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The Plaintiff in this lawsuit is The Evolutionary Level Above Human, Inc., a for-profit foundation claiming to own all physical property and intellectual property of the Heaven’s Gate religious group, which committed the largest mass suicide in U.S. history in 1997. Among the claimed intellectual property are copyrights in audio cassettes, audiovisual works, fabric designs, lithographic prints, and literary works, as well as various trademark registrations for HEAVEN’S GATE.

The Defendants, three individuals, are accused of publicly sharing copies of the audio tapes and video tapes on a free online file sharing and storage site called “4Shared.com.” Per the Complaint (below), Defendant Havel anticipated being sued for sharing the works, posting the following comment on his website:

“So just weeks ago, [a third party] who I had been in contact with on and off for years sent me the digitized audios, all in .mp3 format and I quickly sent them to [Defendant Bartel] and someone else who I know I can trust to be sure to upload them to the internet in mulitple [sic] places so that even if [the Foundation] somehow sue us it will be far too late to keep them from being available to those who want to listen to them.”

The Defendants subsequently provided live streamed discussions advising others how to obtain copies of the allegedly infringed works. Numerous works were live-streamed on YouTube. T-shirts bearing the Plaintiff’s registered trademarks has been advertised by the Defendants. The Complaint alleges further actions taken by the Defendants to prevent the Plaintiff from enforcing its copyrights.

Having anticipated a lawsuit, presumably the Defendants have some type of solid defense ready to go. I expect fair use arguments (criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching), and probably some challenges to the foundation’s ownership of the claimed intellectual property. But t-shirt sales don’t usually go hand-in-hand with valid fair uses so we’ll just wait for the Defendants’ Answer for more clarification of their goals in sharing the works.

The Evolutionary Level Above Human, Inc. d/b/a/ The Telah Foundation v. Havel et al.

Case Number: 3:22-cv-00395-JD-MGG
File Date: May 18, 2022
Plaintiff: The Evolutionary Level Above Human, Inc. d/b/a The Telah Foundation
Plaintiff Counsel: Isaac S. Crum of Messner Reeves LLP
Defendant: Steven Robert Havel, Cathy JoAnn Weaver, Jason Bartel
Cause: Federal Copyright Infringement, Contributory Copyright Infringement, Conspiracy, Federal Trademark Infringement
Court: Northern District of Indiana
Judge: Jon E. DeGuilio
Referred To: Michael G. Gotsch, Sr.