Use of E. G. White Manuscript Materials
During the later years of her life, Ellen White often drew upon her unique 50,000-page manuscript file in the preparation of published works. The White trustees have continued to draw upon this for the compilations made since her death. These manuscripts constitute an invaluable basic file of historical records and of counsel to the church. As of 2012, approximately half of these manuscripts and letters have been published in full, with about two thirds of the collection published in full or in part. In 2003, the copyright on the unpublished letters and manuscripts expired according to U.S. Copyright law and these materials are now legally in the public domain.
While all of Ellen White’s writings are available for research, the unpublished letters, manuscripts, and other materials in the Ellen G. White files do not constitute a public archive. The sacred nature of the files generally and the confidential nature of many of the communications in the files require that they be cared for and used responsibly. Even manuscripts whose primary value is historical in nature must not be used in a solely secular manner. Because of this, during the first few decades following Ellen White’s death, careful policies governing the use and release of unpublished materials were set up, ultimately resulting in the publication of 21 volumes known as Manuscript Releases. In recent years the earlier restrictive policies have been adapted to accommodate the needs of increased research. Between 1995 and 2001, the White Estate intended to release the unpublished writings on CD-Rom. This work was completed in 2002, however for unknown reasons the project was abandoned and instead an annotation project was begun to release the documents with heavy annotations. The first volume of this project was announced in the Review and Herald 2005 as being near completion, but none have been released as of 2012.
Controversy over the restrictions placed upon the unpublished materials has existed since the early days of the White Estate. Gilbert Valentine reveals in his book 'The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage' that Ellen White's son, W. C. White frequently disagreed over the policy voted by the other trustees and was even reprimanded when he prepared unauthorized compilations from these writings and distributed them. Claude Holmes, an employee of the Adventist periodical Review and Herald, had his employment terminated in 1917 after he convinced personnel that he had permission to access the materials and acquired hundreds of personal testimonies, including those addressed to the chairman of the trustees, A. G. Daniells. In the 1950's, when Adventist pastors Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short were researching the 1888 General Conference, they were forbidden access to the manuscript vaults and were forced to conduct their research in privately held collections of the unpublished writings, over which the White Estate threatened legal action.
In 2012, the White Estate initiated legal action in Australia and the United States against individuals they believe hacked into their online archives and downloaded the unpublished manuscripts and letters. The group, calling themselves SDAnonymous, claim to represent the wishes of beneficiaries of Ellen White's will who wish to have unrestricted access to the writings. The group later began to compile and sell ebooks of these materials for a small price to Seventh-day Adventists who were eager to have these materials. Injunctions in the legal action have suspended this activity until the court case is decided. Negotiations have been attempted between SDAnonymous, led by lead defendant Brendan Knudson, and the White Estate to have the trustees take the initiative to release the materials and remove the reason for SDAnonymous existence. A petition has been started online to show the public support among Seventh-day Adventists for the release of these materials. Ironically, in taking recourse to civil legal action without initially trying to resolve things out-of-court, the White Estate have violated the teachings of Ellen White.
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