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    There Simply is No Case

    Interview about Ellen White and her writings with Attorney Vincent L. Ramik, senior partner of Diller, Ramik, & Wight, Ltd., specialists in patent, trademark, and copyright cases, Washington, D. C.

    Review: Attorney Ramik, how much did you know about Seventh-day Adventists in general, and Ellen White in particular, before you were asked to research the legal questions involved in Mrs. White’s use of literary sources?EGWPlag 3.1

    Ramik: Actually, my knowledge was quite limited. Our firm had done some work for Seventh-day Adventists, probably 50 years ago, before I became a member of it. And we continued to represent Adventists in various mailers through the years. But my knowledge of them as a people was minimal. And I knew scarcely anything of Ellen White other than what I had picked up in newspapers off and on—and, of course, last November in that large half-page story in the Washington Post that was not exactly favorable.EGWPlag 3.2

    Review: Do you recall how you were brought into this present case?EGWPlag 3.3

    Ramik: Yes. Attorney Warren Johns, of your General Conference Legal Services office, contacted me and asked perhaps a half-dozen questions, in the abstract, about plagiarism, literary piracy, copyright infringement, things like that. But no names were attached. Having read the Post article not long before, I asked Mr. Johns, “Does this have anything to do with the Ellen White issue in your church?” He responded that indeed it did. And we went on from there.EGWPlag 3.4

    Review: Once you were retained on the case, what preparation did you make by way of reading, before researching the law as it relates to literary matters?EGWPlag 3.5

    Ramik: I obtained a copy of Mrs. White’s The Great Controversy, which I read all the way through. I obtained copies of other works by Mrs. White. I contacted Ron Graybill, of your General Conference, and he gave me a lot of material—a book on the life of Christ by Hanna, things like that. He also gave me material by critics all the way from D. M. Canright down to Walter Rea. And he also gave me a number of works by Adventist authors who attempted to defend Mrs. White. In the report I have listed many works that were consulted.EGWPlag 3.6

    Review: What was your reaction after digesting all of this material?EGWPlag 3.7

    Ramik: Well, that’s an interesting question! I started out, I think, basically neutral on the literary charges. But, somehow, as I read one particular Adventist-authored defense of Mrs. White, it left me with the feeling that she was not, in fact, very well defended.EGWPlag 3.8

    Review: What do you mean by that?EGWPlag 3.9

    Ramik: Well, I came back thinking that Mrs. White was, if I may use the expression that has been used by others, a literary “borrower.” And that she had borrowed a lot and that she had borrowed with something less than candor and honesty! In other words—and this was before I had delved into her works themselves—I became actually biased against her in the sense that I thought she was what some people, such as her latest critic, Walter Rea, had alleged—guilty of plagiarism.EGWPlag 3.10

    Review: Once you got into her writings themselves, was this negative impression reinforced or altered in any way?EGWPlag 3.11

    Ramik: I gradually turned 180 degrees in the other direction. I found that the charges simply were not true. But I had to get that from her writings; I did not get that from either the people who said she was a plagiarist, or the people who said she was not. I simply had to read her writings and then rid my mind of the bias I had already built into it—prejudice. And, in the end, she came out quite favorably. But it took more than 300 hours of reading—including case law histories, of course.EGWPlag 3.12

    Review: So it was reading her writings that changed your mind?EGWPlag 3.13

    Ramik: It was reading her messages in her writings that changed my mind. And I think there’s a distinction—a very salient difference—here.EGWPlag 3.14

    Review: Would you describe the distinction that you see?EGWPlag 3.15

    Ramik: I believe that the critics have missed the boat badly by focusing upon Mrs. White’s writings, instead of focusing upon the messages in Mrs. White’s writings.EGWPlag 3.16

    Review: What did you find in her messages, Mr. Ramik? How did they affect you?EGWPlag 3.17

    Ramik: Mrs. White moved me! In all candor, she moved me. I am a Roman Catholic; but, Catholic, Protestant, whatever—she moved me. And I think her writings should move anyone, unless he is permanently biased and is unswayable.EGWPlag 3.18

    Review: Would you explain what you mean by this?EGWPlag 3.19

    Ramik: Well, a person can walk this earth doing good deeds and saying to himself (and maybe to others): “I’m a nice person.” And after a time you really come to believe that you are. But when was the last time that you really looked inside yourself and found out what you were really like? Now, there are a lot of things that Mrs. White has put down on paper that will, if read seriously, perhaps cause a person to look inwardly, honestly. And if you do, the true self comes out. I think I know a little more today about the real Vince Ramik than I did before I started reading the message of Ellen White, not simply her writings.EGWPlag 3.20

