May 26, 2021
Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation Update
On behalf of the Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation, the Board writes to provide an update on what is happening at the Foundation as it regards our commitment to advancing the study of Iranian civilization, culture and history. As you know, Dr. Ehsan Yarshater devoted much of his life and his energy to the Encyclopædia Iranica, and he established the Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation in 1990 to provide support for and publish research in the field of Iranian studies in general, and to publish the Encyclopædia Iranica in particular. The Foundation remains committed to these core purposes.
We understand that some academics have concerns about Columbia University’s lawsuit and its potential impact on the Encyclopædia Iranica. We feel strongly that it is important for all concerned parties to be aware of the following points.
The Foundation remains focused on fulfilling Dr. Yarshater’s legacy and goals in creating both the Encyclopædia and the Foundation. As we believe is clear, the intellectual property rights associated with the Encyclopædia belong to the Foundation, as Dr. Yarshater intended.
Conversely, Columbia has inaccurately claimed that neither Dr. Yarshater nor the Foundation ever owned any such intellectual property rights. Columbia’s position is not only contrary to Dr. Yarshater’s expressed intent, but also to the facts.
Regrettably, instead of trying to reach an amicable solution to this dispute, Columbia filed suit against the Foundation in August 2019 in the hope of bullying the Foundation into capitulating. Columbia has also denied the Foundation access to its offices at Columbia that the Foundation had used for decades. It has improperly seized the Foundation’s artwork and books, including the library of books that Dr. Yarshater expressly donated to the Foundation, as well as 30-years’ worth of the Foundation’s business records, in retaliation for the Foundation’s decision not to endow Columbia’s Center for Iranian Studies.
It is disappointing to see such a large and powerful university use its seemingly endless resources to seize the property of one of its own professors and then bully a major, long-time financial donor. In fact, the Foundation believes that this litigation is merely a precursor for Columbia to attempt to profit from the Encyclopædia, which is, and has been for over a decade, available free-of-charge on the Foundation’s website, as per Dr. Yarshater’s wishes. Further, given Dr. Yarshater’s and the Foundation’s independent stewardship of the Encyclopædia, Columbia’s improper attempt to seize the Foundation’s intellectual property represents a threat to independent scholars and academics everywhere.
The Foundation remains firmly committed to publishing the Encyclopædia and maintaining free online access to all its current and future publications. The Foundation is also determined to retain its intellectual property in the Encyclopædia, to prevent Columbia from seizing property that does not belong to it, and to continue to advance its broader mission in fulfillment of Dr. Yarshater’s vision. To that end, the Board will continue to sponsor and support research programs at qualified institutions with strong Iranian Studies departments and will grant research funds to academics with backgrounds in Iranian Studies. We look forward to sharing news of such grants and initiatives with you.
We hope that this letter has been helpful to your understanding of this matter and contributes to a positive dialogue about preserving Dr. Yarshater’s legacy. To that end, your questions and feedback are important to us. We want to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to contact the Board at EIFBoard@eifusa.com. You can also visit our website at https://iranicaonline.org/pages/sign-up-for-updates.
The Board of Directors
Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation