know in the Pagan community is talking about intellectual property rights unless they're an author who's published under one of the major presses.  Usually the context is "don't pirate a scanned copy of my book."  And that's a legitimate concern.  But there is another layer to this, and that has to do with the intellectual property of your tradition.  Did a single individual construct all of your ritual or liturgical texts?  Do you have songs or chants that you use in your rituals?  Do you have logos or a tradition name that is trademarked?  If the answer to any of these is yes, you should probably start exploring who owns the rights to the use and reproduction of those materials.  If all of your liturgical texts were all written by a single individual that person may try and stake a claim or issue a cease and desist if they leave.  Witch Wars gone legal can get super ugly.  And if someone lays a claim to all your ritual source material, you may have to start over from square one.

  • Have you incorporated and listed the name of your tradition as a distinct corporate and legal entity?
  • Does your tradition, as a corporate body, own the text of your ritual language, song, and other intellectual property?
  • Have you registered a trademark for your organization?
  • Have you explored making your material open to the public domain or licensed for creative non-commercial purposes such as Creative Commons?
  • Do you know how to defend your trademark and copyrights against infringement, or false claims of ownership?

Ask yourself and your group these questions, and hopefully in a time of crisis your group won't be stuck trying to figure out what to do.
Tags: commentary, copyright, law, leadership, paganism, property

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