    Review: Were you surprised at this reaction?EGWPlag 3.21

    Ramik: I guess “pleasantly surprised” would be a very mild understatement. But she says some very deep things, quite frankly, even if they sound as if they’ve been said before. Quite honestly, I think I’ve left this task with more than I’ve put into it. And it’s simply her messages. It’s simply what you receive from reading something. It makes you believe a little more firmly in things you may have believed a little bit less in the past. I’m not a religious person; I am not a practicing Roman Catholic. I was born one; but my wife happens to be a Protestant; one child is baptized a Catholic, one is baptized a Protestant. I guess you could say we are an “ecumenical” family! Essentially, my outlook on anything, including this work and in my daily life, is searching for God’s will for me; and then, I hope, having the wisdom and courage to carry it out. I do have a God of my understanding. Mrs. White has made me understand Him a bit better. And for that, I think I’m a better person today than when I started this project.EGWPlag 3.22

    Review: And the message?EGWPlag 4.1

    Ramik: The message is what is crucial. The critic reads a sentence, and receives no meaning from it—he may, and often does, even take it out of context. But read the entire message. What is the author’s intent? What is the author really saying—where the words come from is really not that important. What is the message of this? If you disregard the message, then even the Bible itself is not worth being read, in that sense of the word.EGWPlag 4.2

    Review: Which of Mrs. White’s books did you find most helpful?EGWPlag 4.3

    Ramik: The only one I read all the way through was The Great Controversy. But, actually, before I finished my research, I had read a great cross section of her books. I really don’t think it makes all that much difference which of her books one reads; I think it is whatever work of hers you happen to have before you, for whatever purpose you need it.EGWPlag 4.4

    Review: And it didn’t bother you, worry you, that certain people were saying that she had borrowed heavily from other writers and books?EGWPlag 4.5

    Ramik: Forty or four hundred—frankly it’s quite immaterial. It would not make any difference to me if they were all taken from other works.EGWPlag 4.6

    Review: What about plagiarism, then? Is there really no such thing as plagiarism?EGWPlag 4.7

    Ramik: There is no such thing, in law, as “plagiarism.” Literary crimes are those of either piracy or of copyright infringement. Literary theft—piracy—is not such an easy thing to prove. You cannot read someone’s writing, and find a word, a phrase, a sentence, and say, “Aha! I find it here. And he took it from an earlier writer. And here’s another one.”EGWPlag 4.8

    Let me explain it this way: Last night I reread my memorandum on this case, and I noticed that I had used the adjective “prodigious” in referring to Mrs. White as a writer. Then, by coincidence, I happened to read, also last night, a book loaned me entitled The Vision Bold. And it spoke of Mrs. White as a “prodigious” writer. Then, when I walked into this room this afternoon, someone here called her a “prodigious” writer. Well, I did not use the term because it was used by someone else; I used it because it’s a natural word for me to use. But the critics jump on that sort of thing and make a mountain out of a molehill.EGWPlag 4.9

    And another question the critic usually ignores is this: Was the statement that the alleged “borrower” had taken from the earlier author really original with the earlier author—or did, perhaps, he take it, consciously or otherwise, from some one still earlier?EGWPlag 4.10

    Now let’s take Walter Rea. He reads Ellen White and says: I found a certain phrase here, a certain paragraph there, and it came from this predecessor. Well, that’s not proof; that’s assumption. And I think the first step in any accurate critique is to go back to the real original—it might be Virgil, Homer, the Bible. Because how do you know it was original with the predecessor—how do you know he did not get it from someone else who, in turn, got it from still another earlier someone else? Didn’t Solomon say, “There is no new thing under the sun”?EGWPlag 4.11

    Review: In your legal opinion, Mr. Ramik, you pointed out that many of the works Mrs. White is accused of “stealing” were, in fact, not copyrighted by either author or publisher, and were, therefore, in the public domain—were thus public property. You went on, further, to point out that even if they had been copyrighted, Ellen White’s use of these materials fell well within the carefully prescribed boundaries of “fair use,” as defined by the law of her day. One contemporary critic, however, raises the question of ethics and propriety: Was it moral for Ellen White to borrow heavily from other people’s literary productions and not, at least, acknowledge the sources? Would you care to respond to the question of ethics here?EGWPlag 4.12

    Ramik: Well, yes. Walter Rea has publicly said (and I’ve listened to the cassette recording of one of his presentations and then read the verbatim transcript carefully) that there is nothing “moral” in a purely legal definition of plagiarism. Of course, elsewhere, he attacks Mrs. White on moral grounds, on ethical use of others’ materials. Well, first, he’s totally wrong in saying there’s no element of morality in the charge of plagiarism. H. M. Paull, who wrote Literary Ethics about 1928, is still today a recognized authority on the subject. Incidentally, while he never came right out and defined “plagiarism” in his book (because, as I said a moment ago, “plagiarism,” per se, is not a crime), he does contrast plagiarism with piracy. The literary pirate does not care whether he gets caught; but the plagiarist worries that he will be found out. (And you say there’s no element of morality involved in plagiarism!) Incidentally, to accuse Ellen White of plagiarizing Conybeare & Howson’s uncopyrighted Life of Paul is absurd, if for no other reason than the fact that she publicly urged her readers to get a copy and read it for themselves.EGWPlag 4.13

