WAS ELLEN G. WHITE
A Reprint of Articles Published in the
Adventist Review, September 17, 1981,
Featuring an Interview With Attorney Vincent L. Ramik,
Senior Partner of Diller, Ramik & Wight, Ltd., Washington, D.C.
Ellen Whites Use of Sources ……………………………. Page 2
“There Simply Is No Case” …………………………… Pages 3-5
The Story Behind This Research ……………………….. Page 6
“This Work Is of God, or It Is Not” …………………. Pages 7, 8
© 1981 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association
Printed in U.S.A.
Ellen G. White is not guilty of copyright
infringement or plagiarism. This is
the opinion of Vincent L. Ramik, senior
partner of Diller, Ramik & Wight, Ltd., a
lawyer who practices patent, trademark,
and copyright law in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Ramik undertook to research Mrs.
White’s writings after Warren L. Johns,
chief legal officer of the General Conference,
retained the services of Diller,
Ramik & Wight last April because of allegations
made against Mrs. White by
Walter Rea, at that time pastor of the
Long Beach, California, church.
Ramik, a Roman Catholic, spent
more than 300 hours researching about
1,000 relevant cases in American legal
history. He concluded his 27-page legal
opinion* with an unequivocal declaration:
“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.”
The legal report was delivered to
Johns’s office late last month. It responds
specifically to six questions:
1. Was there a Federal copyright law
between the years 1850 (when Ellen
White first published) and 1915 (the year
of her death) granting literary property
rights to authors? If so, what was the essence
of such law? Did it substantially
differ from copyright law in 1981?
2. Was the payment of royalties by
publishers a standard legal and business
practice at that time?
3. Were licensing agreements for the
use of literary property standard business
practice at that time?
4. Was there a standard literary practice
to use quotation marks, footnotes,
and bibliographical citations in literary
works that utilized the literary property
of other authors?
5. What case law is available between
1850 and 1915 that might sug-
Ellen White’s use of sources
Washington copyright lawyer concludes that
Ellen White was not a plagiarist and her
work did not constitute copyright infringement.
gest the extent of an author’s protection
against literary piracy?
6. Is there anything within the published
works of Ellen G. White that would
suggest literary piracy (Federal copyright
infringement) within the standards existing
between 1850 and 1915?
Ellen White’s literary output reportedly
approximated 25 million words during a
writing career spanning nearly 70 years.
A number of the 90-plus books, including
compilations, from her pen in print
today have been translated into as many
as 100 languages.
The fact that Mrs. White incorporated
quotations and paraphrased materials
from other authors (principally historians
of the Reformation era and contemporary
nineteenth-century devotional writers)
in her books and articles has itself
never been at issue. She, during her lifetime,
and church officials, subsequently,
have repeatedly acknowledged such
use. But Walter Rea undertook the task
of identifying the various sources of that
literary borrowing. This study demonstrated
that Mrs. White had borrowed
more extensively than had been estimated
Books not copyrighted
Ramik discovered that many of the
books from which Mrs. White borrowed
were not in fact copyrighted. But, he continued,
even if they had been thus protected
by law, her utilization of phraseology
and even multiple paragraphs did not
in law constitute copyright infringement,
“If the issues had been court-tested
between 1850 and 1915, Ellen G. White
emphatically would not have been convicted
of copyright infringement,” conconcluded
The law specialist found it ironic that
Mrs. White’s sternest critics themselves
offer “the best evidence available” to support
a position of noninfringement.
“Nowhere,” Ramik pointed out, “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
critics made reference to, any intention
of Ellen White to supersede . . . [other
authors] in the market with the same
class of readers and purchasers.” Instead,
she invariably introduced considerable
new matter to that which she borrowed,
going far beyond mere “colorable
deviations,” and, in effect, created an altogether
new literary work.
Furthermore, “the sheer ‘compilation’
of the works of Ellen G. White necessarily
reflects her labor and skill. So long
as she did not (and the evidence clearly
establishes that she did not) draw from
any prior works ‘to a substantial degree,’
she remains well within the legal bounds
of ‘fair use.’
