The Jerusalem District Court has dismissed various claims brought by a publisher against a yeshiva (Talmudic College) for infringement of the publisher’s rights in an indexed edition of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides’ Classic Code of Jewish Law. (Jerusalem District Court: Case 9056/07, October 5 2008).
Ketuvim Almog Ltd publishes a single-volume edition of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah, the first thematically arranged code of Jewish religious law that dates from 1180 of the Common Era.
The publisher sued the Or Vishua Yeshiva for copyright infringement, misappropriation, passing-off, unjust enrichment and defamation, alleging that they had copied the concept and form of the Ketuvim edition (including certain terms and indexes), which preceded the yeshiva’s edition by 20 years.
Or Vishua denied all allegations, claiming independent development of their edition. They counterclaimed for injury to its reputation and for monetary damages in consequence of an interim injunction obtained by Ketuvim in a Rabbinical Court.
Both parties agreed to arbitration under Section 79A of the Courts Law (Consolidated Version) 1984. The court rejected both claim and counterclaim, ruling that the Ketuvim edition consisted of a highly detailed index to the Mishneh Torah, to which the classic text was appended in a manner that related to the page numbers of the Ketuvim edition, rather than using the common section, chapter, law annotation. This made it difficult to use the index by itself.
By contrast, in the Or Vishua edition, the indexes were appended at the end of a researched publication of Maimonides’s original text, without censorship or speculative comments.
The purpose, style and scope of the two editions are very different, with the yeshiva version containing some 3,500 entries and the Ketuvim version being muc more detailed with 27,000 entries.
The court held that certain similarities were inevitable given the nature of the work. However, such similarities were marginal both qualitatively and quantitatively, and the indexes were different in form, style, scope, purpose and content.
Although ruling that Kedumim had failed to show the burden of proof, it also rejected Or Vishua’s counterclaim of bad faith. However, the court did award legal costs against the publishing house.
I note that the British Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks once commented to me that as far as we know, Maimonides produced his classic Code, which covers all aspects of Jewish Law, including Temple Sacrifices, the Monarchy and other aspects not practically applied, without using a card index! Maimonides was also criticized heavily by his contemporaries for not providing source notes.
This is not the first time that the Israel Courts have examined copyright in indexes. In contradistinction between the secular and profane, we note that Lev Yitzchak successfully sued Marriv Newspaper for cribbing their second hand car price indexes. In that case the plaintiff did manage to demonstrate that there was plagiarism however.
We are also dissapointed that this case was not heard by Rabbinic Courts using Jewish Law, which has dealt with copyright issues and unjust enrichment from at least the early days of printing.