    Review: All right; but, still, would you care to comment upon whether Ellen White encroached in the area of ethics by using materials—quotations, paraphrases, ideas, and so on—of others without publicly stating where she got them?EGWPlag 4.14

    Ramik: There is no reason why Ellen White could not use the ideas of others in expressing the thoughts she wished to convey. It’s not even rational to expect someone writing on a theological subject, for example, to write in the abstract without researching what others who have gone before—or even contemporaries—have said on the subject.EGWPlag 4.15

    In the middle of the nineteenth century—just when Ellen White was beginning to write for print, 1845—in the legal case of Emerson v. Davies, Massachusetts Circuit Justice Story in effect exonerates a writer who has used other men’s words and ideas and woven them into his own composition.EGWPlag 4.16

    In effect, Judge Story says, Only fools attempt to do that which has been done better in the past; no one really ever builds a language exclusively his own.EGWPlag 5.1

    In other words, the words themselves have been there for years and years. The crucial issue is how you put them together, and the effect you wish to produce from those words.EGWPlag 5.2

    Now, if someone in the past, according to Judge Story, has written something that is splendidly written—something that is historical, something that is a common, everyday human experience or occurrence—why should you break your back trying to say it better than someone else has already said it?EGWPlag 5.3

    For those types of writings, there is absolutely nothing wrong or incongruous. On the contrary, it’s the sensible man, the wise man, who makes use of that which was done in the past, when it was done well. Somewhere in one of our legal archives there is an inscription over the door, “Past Is Prologue.” I believe that applies to writings, too.EGWPlag 5.4

    Ellen White used the writings of others; but in the way she used them, she made them uniquely her own, ethically, as well as legally. And, interestingly, she invariably improved that which she “selected”!EGWPlag 5.5

    Review: Do you have anything you would like to add on this fascinating subject?EGWPlag 5.6

    Ramik: Yes. I believe it was Warren Johns who shared this analogy with me once when we were discussing this case and point. The situation is something like the builder who wishes to build a house. There are certain basic, essential units of building materials that are available to him—windows, doors, bricks, and so on. There are even certain recognizable kinds of textures and styles that have been created by various combinations of these different materials by earlier builders.EGWPlag 5.7

    The builder brings together many of these and uses them. Yet the design of the house, the ultimate appearance, the ultimate shape, the size, the feel, are all unique to the immediate, contemporary builder. He individually puts his own stamp upon the final product—and it is uniquely his. (And he doesn’t say—or need to say—I got this brick here, that door there, this window there, either!)EGWPlag 5.8

    I think it was that way with Ellen White’s use of words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, yes, and even pages, from the writings of those who went before her. She stayed well within the legal boundaries of “fair use,” and all the time created something that was substantially greater (and even more beautiful) than the mere sum of the component parts. And I think the ultimate tragedy is that the critics fail to see this.EGWPlag 5.9

    I have been asked whether I thought Ellen White was “inspired.” Well, inspiration is a theological word, not a legal word; and I am more at home with legal words than I am with theological words.EGWPlag 5.10

    I don’t know whether she was inspired, in the theological sense. I do believe that she was highly motivated. And if it wasn’t God who motivated her, then I don’t know who it could have been.EGWPlag 5.11

    But I get that simply from her writings. I was not there when she wrote, and I suppose that few of the critics were, either. I have a feeling that unless you had some type of “motivation,” you simply could not deliver in words that which I have received from her writings.EGWPlag 5.12

    Now, I, personally, could not be disturbed by the thought that God may have inspired her to select something from a certain book. And if God inspired her to select something that was written better by someone else than she could have written it herself, so what?EGWPlag 5.13

    Actually, in the final analysis, I think it all comes down to a question of faith. And, for myself, I have no trouble in accepting what she wrote as a matter of faith.EGWPlag 5.14

    The bottom line is: What really counts is the message of Mrs. White, not merely the mechanical writings—words, clauses, sentences—of Mrs. White. Theologians, I am told, distinguish here between verbal inspiration and plenary inspiration. Too many of the critics have missed the boat altogether. And it’s too bad, too!EGWPlag 5.15

    I, personally, have been moved, deeply moved, by those writings. I have been changed by them. I think I am a better man today because of them. And I wish that the critics could discover that!EGWPlag 5.16

    Review: Attorney Ramik, how would you sum up the legal case against Ellen White as far as charges of plagiarism, piracy, and copyright infringement are concerned?EGWPlag 5.17

    Ramik: If I had to be involved in such a legal case, I would much rather appear as defense counsel than for the prosecution. There simply is no case!EGWPlag 5.18

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