“Moreoever, so long as the materials
were selected from a variety of sources,
and were ‘arranged and combined with
certain passages of the text of the original
work, and in a manner showing the
exercise of discretion, skill, learning,
experience, and judgment,’ the use was
Intent is a chief ingredient that must
be demonstrated in plagiarism cases;
and Ramik believes he has proved not
only from Mrs. White’s own published
statements but indeed from the admission
of some of her critics themselves,
that she did not intend to defraud in the
borrowing of other literary productions.
“Proceeding with but the highest motivations
and intentions,” said Ramik,
Mrs. White, in fact “modified, exalted,
and improved” much of that which others
wrote, in a manner entirely ethical,
as well as legal.
“It is impossible to imagine that the
intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected
in her writings and the unquestionably
prodigious effort involved therein, was
anything other than a sincerely motivated
and unselfish effort to place the understandings
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.”
In his summation, Ramik concluded,
“Considering all factors necessary in
reaching ajust conclusion on this issue,
it is submitted that the writings of Ellen
G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic.”
*The complete document, plus this reprint, may be
obtained by sending a request, with $5.00, to the General
Conference Legal Services Office, Dept. RD, Takoma
Park, Washington, D.C. 20012.
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
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 matters
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
REVIEW: Do you recall how you were
brought into this present case?
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.
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
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
“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.
Adventist authors who attempted to defend
Mrs. White. In the report I have
listed many works that were consulted.
REVIEW: What was your reaction after
digesting all of this material?
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.
REVIEW: What do you mean by that?
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.
REVIEW: Once you got into her writings
themselves, was this negative
impression reinforced or altered in
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.
REVIEW: So it was reading her writings
that changed your mind?
Ramik: It was reading her messages
in her writings that changed my mind.
And I think there’s a distinction—a very
REVIEW: Would you describe the
distinction that you see?
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
REVIEW: What did you find in her
messages, Mr. Ramik? How did they
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.
REVIEW: Would you explain what
you mean by this?
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.
REVIEW: Were you surprised at this
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.
REVIEW: And the message?
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.
REVIEW: Which of Mrs. White’s
books did you find most helpful?
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.
REVIEW: And it didn’t bother you,
worry you, that certain people were
saying that she had borrowed heavily
from other writers and books?
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.
REVIEW: What about plagiarism,
then? Is there really no such thing as
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.”
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.
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
someone still earlier?
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”?
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
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.
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?
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.
In the middle of the nineteenth century—
just when Ellen White was beginfling
to write for print, 1845—in the legal
Interviewing Attorney Vincent L. Ramik (second from left) for the REVIEW are (left to right) Victor
Cooper, General Conference associate communication director; Roger Coon, associate secretary of
the Ellen G. White Estate; and Warren L. Johns, of the General Conference Legal Services.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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”!
REVIEW: Do you have anything you
would like to add on this fascinating
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
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!)
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.
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.
But! 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.
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?
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
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
Vincent L. Ramik
Warren L. Johns
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!
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?
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!
The story behind this research
An interview with Warren L. Johns, chief counsel of the
Office of General Counsel, General Conference of SDA.
REVIEW: Attorney Johns, how and
under what circumstances did the
Legal Services of the General Conference
come to be involved in retaining
the firm of Diller, Ramik & Wight,
Ltd., to research questions pertaining
to Ellen White and her use of literary
Johns: Well, last October an
Adventist pastor on the West Coast was
featured prominently in the Los Angeles
Times, and serious allegations of plagiarism
were raised against Ellen G. White.
The story, carried by a wire service and
a news syndicate, appeared in dozens
of newspapers across North America. It
even found its way into the Manchester
Guardian in England. Understandably, it
raised a lot of questions in the minds of
our church members, as well as among
non-Adventist readers. Last April—six
months later—our office decided that we
ought to get to the bottom of the legal
aspects and implications of the case. So
we retained the services of a highly reputable
firm specializing in patent, trademark,
and copyright law. And they have
now tendered their very comprehensive
REVIEW: Did the General Conference
officers or the Ellen G. White
Estate request you to proceed in this
Johns: No. We acted entirely on our
own initiative. Neither of these groups
was involved. On April 21, I told the
secretary of the White Estate what we
proposed to do; but neither his department
nor the GC officers initiated it. Besides,
none of us knew either the direction
the research was taking or the conclusions
reached until the work was finished
and the report was in. The cost of
this kind of legal research is substantial;
but our office felt it was important to get
the truth, hence our office is paying the
bill for the work that was done.
