There are two kinds of plagiarism. The first is copyright infringement. This is courtroom plagiarism. The second is excessive literary borrowing. This is regular plagiarism. Both were analyzed in the Ramik Report.
Did Ellen White illegally plagiarize in any way?
No, she did not.
As part of his initial charge in 1980, Walter Rea said that Ellen White had plagiarized so badly, she could have been sued for copyright infringement by other authors in her day.
But a research study found that this claim was also untrue.
Yes, but hardly anything was copyrighted back then. If it had been, she could have been sued.
That is not true. The Ramik study revealed that only a third of the books Ellen White could possibly have referred to were copyrighted. Yet, even if they all had been, no valid copyright infringement lawsuit could have been brought against her. She was not guilty of copyright infringement.
What was this Ramik study about? Give me the details.
The office of the chief counsel of the General Conference, under the direction of Warren L. Johns, decided to get to the bottom of the legal aspects of this matter. So on April 21, 1981, six months after Rea issued his plagiarism charges, that office retained the services of a highly reputable firm specializing in patent, trademark, and copyright law. As you might imagine, the best of those legal firms are in Washington, D.C.; since that is where U.S. government applications are made and defended.
Since it was felt that a specialist in copyright law was needed, Vincent L. Ramik, senior partner in the law firm of Diller, Ramik & Wight, Ltd., was retained to personally carry out the work.
Was Ramik an Adventist or otherwise favorable to our message?
Our leaders had never done any previous work with Diller, Ramik & Wight. Ramik, himself, was a Roman Catholic. This is stated three times in the final report of the research study, which was printed in the September 17, 1981, issue of the Adventist Review (Ramik said so twice; the editor said it once). Later, Victor Cooper, a General Conference officer, also said so in the October 15, 1981, issue of the Mid-America Adventist Outlook. It should be noted that, as part of his task, Ramik read Great Controversy. He said that, in the course of his research, he read the entire book.
Over a period of four months (April 21 to late August 1981), Ramik spent more than 300 hours researching about 1,000 relevant cases in American legal history. Then he presented his report.
What were his findings?
Here are some facts about what was discovered:
“Based upon our review of the facts and legal precedents . . Ellen White was not a plagiarist, and her works did not constitute copyright infringement/piracy.”—Vincent Ramik, 27-page Report, quoted in Adventist Review, September 17, 1981, p. 3.
“The charges about plagiarism, literary piracy, copyright infringement, and so on, are shown to be entirely without foundation in law.”—Warren Johns, quoted in ibid., p. 7.
“The charges made against her simply do not hold water. She did not operate in an underhanded, devious, unethical manner as charged. She was an honest, honorable Christian woman and author.”—Editor, quoted in ibid., p. 7.
“Ellen G. White emphatically would not have been convicted of copyright infringement.”—Vincent Ramik, quoted in ibid., p. 3.
“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.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 6.
“Nowhere have we found the books of Ellen G. White to be virtually the ‘same plan and character throughout’ as those of her predecessors. Nor have we found, or have the critics made reference to, any intention of Ellen White to supersede . . [other authors] in the market with the same class of readers and purchasers.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 3.
“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.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 5.
After reading a number of her books, and comparing them with the purported books she is supposed to have copied, Vincent Ramik said this:
“Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 3.
“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!”—Ramik, ibid., p. 6.
Did he come to the study favorable to Ellen White?
Having already read about Walter Rea’s charges in the Washington Post, Vincent Ramik came to this case somewhat prejudiced against Ellen White. He explained what happened when he first read statements by her critics and defenders—and then opened and read her books and compared them with other books:
“Somehow, as I read one particular Adventist-authorized defense of Mrs. White, it left me with the feeling that she was not, in fact, very well defended.
“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 . .
“[After beginning to read her books] 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.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 4.
Ramik, a Roman Catholic, was astounded by the content of her writings; he could not see how anyone would want to criticize a person who wrote such breathtaking, heavenly portrayals of Christ and the plan of salvation. As part of his assignment, Ramik compared her writings with other contemporary religious books of her time—including those Rea spoke of.
“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.
“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.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 4.
What did he find?
He was amazed at the spiritual depth in those writings, which were lacking in the other books of her time.
“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.
“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 . .
“The bottom line is: What really counts is the message of Mrs. White, not merely the mechanical writings—words, clauses, sentences—of Mrs. White.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 6.
“Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind’s understanding of the word of God.”—Ramik, ibid., p. 3.
Ramik contended that not only Ellen White’s message but also her obvious sincerity of purpose were significant.
“One certainly perceives from Mrs. White’s writings that she was motivated by ‘the influence of the Holy Ghost’ which itself belies wrongful intent . .
“It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understanding of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind’s understanding of the word of God.”—Ramik, 27-page Report.
Ramik concluded that, in a legal sense, Ellen White was not guilty of plagiarism. But let us pursue this matter further.
Let us now turn our attention more closely to this matter of “borrowings.”