The Osho International Foundation, the group advocating the teachings of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Michael Hilow, director of 1993 documentary Rajneeshpuram: An Experiment To Provoke God, have sued the creators of the popular Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country for alleged copyright infringement.
Copyright is the form of protection granted to the authors of ‘original works of authorship’ that provides the owner with exclusive rights to dispose of the work how they see fit, including the right to authorise others to exercise such rights. Where consent to use the work is not obtained that party commits copyright infringement . In the USA, copyright is registrable. which, while not compulsory, does provide various benefits, including the ability to file an infringement suit in court – as the claimants have done here with Wild Wild Country.
Wild Wild Country is the 6-episode documentary series revolving around Rajneesh (or ‘Osho’) and his community of followers (known as ‘sannyasins’) in the Rajneesh movement that became active in Oregon, USA during the 1980s.
The story of the documentary revolves around the community – or cult as many would say – and its escalating difficulties in establishing itself as a self-sustaining utopia in the region, utilising authentic footage of the group to explore its activities at this time.
The documentary itself was a great success, winning the 2018 Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
However, Michael Hilow and the Osho International Foundation are claiming a substantial amount of footage used in the documentary was done so without their consent.
In the suit, Hilow is alleging that more than 12 minutes of footage from his own documentary appears in ‘Wild Wild Country’, but this is without his permission. Meanwhile, Osho International maintains that three recordings of Rajneesh’s sermons owned by the organisation also appear in the documentary without permission. The first 12 minutes of the first episode alone are alleged to contain 88 instances of infringement.
Osho also claims that it had previously informed Netflix about the infringement last year but that the company ‘failed to meaningfully respond’.
The claimants are asking the court to grant an injunction to prevent further infringement, i.e. have Netflix remove the series from their platform, as well as to receive profits that Netflix made from the documentary.
This is another example of a Netflix production being sued for some form of IP infringement- see, for example, the previous articles on IP Harbour detailing the infringement allegations by Netflix for their Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina productions.