REVIEW: Why did you choose Diller,
Ramik & Wight, Ltd., for this task?
Johns: First of all, our office has only
three lawyers to serve the General Conference—
and the GC, in financial terms,
would probably rank about fiftieth in Fortune
magazine’s well-known list of the
top 500 corporations in the United States
today. We already were very busy with
other work, especially with First Amendment
issues and challenges. Then, too,
the plagiarism charges present some
incredibly deep and complex legal issues.
We felt we must have a specialist,
and that’s what we got. The best firms in
this branch of law are here in Washington,
and we have worked with Mr.
Ramik’s office on other cases for the past
four or five years. During this time we
have found him to be highly professional
and superbly competent. Because of his
demonstrated ability and undoubted expertise
in this field, we have developed
great respect for him.
REVIEW: Did the fact that Mr.
Ramik, a Roman Catholic, would of
necessity have to read The Great Controversy
in its entirety (which some
Catholics find personally offensive)
concern you as you contemplated
Johns: We recognized that some
Adventists might wonder about whether
he could be objective. But, on the other
hand, if we hired an Adventist lawyer and
he came up with a favorable conclusion
some perhaps would say, “Oh, well, he
had an ax to grind—what else would you
expect?” Anyway, we already knew Mr.
Ramik to be highly professional and objective;
and, most important, we wanted
to know the truth—let the chips fall where
they might. We felt he would discover
the facts, apply the law, and settle the
issue for the church once and for all.
REVIEW: Do you feel that his comprehensive,
closely reasoned 27-page
report settles the issues raised?
REVIEW: What do you feel is the
significance—the meaning—of this
report for our church?
Johns: The charges about plagiarism,
literary piracy, copyright infringement,
and so on, are shown to be entirely
without foundation in law. In
Mrs.White’s use of literary materials of
other authors she clearly was within the
legal definition of “fair use.” By the definitions
established in the law itself she is
seen to be operating not only well within
the law but in a high, ethical manner, as
well. 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. I also might add that in law there
is a legal test of a causal factor that might
well be applied to Mrs. White’s ministry—
we sometimes speak of it as the “but for”
test: but for this particular event, or
cause, or action, that particular result
would not have occurred. And I see Ellen
White in that light. But for Ellen G. White
there would have been no Seventh-day
Adventist Church, as we know it today.
REVIEW: That’s interesting! And
how do you view the future?
Johns: I tend to agree with Sociologist
Irmgard Simon, a doctoral candidate
at a university in Münster, Westphalia,
Germany, who, in 1965, wrote in her
Ph.D. thesis (which dealt with Adventism
and Mrs. White): “The Seventh-day
Adventists still live on the spirit of Ellen
G. White, and only as far as this heritage
lives on do the Adventists have a
future.” Last January 19, Newsweeks
religion editor, Kenneth L. Woodward,
observed in a similar vein: “If it loses its
founding mother, the church may find
that it has also lost its distinctive visionary
REVIEW: What will be the impact of
the Ramik report on the church, and
on the critics of Ellen White? Will it
silence the critics?
Johns: Well; I am sure it will confirm
the faith of those who have been made
uneasy by allegations now shown to be
without foundation. And it may cause
some second thoughts among some of
the critics. But, in the final analysis, for
those who choose to believe, no proof is
necessary; and for those who choose to
disbelieve, no proof is possible!
ing and known sources. He may have borrowed much of his
material from others, but if they are combined in a different
manner from what was in use before, and a fortiori, if his plan
and arrangement are real improvements upon the existing
modes, he is entitled to a copyright in the book embodying
In the case of Lawrence v. Dana et al., Justice Storrow
acknowledged: “‘Few judges have devised safer rules upon
the subject than Judge Story. He held that. . . if so much is
taken that the value of the original is sensibly diminished, or
the labors of the original author are substantially, to an injurious
extent, appropriated by another, that is sufficient in point
of law to constitute infringement; that, in deciding questions
of this sort, courts must “look to the nature and objects of the
selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used,
and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale or
diminish the profits, or supersede the objects of the original
Attorney Ramik comments: “The manner of taking, the
extent of the taking, the intent involved, and the damage done
are all factors from which might be determined the existence
or nonexistence of plagiarism.”
He quotes from Justice Story in the decision of Emerson v.
Davies etal.: “‘I think it may be laid down as the clear result of
the authorities in cases of this nature, that the true test of
piracy (infringement of copyright) or not is to ascertain whether
the defendant has, in fact, used the plan, arrangements and
illustrations of the plaintiff, as the model of his own book, with
colorable alterations and variations only to disguise the use
thereof; or whether his work is the result of his own labor,
skill, and use of common materials and common sources of
knowledge, open to all men, and the resemblances are either
accidental or arising from the nature of the subject. In other
words, whether the defendant’s book is, quoad hoc, a servile
or evasive imitation of the plaintiff’s work, or a bona fide original
compilation from other common or independent sources.’”
We have included these statements to point up the fact
that even those who are laymen, so far as the legal profession
is concerned, by comparing legal standards with the way
Ellen White used sources are virtually certain to arrive at identical
conclusions with those of Attorney Ramik.
Question of inspiration not addressed
For the editors of the REVIEW, previous or contemporary
efforts to label Mrs. White as a plagiarist or copyright infringer
have never seemed impressive. Most have grown out of a
false or inadequate understanding of the revelation-inspiration
process. It is important in this connection to recognize
that Mr. Ramik’s study does not address the question of Mrs.
White’s inspiration. Though we may consider settled the question
as to whether Mrs. White was a plagiarist or copyright
infringer, we still must determine for ourselves whether we
believe she was fully inspired of God as were the ancient
prophets and apostles.
FROM THE EDITORS
“This work is of God,
or it is not”
For decades friends and critics alike have discussed Ellen
White’s use of literary sources in her writings. Critics have
charged that her “borrowing” amounted to plagiarism and copyright
infringement. Friends have said No, her “borrowing”
should be classified as “fair use.” So intense was the debate
three decades ago that F. D. Nichol in his book Ellen G. White
and Her Critics devoted 64 pages (pages 403-467) to a discussion
of the various issues involved.
Until 1981, however, no thoroughly researched opinion was
available from the legal profession. All parties in the debate
had been, in one sense, laymen—ministers, educators, physicians.
Now, however, for the first time a top-flight attorney
has spent about 300 hours reviewing the copyright scene from
1790 to 1915, has studied carefully the definitions of plagiarism,
has examined Ellen White’s use of sources, and has
rendered his opinion: “Ellen G. White was not a plagiarist and
her works did not constitute copyright infringement/piracy.”*
We are not so naive as to think that this extraordinarily
frank and unequivocal statement will end the discussion. Another
attorney with equally respectable credentials might study
the question and come to a less firm conclusion or to a different
one. Even when arguing from identical data, attorneys
often differ. If this were not so there would be no need for
courts and judges. Of course, judges also differ sometimes,
even the Justices who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. At times
not only a majority decision is rendered but also a minority
decision. The supreme law of the land rarely is what all nine
Justices say it is; often it is what only five of them say it is.
Mr. Ramik’s 27-page opinion quotes heavily from court
cases dealing with copyright infringement and plagiarism. We
have spent considerable time reading and studying these
cases. In the case of Emerson v. Davies et al., Justice Story,
who, according to Mr. Ramik, “is recognized as the most influential
judge in the area of copyright law in the era in question,”
concluded that “‘the question is not, whether the materials
which are used are entirely new, and have never been
used before; or even that they have never been used before
for the same purpose. The true question is, whether the same
plan, arrangement and combination of materials have been
used before for the same purpose or for any other purpose. .
. [The author] may have gathered hints for his plan and arrangement,
or parts of his plan and arrangement, from exist-
*See note at bottom of page 2.
Was she inspired? We answer Yes, based on the weight
1. We have applied the various Biblical tests of a genuine
prophet to Ellen White and we feel that she meets them more
2. We have individually and collectively proved the worth
of her counsels in our respective ministries on many continents
around the world. We have tried them and they work.
Mrs. White and her writings pass the test of pragmatism.
3. Her writings feed our own souls as do no others save
In addition, her writings agree with the Bible; they lift up
Jesus Christ as our Saviour, our substitute and example; they
are accompanied by a supernatural power to change lives;
they contain a self-authenticating quality; and they have been
overwhelmingly accepted throughout the decades by the Seventh-
day Adventist community.
In our view there is no way a person can take a neutral
position in regard to Mrs. White and her writings. Either one
For those who believe, no proof is
necessary, and for those who
choose not to, no proof is possible.
accepts her as being sent of God or he rejects her as being
an emissary of Satan. Mrs. White herself took this view. For
example, she wrote: “If you are thoroughly convinced that God
has not spoken by us, why not act in accordance with your
faith and have no more to do with a people who are under so
great a deception as this people are? If you have been moving
according to the dictates of the Spirit of God you are right
and we are wrong. God is either teaching His church, reproving
their wrongs and strengthening their faith, or He is not.
This work is of God, or it is not. God does nothing in partnership
with Satan. My work for the past thirty years bears the
stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway
work in the matter.” —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 230.
In writing to “Brother G,” Mrs. White said: “If we surrender
to God we shall choose the light and reject the darkness. If
we desire to maintain the independence of the natural heart,
and refuse the correction of God, we shall, as did the Jews,
stubbornly carry out our purposes and our ideas in the face of
the plainest evidence, and shall be in danger of as great deception
as came upon them; and in our blind infatuation we
may go to as great lengths as they did, and yet flatter ourselves
that we are doing work for God.
“Brother G, you will not long stand where you now are. The
path you have started upon is diverging from the true path
and separating you from the people whom God is testing in
order to purify them for the final victory. You will either come
into union with this body, and labor earnestly to answer the
prayer of Christ, or you will become more and more unbelieving.
You will question point after point of the established faith
of the body, become more self-willed in your opinion, and grow
darker and darker in regard to the work of God for this time,
until you set light for darkness and darkness for light.”—Ibid.,
In the days of Jesus people rejected God’s own dear Son
primarily because they stifled the convictions brought to them
by the Holy Spirit and looked around to see what the leaders
thought of Him. When the Temple policemen were sent to
arrest Jesus they returned empty-handed, explaining their
failure by saying, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
They felt deeply convicted that He was no ordinary person.
But when the ecclesiastical leaders scornfully asked, “Have
any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” (verse
48) they rejected the evidence of reason and their own senses.
The test they applied was simply that of source credibility.
They seemed to take the position that if a matter is true it will
be accepted by the majority, or, at least, by leading people—
rulers, priests, scholars, or others. But Mrs. White offers this
“Those to whom the message of truth is spoken seldom
ask, ‘Is it true?’ but, ‘By whom is it advocated?’ Multitudes
estimate it by the numbers who accept it; and the question is
still asked, ‘Have any of the learned men or religious leaders
believed?’ . . . It is not an argument against the truth, that
large numbers are not ready to accept it, or that it is not received
by the world’s great men, or even by the religious leaders.”—
The Desire of Ages, pp. 459, 460.
We think again of the personal testimony of Attorney Ramik,
a Roman Catholic layman, who declared that he felt the problem
of the critics of Ellen White is that they focus upon the
writings while missing or neglecting the message of Ellen
White. Liberal scholars have long been more concerned with
the text of the Bible, the methodology of the prophets, historical
and cultural backgrounds, and other factors associated
with God’s communication to mankind than they have with
approaching the Word with awe, listening for God’s voice in
His Word, and then obeying His commands. Apparently many
critics of Ellen White are following this same well-beaten path
that has led multitudes ultimately to become skeptics.
The fact that the chief counsel of the General Conference
Office of General Counsel asked the firm of Diller, Ramik
& Wight to research the legal question as to whether Mrs.
White was a plagiarist or a copyright infringer provides further
evidence that the church wants truth and will continue to seek
it whatever the risks. But let us never forget that faith always
will be an essential element for the Christian, whether dealing
with the writings of the Bible or those of Ellen White. As Attorney
Johns said, “For those who choose to believe, no proof is
necessary; and for those who choose to disbelieve, no proof
is possible.” And how one relates to God’s attempt to reach
his soul through God’s modern messenger may well determine
his eternal destiny. K. H. W.